One of the most common things I hear from non-gardeners is that they have a “black thumb”. What they mean usually, is they tried to grow a plant once, and it died, so they gave up. If the first gardeners did the same, we’d still be foraging for food in the forest somewhere. I think gardening, like cooking, should be a natural part of any modern person’s skill set, because the principles are so basic. If someone can keep a cat or dog, they can grow plants, it’s that simple.
Just like every living thing, plants need three basic things: Water, food and shelter. In addition, plants need light, vegies about 6-8 hours a day, and the vast majority of plants grow in a specific temperature range, about 10-30 degrees Celsius. They may survive outside that range, but they will not grow as efficiently. Water is probably where most disasters happen, and it’s mostly due to forgetting to water them. Plants may not need watering every day, but it’s probably worth checking them that often just be sure. Plants use more water on hot days, and when it’s windy, and less when it’s cold.
If you can see them visibly wilting, it’s obvious they need a drink, but it’s usually best not to let them get to that stage, as they do go into a kind of shock if they get too stressed. The easiest way to check is to stick your finger into the soil or potting mix and see if it’s damp. If it’s dry, apply water. I find it easier to have a built in watering system, even for containers, and it makes it as easy as turning on a tap. Plants usually do better if they’re in the ground with a longer watering infrequently, which encourages roots to grow deep in search of water, while frequent short watering encourages shallow roots.
Food for plants is not the same as for animals. They actually make their own chemical energy from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. We call that sugar, and most other life on earth depends on plants for energy. But plants do need other nutrients to build their physical structure. Things like animal manures contain most of the nutrients plants need, though they can tend to smell for a couple of days after applying, but there’s much less likelihood of over-fertilising, which can burn the plants. Commercially available fertilisers will have application rates on the packaging, and as potency can vary greatly in unlabelled manures, some caution may be necessary when spreading, especially with poultry manures, which tend to be a bit stronger than cow, sheep or horse sources.
And as far as shelter goes, in the case of plants, that generally means protection. Plants can’t run away from their predators, so they need looking after by us if we want to eat them instead of being feasted on by slugs and snails and insects. How you choose to control the pests is entirely up to personal choice, but for the most part, some form of snail control will be needed, especially after rain, and a reasonably regular inspection and spray for other insects as required. A Pyrethrum based will knock off most pests, and is relatively non toxic to us, naturally sourced as it is from a daisy, though it will kill most insects, even the beneficial ones like ladybirds.
Really, what I am trying to get across is that growing pants is not really a lot of work. The plants have much more of a vested interest in their own survival than us, and do most of the work. We just have to keep an eye on them and give them a helping hand once in a while. Just like any skill, we get better with practice, and need to take every plant death or failure as an instructional learning experience. Even the oldest gardeners mess it up from time to time, but the cost of a pack of seeds is so inexpensive, it’s easy enough to just have another go. Go on, get back on the horse, Black thumbs of the world, and give it another try!