How Not To Kill A Plant: The Perils of Overwatering

Due to the recent pandemic, a lot of people have started picking up new hobbies. Maybe you are making sourdough bread from scratch. Going for dehydrating mid-afternoon walks in the burning sun. Maybe you are binge watching extremely obscure foreign language shows on Netflix. Or perhaps you learned how to fashion some home made toilet paper (although this was probably earlier, in the initial stages of the Covid consumer hysteria). I really hope you didn’t pick this up. I also picked up a hobby: gardening. Which is very new for me.

Before all this, I probably would have been the last person to be found inside a gardening center. I used to find the places suffocating. So many colors. So many choices. Why am I even here? Isn’t there a video game for me to be playing? Well, I have been playing a lot less video games these days, thanks in no small part to being a parent. I also don’t drink as much beer (hangovers and an infant, I’ll pass). So I found myself looking for something to do. Then I heard about the mental health benefits of gardening and taking care of plants. Not only do they purify the air inside and outside our homes (they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen) but tending for them also has know health benefits.[1] As someone who wants to incorporate more healthy stress relieving activities in their life, this seemed like a natural fit.

So I did some synoptic searching on google for what some of the easiest and best plants are to have in your home. I boiled it down to Boston ferns and peace lilies. Apparently, these two plants are great for starters due to their resiliency. Read: you shouldn’t be able to kill them. I thought this would be a great start, so I set off to my local hardware store and bought a crocodile fern and a discount peace lily.

What a healthy Crocodile Fern looks like.

I returned home stoked to introduce my two new sun eating friends to my spouse. She doesn’t share my excitement instead asking where they will be going. A question I hadn’t thought out. Plants apparently are supposed to go in pots. So they sit in their plastic containers for the first night.

The next day, I have the ingenious idea of putting the fern in a big coffee mug and the peace lily inside a wooden container. While this worked all fine and well for the first few weeks, I soon noticed that some of the leaves were turning brown. Not on one plant but unfortunately, both plants. It turns out that watering a plant too much is worse than underwatering a plant. Leave it to me to figure this out. I also learned that tropical plants, like the peace lily, prefer to be kept in their plastic containers because it helps with drainage. Therefore, keeping it in a wood pail is not an appropriate alternative. I guess this is because the wood absorbs the water more resulting in poor drainage. If your plants have poor drainage you get root rot.

It also didn’t help that I left both the fern and the lily sitting in a puddle of drainage water. Yea, they don’t like that. This resulted in them both getting root rot, which almost feels like an achievement considering they are both rookie level plants and yet I managed to kill them within a month. I was disheartened to say the least. I wanted to revive these two plants and work feverishly to do so. Taking them out of their pots. Drying them. Re-potting them. Adding more water. It was probably getting a bit ridiculous because my partner had to tell me that owning a plant is like dating a women. I must have had an inquisitive look on my face because she went on to explain that if you give a woman too much attention, she will feel trapped and not want to continue dating you. I believe some call this “clingy”. Well, plants are much like this in that if you give them too much attention (read: water), they will suffocate and die. My mind was blown.

So, I backed off. I stopped calling, to use the metaphor correctly. While my fern didn’t survive. The peace lily is making a comeback. So I learned an invaluable lesson that not only relates to plants but relationships in general. We all have basic needs. In the case of plants they need sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. But give them too much of something and they can die. Well, we too need various things in our relationships: closeness, gifts, fun and exciting memories, gifts, and other stuff. But get too much of this and you can actually push your loved one away. Everything requires balance. We now have several plants all over our place (much to the chagrin of my better half) that are living healthy vibrant lives. All because I learned a valuable lesson: don’t water your plants too much.

My peace lily today. Making a comeback!

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[1] Check out this article if you don’t believe me:

Image of the crocodile fern from Amazon because the one I had died. RIP fern.

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