Six Ways to Turn Your Black Thumb Into a Green Thumb

Reader Contribution by Bobbi Peterson
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Do plants wither and die on the vine if they’re in your garden? Do you have the dreaded black thumb, the kiss of death to even the hardiest plants?

Fear not. No one really has a black thumb. You’re doing something wrong if your plants are dying. The good news? You simply have to change it up to do things right. Here are six simple ways to accomplish that.

1. Browse Information on Plants

Let’s get first things out of the way. While it might be tempting to choose your garden by color and shape, what your neighbors are doing or what you want to eat, you can’t make decisions about your garden based on those factors alone. You have to read up on your choices before placing them in the earth.

Seed packets, the web, and your local state college’s agricultural extension program are all excellent sources of information on what every plant needs. Plants vary with respect to the amount of sun, water, soil and drainage they require. They also vary according to when they can be planted. You need to read the instructions and follow them. Changing your black thumb to green may be as simple as that.

2. Research Your Plant Zone

Your plants may be dying because they don’t suit your climate. If September and early October nights get very cool where you are, it may be too cold for the plants you have. Conversely, the heat of July may simply be too much for the plants you’ve chosen. There’s no substitute for knowing which plants will do well in your climate, and which simply can’t make it. A cactus is unlikely to make it outdoors in Alaska in October.

Nicely enough, the United States Department of Agriculture provides a Plant Hardiness Zone Map, searchable by zip code, to help you along.

3. Try an Indoor Container Garden

Indoor container gardens can be among the simplest to start with. You choose a nice container with holes in the bottom for drainage. Fill with the type of soil your plant needs. Place inside. Herbs such as basil are simple to start with, and they will enliven meals from tomato soup to pasta. Green plants such as ivy are also hardy and easy to grow.

Remember that plants are unlikely to thrive unless your indoor areas are warm. If you live in an area with cold winters, invest in material to keep the room where your plants are at an optimal temperature. Insulated drapes, heaters and weather-stripping around the windows will do wonders for your plant’s life.

4. Don’t Overwater

Whether your plants are indoors or outdoors, overwatering is one of the deadly sins of gardeners. Plants will drown if they are overwatered. They can also develop root rot, which, as the name implies, eats away at the roots. Without healthy roots, plants perish. Don’t assume outside plants can’t rot or drown, either. If moisture isn’t absorbed quickly enough, or there’s too much of it, your plants can die.

How much is enough? Look at and feel the soil. Never water if the soil is damp. You can tell a plant is thirsty if the water disappears quickly. After watering, touch the soil every day. If it gets dry, water again.

Symptoms of overwatering can include yellowing, losing leaves and drooping.

5. Make Sure It Gets Appropriate Sunlight

Know your plant’s sun requirements. Some, like daffodils, sunflowers and roses, need lots of full sun. Others, like ferns, will die if they receive full sun. They prefer shade or partial sun.  

Then, adhere to the requirements. Nothing will kill a plant quicker than no sun if it needs it or full sun if it would rather not. Indoor plants that need a lot of sun will likely do best with a southern exposure.

If your outdoor plants are in areas where sun is blocked by trees, shrubs or houses, you will have to prune so they receive light. You could also move them to an area where the light is better.  

6. Inspect for Pests

Aphids, ants and weevils are just a partial list of the pests that can infect your plants. Frequent inspection for the pests or signs of them attacking your garden is a must.

If you see signs of insect pests, an insecticide is a good idea. For ants, a bit of honey or jam near the plants will have the ants forming a line, so you can trace back where their colony is. Killing one or two won’t work. You’ll have to attack the colony with insecticide.

No one is born with a black thumb. Following these six tips will allow your plants to live, grow and delight you and your family. They are all steps on the road to becoming a bona fide green-thumb gardener.

Photo by Getty Images/cjp

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