How to Read a Plant

How to Read a Plant

Homestead Brooklyn’s Summer Rayne Oakes with the first of a 4-part series on tending to your leafy best friends…

A few years ago my friend said he wanted to get a dog. He had never had an animal in his life and didn’t seem like the type of guy who was capable of caring for one.

I teased him and insisted he get a potted plant instead, as I felt it might be a lower bar. “If you don’t kill the plant,” I assured, “then you can get a dog.”

He killed the plant and got the dog. Luckily the dog’s happier than ever; seems like he and the pooch made a better pair. The incident of course got me thinking: plants don’t come easily to a lot of us, and they are by no means equivalent to caring for an animal. It’s like the two categories — pets and plants — require slightly different orientations. Of course you can develop the sensitivity and sensibilities for both plant care and pet care — and many of us do. I’d check those two boxes myself, having grown up with both plenty of pets and plants; and especially now that I’m living with a plant-pecking foster hen (not necessarily recommended for city apartments) — and an inordinate number of plants — to the tune of 700 or so. (I know, ridiculously excessive, but it’s like paradise in apartment-form).

The reality is, however, that plants don’t communicate in the same way that pets do. Plants are more introverted, whereas pets are the extroverts of the household. A dog will let you know when she needs to go out — and if you fail to do so, you’ll likely wind up with a mess on the floor. Cats are a bit more sensible when it comes to these matters, as most are potty-trained. But I had a cat that would throw mail at me in the mornings if she didn’t get fed on time. Plants do no such thing. Or when they speak to us, they do so in their own quiet way.

Over the years I’ve learned to watch out for certain signals from my plants to learn what they’re telling me. Sometimes signs like a yellowing leaf or browning around the edges can mean multiple things, but you can often use process of elimination to get to the root of the matter (every plant pun intended). Here are some of the major signs and what to do about them:

Wilted plant

Your plant is dehydrated. If it’s really flaccid, give it water immediately, but if it’s just starting to wilt, water it in the early morning hours with room temp water, as that is the best time of day to water plants.

Brown tips

Your plant is likely suffering from lack of humidity. Get the plant a humidifier, give it a pebble tray below with water, or create a plant huddle so the transpiration — or the evaporation of water from the plant’s leaves — can create a little more humidity in the surrounding atmosphere.

Leaf drop

Your plant is shocked. Leaf drop typically happens after transplanting, moving from one place to another, or taking from a high light to low light area. The plant needs to acclimatize to its current environment and sometimes this can take time.

Yellowing leaves, brown spots

Your plant is sunburned. If your plant is close to a window, particularly a window with a southern- or western-exposure, then it may be getting too much sun. Either pull the plant back from the window (even two feet can make a difference) or add a diaphanous shade to cut the light.

Yellow leaves at bottom

Yellow leaves can mean many things, but yellow leaves at the bottom of the plant can mean that it needs some fertilizer, or that the plant leaves are just getting old and dying back. Once the leaves turn brown, you can snip off; and if the leaves continue to turn yellow at a rapid rate, then give a balanced liquid fertilizer, like a 10-10-10, diluted by half while watering during the growing season (March – September).

Yellow leaves (general)

Yellowing leaves that happen throughout the plant often means that the plant has been mismanaged in the watering department. You either watered it too much or too little, so try to get a sense of what your plant’s needs are and get it on a proper watering schedule.

Of course, these are just some of the signs our plants are stressed. If you have other questions, I encourage you tune into Plant One On Me, my weekly Q&A on all things plant-related and more inspiration on HomesteadBrooklyn.com and @homesteadbrooklyn.

Lead image by Jessie Kanelos Wiener.

Free People Blog

How to Read a Plant

How to Read a Plant

Homestead Brooklyn’s Summer Rayne Oakes with the first of a 4-part series on tending to your leafy best friends…

A few years ago my friend said he wanted to get a dog. He had never had an animal in his life and didn’t seem like the type of guy who was capable of caring for one.

I teased him and insisted he get a potted plant instead, as I felt it might be a lower bar. “If you don’t kill the plant,” I assured, “then you can get a dog.”

He killed the plant and got the dog. Luckily the dog’s happier than ever; seems like he and the pooch made a better pair. The incident of course got me thinking: plants don’t come easily to a lot of us, and they are by no means equivalent to caring for an animal. It’s like the two categories — pets and plants — require slightly different orientations. Of course you can develop the sensitivity and sensibilities for both plant care and pet care — and many of us do. I’d check those two boxes myself, having grown up with both plenty of pets and plants; and especially now that I’m living with a plant-pecking foster hen (not necessarily recommended for city apartments) — and an inordinate number of plants — to the tune of 700 or so. (I know, ridiculously excessive, but it’s like paradise in apartment-form).

