Cultivating A Green Thumb

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

As a little girl, I recall both sets of grandparents having gardens and houseplants galore. In each of their homes, houseplants grew profusely, thriving under their horticultural expertise all through the year. In summer, outdoor gardens were grown, harvested and canned for use throughout the long, Michigan winter.

My grandmother on my mother’s side especially had a knack for growing things.

I remember her utility room windows lined with plant sprigs rooting in jars of water. It seemed from the time I started retaining memories of Grandma's house that she had been using those same jars, as ugly scum lines marked the years.

After a goodly sized root developed, she’d plant the sprout in its own pot, adding it to the collection being nurtured in the dining room window.

Grandma had long, hanging plants hanging from hooks in the ceiling; newly potted plants sitting in the windowsill and on bookshelves; sprawling plants on wide, wooden stands; and tall plants sitting on the floor and low tables.

They were all nestled together, sharing the sunlight beaming in from the south, and it seemed Grandma knew exactly where to place each species of plant in order for it to grow strong and hardy.

By early summer, she would share her green thumb capabilities with the locals at her annual rummage sale. In the sale, she added plants of all shapes and sizes that she had transplanted in plastic margarine containers collected throughout the year. Ranging in price from 25 cents to a dollar depending on size, if you weren't there early on the first morning of the sale, you would have no luck getting one.

Everyone loved Grandma's plants!

It seemed Grandma’s sale drew dozens of plant growers every year, all hoping to snag themselves at least one of her hardy plants. Often, I would hear them asking questions about how much water to give them, how much light they needed, when to feed them, etcetera, and Grandma knew the answers to every question asked.

Sometimes, people who had bought a plant from her the year before would go on and on about how much nicer Grandma’s plants were compared to the nursery down the road. And although she never boasted about her green thumb, I am fairly certain she felt satisfied knowing people couldn’t wait to purchase her plants every summer.

One plant I felt especially drawn to was her Burro’s Tail plant. From the cacti family, this succulent’s plump clusters of leaves hang in long strands resembled a bristly, burro’s tail. When happy and healthy, like my Grandmother’s plant, it produces bright, beautiful flowers on the top.

Fascinated with the feel of its fleshy foliage, I asked my Grandma if I could have a burro’s tail plant to grow myself.

She seemed reluctant at first, explaining that the plant was a bit temperamental for a budding horticulturist like myself, and offered a coleus plant instead telling me it was a very easy plant to grow.

Adamant that I could grow a Burro's Tail, I finally wore her down enough to take my very own plant home to sit in our south-facing window.

Sadly, it didn’t take long before I killed it.

I suppose my overzealous watering technique was what pushed the little green sprout into its watery grave. I still remember the sight… a slimy brown nub sticking sickly from sopping, black dirt.

I felt terrible that I had killed the little plant faster than it took Grandma to sprout it some roots. I mean… she had the thing sitting in a glass of water, for goodness sake! However did I overwater it?

So it seemed I didn’t have a green thumb like my Grandma’s after all.

And although the Coleus plant she had given me next seemed to enjoy the front window at our house, it wasn’t the same as having a Burro’s Tail plant with its long, ropey strands, and I soon lost interest in it.

Since then, it seems I have only been able to grow the most hardy of houseplants, and since I don’t like to weed, I have only succeeded at an outdoor garden when my husband helped.

But last summer something happened that nurtured the green thumb in me... offering some hope that I took after my Grandmother after all.

A friend had given me a tiny Christmas cactus plant that he had rooted and repotted. It was so cute, and already flowering from its scant, three stems when gifted to me. But just like the Burro’s Tail, I put it in my windowsill at home and nurtured it as best I could until it started wilting. Looking pitiful and on the verge of dying, I poured through self-help guides until I diagnosed the problem.

Again... I had overwatered it, which drew in tiny, black bugs that were slowly nibbling away the tender roots at the plants base.

After carefully transplanting the little sprig, I set my phone reminder for a weekly watering schedule giving it “just a sip,” as my friend stated, and I brought that little guy back from death’s door to a beautiful, flowering bush!

Thrilled that I might just have my grandmother’s green thumb after all, I got

busy looking on Pinterest for more

gardening projects to try, including some I could

start from my own kitchen scraps!

So far, most everything I have started growing is doing quite well. Growing more than a dozen plants from seedpods in a hydroponic grow system; you can see how well these lettuce plants are doing since they were dried pods peeled out of cardboard box.

In comparison, the plants I bought from the store are not doing as well. They seem a little gangly and soft- stemmed compared to the stiff stalks produced with the

hydroponic system.

As you can tell, I am enjoying this growing season's adventures quite a bit, but the idea of propagating from your own kitchen scraps has got to be the most exciting endeavor in horticulture so far!

For example, I like to use a lot of fresh pressed garlic in my cooking, and discovered you can plant garlic cloves from your cupboard just by sticking the root end down in the dirt.

Here is a picture of the garlic cloves planted 2 weeks ago. They seem to be growing, but I guess we will see how they progress.

I also like green onion on my salad, or need the occasional bunch for an oriental dish, but it seems that when I finally get around to using them, they have wilted and turned into gross, slimy sticks in the vegetable drawer.

When I spotted the green onion propagating pin on Pinterest showing how to root the bits you would normally throw away, I decided to give it a shot.

Take a look at these plants!

It has only been 2 weeks since rooting them in the windowsill. It reminds me of Grandma’s house, only she didn’t use shot glasses to root hers.

I plan to pot them and snip them off as needed so the plants will keep growing. I guess we will find out later how it works, but so far, so good!

I also started a white onion by rooting the cut end in a dish of water until the roots were long and new growth started sprouting out the top. I planted it after 2 weeks, and hope to see it grow an onion.

Next was avocados...

After 2 weeks in water, it appears the two giant pits are just starting to crack open at the top to allow a tree to start growing.

The seeds will need to stay in water until the plant is about 6 inches tall, at which time I will cut the plant down to 3 inches, and wait for it to grow back out before potting it.

According to Good Housekeeping, an avocado seed will easily grow into a small tree that can produce its own fruit. Too bad it will take around 6-10 years before producing any avocados.

For the last gardening project, I stumbled upon photos of strawberry planters made from house gutters. Asking that same friend if he could make something similar, it won’t be long before the planter he made is mounted on a south facing fence section and filled with strawberry plants.

Thoughts of harvesting fresh strawberries this summer has my mouth watering, and I can’t wait to share the ripened berries with my grandson.

Do you have a green thumb? What are you growing this spring?

#greenthumb #gardening #planting #propagating #hydroponics #growing #seedlings #vegetables

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