March 21, 2023


Your building is home to a relentless plant killer. Your 2nd D neighbor, the one who always says hello, the one you’re going to ask to come over and water your plants while you’re on summer vacation, she’s going to kill them. It is not certain, but it is quite probable. “This is what usually happens,” explains Elena Páez, owner of the Madrid botanical cabinet Planthae. “You have to be very careful who is going to take care of our plants while we are gone, because people water without rhyme or reason. Friends and neighbors are very dangerous, they flood the plants and leave, ”she explains by phone from Porto. Páez has left her plants in the care of a friend, but she is calm. She herself taught him one of Planthae’s courses and workshops to care for indoor plants. Courses where advice is given such as the following.

When going on vacation, as important as preparing the suitcase is preparing the plants. The first thing to do is a vegetable gathering and pile them all in one point. “This is how we create a miniature forest,” explains Páez, “this way they protect each other and make moisture evaporate much less.” Projecting a forest to walk around the house is complicated. You have to think about a location, always looking for a cool place without much direct light. The bathroom could be a good option. “You have to give it some light, but not a lot,” he points out. In this way, photosynthesis is limited, something that is convenient when there is not much water available. “In this process, sugars are generated, so the more light it gives the plant, the more energy it will consume. However, if we place it in a place with dim light, it will remain hibernating, thus needing less water.”

With the forest located and placed, it is time to think of tricks to create a homemade automatic irrigation. There is the cord technique, which involves taking a permeable cotton cord (beware: you have to cut the ends covered in plastic), soak it in water and insert one end into a bottle filled with water and the other into the earth. This will absorb the water it needs through the cord. Another idea is to place a plastic bottle upside down, with a stopper previously pierced with a needle. There are also adjustable drippers that can be bought in specialized stores. For the more prepared, you can even choose to place a humidifier near the plants, which never hurts, especially in dry climates like Madrid.

Elena Páez, owner of Planthae, in her shop in Madrid.
Elena Páez, owner of Planthae, in her shop in Madrid.KIKE FOR

When you return from vacation, explains the expert, another critical moment occurs. It is then, when seeing the dry plant, many owners choose to flood it, in an aquatic frenzy that can be deadly. “Plants are living beings, she thinks of them as a person. If he has had a heat stroke, you would not offer him a lot of water at once, you would give it little by little so that he does not feel bad. This is the same”. It is what is known as water stress, going from receiving little water to receiving too much, a contrast that can kill the most resistant plant.

All this goes for indoor plants, but what about those on the terrace? To save them, it is best to install automatic irrigation. This can only be done if there is a water outlet in the outer space, because if it is done with the kitchen tap, the plants can be saved and the parquet can be destroyed. And it doesn’t count. The installation begins with a visit to a large DIY area. There you can order a timer, a main hose, small hoses, adjustable drippers, stakes and flanges. There are kits that sell all of these items together and YouTube video tutorials to learn how to install them.

A plant nursery to avoid a plant graveyard

It’s six in the afternoon and the sun beats down on the Madrid neighborhood of El Rastro, but in Plantas luego existes, a shop with old furniture and leafy plants, there is a pleasant microclimate. Javier Lapuerta is inside making cuttings when a client appears through the door. “Hello Javi, how are you?” After a brief conversation about the weather (with 40 degrees this is not an elevator issue, but a State issue) he tells her about his problem: “Two floors have died, will you come over to replace them?”, He pleads. he. He has an antique shop nearby and the green goes well with the colonial furniture. “But with this heat they are constantly dying on me,” she laments.

Exterior of the Plantas then you exist store, in the Madrid neighborhood of El Rastro.
Exterior of the Plantas then you exist store, in the Madrid neighborhood of El Rastro.Luis Velasco,

It is already too late for the antiquarian plants, but for those of the others, Lapuerta has some advice: “What you have to do is observe the plant,” he explains. “You have to be careful not to water it too little, but not to flood it either. And be careful with heat strokes. You have to look at her and understand what she wants”. Lapuerta has been looking at and understanding plants for many years, he knows that theory is easy, but practice is not so easy. That is why he has set up a vegetable nursery: leaving them in his care costs 20 cents a day per plant or 2.5 euros a day for plants that fit in a fruit crate.

It all started with a misunderstanding. “Being in El Rastro and having a lot of customers on Sunday, we put up a sign at the entrance saying, ‘leave your plants here,’” recalls Lapuerta. “The idea was for them to buy and continue with their walk through El Rastro without having to carry them, but many people interpreted this as meaning that they could leave their plants here. They asked us and we thought it was a magnificent service”. That happened last summer. This year they have repeated and expanded the experience.

He and his two partners take care of about twenty plants and go around a couple of houses in the neighborhood. “Last year it was a small thing, but this year there has been a boom”, says the shopkeeper. “You can tell we are traveling more.” It is enough to leave his store to verify it. The street is deserted and the buildings have patched-up facades, windows closed, blinds drawn. The city looks like a desert, but an orchard is hidden in its houses. Behind its bolted and keyed doors await small groves of plants. Some will die at the hands of an inexperienced neighbor. Everyone awaits the return of their owners like spring water.

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