One of the most common houseplants is the Peace Lily, and it is easy to see why. For those of us living in Vitamin D-deficient situations, Peace Lilies are tolerant of less-than-stellar levels of light. They require neither specialized soil, particular humidity conditions, nor specific watering schedules. Furthermore, they grow quickly, sending out pleasingly deep-green leaves and stems capped by white petals that look like delicate hoods. One day, after finding a shelf of them at my local grocery store, I carried a new companion back to my dorm room, a bag of groceries in one hand and a little bundle of green balanced in the other. Like many newly-purchased plants, this one was root-bound, meaning that the roots were crowded and pinched in a plastic pot that it had filled with the rapidity that a toddler’s toes quickly outgrow a pair of little shoes. After a two- or three-month long adjustment period, during which I spent all too much time staring at the plant and during which it stoically acclimated to the new light patterns of my room, I obtained my first clay pot and a bag of soil that was several times too big for the job of re-potting, determined to free it from the confines of its old home. It was clear that the cluster of leaves I had purchased was, in fact, two very close but still separate plants, so the plan was to split them in half and give each half its own pot—voila, more room. Added bonus: more plants.
I remember taking my materials out to a short wall along the campus lawn one afternoon weekend. Unfortunately, my timing was less than ideal. Not because of the weather, which was sunny and warm, but because at precisely that moment, the campus’ professional landscaping crew was working on the shrubs on the other side of the lawn. The concept of doing anything to a plant with them in sight was almost enough to make me scuttle back indoors, but not quite. Trying to hide my activities behind a paper grocery bag, I flipped the pot over and wiggled the root ball from the pot. I then proceeded, with much awkward struggling, to hack at the root ball to yield two tortured plant halves. I think I caught one of the landscapers snickering at my amateur attempts. But in the end, one plant became two, and that was the story of the first time I re-potted a plant.
I think that if I had stopped there, that plant pair might still be with me. However, I proceeded to shower water and fertilizer and so much attention onto the poor creatures that they began to wilt with exasperation, their little hoods moping and the leaves hanging listlessly. Then pesky little gnats began to take residence, attracted to the moisture-rich soil that resulted from my overly-enthusiastic watering. Finally, the roots began to rot, and no matter how much water I provided, the plants were unable to drink any more. After nearly all of the leaves turned a mottled yellow and fell off, leaving behind a couple of stumps of brown bits, I finally bid farewell to my sickly friends and dumped them unceremoniously into the kitchen trash.
Since then, I have been careful to give my plants some personal space. I have also picked up a few tips for making sure that my plants don’t drown: 1) plants like wet feet, not wet ankles, 2) drainage holes in pots might mean you have to buy saucers, but they do wonders for getting rid of extra water, and 3) stick your finger up to your second knuckle in the soil, even if you hate getting soil under your nails, because if your finger tip comes out damp, it’s too soon to water. No matter if you last watered your baby two weeks ago. If your friend says he or she (or it) doesn’t want to drink, don’t force it.