6 tips from garden curator Alexis Maïa to develop a green thumb

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Alexis Maïa is a garden curator at the Botanical Garden of Nice. He has always had a passion for plants. This specialist of living plants shares his tips to (successfully) “green up” your home.

Cover photo: Plantes pour Tous

Tip No. 1: start by choosing the right spot

It all begins with light. Some plants prefer bright but indirect light. Others want to be right in the sun. Still others do well in the shadows. This means that you can have plants everywhere, from your hallway to your windowsill. There’s no need to stick them all near a window; some of them won’t like it.

How can you know what type of light your plant needs? Ideally, when you buy a plant, you should write down its Latin name. This makes it easier to find information about it on the Internet or in a book. Its botanical data sheet will reveal all of its secrets more thoroughly than the often ultra-basic technical sheets that come with plants at the time of purchase. The website Plantes pour Tous also offers excellent and very reliable data sheets.

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Tip No. 2: water your plants… but don’t overdo it

It’s simple: novices tend to overwater their plants and therefore drown them, causing the roots to rot. To prevent this from happening, choose a planter with holes in the bottom and line it with clay beads, which encourage draining. Place a planter saucer underneath. When you water your plant, remove the saucer and let the water drain away. Above all, never leave the saucer full of water!

What if your plant is in a cachepot? When it’s time to water, remove the cachepot to examine your plant and see if it needs watering.

Tip No. 3: dust off your plant

In your home, there’s no need to trim your plant. Simply remove any dead leaves. To avoid traumatizing your plant (yes, a plant can feel traumatized), it’s even better to let the leaves fall off by themselves. However, if you are bothered by the way a leaf looks, cut it off neatly with a pair of sharp scissors. Also, remember to dust off the leaves regularly with a damp cloth. For outdoor plants, dust isn’t a problem, because the branches and leaves are swept by the wind. But inside an apartment, it’s another story! Dusty leaves lead to reduced photosynthesis, making the plant weaker and more vulnerable to parasites.

Alexis Maïa

Tip No. 4: repot your plant when you buy it and during spring

When you buy a plant in spring or summer, you should repot it as soon as you get home and put it in a planter that is a few centimetres larger. If you buy your plant during winter, you can leave it in its pot and repot it in spring. The plant’s roots will have more room to grow, resulting in a taller and wider plant. Adding new potting soil to this “new” pot also helps “nourish” the plant.

After that, how often should you repot your plant? After repotting your plant when you purchase it, you can repot it again every two or three years in spring. When you don’t want to repot it anymore or cannot (if the planter is too big, for example), you can add fertilizer. Avoid chemical fertilizer and opt for granular organic fertilizer (placed at the base of the plant) or natural liquid fertilizer (which also exists in an organic version) added to the water when watering your plant. If you’re really feeling motivated, make your own fertilizer with compost or nettles. Add some of this to the surface of the soil, raking the surface to aerate it.

Tip No. 5: invest in a good botany book

A book is always a good idea. It will also be more reliable than the Internet when it comes to caring for your plants. Les bases de la botanique de terrain by Rita Lüder, in French, published by Éditions Delachaux et Niestlé, and Dictionnaire visuel de botanique by Maurice Reille, also in French, published by Éditions HF Ullman, offer a good initiation into botany. These works are available second-hand on resale sites, such as Le Bon Coin in France or at your neighbourhood bookshop.

Tip No. 6: love (a LOT of love) and time (a LOT of time)

Plants are living beings. In order for them to flourish and grow, you need to compliment them, talk to them and observe them. For example, I often say that orchids need to take one or two baths a week. When I say this, people look at me strangely. The idea of a “bath” makes it sound like I’m talking about a human being. But this sums up the idea that you have to spend time with and care for your plants to allow them to really thrive. They aren’t simple decorative items.

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