Large monstera deliciosa leaf
Plant care basics

3 mistakes that lead to houseplant burnout

By last winter, several years into our plant collection, and with 200 plants. I was definitely feeling the ‘plant burnout’.

Having had time to reflect, I think this was because I’d made some key mistakes. I’m sharing them here so that you don’t have to make them too!

Mistake 1: Buying too many plants

I was definitely guilt of buying (and swapping) way too many plants. Like many folks I got carried away, egged on by social media.

But it’s one thing having 120 identical pots of pothos, and quite another having 120 different types of plants. Each type of plant has its different needs and different issues. Even with the best organisation and research, that’s a lot to find the time and headspace for.

I actually found the best thing to do was to leave most of the houseplant buy and sell groups I was in, because I was collecting plants I didn’t need.

Mistake 2: Forgetting that some plants will really grow

When you get things right and your plants thrive, they will grow. It sounds obvious to say that they’ll get physically bigger. But if you start out by seeing every empty shelf or windowsill as empty spots to be filled you’ll very soon run out of room!

It could be a monstera deliciosa that’s grown so big that it’s about to topple over, a trailing pot of tradescantia that’s sprawled so far that it’s started to get straggly, or a satin potho that’s decided to sucker onto our wall for support.

When plants do well, they’ll need more space. Even if you chop and prop, those additional plants will also need more space. Whether you intend to turn your home into a plant cultivation factory, remember to leave room to deal with your plants naturally proliferating!

Scindapsus pictus 'Argyraeus' (satin pothos) shingling up a plastered wall
Scindapsus pictus ‘Argyraeus’ (satin pothos) shingling up a plastered wall

Mistake 3: Not cutting my losses sooner on plants that were destined to die

There were some plants that I was absolutely determined to make thrive at all costs. Whether it was the spidermite-infested calathea, or the alocasia that went dormant for the winter and wouldn’t spring back to life.

I kept plugging away at them, desperately trying to adjust the conditions, repot them, and treat their pests. Every time I saw them I felt a pang of guilt. I eventually moved them so that they were out of sight and out of mind. 

Even if there was only a smidgen of green left, it was only when they were truly ‘dead dead’ would I admit defeat and throw them on the compost heap.

What I should’ve realised sooner is that not every plant is going to thrive in my care. That could be because the conditions in our home aren’t ideal, or because I don’t have the time or expertise for them.

And it’s ok to give up, accept a plant has basically died, and throw or give it away!

Downsizing our collection and mindful plant parenthood

With several life changes over the past year or so, I’ve been looking to keep downsizing and simplifying our collection.

Plants bring so much joy, but I absolutely hate the feeling of guilt that comes with feeling ‘behind’ with my plant care. That’s a big sign that I need to downsize!

So I’m starting to sell lots of our plants, pots and paraphernalia locally via Facebook Marketplace.

It’s hard because we’ve become used to a lush, jungly home. At at first it feels a little bare when groups of plants disappear. But I have to keep reminding myself that we still have a beautiful plant-filled home and all the benefits that it brings. And that it brings me to a healthier, more sustainable place in general.

Oxalis triangularis in flower
Oxalis triangularis in flower

Spreading the plant love to new homes

What’s been really lovely is getting to meet other people embarking on their own plant journey. 

We usually get into conversation because I’m keen to recommend the right plant for the right space (even if it’s one I don’t have for them). I really want to help them avoid that feeling of deflation as you learn and sometimes fail at understanding what plants need. 

In the process I’ve met a few other young couples looking to make their first house more green and homely – just like we were a few years ago. It almost ends up being a houseplant consultation. Best of all I’m able to give them a bargain houseplant starter kit! 

Knowing that our plants have gone to a good home, and that others are able to get the same enjoyment is so rewarding. Most plat people have shown amazing kindness and generosity to me over the years, and I want to pay it forward. And it also makes the sadness and initial emptiness of downsizing easier to get past.

The houseplant hobby and consumerism

Online plant communities are amazing places to connect with other like minded people. But they also come with the same consumerist tendencies as any other hobby.

I’ve seen people talking online about ‘plant bans’ because they’ve spent too much money, lying to their partners about what they’ve bought, or getting stressed because they’ve taken on too much.

My advice is that if you feel this way too, it’s probably a sign that it’s time for a step back. Reflect on what’s enjoyable and sustainable for you rather than others – whether that’s 10 plants or 100 plants.

The moral of the story is to understand and accept where your limit is. And much like anything else, try to recognise patterns of unhealthy behaviour and most importantly take action to look after yourself.

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