Plant Parenting

My lovely boyfriend got me a plant for our anniversary a few months ago. I was thrilled, it was a very nice plant. Then he told me that he did not know what it was called and that he had lost the instructions on how to care for it.

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Good luck!

Of course, I was then immediately terrified that I would kill it. I don’t have the best track record with plants, the only one I have managed to keep alive is a Jade Tree my Nana gave me a clipping of about 15 years ago. I did not take it to university with me, so it would often go months without being watered. A less indestructible plant would have given up years ago.

In an effort to become a better plant parent, I thought I would look into the life of a plant and how it all works.

So, the basics. Plants need 5 things to survive:

  • Air
  • Light
  • Warmth
  • Water
  • Nutrients

The roots of a plant take up the water and nutrients, then the stem carries these to different parts of the plant. The leaves absorb the light from the Sun.

Carbon dioxide from the air is combined with water and sunlight to produce carbohydrates (food) for the plant, this reaction also produces oxygen. The whole process is called photosynthesis:

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Which is why it is a bad thing if we cut down all the trees or destroy all the plants. They take in the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen and food! Without plants, we would be screwed. Which is why I want to keep mine alive.

I found some general information on healthy plants and what they need.

  • A healthy plant stands upright with green leaves.
  • If it does not get enough sunlight, it will grow tall and spindly because it is trying to find sunlight. If it does not find any sunlight, it will eventually die.
  • If a plant is not given enough room to grow it can become stunted.
  • Obviously, if you don’t water it, the leaves go dry.

These were the things I was expecting, but all I ever really think about when taking care of a plant is whether I have recently watered it. Even then, I am quite good at forgetting to ask someone to water my plants if I go away for a while. Coming back from holiday to a dead plant is not fun.

What was interesting was the nutrients that the plants need to survive.

  • Nitrogen helps with chlorophyll production. Chlorophyll is the molecule that absorbs sunlight and gives plants green leaves.
  • Phosphorous helps produce big flowers and strong roots.
  • Potassium, sulphur and calcium help plants fight disease.
  • Sulphur helps grow and produce seeds.
  • Calcium helps the plants take in the nitrogen they need.

So maybe next time my plant is looking a bit sad, rather than just thinking I need to water it I should think about what nutrients it might need, or whether it needs more sunlight, or whether it is warm enough.

I will be a good plant parent.

This video gets really into photosynthesis if you fancy a more in-depth look:

Thanks to:
BBC Bitesize
Gardening Know How
University of Bristol
Holganix

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