How to Houseplant

My mom grew roses when I was kid. Gorgeous, HUGE roses with conceited, ruffled petals in every 80s pastel color imaginable, especially all the varieties of peach. She trimmed them, and dead headed the rose hips, and put tar on the end of every cut stalk to make sure the aphids didn’t get to the vulnerable plant, and my brother and I would play in the crab grass while she worked the rose beds, and threaten each other with bodily harm, but we stayed away from the roses because we knew what was good for us.

My grandma’s specialty was African violets. And cross stitch. And cross stitched African violets. I never knew her without them, the half wall in her dining room covered with her special white plastic shelves, grow lights, and precisely set timers eager to do her bidding. I bet if Grandma had put her mind to it, she would’ve grown great pot with that set-up. A carefully curated environment, every dead leaf perfectly plucked, and each bud babied. She could’ve made bank, friends, if she’d been just a little entrepreneurial.

But me? I didn’t inherit their green thumbs. Not even a little.

Or so I thought.


I used to think I was bad at growing house plants, just because I always killed them. Now I know I was just growing the wrong kind of plants, and my technique was all wrong, because guess what I discovered?




I showed my kids, because I want them to have memories of their mom growing things and not, well, poisoning everything I touch.






So I asked her if she knew what I was growing from the yellow potatoes.


“What, Mom? What are you growing from those?” she asked.


“A yellow potato plant,” I said, proudly.

“WOW, Mom,” she said, and she meant it, because she’s my FAVORITE, and I told her I’m growing sweet potato plants, too…


… because I am.

Turns out, I’m excellent at growing plants. I just needed to find my kind. My mama rocked the roses. My grandma loved the African violets. I’m more of a tubers and root veggies girls, myself. Kinda makes me wonder what else I think I’m bad at that I’m… well… not.



With love, friends,





P.S. In case you’re also good at growing house plants and need home decorating ideas, I tried out the following and can highly recommend:

  1. Decorate a Bookshelf


2. Or a Mantel:



3. Or, of course, a Restroom



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18 responses to “How to Houseplant”

  1. YESSS!!!! I grow those too! The other week I got really inspired and stuffed the spud into a pot. Now I’m growing ‘possible potatoes’ because really there’s no way I can get much root growth in a 12″ pot, but I’m enjoying the foliage. It may be just what our bathroom needs….perhaps I’ll place my pot of possibility in the bathroom for added décor! I laughed so hard when I read this post! I also thought of you when I was writing my own most recent blog (

  2. “and I told her I’m growing sweet potato plants, too … because I (y)am.” I don’t know if that was deliberate, but well played. Bravo!

  3. Warnings from a fellow potato grower…there is a fine line between growing and rotting…and MAN do those things STINK when they rot! LOL Love the onion plant on the potty – truly inspired!

  4. I know you’re being silly, but that’s a rocking sweet potato start. Seriously. I do that on purpose with my sweet potatoes so I can plant them in my garden the next spring. (The starts are actually pretty expensive to buy from the store.) If you have a good place to put them, just stick them in the dirt once it’s warm enough and watch them grow! They’re super-hardy and will give you a good crop. Of course, they’re lovely decorations as well.

  5. Girl, you’re growin’ some fine tubers. In fact, I have to keep fussing with my husband who keeps trying to *throw away* the sprouted potatoes in the bin. I’ve explained my plan to actually PLANT them, but he’s not buying it. I keep meaning to try to grow potatoes, though, and it seems like these have a head start on those puny little potato starts that just have eyes.

    I do think your decor ideas for the onion are inspired. I can’t decide on a favorite.

    Keep that green thumb going; you’ve clearly found your niche.

  6. My grandfather was the green thumb in my family. Roses were his forte, too. As well as raspberries, and gold fish. He trimmed, and cocoa shelled, and harvested. Eating raspberries in the winter is one of my fondest memories of that time. Me? I was ok at plants – then I had kids. The decision had to be made: do I pay attention to the plants so that they thrive? Or, do I pay attention to the kids? I chose the kids. So, hey! I’ve managed to “grow” 4 kids – houseplants? Not so much! I can tell you that my tuber plants have not fared nearly as wonderfully as yours. You do ROCK!

