In the comments to Tuesday's post, a few people asked about my system for watering and tracking all 875 of my plants.1 Bits and pieces of this have been referred to elsewhere, but I haven't put it all together in one spot before. It was difficult to organize this in a coherent way, so I apologize in advance if it's confusing. But hey. [Some of] You asked.
I have 875ish plants at the moment. Most of them (413) live in the basement, but there are also plants in the living room (86), my office (77), the husband's office (16), and the plant room (276), plus a handful of plants (7) have not yet settled into a permanent spot. There are also a number of cuttings, seedlings, and the like that I have not yet declared to be official plants, but which still require care to some degree or another.2
This is way, way too many plants to water all in a single day. It's too many plants to water in three or four days, even. I could do that when we still lived in the apartment, if I really pushed myself, but that was 500 plants ago. So, I have had to divide it up and do them one set at a time. Initially, I was still trying to push myself really hard to get as many watered in a day as possible, but I've found it works a lot better if I spread the task out as much as I can. So now, the idealized schedule goes like this:
Day 1: first section of the basement (check and/or water 153 plants)
Day 2: second section of the basement (182 plants)3
Day 3: third section of the basement (75 plants)
Day 4: outside plants, if any, plus the first section of the living room (40 plants)
Day 5: second section of the living room (48 plants)
Day 6: offices (93 plants)
Day 7: first section of the plant room (81 plants)
Day 8: second section of the plant room (99 plants)
Day 9: third section of the plant room (62 plants)
Day 10: fourth section of the plant room (42 plants)
Day 11: free day; emergency watering situations only
Day 12: free day; emergency watering situations only
And then it starts back over again in the basement.
I say it's the idealized schedule because I strongly doubt that any actual watering cycle has gone this way. I fairly regularly have days when I wake up and think, oh my god I cannot bear the idea of watering anything today, so then I don't, or some days, I know I have the opportunity to go somewhere the following day, so I try to do two days' worth of watering at once, meaning that some stuff gets done early. Occasionally I check a few plants and everything still feels really wet, so I skip it for a day. And so on.
So the overall cycle takes between 12-16 days, usually, depending on how I'm feeling and what options I have for better entertainment.
The majority of plants wind up getting watered, then, once every 12-16 days. A smaller group only get watered every other round, so for them it's every 24-32 days. A handful get watered even less often than that.
And then there are those for which water every 12-16 days is not often enough. Various things can happen to them. Sometimes they just die outright, and that's that. Sometimes I move them to the basement, which is cooler and more humid, where they use water more slowly and might be able to fit the 12-16 day cycle. Sometimes I'll move them to a larger pot, so they'll dry out more slowly. Some eventually learn to live with less frequent watering than they'd prefer. And a few get special treatment.
"Special treatment," in this case, means that I go down to the basement every morning and check to see if anybody's having a watering emergency. A lot of the plants down there are, as a consequence, sort of on their own schedules.
So then how do I keep track of what's been watered, and how long ago, and all that?
I maintain two large spreadsheets for the plant collection. One (the "census" spreadsheet) lists all the official plants by family, genus, species, variety, date of acquisition and source of acquisition. This is not particularly relevant to the watering, but it does provide something to check against, so I know that everything that's supposed to be on the watering spreadsheet is there. The census spreadsheet is also useful for making graphs, like for example this one, which breaks down the plant collection by family:
The top five, in case you don't want to open the picture to look, are:
- Araceae (aroid family),
- Cactaceae (cactus family),
- Bromeliaceae (bromeliad family), and
- Lamiaceae (mint family).
Now. I don't automatically take the computer's recommendation into consideration, but it's useful sometimes, because it lets me know if something is staying wetter longer than it used to (in which case it might have mealybugs, or it might be in a spot that's too cold), or drying out too quickly (in which case it might be in too hot of a spot, or need to be repotted). It's also useful as a tiebreaker, in those cases where I'm not sure about whether something is dry enough to water yet: if the computer says something should have been watered three days ago, I'll usually go ahead and water it again even if it still feels kind of wet, and if it says it's not due for another week, I'll usually let it sit.
But so anyway. On watering days, I go through whatever the room for the day happens to be, and check the various flats and pots to see if they're dry. Anything that is dry is taken to the plant room in a large, sturdy, waxed cardboard box, watered in the plant-room shower, allowed to drain, and returned to its original spot. Then at some point, I go down the list of plants typing Y, N, or R as I go, update the last-watering-date column and changing the number in one of the columns from 0 to 2, indicating to myself that I don't need to look at that plant again. Then it's time to pick up a new batch of plants.
Also once a week or so, I have to cut some of the columns off the right end of the four-months stuff and paste them back in at the left, and clear out the data in those columns, because there's only room for four months' worth of information, the way I've set the sheet up. There's a lot of stuff wrong with the way the spreadsheet is constructed -- I scroll around the document a lot more than I should have to -- but now I'm used to compensating for it.
