I have the propensity to rant about plants. Not necessarily plants themselves, but about some of the insanity that takes place within the plant community. Some might say I woke up and chose violence, but I just felt like it was time to clear the air.

One of the things that tends to get under my collar is the many misconceptions that perpetuate. For instance, I remember the first time my father came over to my home after I had just discovered my love for styling plants in my home. He mentioned that he believed I got my passion from my great-grandmother, and I thought to myself “wow”. And then he nonchalantly followed that up with “She would put fish heads in her soil”.

Caught off guard, I began to chuckle at his joke. But I could tell by his expression that he wasn’t joking. In fact, he was dead fish head serious. Not only was my jaw on the floor, but I had to hold back my lunch.. Because … well, that’s gross. My father told me that’s what people did back then as a natural fertilizer for their plants. It made me ruminate about all of the wild folklore care tips and misconceptions that have been handed down to all of us. Like putting ice cubes on your orchids or using milk to shine your leaves. I’m sorry … What? What were our elders thinking?

Sounds Fishy

Honestly, I kind of understand my great-grandmother’s reasoning behind placing her leftover fish heads in her soil. Fish emulsion can be a great fertilizer for your garden vegetables, and with my great grams being proficient in the outdoor garden, she probably figured, why can’t I do this inside with my houseplants. The obvious reason would be because it will make your home smell like fish carcass, but also it would foster a happy gnat population. We all want our houseplants to get the nutrients they need, but this isn’t the way. There are many wonderful fertilizers out there that you can use for your indoor gardens that won’t make your pots smell like a trash can, and will help your plants show off their true selves.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Ice Crazy

This is the one that almost all of us have heard of and many of you still do today. Yup, the infamous “water your orchids with ice cubes” craze. Ugh. This might be the one that gets my goat the most. (Sidebar, the phrase “gets my goat” also gets my goat.) This wild care tip may even be on the care tags of the orchids you purchase from plant shops.

Now I know this has worked for some, but it isn’t the way we should be watering our orchids. If you believe just placing a few ice cubes on your orchids will keep them alive, I have a boat to sell you in the Sahara Desert. How about we save the ice cubes for our tea and water our orchids like we do all our other plants, with intention and care. Orchids love humidity, so placing them in a lukewarm shower every few days would be great. They also prefer indirect or dappled light, so let’s not place them in those southern or western facing windows.

Dairy Sheen

Have you ever looked over at one of your beloved plants and thought, “Hmmm, I was going to put this milk in my coffee, but maybe I should use it to wipe down my leaves?”. Yes, you read that right. There are people out there that are wiping their leaves down with milk to help give their foliage a “shine”.

While it may help create a bit of a sticky sheen on your leaves, it can also clog the pores of your foliage, making it difficult for the plant to breathe. It can also encourage pesky gnats to buzz around your home. If you’re looking to give your plants back their natural shine without visiting your local dairy farm, all you need to do is take 2-3 drops of mild dish soap, mix with a bowl of lukewarm water and with a soft cloth dipped in the solution, gently wipe down your leaves. To protect the leaf from damage, make sure you place one hand under the leaf while the other is wiping away any dirt, dust or grime. This won’t give your foliage the look of a shiny new leaf but it will help bring out its natural color and texture. Keep in mind these are living things, not props. If it matters to you that the foliage looks as shiny as plastic, there are many faux plants out there for you to choose from.

Whenever these misconceptions appear, I like to ask this question: “Does that happen in the plant’s natural habitat?” In most situations the answer is undoubtedly “NO!” And if it isn’t something that the plant has access to in the wild, why try it in your home? The goal of any good plant parent is to try to replicate their plant’s natural environment. Provide them with the same type of light, moisture, food and humidity that they receive in the wild, not from a grocery store.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

At the end of the day, if any of these wild ideas are working for you, who am I to tell you not to do it? Do you! Especially if your grandmother told you to do so. I, for one, do not want the smoke.

Hilton Carter is a plant and interior stylist, artist and author from Baltimore.

More From The Banner