6 Tips for Turning a Black Thumb Green(er)


“Hello, my name is CleverMom and I am a well intentioned black thumb.”
“Hi CleverMom.”
“It has been three months since my last killing.”
“CleverMom….”
“Okay fine, it’s been three weeks, but I’m getting better!”
If anyone could use Black Thumbs Anonymous it would be me. Over the past few years I have damn near killed every green thing in a 100 feet radius of our house. As any northwest resident can attest, it takes a special kind of stupid to unintentionally destroy an evergreen bush (sheepishly hides hedge trimmer and weed killer behind back).

Luckily, despite my failed attempts and misplaced good intentions, many of our plants have survived long enough for me to learn a handful of poignant lessons. I am still struggling with a stubbornly black thumb, but this new found knowledge has drastically lowered my kill count.

1. Channel the three bears, not goldilocks when watering.

Some plants need a lot of water, some plants need only a little. Some plants need that “just right” amount. How can you tell what your plant needs without going goldilocks on them and destroying everything?

2. All dirt is not created equal.

You can’t just dig a hole in your yard, plant a seed, and expect the thing to grow just fine. Trust me, I have tried that approach more times than I care to admit. (And FYI, yelling, “WHY WON’T YOU GROW!?!” doesn’t help).

Once the definition of insanity finally struck a chord, I did some research and found out that, like watering, each plant requires different soil conditions to thrive. Picky little bastards.

3. Plants have a love hate relationship with the sun.

Yes, as you learned in biology, plants live by converting sunlight into energy. However, like humans some plants have better tolerance for sun than others. Just like you shouldn’t put a pale ginger in the desert and expect them not to burn, certain plants just won’t thrive in direct or constant sunlight.

4. Calendars are dead helpful, but don’t over-schedule yourself.

If you have followed the above tips, you have likely begun to realize that each plant requires different care. I know, irritating isn’t it? How will you know when and what to do? Use a calendar.

  • They make great gardening calendars and apps now that help you remember when to do what. Or simply create an excel spreadsheet to help track your tasks.
  • Be sure to look up seasonal care tips like pruning, fertilizing, and rotating for each plant. Add those tasks to your calendar.
  • Be a savvy gardener and pick plants that all have the same needs at the same time so your calendar is less complicated.
  • Don’t take on too many different kinds of plants when you first start out or you will be very literally setting yourself up for noobie-gardener black-thumb-induced failure. Put that cart full of starters back on the shelf and ignore your “better homes and gardens” inspired ego.

5. Hide your pots, hide your plants, the pests are out to snatch ya’ll.

As if gardening wan’t hard enough, there are things out there (besides you and your black thumb) that are trying to kill your plant babies. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  • Determine what plant pests (i.e. weeds, bugs, animals) you are dealing with in your zone. Decide whether to use natural, less than natural, or biohazard level approaches to pest control.
  • Resign yourself to the fact that if you are planting things outside you will need to weed. Dammit anyway. Luckily there are people and things out there to help like this, this, and this.

6. Don’t be a hero, ask for help.

I have a neighbor who prunes the rose bushes that line our property line. They are growing on a fence. On my side of the fence. So yeah….When she first did this I took major offense, until I realized (with some encouragement from my husband and mother in-law) that I know nothing about roses and really should be grateful she’s keeping them alive.

If after all this you decide gardening isn’t worth the effort, I hear Michael’s has a lovely fake flower selection this time of year and there is never any shame in joining a local CSA or supporting your local farmer’s market!

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