It sounds complicated and time-consuming, I know. It's actually only complicated, if that helps. I mean, dealing with the watering spreadsheet does take time, but it's made me a very fast cut-and-paster, and I have the spreadsheet sorted by room, so I only have to scroll through the plants in the room(s) I'm watering on that day, not the full list.
There's also a certain amount of paperwork involved, any time I buy a new plant or a plant dies, which is most of the reason why I have so much plant material in the house that I'm not counting officially yet. (Unofficial plants get dealt with on the same schedule as official ones, though quite a few of them are in enclosed or mostly-enclosed containers and consequently don't actually need anything from me beyond occasional checks to make sure they're alive.)
And when I have to rearrange the plants in a way that involves plants moving from room to room, my entire world falls completely the fuck apart for a number of days.7 But mostly, imperfect though it is, this system suits my purposes.
So that's how I keep up with over 800 plants. The more interesting question, of course, is why I have over 800 plants to keep up with. That's a much tougher question to answer.
1 That number has changed eleven times in the last month, though, from a low of 864 to a high of 877, and in fact actually changed once while I was writing this post, so the numbers in this post should be understood as approximately correct, not absolutely correct.
2 Why not just count everything, you may be asking. The answer to this is complicated, but some of the factors include: 1) Counting cuttings before they've taken is a lot of unnecessary work for me; as you'll see, there's some paperwork involved anytime a plant is purchased, made official, or dies, so it saves me a certain amount of time and effort if I don't have to count a bunch of cuttings on Sunday if I expect half of them will die by Wednesday. 2) The main purpose served by having an official count of the plants is that it helps me keep track of what's what during watering. A plant rooting in a glass of water, or a set of Abutilon seeds I'm trying to sprout under a plastic dome in the basement, still need to be watched, granted, but they don't need to be checked in the same way, and including them in the official count just means I have one more thing to check off, which takes more time.
Therefore, plants only get counted when they're in a pot, require regular watering, and are expected to survive for a reasonably long period of time. Presently, I'm not counting:
• a Saxifraga stolonifera offset that's only barely hanging on,
• 9 Abutilon seedlings,
• a pot of Cissus quadrangularis cuttings which may or may not root,
• maybe 15 Zamioculcas zamiifolia leaflets, roughly 5 of which have sprouted a first leaf,
• a plastic clamshell container containing a layer of Cyrtomium falcatum slime and maybe the bare beginnings of some first fronds,
• another clamshell containing some Episcia 'Coco' leaves (which are rooting abundantly but don't seem inclined to sprout more leaves, so far),
• two Dieffenbachia stems that I'm rooting in water ('Camouflage' and 'Pacific Rim'),
• another clamshell containing Begonia 'Tiger Kitten' leaf sections and a leaf of Hoya polyneura that accidentally got knocked off while watering,
• water-rooting Solenostemon scutellarioides 'Glennis' and 'Splish Splash' (2 stems of each?),
• water-rooting Salvia elegans (3 or 4),
• water-rooting Plectranthus amboinicus (2),
• three water-rooting (?) Philodendron gloriosum stems,
• two Philodendron gloriosum stems I'm trying to root in vermiculite,
• two Hibiscus plants I took off of the official list when I decided I didn't want to go to the hassle of trying to overwinter them, but then brought in anyway before it froze here because I thought maybe I wanted to try to overwinter them after all,
• a tray of about 25 Plectranthus verticillatus cuttings that I totally don't need, but that I started and can't bring myself to kill, even though they take up a lot of room,
• about 30 Crassula ovata leaves in a tray that I'm trying to grow into new plants (only two have done anything visible so far, though),
• 9 Cryptanthus offsets that I stuck in a couple 6-packs, where they rooted, which I totally intend to put into their own pots at some point but I haven't done it yet, and
• 5 Sempervivum offsets that I was saving through last winter to plant outside but never got around to planting, which I don't even like anymore but can't bring myself to throw away.
3 This is less impressive than it looks; most of the plants in question here are on flats, that I water or don't-water all at once. Plus the basement is exceptional anyway, for reasons I'll get to.
4 (AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!!!!!)
5 Asphodelaceae is not recognized as a legitimate family by some taxonomists, but the taxonomists that don't recognize it recognize the Xanthorrhoeaceae instead. The plants I have that I list as Asphodelaceae are all in the same family either way, whether you call it Asphodelaceae or Xanthorrhoeaceae, and it's not that important for my purposes which it "really" is.
6 Repotted counts the same as a yes, because I almost always water plants in after repotting. On the rare occasions when I don't water the plant in, I still record it as though I did: the system is kind of inherently imprecise.
7 This is going to be happening relatively soon, I think, because the plant room gets uncomfortably cold during the winter despite our best efforts to insulate and heat it, so the more cold-sensitive plants will need to go to the basement, and the more cold-tolerant plants will go to the plant room. It promises to be a huge mess, spreadsheet-wise.