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“Beware of overwatering—it’s the easiest way to kill a plant”

10 Tips for the Black Thumb

Words by Eliza Blank & Photographs by Laura Dart

When Eliza Blank moved to New York City from Northampton, Massachusetts, she loved the excitement of city life but missed the grass, trees and greenery of her hometown. So with inspiration from her green-thumbed mother, she filled her apartment with houseplants to help balance out the cabs and skyscrapers outside. Five years later, she co-founded The Sill, a charming New York-based web shop with the mission of making plants easy, accessible and fashionable for a new generation. We asked Eliza to share ten foolproof tips for the black thumb.

1. Determine the amount of sunlight in your home, and choose your plant mate accordingly. The best place to start is to figure out which direction your windows face. If there’s something outside the window (a tree or wall, for example) that could obstruct sunlight, take that into consideration.

• South-facing: Provides bright light for the majority of the day. Choose almost any plant, and situate them a few feet or more from the windows. Suggestions: cacti, alocasia and flowering or fruit-bearing plants such as the oxalis, begonia or dwarf Meyer lemon tree.

• East- & West-facing: Both provide medium light for the majority of the day. Keep your plants well within a few feet of the window. Suggestions: pileas, peperomias, palms, dracaena, ficus or ferns.

• North-facing: Provides the lowest level of light. Choose plants that can tolerate low-light conditions and keep them directly on the windowsill. Suggestions: pothos, philodendron, arrowhead, chinese evergreen, peace lily and the ZZ.

2. While you want to provide sunlight for your plant, be careful to protect it from intense direct sun. If the summer sun is intense enough to burn your skin, it’s certainly too much for your plant’s leaves. To protect your plants from burning, draw a sheer curtain or move them even a foot away from the window.

3. If you want to keep a houseplant in a dark room, it’s best to choose a plant that can tolerate low light, then swap your plant’s home every other week from a dark room to a bright room if possible. The zamioculca, or “ZZ” plant, is great because of its bulletproof nature, but the pothos is another great standby.

4. Be sure to consider your daily schedule, travel frequency and general forgetfulness while you decide on a plant. If your absentmindedness is what stands in the way of plant ownership, try a succulent or cactus, which store water in their leaves, stems and even roots—enabling it to survive periods of draught and distress. Truly, the only way to kill either of these is over-care! Our favorite succulent is, and always will be, the jade.

5. Beware of overwatering; it’s the easiest way to kill a plant. You may be tempted to water your plant on a schedule, but the best thing to do is to water it only when needed. Always check the soil first before giving it a drink. A telltale sign your plant is past due for a watering: wilting leaves or soil pulling away from the sides of the planter. If the soil is darker in color and sticks to your finger, your plant should be fine for the time being.

6. To water your plant, gently lift your plant’s foliage and flood the potting mix with tepid water until a trickle appears from the drainage hole at the bottom. Let the plant soak up the water for 30 minutes, then empty any remaining water from the saucer.

7. For plants that prefer more humid conditions such as ferns, ivies or tropical plants, mist them using a small spray bottle every few days. During the dry months of winter, group your plants together to help create a humid microclimate.

8. Plants, just like us, are most comfortable between 65 and 75 degrees. Do your best to avoid placing your plant near temperature hazards like vents, radiators and exterior doors, which might create hot or cold spots and drafts.

9. If you’re a novice, stay away from fertilizer. It’s another easy way to kill your plant. Plants get minerals from the air, water and their potting mix and are nourished and energized by sunlight. It is entirely possible to have a healthy plant without additives.

10. Do your best to buy a quality plant from someone with at least some expertise. In most cases, you’ll want to stay away from hardware stores, department stores and supermarkets, and instead stick to your local nurseries, garden centers and specialty stores or florists. And definitely give your plant a once-over before purchasing—watch out for yellowed leaves, powdery mildew, leaf spots, brown leaf tips, weak or wobbly stems and other obvious signs of poor plant health.

Thanks to our friends at the Sill & Pistils Nursery for prop loans.

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