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Secret Of A Green Thumb
by Ron Williams

Are you one of those people who say "I can't get plants to grow", "I can kill any plant" or something like "Every plant I touch dies", then read on.

Conversely how often have you heard some people described as being the opposite, "… has a green thumb", " … has such good luck with plants".

Plants grown by people with a green thumb seem to grow as if by magic or luck, however the one and only 'magical' or lucky ingredient these people possess is knowledge and understanding of the conditions that those plants require. These people also have the interest and capability to provide those conditions, for those plants.

Look around you at the plants that are being grown by yourself and in your neighbourhood. These plants come from all round the world. The natural environment from which these come is almost as varied as the plants themselves, from alpine heath through tropical rainforest to open desert.

Then we come along and remove them from their natural environment and expect them to survive in the dry atmosphere of our homes (to them) or the alien environment of our gardens. We expect them to cope with an environment with sometimes extremely sporadic watering and quite often no food, and yet we expect them to survive. The light may be extremely far too bright or almost nonexistent, or only coming from one side, right at the times when these plants are trying to grow. Or the atmosphere may be far too hot and/or dry for them, as inside a house.

Yet despite all this, many plants struggle on, clinging weakly to life, quite often not very happily and usually with a diseases and pests. Those gardeners who succeed either choose plants that can stand the types of conditions for which they are obtained, or alter those conditions to suit the plants.

So what can you do to become a green thumb? Get out there and read. Read a gardening book, hop onto the Internet, watch a gardening program on the TV or listen to a gardening segment on the radio. Or alternatively talk to someone who has a good working knowledge of plants, such as a worker at the local nursery. Find out about that plant you are about to purchase. Find out what sort of environment it came from originally. Find out what are the conditions it needs to grow happily and go about providing it. This includes:

Give it the correct amount of sunlight it requires.

Look at making sure it has the correct amount and type of fertilizer, for optimum growth.

Keep an eye out for the pests and diseases that may get to it.

Give it the correct amount of water that it craves.

Look at the humidity of the air around the plant, (homes are usually far too dry for most plants), look at raising the humidity around the plant/s.

Group them together, or put a saucer of water under the plant. But be careful of things that may grow in that saucer, (eg. Mosquito larvae).

Protect it during the period of establishment into your garden.

If the plant has a period of the year when it rests, let it do so. Mostly it is in winter, but many Mediterranean plants rest during the 'dry' summer period.

Get all those steps correct and then people will start saying that you have a green thumb. You can just stand there and nod your head in the realisation that being a green thumb is no easy task, it actually requires a lot of time, work, enthusiasm, energy and knowledge.

© Ron Williams 2001

Ron Williams is a Freelance writer as well as being a Horticulturist and a Rehabilitation Therapy Aid at a Psychiatric Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He writes ezines for He runs his own Website called Bare Bones Gardening. He also owns a discussion group about Australian Gardening, called Austgardens at



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