Your Best Bet for Keeping Your Plant Alive Might Be NOT Following the Instructions

updated Mar 15, 2021
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For most houseplant lovers it’s incredibly difficult to pass up a great deal on a plant — and at grocery stores, big-box retailers, and hardware stores, those deals are plentiful. I mean, who wouldn’t want to take home a bird of paradise for $14.99 or a fern for $3.99?

But sometimes those bargain plants can bring some challenges. Picture this: You score a gorgeous plant at a super price. You get it home and read the tag, only to realize that it says…. “tropical plant.” There is no mention of what that plant actually is, and the care instructions you’re left with are vague at best.

You might even bring it home with a completely incorrect tag and incorrect care instructions. For example, I recently saw someone post on social media about buying a bird of paradise at a hardware store for a very low price. The person posted a picture of the plant, but it wasn’t a bird of paradise at all! It turned out to be a dieffenbachia instead, which has radically different care requirements.

The plants that are carried at these big box stores are grown in bulk and mass marketed by wholesale nurseries that have a consignment contract, which leaves a lot of room for labeling errors.

So it might be counterintuitive, but the best bet for keeping that amazing plant you found at the grocery store alive is to not follow the instructions on the label. Instead, do some research. After all, we’re living in an age where all of that information is literally at our fingertips. A quick cross referencing of your new plant’s care requirements will help you in the long run.

If the label has an actual name on it, search it up. Does the picture match the one you just brought home? Great! You’re a lucky one.

If the label is wrong and it’s a totally different plant, start your comprehensive search. Try searching for what it might be, and see what you come up with. You can use educated guesses of the plant species to see if the pics match what you’re holding, or go broader with general descriptors of your plant (“tropical plant with striped leaves”).

If the search engines fail you, try social media. There are thousands of houseplant groups that serve this exact purpose. (A particularly popular one: House Plant Hobbyist on Facebook, which has nearly half a million members of all knowledge and experience levels). Put these groups to use by posting a photo of your plant and asking for ID help. I guarantee you’ll have answers within minutes.

The same goes for care instructions. It’s better to see if the listed instructions are correct before you get a month or so down the road and realize you’ve killed your plant because you were giving it the wrong care — too much or too little water, too much or too little light, not enough humidity, and more. Once you’ve figured out the right name for your plant, finding plant care instructions is a lot easier. Hit up Google — or Apartment Therapy’s own Houseplant Encyclopedia — to find expert care instructions for your particular plant baby.

If a vague or completely incorrect tag has happened to you or really riles you up, speak up! Send a letter to the retailer telling them that this error occurred. Cheap plants deserve proper labels, too!