Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that it’s only very recently that I’ve been able to take care of a plant for longer than three months without killing it. Beta fish went the same way in middle school several times. I love my cat because she told me (loudly) to feed her every morning while I was in high school! Mostly I just forget to water plants for too long, or stick them near a window that’s too cold, or never repot them…my poor plants.
This has led me to learn about some of the hardiest plants out there. I did keep a spider plant alive for almost four years; it sometimes weathered month-long droughts! (Sorry, spider plant…) Coleus plants are also fairly hardy; my AP bio project (round two, but still) is still living the bay window in Steamboat! (This could possibly be because Mom takes care of it now.)
And then Mom gave me a challenge. She got me ten different plants to keep in my classroom. Some of them were hanging plants; I have another spider plant that I love. Some were small and drape off the edge of things, and some were huge! As of today, I can say that nine are still alive. There was a succulent that succumbed to a combination of over-watering and over-interest from my students (they liked to pull the leaves off). And I have to say that one of the hanging plants is still mad from when I accidentally stripped most of its leaves off when I set another plant on top of it during the trip back to school this fall.
But the others look great!
And yes, it’s partially my student aides who help remember to water them. I have the best student aides.
Even my school plants are nothing on my biggest plant challenge. Last February, I received a miniature rose plant that I have desperately been trying not to kill ever since.
Roses are not the most difficult to grow, but they’re a big step up from the almost un-kill-able plants I’d previously killed. They don’t like being too dry. They don’t like being too wet. They’re susceptible to white fungi and aphids. They like a lot of light but not being cold. I can tell you all of these things because my rose has survived all of these things.
When I got my rose, there were five plants twined together in a single pot. This is common for commercial plants; it makes them look thick and healthy and gives you options for repotting. At first I kept the rose a little too dry; leaves near the bottom started to yellow and dry. One stem died off all together. Marilyn, who owns the house I live in and visits frequently, showed me how to soak the rose in a pot once a week to keep it happier.
This worked for a while, until a white powder substance began to appear on the leaves. This white fungus coats rose plants and causes the leaves to shrivel up. Now my rose was too wet and fighting a fungus! I went to Home Depot and purchased some rose fertilizer/protector stuff with all sorts of warning labels all over it. I mixed it to the proper concentration and poured it over my rose plant.
Turns out it was not made for potted plants. This was nearly the end of my rose. Leaves fell. Stems turned hard and brown. I hadn’t had a single bloom since the ones that were budding when I got the silly thing.
Like a guardian angel, Marilyn swooped in with pruning shears. She cut the rose WAY back and put it outside in a pot with several other flowers. There was one sad stem left of the five I’d started with, and it didn’t have a single leaf. Both Marilyn and I thought that was the end of the rose. Ellen, who lives in the apartment in the basement, waters the outside pots all summer, so it would get water whether it was dead or not.
But there must have been some green left in there somewhere; all of a sudden there were little sprouts coming off everywhere on that stem. And then there were leaves. And magically, then there was a bud. And then there was a rose.
Every time I managed to make it to Boulder over the summer, there were more leaves and more buds. My rose was thriving! I think it liked the long hot days and being with other plants and insects and such things. And I think it liked getting regular water from Ellen. It did grow a little wonky; the other flowers in the pot had a head start, so my rose had to grow kind of sideways and then up to get out from under them. But wonky or not, my rose grew.
And then fall came, and it was getting around to the time to bring the rose back inside.
I carefully repotted the rose into it’s own pot, and left it next to its outside pot for another week. I wanted it to have the same sunlight it’d had before to hopefully ease the transition. After a week I brought it inside and set it next to the sliding glass door. I felt the soil every day to check the moisture and rotated my plant so it would grow a little straighter. Leaves turned brown. Leaves fell. I crossed my fingers that my rose was just transitioning. I forgot to water it once. A few more leaves fell. And then my dear rose stabilized and, though it still doesn’t look as happy as it did all summer, it was all green and blooming again.
Until the day I went to pour the water in a realized it looked…fuzzy. I looked closer and realized my poor rose was COVERED in aphids! I sprayed my rose down (and carefully dried the leaves to avoid the white fungus episode of last year) and picked off any aphids that were still there. I became the predatory rose-mom; I checked it every evening and picked off any aphids I saw. I thought I had the population pretty much destroyed until I left for Christmas. When I came back, they were back in even stronger numbers than they had been before. Leaves were dropping. One sad bloom refused to open. One branch was completely denuded.
I have since wielded a soap spray with great efficacy, though I still check it and pull an aphid or two off every three nights or so. But my rose is green, and my bloom is opening. Yesterday I found a new one.
I love taking care of my rose. I like the way the leaves smell, I like watching the blooms develop. I love how weird the stems are since they keep growing towards the light. I even sort of like picking off aphids (though I would rather my rose not have to deal with them). I really like repotting and playing in the dirt. And the best part is my rose isn’t dead yet! It’s likely the hardiest rose to ever be tortured, but I’m getting better at it.
Maybe I’m ready for a vegetable garden!
Your homework: What’s one thing you struggled to be good at? Who helped you? Did your rose survive?