Green, leafy and very dead

A passing neighbor paused beneath my apartment patio last week and pointed out the obvious.

“That plant of yours ain’t lookin’ all that good.”

What he was trying to say was, “Hey, that plant of yours looks kinda dead.”

And he would have been right. The plant was quite obviously deceased. You know – lifeless, expired, defunct, gone big casino, headed for the last round-up, toe-tag time?

Some plant owners would have been sad, but I was triumphant. Sure, it was dead, but it had survived in my care for more than five years.

Perhaps I should explain.

(Sure, why not?)

For decades I have been known for my black thumb. I have been banned from plant nurseries, ejected from public gardens, threatened by botanists and forcibly escorted from arboretums. At one point during the Vietnam War, some radical strategists suggested that I be dropped on the jungle there as a defoliant, but cooler heads prevailed and the more benign Agent Orange was used instead.

Alas, until recently the average life of any plant placed in my care was roughly 3.5 days.

My old police beat partner, Ratso, once surveyed the dead and dying plant life in my apartment and grimly shook her head.

“Murderer,” she muttered before purposely striding from my makeshift house plant mausoleum.

All that changed five years ago, however, when an acquaintance left a large, leafy plant on my doorstep. I never did find out exactly what kind of a plant it was, although a small tag on the pot identified it as a “green plant.”

Hey, it was green and it was obviously not a vacuum cleaner or backhoe. Therefore it was a green plant. Good enough for me…

I expected it to last the requisite 3.5 days, but the tough little plant managed to survive as I tried to care for it to the best of my ability.

Surprisingly, it lasted for five years and broke the botanical curse under which I’d been living.

Having achieved this rather remarkable feat, I feel obligated to share some of my plant care secrets with those of you who may be having trouble keeping plants alive for more than three days.

If you’ve just received an unidentified “green plant,” here’s how to help it survive past next Tuesday:

* Put it somewhere inside the house or outside the house.

* Choose a place where the green plant can be exposed to either air, light or, preferably, both.

* Remember to water your plant every few days or every couple of weeks or whenever the leaves begin turning brown and curling up.

* When watering your plant, it’s best to use water. I’ve found that cold coffee, flat beer and stale tonic water can sometimes have a deleterious effect on the less hardy varieties of plant growth.

* If you have a pet beaver, giraffe or water buffalo, try to keep your green plant out of their reach.

* You may wish to add a smidgen of plant food every now and then. I prefer the kind that can sometimes be found conveniently discarded behind regional home improvement centers.

Happy gardening, amigos!

Originally published May 4, 2003