Monday, August 25, 2008

The Ten Houseplant Commandments

(from the book of Cereus, Chapter 3, verses 1-10)

3 1 Thou shalt water thy plants when and only when they require water, eschewing the calendars of man.

2 Thou shalt learn the signs of the plagues of insects (and arthropods)a I will send against thee, and be watchful against them, lest they overtake your plant.

Dieffenbachia 'Sterling'

3 Thou shalt not plant thy plants in a pot lacking drainage: it is an abomination, saith the LORD.

4 Thou shalt not cause thy plants to stand in drainage water.

5 Thou shalt learn the names of thy plants.

6 Thou shalt water thoroughly, until water saturates all of the soil in the pot.

7 Thou shalt not plant thy houseplants in topsoil or garden soil.

Peperomia obtusifolia variegata

8 Thou shalt not give fertilizer to an ailing plant, nor too much fertilizer to a healthy one.

9 Thou shalt not covet or steal cuttings from thy neighbors, nor from public spaces, nor from any other plant which does not belong to you.

10 Thou shalt share cuttings with thy neighbors as with thyself.


a Some manuscripts do not contain (and arthropods).


These are arranged in approximate order of how often they're broken by the people who come in to work, or call with a question, or post at Garden Web. Most common errors at the top, least common ones at the bottom. At least, more or less. It's not like I count. Though maybe I should.

If pressed, I could come up with many more (as, please note, did Moses: the actual Ten Commandments starts out Exodus 20, but then he spends Chapters 21-22, most of 23, 25-30, and most of 31 on various rules and laws and instructions, some of which are still relevant and sensible -- Exodus 22:21 and 23:7 are personal faves -- and others of which are less applicable to 21st Century America. Like e.g. Exodus 22:16-17. I'm just saying.), as there are a ton of other things people do wrong. But, you know, ten is a nice round number, and one has to stop somewhere. I'd be willing to drop 9 and 10 if somebody has some better suggestions.

I've personally, at some point in my life, broken all of these except #7 (though #5 was involuntary), and especially #9 (mostly with the coveting, not the stealing). Recently, only 3, 4, 5 (still involuntary), and 9.

Those of you who were hoping for the Sermon on the Mount ("Blessed are the Dieffenbachias, for theirs is the understory of Heaven") will just have to keep waiting.

If anyone was curious: the opening picture is from Hope Lutheran Church in Germanville, IA (which may or may not be an actual incorporated town: I was always confused on this point as a kid, and thirty years have not clarified anything for me. But it is listed on Google Maps.), which is the actual church that my parents and I attended from the time I was about two to maybe eight years old. The above picture is almost exactly how it looked then, too: I think the TV is the only addition in the last twenty years.


kd said...

#1 was just what I wanted to hear! I don't do well with schedules :)


ourfriendben said...

Ha!!! This is priceless, Mr.S.! though I'm shocked that you, being in retail and all, would say "Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's plants." How about "Thou shalt covet thy neighbor's plants, and buy them accordingly, or arrange a swap for some of thine own"?!

mr_subjunctive said...

Point taken. Though for purposes of retail, the "or steal" part is more the part I'd emphasize. I don't mind the coveting so much, as long as the coveting eventually turns into purchasing. What I was getting at with the coveting is that it's a bad deal to become fixated on a plant a neighbor has that's not available to you, and this sometimes leads to theft, which is bad.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

Um, I think I might have committed a mortal sin.

Hermes said...

Brilliant. But I do often covet my neighbours plants I must confess.

Water Roots said...

Great list! I'd like to nominate an important one, in case it ever changes to the eleven commandments:

Thou shalt not give the guy working at the greenhouse a hard time; it's a mortal sin... (rumour has it that he (this guy) may be going by the name of mr.subjunctive... :)

Anonymous said...

re: #9 - but the stolen ones always grow better!

sheila said...

Humbly submitted for inclusion:

Commandment 1.5: Honor thy plants' lighting requirements, so that their days may be long in the room in which they dwell.

Commandment 10.5: Thou shalt never ask a horticultural professional if watering thy plant once a fortnight is adequate, especially if thy knowest not the name of thy plant, for the very question is grievous unto them.

mr_subjunctive said...

Yeah, I thought about trying to work lighting in there, but I don't actually see people getting it that wrong that often. Usually people stick their plant in front of a window, whichever direction it faces, and that's as far as the thought process goes. Surprisingly, this is often enough.

And I've more or less given up hope that people will stop watering on schedules. Though I still tell them, when they ask, that you can't really do it that way.

Aiyana said...

Great post!

sheila said...

People in Iowa must have a better idea that plants need light. Maybe it's the whole agricultural mindset. I get watering questions, but if I am patient enough, it usually turns out to be a lighting issue (as in there is no light, so yes they are watering too much, but they are probably doomed anyway).

Wicked Gardener said...

Oh! I'm going down for number 9. I mean, my neighbor will never notice one little tiny clipping, and they are just going to let the thing get overgrown and leggy, so I'm really just assisting in the overall health of the plant, without the owners knowledge of course. Besides, stolen clippings really do grow better.