by Natasha Wynterborne
I love a good challenge and hate to fail at anything, so off to the greenhouse I go. My eyes are drawn to a plant I've seen in so many different places: the library, my doctor's office, and even my grandmother's. This one has to be easy. I read the label: Sansevieria trifasciata. It's listed as "hardy." I flag down a salesman.
"Is this plant easy to grow and hard to kill?" I ask.
"Oh, yes, ma'am! It's almost impossible to kill a Snake Plant," was the response.
"Snake plant?" I gasp. "Uh, I don't really like snakes. Maybe I should choose another one."
"Don't let the name concern you," he replied, smiling. "It's most commonly called a Snake Plant, perhaps because of its long leaves and the striped bands on the leaves. Another popular name is 'Mothers-in-Law Tongue,' probably because of the sharp point at the ends of the leaves. Haha! Not only that, these plants filter out formaldehyde from the atmosphere. Formaldehyde is often found in cleaning products and tissue paper. They actually clean the air!" This plant is hardy, has fun nicknames, and even cleans the air and was sold to the lady who hopefully won’t kill it in under a week!
I've documented my first week with my new plant, so I could look back and understand why I'm not successful at keeping them alive for very long. My home really is where plants come to die.
Today I purchased a Snake Plant from the local greenhouse. It's beautiful, and I've always wanted one. They told me at the greenhouse that my plant has a natural talent for filtering out formaldehyde, which is often found in tissue paper and cleaning products. Wow, I had no idea my new plant could do that; I just wanted something even I could not kill. They also told me my plant is hardy and thrives under most conditions. I decide to place my plant in the bathroom, on a dark, dark corner shelf. I wish I could place it somewhere else, but this sounds much more important!
My friend Bettina stops by to offer assistance and asks why on earth I have the Snake Plant in my bathroom, and I explain what the staff at the greenhouse said. "Natasha! Have you ever heard of someone dying or even getting sick from toilet tissue in the bathroom? Your plant will live where you've placed it, but it won't be happy. It prefers indirect sunlight and bright areas." Oh! She has a point. I move my plant in front of a north facing window.
Poor plant - it looks like it hasn't been watered in years! I get a nice, tall cup of spring water and pour all of the contents around the plant. It must hate me. Later that afternoon, Bettina stops by to borrow some milk. "Natasha!! Are you trying to kill that plant? When it comes to water requirements for this plant, think of a Cactus. The most you'll need to water it is once a week, but it's fine waiting two or even three weeks, especially in the Winter. Plus, you never water around the base of the plant -you only water around the edge of the pot.The number one way to kill a Snake Plant is to over water it! They turn all brown and mushy. Tomorrow, we'll buy the proper potting soil and replant it. Maybe it will survive." If my plant didn't hate me then, it certainly does now.
Bettina arrives and we're off to the greenhouse to buy potting soil. My friend knows exactly what to look for: Cactus soil, so the water can drain easier. We also buy a nice terracotta pot. We return to my house and I add the soil to the new pot. Under my friend's supervision, I gently remove my plant from the old pot into the new pot. I apologize to my plant, and promise it I will learn more about taking care of it, so it can thrive and be happy.
I've started paying closer attention to my plant and notice the leaves are getting dusty. I have a spray bottle I could fill with water; some plants love a good misting. Then I think of "water levels" and "Cactus." I phone Bettina and ask her what would be the best way to clean its dusty leaves. No more taking chances! She tells me to take a damp cloth and wipe down the leaves. "NO spray bottles!" Damp cloth it is.
Oh, no. I spot my cat, Rowdy, staring at my plant. I know that look; she's wondering how this plant tastes. Not a chance, kitty! I chase Rowdy out of the room and grab some left over lattice and build a frame to place around my plant, so she can't get to it. Whew, that was close!
Today, I notice the leaves are starting to lean towards the window. Hey, I know this one! Plants often lean towards the light. I turn my pot around, because I want it to stand straight and tall, and make a note to turn my pot every Sunday.
My Snake Plant has survived its first week. Bettina was right; I can do this! Next week, I think I'll stick an orange seed in a pot of dirt and see what happens.