I'm a Prolific Plant Killer—But You Don't Have to Be. 3 New Tips You Haven't Seen Yet

April 18, 2022

I recently had to pick up a can of paint from my neighborhood Home Depot. (I’d impulsively decided to paint my white kitchen table brown, for those wondering…) Whilst meandering through the store on my way to the checkout counter, I briefly passed through the home improvement store’s garden center. I swear the plants trembled as I sauntered by. Perhaps it was a breeze. Or maybe they were overcome with trepidation at the mere sight of me—a serial plant killer.

snake plant

Here’s how to not be a serial houseplant killer. | Audrey Enjoli for Peaceful Dumpling

Tales of a serial houseplant killer

You see, there are many things I am good at. But keeping a houseplant alive is most certainly not one of them. Case in point: Cleopatra the Monstera. 

As her name suggests, Cleopatra was ravishing—that is, when I got her. When she left the confines of my apartment (in a trash bag) her once vibrant, leathery green leaves were crispy, brown, and shriveled to the core. Bob the mini cactus? Also dead. Audrey II, a snake plant gifted to me by my best friend as a housewarming gift this same time last year? Well, she’s not looking too good. (Sorry, Izzi…) 

My utter ineptitude at anything remotely resembling the act of gardening is nothing new. In college, I killed Spike the cactus. At the time, I was volunteering with the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization that has chapters across the country. On that particular day, we’d been tasked with rehoming native plants that were set to be cleared out due to new housing construction. 

We were allowed to take home one plant of our choosing; I just knew Spike and I were meant to be. Fast forward two months, and I was chucking his little, withered-up body overhand into my apartment complex’s dumpster. Rest in paradise, bud. How the desert is more nourishing than me I will never know…

dead cactus

Keeping a houseplant, such as Bob the cactus, alive takes time and effort. | Audrey Enjoli for Peaceful Dumpling

Going beyond decor: The many benefits of plants 

Let’s face it: the first step is acceptance, and a nurturing plant mom I am not. A fact that causes me great agony when I consider all of the positive psychological and physical benefits that houseplants can have on humans.

Terrific natural air purifiers, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air during photosynthesis. Increased oxygenation can have a variety of physical advantages, including accelerating skin, bone, and muscle regeneration. Supplemental oxygen can help detox blood, strengthen the immune system, and reduce lactic acid buildup, among other things.

Even though the brain only accounts for 2% of the body by weight, it requires 20% of the body’s oxygen supply, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Increased oxygen can boost mood and cognitive performance, including improved concentration and energy, reports the National Institutes of Health. 

A 2014 study from the University of Exeter found that work environments that featured an abundance of plants resulted in happier employees. According to the study, increasing the number of plants in an office may help productivity levels grow by 15%. Clinical trials show oxygen therapy, a treatment that provides the body with additional oxygen, may even help alleviate symptoms of depression. 

woman potting plant

From when to water to repotting, these tips will help your houseplants thrive. | Valeria Ushakova via Pexels

How not to kill plants

Yep, plants are pretty remarkable. Outside, they thrive in just about whatever Mother Nature throws their way. Hail, thunderstorms, severe drought—you name it and they survive it. This peculiar fact makes my lack of a green thumb pretty bizarre, all things considered. I use tap water on my houseplants or water them on Sunday versus Thursday and they die. Go figure

But in my ardent attempt at keeping Audrey II alive (fingers crossed),  I’ve scoured cyberspace far and wide for all of the best plant-keeping tips. Will I become a botanical guru or will Audrey II languish after all. Stay tuned. Until then, read on for helpful pointers on how not to be a serial plant murderer. Your ferns will thank you later.

1. Keep your plant alive with the help of an app

After I posted about Bob’s tragic demise on Instagram, a friend posed the question: “When was the last time you watered him?” Well, shucks. It had definitely been a while. If you also struggle with remembering when to water your houseplants, try using plant care apps like PlantIn or Planta.

“Never kill a plant again,” the latter’s website boasts. Available on the App Store and Google Play, Planta offers individual plant care schedules and helpful reminders like when to water, mist, and clean (what?) them. PlantIn is also a great choice for keeping your green friends alive and well. The app can help you identify whatever diseases your houseplant may have and allows you to consult with botanists for plant care tips.

2. Pick up a plant care book

Yes, the World Wide Web is full of helpful (and free) plant-keeping guides. But plant experts are also churning out books on how to best care for your leafy companions. 

Christopher Griffin, aka The Plant Kween, is a Brooklyn-based, non-binary influencer with an Instagram following of more than 365,000. Plant parent to more than 200 healthy houseplants, Griffin recently debuted their new book, You Grow, Gurl!: Plant Kween’s Guide to Growing Your Garden. Full of practical tips on everything from watering to repotting and measuring humidity, as well as colorful plant photos, you’ll want to snag this guide, STAT.

3. Attend a plant workshop

Whether you want to ensure a prosperous outdoor or indoor garden, attending a virtual or in-person plant workshop or masterclass can be incredibly beneficial. A quick Google search of your area should show you classes available in your city. Christopher Satch, a botanist for the house plant company The Sill, offers an online course, which includes tips on potting and repotting, watering, and general care.

Also by Audrey: I (Finally) Tried Yoga. Here’s What I’ve Learned So Far

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Photo: Pexels; Audrey Enjoli

Audrey resides in Los Angeles, California with her rescue dog, Gullah Blue. Audrey is a passionate writer and advocates sustainable and cruelty-free living. Follow Audrey on Instagram @audreyenjoli.


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