Perhaps the most famous plant of all time is Audrey II, the man-eating plant from the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors. In the musical, the bizarre Audrey II falls to earth from outer space and is cared for by Seymour at a florist’s shop. Seymour discovers that Audrey II is not like other plants: Instead of fertilizer, she requires human flesh and blood to thrive. Most of us watch Little Shop of Horrors for its entertainment value; however, beneath the laughter, singing, and gore, you can learn the basics of indoor plant care and maintenance.
Photo via Sam Lavy (Flickr)
If you recall, Seymour was sure to water Audrey II. Proper watering is important for plants, and they all have different needs. Some plants, like club moss, need consistently moist soil; others, like cacti and succulents, need to stay on the dry side. If you are buying a plant, read the label to find out the water requirements. If there is no label, ask garden center staff. Check the soil with your finger every few days to make sure it is moist for water-loving plants. Watering cacti and succulents is quite easy, as you can forget about them for days or even weeks and they will still survive, since they don’t need much water (although I do not recommend this); make sure the soil is dry before watering. For any plant, you want to water deeply and preferably regularly to establish a good, healthy root system. Most plants do best in pots with holes to ensure that they have adequate drainage, which will prevent roots from rotting.
Do you remember the scene where Seymour misted Audrey in his basement? Some plants, like ferns and baby’s tears, need high humidity. The air in most homes is dry, so special measures must be taken to raise humidity levels. One way to do this is through misting a few times a day, but let’s be honest: How many of us have time for that? I know I don’t. A better way is to place plant pots on a tray of pebbles soaked in water. They will release humidity throughout the day. You could also put a humidifier near the plants that need humidity.
Seymour placed Audrey II in a big, sunny window in the front of the store. Light is extremely important for plants, since they use photosynthesis to create food. Plants have different light needs, but most do well in a window or a window with light filtered by a thin curtain or blinds. Plants with low light requirements, like mother-in-law’s tongue, can survive with less light. Some plants that require a lot of light may need special grow lights to thrive. If you have a plant that fails to bloom, there is a good chance that it isn’t getting enough light.
Photo via Darya Pino (Flickr)
Finally, who can forget how Seymour fed Audrey? Hopefully, you don’t have any plants at home that require human blood and body parts! Plants do benefit greatly from fertilizers, though, especially blooming plants. There are a variety of fertilizers on the market specifically for certain plants, like African violet and orchid fertilizers. There are slow-release fertilizers that come in pellet form, plant spikes, and fertilizers that you add to water. There are natural and chemical fertilizers; there are so many to choose from that it can be mind-boggling! My advice is to pick a fertilizer that is easy for you to use and use it as directed. If the fertilizer is inconvenient to use, chances are good that you won’t do it. I actually use more diluted amounts of fertilizer than called for, since too much can burn plants. Only fertilize plants when they are actively growing. Also, remember that most potting soils already contain fertilizers that will last six months, so if you just repotted a plant, you won’t need additional fertilizers for months.
Maybe you have felt like Seymour at times: You have a plant and you are not sure of its identity, so you do not know how to care for it. Fortunately, today, we have the Internet, and it is fairly easy to identify what a plant is by searching through photos of plants online or by asking experts on plant forums. Local university extension offices usually have a gardening department that can answer your plant questions. Gardener friends are another great resource. Poor Seymour had to find out how to care for his plant the hard way!
Photo via The World Through Athene’s Eyes (Flickr)
Audrey II brought Seymour fame, money, and love in exchange for human sacrifices. I can’t say that your plants will reward you in the same way, but then again, you don’t have to murder people for them! If you are fascinated by Audrey II, though, you may be interested in trying carnivorous plants. Some species of nepenthes have pitchers large enough to digest rats, and it is rumored that baby monkeys have been found in some! No matter what kind of houseplant you choose, they all provide certain benefits. They clean the air indoors, especially fast-growing ones. They provide beauty and a bit of nature indoors; I especially value this in the winter. Finally, some of them are just fascinating. The next time you are at the garden center, choose your next plant carefully: You could be getting a mean green mother from outer space!