Social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t cozy up with a handful of new plant buddies during ripe summer days. Once the virus has exhausted your will to stress-bake, weight-lift and Zoom-date, consider spending time cultivating a windowsill garden. Should you choose to accept this rewarding challenge, here are a few suggestions to make the most of your soon-to-be plant kingdom.
Put your produce scraps to good use
With a little help from Google, potatoes, mushrooms, garlic, onions, ginger, avocados, bean sprouts—most fresh produce, really—can be grown from their scraps. Choose organic items where possible, since commercial produce often contains chemical residues that inhibit future growth. Certain scraps, like fruit seeds, may grow into plants that little resemble their progenitor; simply embrace surprises as part of life’s rich tapestry.
Grow plants from your pantry staples
In addition to the plethora of propagation opportunities inside your fridge, many pantry items can be developed into beautiful, nourishing plants. Raw peanuts, popcorn and spice-rack whole seeds such as sesame, coriander and poppy are all new life waiting to happen. To test if older seeds remain viable, place a few in a bowl of water; those that sink after about fifteen minutes may contribute to your budding garden, while floaters are better left for cooking.
Consider injecting a parkour ethos into plant-growing adventures by taking the world as your garden. On your next stroll, keep an eye out for the abundant plant life that surrounds you and, where reasonable, take a clipping or some seeds to replicate the greenery at home. Swapping clippings with friends is another great way to add diversity to your collection while giving back the fruits of your own labor.
Add eggshells to soil for a calcium boost (or at least to reduce waste)
Eggshells can moderate soil acidity and offer helpful nutrients. Next time you crack a few eggs, consider rinsing the shells, crushing them, and sprinkling the resultant powder into your plant soil. As a variation, mix the powder with coffee grounds for added nitrogen and to support aeration. Some gardeners argue that eggshells contribute little to plant growth, but, for non-composting households, adding the waste item to your soil reduces landfill contributions.
Try terra cotta
The porous nature of terra cotta allows air and water to travel through its walls, making it a forgiving material for the overzealous waterer, and lessening the likelihood of common afflictions such as root rot. Plants that like dry soil, such as cacti and succulents, will suit terra cotta especially, while plants that prefer a little more moisture, such as spider plants and Boston ferns, will require more frequent watering in terra cotta. Note that terra cotta pots should be taken inside once temperatures drop, as they may break.
Know your limits, or know how to push them
Don’t put plants that need full sun in a dark corner of your north-facing garden apartment. Do your research and recognize what each plant requires to thrive, especially in terms of light and space. If you can’t give it what it needs, consider investing in another (many small, shade-loving plants make for perfectly good companions). There are workarounds to common woes, and a lack of well-lit spots need not be the death of your dream garden. Stretch limited space by attaching macramé hangers to the ceiling or by creating shelving that extends your windowsill. Grow lights are also a reasonably cheap and effective solution for low-light spaces.
Think of the children
If an infant or pet is in the picture, research the toxicity of each new plant before purchase. Also consider showing your feline friend some love by growing catnip, but just remember to keep it well out of reach, lest it be knocked over in the midst of the cat’s euphoria. Cat grass—good for cat digestion and available at many pet stores—is another low-maintenance gift to both your garden and your pet. Anise is the catnip equivalent for dogs and a good propagation project, but make sure to control dosage—too much will upset the pup’s stomach.
Remember that death is a part of life
Some plants, including herbs like basil, will simply not survive past a year. They are not designed to live forever and we must accept that. Do your best, give your plant friend the sun it needs, the warmth it needs, the water it needs and no more, and you’ll be together for as long as this crazy thing we call life will allow. If you have abandonment issues, consider a cactus, snake plant, succulent, fern or another longterm companion instead.