Keeping your plants alive


Take a walk. Wander around New Farm or Red Hill and observe the gardens. See the carpet of jacaranda flowers sinking purple and wet with dew into the grass, the sickly sweet jasmine, white spiders on jungle-green tapestries climbing wooden fences. Even as Winter develops polaroid-like, softening and harnessing the shades of gardens, the energy of plant life isn’t stifled this year: greenery hangs loose like tangled scarves on bedroom walls and cacti sparkle and spike on every desk. Not since the nineteen seventies have houses and cafes bloomed and blossomed into the kind of leafy paradises and urban oasis’ that our spaces in 2016 are.

Whether you attribute your need for plants to the aesthetic, to the sweeter, cleaner air they create or to the practicality of harvesting your own herbs and fruit, learning how to take care of your little green buddies is vital if you want them to behave well. 

As with pets, plant care requirements as well as their appetite for sunshine, water and fertiliser varies from type to type. 


Succulents (including cacti) 

These funky cuties are often fleshy with chunky leaves. They’re the dudes of the desert, sisters of the sand. They’re used to drier soil and air conditions so they retain moisture. All this proactive behaviour means they’re easy to take care of. Given their desire for dryness and sun, succulents are sensitive to humidity and rain as well as to damp soil. In other words, you really only need to water these plant friends once a week, but a good rule of thumb is to spray your succulent with water when it’s completely dry. This might seem cruel but they like this kind of treatment. Keeping your succulents’ homes dry is going to be easier if you use materials that work in your favour. Unglazed terracotta is porous, which helps soil dry out. Keep your buddies dry, well drained and cheerful in pots made from unglazed terracotta. 



Can’t live without it, can’t live with it. Why does basil seed all the goddamn time? Is it trying to make a point or it is just a rude plant? I’ve spent the better part of the last five years getting to know basil so you don’t have to. Basil is rude because it can smell itself. It’s read the books and watched the shows. It knows how vital it is to most of your favourite culinary dishes and has no intention of thriving unless it gets exactly what it wants.. The key to healthy, content basil is in accuracy in watering, pruning and sunlight. To begin with, it needs lots of sun;  minimum of six hours a day. 

It is difficult to recommend an amount or a frequency at which you should water basil. It needs more water than our carefree succulent pals but can also fall victim to rot, in the presence of too much water and poor drainage conditions. Generally, avoid watering your basil unless the soil is visibly dry or if the leaves are starting to droop. Too much water, and not enough sun, can encourage your plant to produce pale, flavourless leaves. Not enough water, and not enough sun, can lead to limp, bitter-tasting leaves. It can also cause your basil to fear for its biological legacy, causing it to brandish seeds and flowers as a kind of nineteen sixties cry for help. To remove the display of woodstock self-expression, simply remove all evidence of flower power with a pair of scissors and cast the cuttings aside. Promise your basil that you will do better tomorrow and then do better tomorrow or spend your life buying limp Coles basil as punishment.



What a classic plant the philodendron is.. When you’re making a cartoon and you need to add a houseplant, you draw Phil.* Philodendrons, despite their extravagant name, are simple and elegant. . They’re far easier to take care of than basil, but you also don’t get to eat them, so there’s that. Water Phil only when the top couple of centimeters of dirt is dry. Both too much water and a shortage of water can cause droopy leaves. Enjoy trying to figure out what you’re doing wrong. If you find a philodendron in your house, make sure you reposition it so it stands by a window where it can receive the warm love of indirect sunshine without being subjected to the full rage of the skyfire. Not enough sun and Phil will go on strike and refuse to produce leaves. Too much sun will turn Phil’s leaves the colour of cloudy piss. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

*Unless the setting is a child’s bedroom, in which case you would do well to draw a classic three-pronged cactus next to an ant farm or a fishbowl.