Plant lovers across Bloomington share tips and tricks



Jeff McEvilly

Jeff and Lori McEvilly run McEvilly Gardens, where they grow edible flowers and organic microgreens, which are small edible seedlings of vegetables and herbs.

Indiana Daily Student: What tips would you offer to a first-time plant owner?

Jeff: Start small and have a plant that does not require much care.

IDS: What plants would you recommend for a first-timer?

Jeff: I would recommend either a succulent or your own microgreens if you have a nice window. Succulents are easy to care for and microgreens are edible.

IDS: What kind of equipment should they have on hand?

Jeff: If you are growing a succulent all you need is the pot it came in and maybe a Pizza X cup for watering.

IDS: Do you have any suggestions for aspiring dorm room gardeners?

Jeff: Wow. Gardeners? That is doable but think small — small containers, small amounts of growth medium and a small amount of effort.

IDS: What are some major gardening mistakes you see people doing often?

Jeff: I see people not learning how to care for their plants, so they don't water, feed or give the plants the light and air movement they need. Do some research.

IDS: What are some ways students can easily make their own gardens more sustainable?

Jeff: Compost. That’s easy and mostly free. Also look to reuse items when building raised beds or trellises.

IDS: Is there anything else you’d like to add that you think readers should know?

Jeff: There are lots of people who will share their knowledge. Come talk to the good farmers at the farmer’s market. They'll be glad to share. You can also check out online sites.


Tyler Kivland

Tyler Kivland is the assistant coordinator for IU Outdoor Adventures. He is currently working with the Conservation, Outdoor Recreation and Environmental Education Living Learning Center in Teter Quad to get more plants on their floor.

IDS: What tips would you offer to a first-time plant-owner?

Tyler: You can water a plant too much. Not all plants need direct sunlight. Be careful of cold windows. Learn how to take cuttings and or transplant babies because then you can find friends and trade cuttings or babies like baseball cards.

IDS: What plants would you recommend for a first-timer? Why?

Tyler: Aloe plants are great because they are really hard to kill and have a lot of uses. Because they are succulents you want to be careful not to overwater them, but what makes them great for newbies is that you only need to water them when the soil is bone dry, which is roughly once a month. I also like “Mother-in-law’s Tongue” or “Snake Plants” because they are very hard to kill and are great for air quality in the room they’re in. An added bonus is that they don’t need direct sunlight. Spider Plants are awesome and really easy to multiply through cuttings — also great for the air and hard to kill. And red or green shamrocks are great because they are pretty, don’t need direct light and “talk to you.” By that I mean they very much tell you if there’s too much or not enough water by their “mood,” and they are very easy to multiply.

IDS: What kind of equipment should they have on hand?

Tyler: You don’t need much at all. You need something to water your plants with, something to put the plant in, like old milk containers, Tupperware, et cetera, and a spot to put them with some light.

IDS: Do you have any suggestions for aspiring dorm room gardeners?

Tyler: Start small. Determine how much sun your window gets and plan accordingly. Start with plants that are forgiving. Grow plants that are good for air quality because your room smells, trust me.

IDS: What are some major gardening mistakes you see people doing often?

Tyler: Over-watering is the number one. I also see people put plants too close to a cold window or a heater and it kills them. Finally, potted plants need nourishment, and beginners forget to add it once the soil gets stale. So either add plant food or fertilizer, or repot the plant in new fresh soil. Once the soil is stale, you can water a plant all you want but it will not be healthy. Oh, another mistake that beginners typically make is buying the wrong kind of soil. For example, some potting soils are meant to hold water for the types of plants that need to be wet all the time. Other potting soils drain really easily for plants like succulents that need to be really dry most of the time. Mixing the wrong combination can lead to either drowning or dehydration of your plant.

IDS: What are some ways students can easily make their own gardens more sustainable?

Tyler: From a financial sustainability perspective, don’t buy anything at first. You can find everything you need, including plants, for free. You can maintain plants that give back in the form of food or air. Run over to Hilltop Gardens and give them your food scraps. They’ll likely trade you for something that your plant will like in return.

IDS: Is there anything else you'd like to add that you think readers should know?

