Sometimes our “new” plants aren’t in the best condition. Whether it be shipping issues, gifts from people who don’t know better, or sometimes we decide to rescue and try to resuscitate plants that have definitely seen better days, at some point or another every houseplant addict is faced with a plant in rough condition. A problem-plant, if you will.
I habitually check the clearance racks of Lowes for new plants to bring home. Often the only thing wrong with a plant is that it is no longer in bloom. African violets in perfect health with the dark dry remains of old blossoms are nestled among underwatered ferns and bromeliads past their prime. Sometimes the plants need some work to bring them back to full health. A lemon lime dracaena caught my eye, with some damage to a few of the leaves and rather dry soil, accompanied by what seemed to be a much heartier variety of dragon tree in the same pot. I could take care of this plant, I knew, and I would make it beautiful again. Without further thought and with absolutely no research, I took it home.
Years ago my family bought a lucky bamboo from the local fish and chips shop, and it still lives quite happily in our kitchen window, now with several offshoots. I knew generally how to keep it happy, after trial and error and some research over the years. That knowledge should apply to the new one as well. I watered it deeply, gave it bright indirect light in a window that houses a range of plants, and went about my day.
The lemon lime dracaena never recovered. It became a major source of guilt as I saw it slowly but surely look more bedraggled. My problem-plant guilt roared to life every time I saw the drooping yellow leaves.
In part, it did have requirements most of my other plants don’t, like needing higher humidity. I am a forgetful person, so bringing home something with different watering requirements often ends badly.
Worse, while I liked it and its healthier fellows in the store, at home it manifested a property found in almost every pair of jeans I ever bought. What looked good in the store lost its luster in my home, becoming unappealing and unattractive. I found, to my dismay, that I just didn’t like the look of this striped plant as much as I thought I did.
It kept on struggling.
I struggled with myself on how to keep this plant alive. I offered it to someone at work who had her own desktop lucky bamboo. If it lived under her care, then everyone would be happy, and if it died, then it was not my fault. I had removed the damaged leaves and the dragon tree in the pot with it may have had brown tips, but it didn’t look too bad. She wouldn’t know it was my problem plant, rescued but still languishing. I’d like to think she would have had success with it, but I’ll never know. She didn’t take it from me, in part because she was transferred to a new department before I could bring it in to work. It remained my burden to bear.
I tried adding reminders to my phone calendar. They annoyed me and I dismissed them without doing anything about it, so that was a short lived plan. Irritating myself would do no good to that plant. In fact, I resented it a bit, as if the plant were sending me nagging texts instead of sitting there doing nothing.
I considered just tossing it. Really, there’s not a lot of difference between throwing out a houseplant that isn’t thriving and tossing veggies that have gone bad. They’re grown en mass for consumption and there is a ready supply of new ones to be had if a replacement is needed. There is no shame in admitting defeat and sending a dying plant to the compost heap. To everything there is a season, right?
But it is still sitting on the table, with all the other plants. It’s still trying. I’m not mentally all that great, and there are days I know I look and feel like a human version of this plant. Especially right now, I am not looking or feeling my best, but I’m still here, doing what I can.
As a person who is trying to declutter her life, I should just let this thing go and be done with it. As a person who loves having plants in the house and sees a struggling organism in my care, I’m going to keep it.
I had thought to put the little thing to rest as I finished writing this piece. I would remind myself that it was okay not to succeed, that not every plant can be saved, that I learned a valuable life lesson from it and it could be sent to the great beyond. I could even set it down next to the dumpster, hoping that someone else might take pity and rescue it. It is not the first plant I have had to part with, and it won’t be the last.
Instead, I’m now more attached to it. It’s become a symbol, a vague one that might be a metaphor for pushing through personal issues and might be just a representation of resilience and determination. Or perhaps I’m just sentimental and I focused on this plant so much that I am now attached.
If it ends up that I can’t revive it, it doesn’t reflect on my gardening skills. I did what I could. I had a plant in my home that brought me joy for a time. I learned from the experience, and I can pass on those lessons. And, when I clear out the spot it once took up, I’ll have room to bring home another plant and start over.
This afternoon, I’m going to pick out a nice pot and transplant that little dracaena to something better suited to it, and I’m going to try to set up a humidity tray for those brown tips.
If you have a struggling plant, do what you feel is best in the situation. You can keep trying to satisfy it, set it in the back corner and forget about it, or, if it is time, send it to the trash and don’t feel guilty about it. You tried, you learned, and you will do better for the next plant. There is no wrong answer to how you decide to take care of your plants.