Houseplants 101: Being busy doesn't mean your plants have to die

jordan greenhouse 2

The plant Sedum Rubrotinctum, which is also know as "Christmas Cheer", is on display at the Jordan Greenhouse. Rubrotinctum and other plants can be found at the Jordan Greenhouse, which is located at 1001 E. Third St. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Between classes, work and extracurricular activities, the simple act of watering your plants may just be too much for some students.

But it turns out there are succulents and other low-maintenance plants that need much less attention, leaving students time to go to class and still come home to a splash of green on the windowsill.

John Lemon, the supervisor at the greenhouse in Jordan Hall, said most of the issues with keeping plants alive comes down to watering habits. Sometimes it can be tricky to determine the right frequency and amount. 

“It’s best to let most plants get dry on the surface, so that if you scratch into the soil with your finger you don’t find much moisture, on top at least," he said. "Then you water the plants thoroughly, so the water soaks all the way down. But don’t leave them sitting in water for more than a day.”

There’s no textbook answer for the frequency of watering, Lemon said. The growth of a plant depends on various factors such as the amount of light received, the room temperature and the size of the pot.

The amount and sources of light also need to be considered, Lemon said. While some plants, such as Chinese Evergreens, can survive in a shady room, succulents require more sunlight. If plants start to grow tall with small, sparse leaves and skinny stems, that’s a sign of insufficient light, he said.

Lemon said, despite winter coming soon, people should be concerned about their plants getting too hot and drying out from sitting directly in front of a radiator.

“It’s good to avoid having plants directly in the draft of air either from an air-conditioner or a heater,” he said. 

The humidity and natural light in a room can also drop during the winter. Lemon said people might want to keep their plants elevated above a tray filled with water or mist the leaves with a spray bottle.

Senior Sara Lisac, proud mom of 26 houseplants and an environmental science major, said she wants to live a more sustainable lifestyle and is always thinking about the environment, which is why she uses plants as a decoration.

“It’s something that doesn’t really go to waste,” Lisac said. “If you’re going to buy decorations for your apartment, a lot of stuff end up in the landfill. For me, it’s a very eco-friendly way to decorate your house, because it can be composted, and the pots can be reused.”

Most of her collection is made up of low-maintenance plants such as succulents, cacti and ivies that add plenty of color to her room.

“It’s nice in the winter time when it gets all nasty outside, but for me I have a little forest in my room,” Lisac said. “It brightens the mood.”

Freshman Megan Walters, majoring in Spanish and international studies, said she has 13 succulents now, but it took her a while and a few losses to get the hang of nursing them. Some of her first plants died, even when she thought she did everything she could.

She said it’s satisfying to see her plants grow — and she thinks they're pretty cute.

“I love having the color of the plants and just having that life in my room,” she said.

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