The reality is, however, that plants don’t communicate in the same way that pets do. Plants are more introverted, whereas pets are the extroverts of the household. A dog will let you know when she needs to go out — and if you fail to do so, you’ll likely wind up with a mess on the floor. Cats are a bit more sensible when it comes to these matters, as most are potty-trained. But I had a cat that would throw mail at me in the mornings if she didn’t get fed on time. Plants do no such thing. Or when they speak to us, they do so in their own quiet way.

Over the years I’ve learned to watch out for certain signals from my plants to learn what they’re telling me. Sometimes signs like a yellowing leaf or browning around the edges can mean multiple things, but you can often use process of elimination to get to the root of the matter (every plant pun intended). Here are some of the major signs and what to do about them:

Wilted plant

Your plant is dehydrated. If it’s really flaccid, give it water immediately, but if it’s just starting to wilt, water it in the early morning hours with room temp water, as that is the best time of day to water plants.

Brown tips

Your plant is likely suffering from lack of humidity. Get the plant a humidifier, give it a pebble tray below with water, or create a plant huddle so the transpiration — or the evaporation of water from the plant’s leaves — can create a little more humidity in the surrounding atmosphere.

Leaf drop

Your plant is shocked. Leaf drop typically happens after transplanting, moving from one place to another, or taking from a high light to low light area. The plant needs to acclimatize to its current environment and sometimes this can take time.

Yellowing leaves, brown spots

Your plant is sunburned. If your plant is close to a window, particularly a window with a southern- or western-exposure, then it may be getting too much sun. Either pull the plant back from the window (even two feet can make a difference) or add a diaphanous shade to cut the light.

Yellow leaves at bottom

Yellow leaves can mean many things, but yellow leaves at the bottom of the plant can mean that it needs some fertilizer, or that the plant leaves are just getting old and dying back. Once the leaves turn brown, you can snip off; and if the leaves continue to turn yellow at a rapid rate, then give a balanced liquid fertilizer, like a 10-10-10, diluted by half while watering during the growing season (March – September).

Yellow leaves (general)

Yellowing leaves that happen throughout the plant often means that the plant has been mismanaged in the watering department. You either watered it too much or too little, so try to get a sense of what your plant’s needs are and get it on a proper watering schedule.

Of course, these are just some of the signs our plants are stressed. If you have other questions, I encourage you tune into Plant One On Me, my weekly Q&A on all things plant-related and more inspiration on HomesteadBrooklyn.com and @homesteadbrooklyn.

Lead image by Jessie Kanelos Wiener.

Free People Blog

Soho Pop-In: Q&A with Houseplant Ninja Summer Rayne Oakes

Soho Pop-In: Q&A with Houseplant Ninja Summer Rayne Oakes

Founder of Homestead Brooklyn and so much more…introducing the effervescent Summer…

Summer will be hosting “How to Become a Houseplant Ninja” workshop at our Soho Pop-Up on 8/23! Show that green thumb some love, why don’t you?

Your sign?

Gemini

Spirit plant?

Bamboo — grows quickly, resilient, sturdy, dependable, bends but doesn’t break.

Your motivation to support Mother Earth – where did it come from?

It’s quite simple: I love being out in Nature and believe that’s where we most feel “at home”.

Most memorable life experience…

Gaining and losing my mentor, Tom, to Parkinson’s disease. He seemed so much larger than life that when he passed, I felt at a loss. I think about him and how his work has impacted me regularly.

You’ve got a workshop coming up at our Soho pop-up. What will we learn?

I’ll be boiling down the basics of plant care so people come away feeling confident in getting their first houseplant; or if they have houseplants, how to take care of them better.

Why houseplants?

I think as more of us moved into cities, we feel a bit divorced from nature, and a houseplant is, in its own small way, a portal tapping into our need for greenery and life.

What’s in your dream greenhouse?

Clambering Philodendron, climbing Monstera, grounded Peperomia, and swaying Calathea, Maranta, and other prayer plants.

5 easy-to-do everyday things to reduce your carbon footprint…

Grow your own food when you can; shop locally, particularly supporting local farmers when you can; eliminate trash as much as possible, particularly plastic waste; commute to places on bike, on foot, and on public transportation; and give back to the world as much as you can with your presence so any carbon that you do expend is worth it!

What does a typical morning for Summer Rayne look like?

I’m fostering a little red hen who lives with me, so my routine has changed over the past several months. I get up early—5:30AM – 6:30AM—I tend to her, cleaning her water bowl, feeding her, petting her; then I wash my face with cool water; I make myself a savory breakfast; I instagram; I walk throughout my house to see what plants need to be watered; I water them; I go to yoga; I shower; and then I typically work.

What’s your beauty routine?

Super simple and non-fussy. If I go outside for any length of time, I’ll use a tinted moisturizer and sunscreen.

What does free mean to you?

Being who you are and doing what you want to feel your fullest self without any fear.

Plant photos by Homestead Brooklyn. Summer Rayne by Joey L.

Free People Blog