Tyler: Look me up. If I get enough people interested, I could potentially put together a workshop and get a group of students started with their own plants. I have a whole row of windows filled with plants ready to be adopted.


Lea Woodard

Lea Woodard is the coordinator of Hilltop Garden & Nature Center, which is one of the country’s oldest youth gardening programs. Hilltop includes greenhouses, gardens, ponds and perennials and has become a learning center for IU students and Bloomington residents.

IDS: What tips would you offer to a first-time plant-owner?

Lea: Start small, don’t go over board and spend a lot of money. Most house plants don’t need much, if any fertilizer or water, so don’t buy additional supplies for the plant until you actually need them. Most plants come with an informational tag. Read it. Make sure that you are matching the type of plant with the proper growing conditions. Don’t buy a plant that needs full sun for your dorm room. You will want one that thrives in part to full shade.

IDS: What plants would you recommend for a first-timer?

Lea: Pothos, aloe vera, spider plant — these are houseplants that are fairly easy to take care of and generally thrive on neglect.

IDS: What kind of equipment should they have on hand?

Lea: Having a window would be helpful, preferably a south-facing window would provide the most light. That would be enough light for a house plant that doesn’t need direct sunlight. You can purchase a small grow light for plants that do need some direct sunlight. I would also suggest having some form of water catchment under the pot so as not to get the shelf wet under the pot.

IDS: Do you have any suggestions for aspiring dorm room gardeners?

Lea: We have lots of house plants available at Hilltop for free. We can give you a pot, soil and a plant start to take with you. If you can’t take your plant or pots with you over breaks, we can take them at Hilltop. Hilltop can also provide guidance in growing microgreens in your dorm, so that you can grow plants that you can eat, and they don’t need much sunlight.

IDS: What are some major gardening mistakes you see people make often?

Lea: For house plants, over-watering is a main problem. For gardening, I would say, not sticking with it. If something doesn’t go to plan, people assume they are bad gardeners and give up, rather than doing some research to find out what went wrong. The more time and seasons you spend gardening, the more you learn, just from observing and trying different things.

IDS: What are some ways students can easily make their own gardens more sustainable?

Lea: If they are gardening in containers, re-use containers instead of buying new pots. You can use 5-gallon buckets or kitty-litter containers. There are a lot of plastic containers that you might find at the recycling center that would work well as planters. Just make sure that you have proper drainage. You never want your plants to sit in water. Using compost instead of adding synthetic fertilizers.

IDS: Is there anything else you'd like to add that you think readers should know?

Lea: We have a lot of gardening opportunities at Hilltop Gardens, located right on campus behind Tulip Tree Apartments. We have vegetable garden plots available that students can garden in for free. We also have volunteer opportunities for those that want to learn and engage with the gardens, but not be completely responsible for their own garden plot.


Susan Welsand

Susan Welsand runs the Chile Woman, A Bloomington business that specializes in growing and selling chile peppers. Welsand grows more than 2,000 chile pepper varieties.

IDS: What tips would you offer to a first-time plant-owner?

Susan: Give them as much light as possible.  

IDS: What plants would you recommend for a first-timer? Why? 

Susan: A chile plant, of course. Many of them grow as a compact bush, so they do well in container. A Thai plant would be a good choice.

IDS: What kind of equipment should they have on hand?

Susan: No equipment needed for a chile plant. They should not be watered too heavily, and the peppers should be picked every so often to encourage it to continue fruiting. When they start to drop leaves, pick off all the chiles. While it may look sad, it is going through a cycle before it begins to grow new leaves and then set flowers which will turn into peppers.

IDS: Do you have any suggestions for aspiring dorm room gardeners?

Susan: Dream big but start small. See what works best for your room. It would be nice if a dorm started a roof garden. Herb plants such as basil would add aroma as well as deliciousness.

IDS: What are some major gardening mistakes you see people doing often?

Susan: Over-watering their plants. Then they get yellow and droopy. 

IDS: What are some ways students can easily make their own gardens more sustainable?

Susan: This is difficult if you live in a dorm. I'd encourage my university to adopt green methods in their building remodels.

IDS: Is there anything else you'd like to add that you think readers should know?

Susan: Growing plants can be addictive, but it is a healthy and productive addiction.

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