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A Tale of Two Plants: How Plant Care Isn’t an Exact Science

my tree (left) and my mother’s tree (right)

A number of years ago (probably 5), my mother came out to Behnke’s right after New Year’s with one goal: to buy us each a money tree, otherwise known as a Malabar chestnut (Pachira aquatica).  She had read somewhere that it would endow its owner with good fortune.  Not a bad way to start the New Year, eh?

However, I had never really owned a houseplant before and lived in a tiny apartment with no room for a plant in any of the windows.  So, while my plant suffered in darkness, far from any window and received infrequent watering, my mother’s money tree received spa-like treatment in comparison.  She has, not only lots of natural light, but a grow light as well.  She has many other houseplants and waters all of them exactly when they need it.  It gets to go out in the summer and soak up fresh air, rain and sunshine.  She even (gasp!) fertilizes during its growing season.

Over the years, our plant care regimens have changed little.  My mother continues, in her saintly way, to water and fertilize regularly and I continue to be stingy with sunlight and water and anything else that even vaguely resembles care.  We’ve both had our struggles: as my mother’s plant shot skyward like a real-life Jack’s beanstalk, she tried, unsuccessfully to continue the braid in the trunk, breaking branches as she went, while I, in an uncharacteristic moment of caring, repotted mine in a self-watering pot, naively believing this would solve my watering woes—I nearly drowned the poor thing and then had to nurse it (ahem, not pay attention to it again) back to health.

Despite the difference in the care they’ve received, both trees are still around.  And, though they don’t resemble each other much anymore, they both look healthy.  My mother’s is tall and I marvel at its dark, glossy green leaves and mine is cute and short with chartreuse leaves.  It just goes to show that there are no hard and fast rules for plants; trial and error can be worth more than an instruction manual.  And, in the end, houseplants exist for the sole purpose of making their owners happy and if you’re not able to maintain a strict regimen of care, you should still try, you could wind up with a green friend for years to come.  Oh, and definitely try a money tree—anyone can grow one!

by Adrienne Neff, Behnke’s Graphics Department

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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