    • Yes, exactly. I grow 4 kids and the almost impossible to kill Christmas cactuses that my Grandma gave me like 15 years ago are barely hanging on. 2 have bit the dust in the last year alone.

  7. Philodendron, spider plants, and….. ta-da!!!!…… CACTUS! The only way to kill a cactus is to overwater it. So if you always forget to water your plants, then cacti are for you. They also do extremely well when they are root bound, so if you never get around to repotting it out of that little pot it came in, it will eventually grow up to be the cactus that ate Chicago. With the added bonus that the spines will keep all those busy, curious little fingers from destroying it.

    Girl, didn’t you ever slice a tuber (sweet potatoes are good candidates) in half, and suspend it in a jar of water by toothpicks stuck in it? If you keep it on the windowsill by the sink, where you will be reminded to add water occasionally, it will grow lots of roots and bountiful greenery. Instant plant!

    • Heh, I’m so bad I even killed my spider plant that I’d had since college. Whoops! And a sunshine cactus. Although my Christmas cactuses are still surviving, just haven’t bloomed since we moved 6 years ago, it’s the wrong light for them. 🙁

  8. I’ve done most of those, intentionally and otherwise. I, too, tend to have a black thumb (my college roommate and I actually managed to kill the same coleus twice!). I have learned that I do OK with succulents because they seem to thrive on what I like to call “benign neglect”, also known as every now and then I realize it’s been a long time since I’ve watered them and usually get around to doing it within a week or two of that realization.

  9. I don’t get the tags?? Who’s the idiot? If you are, then wow, I’m an idiot as well (as being a bad mother, a bad teacher, a bad wife, lazy, not handy, very disorganized, a hoarder, …) – sigh. It’s getting too much to keep afloat! Deep waters, here I come!
    Or no, I’m not, ’cause NO BETH, YOU ARE NOT AN IDIOT! Look, you’ve found the plant that covers the smells in the restroom!! and you’re sharing it with all of us! The perfect Valentine’s present if you ask me! Which you didn’t, but I’m telling you anyway!

    Jade – who can’t even do houseplants, my basil never survives, and the potatoes never grew into plants in my garden… and I absolutely adore the sweet potato plants, they’re very pretty! Thanks for showing me – need to go buy some now. See you soon!

  10. I applaud your play-growing efforts, but there’s something you should know before that gets out of hand. A couple of years ago, during one of my attempts to “do the right thing”, I arbitrarily decided I was going to heed some sort of random Internet advice that you shouldn’t put potatoes and onions in the refrigerator, because…something something, and they should instead be kept in a dark, cool place. It dawned on me that I had a cute painted wood breadbox sitting on my counter that would be PERFECT to keep my big new bag of potatoes in! Yay! So I put my potatoes in there, and felt very accomplished. Apparently, we do not eat potatoes nearly as often as I thought, though. At some point several months later, I started having fruit flies all over the kitchen. I fussed at the kids about leaving half-eaten apples all over the place, and tried to be better about making sure the lid was on the trash, etc. Still, fruit flies. Lots and lots of fruit flies. Sink drain, maybe? Bleached that baby. Sealed up every bit of food in the kitchen. No relief. Never could really tell where they were coming from. And then, one day, I went to clean all the random built-up crap off the counter, unearthed the bread box, and remembered the potatoes. Something…liquid had oozed out of the breadbox onto the counter underneath it, and jostling it made it very clear where the fruit flies were coming from. I made the ultra-mature decision to get a black trash bag, encase the whole unopened bread box in it, run outside, dump it in the trash cart, and pretend it never happened. “Mom, remember when the potatoes–” “NOPE. No, I sure don’t, and neither do you. Go do some homework or something.” So for the love of God, keep those plants in a bowl.

    • I thought I was done laughing and then I read your story. I’ve only had vaguely stinky rotting veggies that I’ve had to go and discover…thanks for topping that, for sure. I can SO see myself doing that. “Great little box! This will be PERFECT…” Weeks or months later… “OMG WHAT WAS I THINKING…”

      Seriously, thanks for being so real.

  11. I grow those too! We have so much in common! Seriously, I did that once and then actually took them and put them in some dirt and they made pretty potato plants.

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