New Leaf: self-care lessons from my Philodendron

As someone who loves plants, and I mean loves them, I’m embarrassed to admit that I often don’t know the first thing about them. I’ll spend hours strolling through gardens and greenhouses and be absolutely enamored, but not know the names or needs of anything I see. Needless to say, I don’t yet have the beautiful, sprawling home garden that would perhaps be expected of a true phytophile. In fact, aside from my resilient spider plant from 2010 (he’s a real trooper), I haven’t had many plants in my life. I think I never took the time to figure them out, to care for them properly. BUT! This is something I’m trying to change.

Last Saturday I bought a plant. I was in Virginia Beach with a friend on the hunt for a Monstera (we’re a wild bunch, to be sure), and connected with a small leafy friend. I didn’t know what it was called, but it understood me. I was informed while purchasing said plant that it was actually a Philodendron Brasil, and, thankfully, very easy to care for.

I had already painted this pot for a succulent that died, so I was very excited to put it to use again.

The funny thing is, as I’ve been tending to this new guy over the past few days, I can’t help but think of how similar plant-care is to self-care. As someone who has felt metaphorically “uprooted” in the past few months, I identify particularly with this plant, and thought I’d share some of the lessons my new Philodendron has taught me.

1. When repotting, strip off all soil, down to the root. Sometimes you even have to cut off some of the roots if they’ve wandered too far from the core root ball. In order to move to the next pot, you have to let go of the things that are too far from the source. The things that are rooted in foreign soil. It’s scary to watch a plant suddenly so exposed and vulnerable, but it’s then that roots are on their way to their new home.

2. Make sure the new pot allows for growth. You don’t want a pot that is the same size as the old pot, what’s the point? You’ve gone through the trouble of stripping off soil and making the jump, let the roots have a little room. They don’t have to go exactly where they were before; there’s a lot to explore here.

3. Water heavily the first time, then water as needed. After all, you’ve just gone through a BIG adjustment. It’s ok to feel weird in your new space, and a little extra water (or love or time) can do so much in the beginning. Be patient with it.

By a terrarium on display.

4. Remove dead or dying leaves regularly. If dead leaves or limbs aren’t dealt with, they actually steal nutrients from the rest of the plant. Perfectly good water and sunlight is spent nourishing something that isn’t going to get any healthier; it’s best to let it go.

5. It’s ok to cry, transpiration is natural. Sometimes when a plant has too much water, transpiration causes little droplets to appear on the tops of its leaves. They kind of resemble tears, and it’s just the plant’s way of saying it has too much, that it can’t contain any more. When there’s oversaturation, it’s ok to cry and have a release. Tomorrow will bring another opportunity to soak in the sun.

So far she’s done pretty well; she’s made the leap with as much grace as she can muster. It was a little scary for a while, but this new pot feels right. She’s still the same plant, make no mistake, and she owes all her leaves to her older pots. But right now this one has just the right amount of water and light, a new kind of love, and plenty of room to grow….



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