Like many people, Ashley Nussman-Berry was inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020. She was touched, as so many were touched, by the cold realities and injustices that still resonate even in today’s highly modernized world. She created Black Planters, a safe space where Black women and all people who love the outdoors can connect and discuss social issues, racism, planting and gardening.
Black Planters started as a Facebook Group. And soon, that group swelled to more than 40,000 members. She inspired others in the Black community to reclaim gardening as a hobby and a passion, a labor of love and not as a labor. The history of Black people tending to plants is a tangled one, a story that is rife with sadness and unspeakable acts of cruelty. But groups like Black Planters are building something new out of this painful past.
We had the chance to speak with Nussman-Berry about Black Planters, and about plant care and gardening in general. She shared her tips for growing plants and how to use them to promote health and well-being.
Can you share some tips for protecting and preserving plants during winter?
Ashley Nussman-Berry: During cold weather, indoor plants should be moved away from cold drafts. Move plants away from windows, doors and air conditioning units and vents. The lack of sunlight during winter will stress many tropical plants, so adding a grow light or two may be essential for plant survival.
Adjust your watering schedule to your plants’ needs. Depending on where you live and your home conditions, many plants will require less water due to needing a winter dormancy period, while other plants will dry out more quickly due to heaters drying out the air. Constantly having your heater on will also cause a decrease in humidity, so consider adding a humidifier to your space.
Regularly check your plants for pests, because many plants are more susceptible in winter due to decreases in airflow and humidity. Outdoor plants that are cold-sensitive should be covered with frost cloth, brought indoors or placed inside a greenhouse.
How do you help people find the right plants for their living space and lifestyle?
Ashley Nussman-Berry: Many people in my Facebook group, Black Planters, ask for help finding the “perfect” plant or ask for plant recommendations. I usually recommend pothos for beginner planters because they are forgiving when it comes to over and underwatering and do not require much attention to thrive.
When searching for the right plant, I always recommend going into a plant store and finding something that looks appealing to you. Once you see a plant that speaks to your heart, do a quick search online or join an online plant group to see what its care needs are. Try to replicate its needs in your home by providing the recommended light, humidity, water, etc.
If the plant dies or fails to thrive, I use trial and error and learn to do better next time. Build upon your plant knowledge with each plant and, eventually, you will succeed and the plants will acclimate to your environment.
Tell us about some pet-friendly plants and ways to keep furry friends out of your plants.
Ashley Nussman-Berry: My favorite pet-friendly plants are spider plants, bamboo, money trees and areca palms — make sure you double-check the species of palm because certain palms are extremely toxic to pets. These plants can be found at most big box stores and are great for beginner planters as they can be easily replaced if needed.
To keep pets away from plants, look for pot soil covers that are easy to use. There are some pet deterrent sprays, but a member of Black Planters recently told me that citrus can be a natural way to deter both cats and dogs. I personally would stop my hairless cat whenever he would play with a plant. He liked to play soccer with air plants and succulents, and liked to swat at anything that hung or swayed, so I would redirect him or distract him with a toy.
I was afraid that I would have to get rid of my plants when I brought him home, but with some training, I now do not have to worry about him interfering with plants and I can have plants of all types around.
What do people need to know about finding the right soils and equipment?
Ashley Nussman-Berry: Having the right growing medium for the plant and for your environment can be crucial. Some plants require a well-draining soil, while others like a soil with water retention. You should match your soil medium and pots to your indoor environment and to your plants’ needs.
For example, my house and the area where I live are super dry, while the plants I collect tend to need a lot of humidity. I remedy this by choosing a soil that can hold some water without causing root rot and I prefer to use self-watering pots, so the plants do not immediately dry out. I also run humidifiers when I can.
Which plants work well as decorative plants for home and office spaces?
Ashley Nussman-Berry: I love palms, schefflera, pothos and bird of paradise for decorative pieces because they catch the eye and add a lot of green to the space. I also love any huge plant, especially monstera, for a statement piece. As with all plants, make sure your home and office spaces have adequate lighting for plants, or add a grow light to supplement for the lack of it.
Which plants promote peace and well-being?
Ashley Nussman-Berry: All plants can promote peace and well-being. That said, if a plant is causing you stress, it may not be the right plant for you. For me, anthurium bring me peace because I love their beauty and how the leaves look when they harden off. Pothos promote lots of peace because they constantly grow and thrive, and they can survive less-than-ideal conditions. Pothos can also be cut up and propagated easily in water, so you can have their long vines all over your living space to create a peaceful jungle vibe.
Can you give us some tips about which plants are good to grow in community gardens?
Ashley Nussman-Berry: My favorite things to grow in gardens are cucumbers and tomatoes because they are easy to care for and generate a lot of produce, so they can be shared with many people. They can also be eaten right off the vine, which is another plus.
These are great plants for beginners because they do not require much care or expertise, can grow in almost any condition and thrive in all plant zones as long as they have sun. I recommend watering them daily or whenever they look dry, and leave them alone to grow unless they need to be staked when they get large or top-heavy.
Images via Black Planters