Rooted in St. Louis: How to grow plants from your dorm room

| Staff Writer

This series will highlight the plant life of Wash. U. and of St. Louis, the people who put them there and why you should pay more attention to the greenery around you.

Humans evolved living among plants for millions of years––we feel more comfortable around them. As a college student in the urban Midwest, you are not in your natural habitat. Many of you do not see nature often. This can change. Just get a plant. It is that simple.

Thomas Humphrey | Student Life


Two parlor palms planted with a dwarf umbrella tree in a wooden chinese orchid box – most indoor plants do well with companion planting, but make sure they have a root structure amenable to it.

But maybe now reading this article you are yelling, “No! Plants are difficult to grow indoors! All my plants die! They are too expensive!” Well, strawman reader I invented to prove a point, you are wrong. Plants can be easy, cheap and greatly improve your surroundings. You just need a few pointers.

Let us first delineate your plant issues. The number one issue of most first-time indoor plant owners is simple: Overwatering. It is a tough problem, not one that stems from neglect but rather from enthusiasm for a plant you are trying to keep alive. I know you love your plant, but you need to give it some space. Once a week should be enough for most, or until the soil is totally dry. Otherwise, the roots will rot, and your plant will die. The same goes for fertilizer––once a year max, if that. Plants are pretty resourceful, so if you give them space to grow, then they will.

The other main issue is light, but it is really not that difficult either––east-facing windows are bright direct light, the others are medium or low direct, everything else is indirect. That is about all you need to know about it, and most nurseries will have indoor plants labeled accordingly. Get well-draining indoor soil, a pot and you are ready. It really is so easy if you are hands off.

I think way too many people limit themselves to succulents because they think they could not grow anything else. This is so wrong. Get a pothos instead; that winding vine is just as easy to maintain, and infinitely more exciting. Most importantly, they grow fast. For an impatient person that does not want to wait months to see new growth, they are perfect––you might see a new leaf on one of these the same week you bring it home. They are also easy to propagate.

Thomas Humphrey | Student Life

A seed packet costs somewhere around three dollars, and watching the growth process from start to end is fascinating. These chamomile sprouts have since grown to over a foot tall, and have produced enough flowers to make my own tea.

Propagation is just jargon for cutting off a piece of plant to make a new one. It’s incredible that you can just cut off a hunk of green, stick it in water, and boom, new plant. This is where growing gets fun––where you get to experiment. If there is one thing you should take away from this article it’s that you should be experimental with your plants. One of my favorite plants is a wintercreeper that I propagated from a vine in a sewer grate behind my apartment, which I planted in an old tomato can. Cost zero dollars and zero cents. And in that case, who cares if it dies? I can make 20 sewer vines for free, and if one of them lives it is a net positive. Experimenting is the fun part, and failing is fun, as long as you fail while trying something new.

I will leave you with a few more ideas:
-Seeds are cheap, and do surprisingly well indoors.
– You do not need to mist your plants, all that will get you is mold.
– The internet has a lot of information––do research.
– Talk to your plants and play them some music. There are excellent albums specifically designed to be played for your green friends.
– That is all. Go get some nature and bring it inside.

Check out past installments of “Rooted in St. Louis” here:

Rooted in St. Louis: The incredible dinosaur tree

Rooted in St. Louis: The WU greenhouse, where plants never die

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