A Long Goodbye at the Houseplant Hospice

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Yeah, got it. Pick the plant, buy the plant, transplant the plant, nurture, and enjoy a thriving plant. Easy stuff all that.

What about kill the plant?

How about: “Finally, once and for all, kill the plant I’ve had for over ten years that’s a cutting from back home and used to flower so beautifully on the fire escape in the old apartment before my ex and I broke up and is still in that darn pot we hauled all the way from Chicago to New York one freezing winter in her screaming yellow ’73 Super Beetle that had no heater, along with the veritable jungle from her dorm room at grad school and …” Oh my! One sure can get attached to the ideas behind a plant and its history, as much as the plant itself. That makes it all the harder to say a permanent good-bye.

To the task at hand. Who will dig into the grisly details of finally deciding to do one in? You know—that innocent and storied but now useless plant that won’t thrive and also won’t get it over with and just die on its own. How do I accomplish pre-meditated, well-planned plant euthanasia, cover my tracks, do it with style, and still sleep at night?

I mean, do I put it out on the sidewalk and give it a “live if you can” chance? Could some passerby show more mercy than I could? Do I mulch it, flush it, burn it? Or do I cut it into waste-can-size bits and put it out with the trash, dismembered and smothered in its own stale soil?

At the local bookstore, there are hundreds of glossy, upbeat guides about buying houseplants, selecting hearty specimens, methods of propagation, fertilizing, transplanting, and every other aspect of indoor gardening. The plants in these books (and in our fantasies) are pictured possessing an almost supernatural vitality, their proud owners hovering nearby aglow with pure satisfaction.

Sure, some of these guides also have one dark, brief chapter that includes a well-known litany of “Thou Shalt Nots.” They tsk-tsk about overwatering, and over-fertilizing, and then they cite the other cardinal sins known to most indoor gardeners. As a small act of mercy, the offending owners are somehow never in the frame when some poor root-bound, too-pruned, pest-infested runt of a plant is pictured suffering the ravages of tired soil and poor drainage. Then presto— it’s on to more happy success stories.

One thing’s for sure, it can’t just sit there in the corner of my apartment getting more pitiful with each passing day. It’s not my fault, I tried. This is not a matter of resolve or justification, just technique. It’s spring now, it’s time, I’ll do it.

Since this topic most likely will not be at the center of a riveting episode of The Sopranos or a CSI spin-off, it’s all the better to discuss it openly, right? And if this becomes a major talking point when I stand at the pearly gates, I do hope someone will vouch for me.

I resolve to:

Get started, do it at once, and push the task through to completion. The soon-to-be dearly departed had a good, long run. Now there is no time for hesitation or half-measures.

In with the new: I will get a replacement plant in advance and I’ll use that newcomer for inspiration to carry out the deed.

Out with the old: I will not re-use the pot or soil, nor will I try to re-use the little drainage rocks at the bottom of the pot even though it’s always a hassle to get more.

If I’m going to try propagating a cutting from the victim … er … patient … er … condemned, I will do so in advance. I’ll make sure it’s well-established before the murder. Having the little cutting wither and die, after doing in its parent, seems far too sad.

I’ll remind myself that the other plants don’t really notice what happened. But I will plan for people in my home asking about it. I’ll have a well-practiced “plant exit statement” handy.

Last, I will harbor no regrets. Done is done and gone is gone. Plants don’t live forever. And even without it in my life, there’s a good chance I’ll have no trouble remembering the snowy and wind-blasted Wisconsin night so many years ago when I saved that very plant’s life by rushing it into a well-heated hotel room from the back seat of a frosty yellow Volkswagen.


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