green thumb

Do you ever feel like a serial plant killer? Have you managed to kill a succulent or felt frustrated that your pot of basil goes brown after just a week or two? Are you envious of friends who seem to have been born with a green thumb and can make a stone burst into bloom?

With a few simple tricks and an attitude adjustment, you too can become a garden wizard—or at least keep a houseplant alive for more than a month.

Start Simple

Some plants are easier than others to care for. If you want an indoor plant, don’t start with an orchid. Spider plants, philodendrons, and snake plants are very hardy, even in low light. A succulent will do all right in a bright window as long as the pot has good drainage. And you can grow rosemary, basil, and mint in pots outdoors from spring through fall without too much hassle.

As a rule of (green) thumb, indoor plants with flowers are trickier than plain foliage. Flowering plants need more food and specialized soils to thrive.

Do Your Homework

Houseplants and gardens are wonderful things. They provide oxygen, beauty, and even food. Unfortunately, they also require knowledge to keep alive. And unlike a cat or dog, they can’t tell you when they need water or food.

The most important thing to do is read the instructions for your plants. If you buy them at a nursery or hardware store, the pot will have a tag or spike telling you how much sun it needs and when to water. You can also go online and get more in-depth information. It’s especially important to check that the plant you want to buy won’t be toxic to pets or kids if you have either—philodendrons, for example, are very bad for cats.

Get a small notebook and write down the date you got the plant, the care instructions, and any other notes.

Leave Them Alone Most of the Time

More plants are killed through too much attention than too little. You can easily overwater any plant. This creates a soggy, bog-like environment for their roots, which leads to rot, mold, and yellow leaves. When you overwater, you’re essentially drowning your plants.

Most plants don’t like being fussed over. Make sure that they get the right amount of sunlight and water, and they’re pretty independent.

However, there’s evidence that talking to your plants or even singing to them actually helps them grow. Some people think that plants reacts to our energy, so giving them love helps them flourish. It’s much more likely, though, that they’re feeding on the carbon dioxide you exhale. Still, it’s worthwhile to chat with your houseplants—even if you feel a little crazy doing it.

Let Go of Perfection

Plants are surprisingly resilient. But they won’t always look as perfect and glossy as they do on Instagram or Pinterest. Leaves fall off, color fades, and sometimes they look downright dead. But before you toss them out, try a little TLC to bring them back. If you’re having a problem you don’t know how to solve, look for a local gardening group where members can help you troubleshoot. Otherwise, have patience and let your plants live their lives in peace.