By Kelly Youngblood
Got a question about plants or gardening? Someone in CU Plant People likely has the answer.
The Facebook group, intended to connect local plant enthusiasts in the Champaign-Urbana area, has become a great resource for plant and garden lovers since it first took root just over a year ago.
Whether an experienced gardener or a total plant newbie, CU Plant People is a place for area residents to share ideas, ask for help and even exchange products through plant swaps or sales.
The page has grown quickly since the idea was first planted 15 short months ago, blossoming to 2,700 members with new people joining every day.
For Lauren Quinn, founder of CU Plant People, the page is “one of the most supportive, happy places on the internet.”
Quinn comes from a long line of plant people. She describes her great grandfather as an amateur botanist, famous (in her family, at least) for breeding a species of peony and naming it after her mother. Quinn currently has one growing in her garden. Quinn says her mom was also a gardening and plant influencer.
Quinn has two degrees in botany and worked as a plant ecology researcher for 15 years so she can appreciate more than just a plant’s aesthetic qualities.
“I know that humans, and almost every other organism on the planet, literally wouldn’t have evolved if plants hadn’t enriched the atmosphere with the oxygen we need to survive,” Quinn said.
While plants have always been a part of her life, Quinn really started getting into houseplants at the end of 2019. Looking for other like-minded individuals nearby, she decided to host a community plant swap in February of 2020.
“We had a great turnout, and the vibe in that room was so wonderful, with people exchanging plants, ideas, care tips, and just generally bonding over plants. Right afterward, I created the Facebook group, CU Plant People, which welcomes plant lovers of all kinds, new and experienced, houseplants and garden plants to learn together and share our mutual passion for plants,” said Quinn.
Shortly after, the pandemic shut down the possibility of doing more in-person swaps. But swapping continued, COVID-style, with people making connections in the group and doing contactless swaps on porches across the community.
The first post-quarantine, in-person plant swap will be held on May 29 (weather permitting) from 2-5 p.m. in the parking lot at Sola Gratia Farm in Urbana. Individuals are welcome to bring houseplants, cuttings, garden plants, perennial divisions, and plant accessories to share. More info can be found here.
The discussion in CU Plant People can vary — focusing more on houseplants in the winter and gardening in the summer and spring. Many share their gardening wins as well as their flops.
Learning from her own mistakes, Quinn offers a few tips to novice gardeners.
“Really think through your garden’s design or theme before getting started and before going shopping,” Quinn said. “Buying a bunch of cool-looking plants is fun, but you can end up with a hodge-podge look with no cohesion or flow.”
She also recommends buying in groups of three or five at least.
Quinn says before planting perennials, consider how big they will actually get. “I’ve made the mistake of not planting perennials with their ultimate size in mind, putting something large in an awkward spot just because it’s small when I plant it.”
As for houseplant advice, Quinn says you first must know your home conditions and choose plants that will thrive in your space.
“Do you have unobstructed south, west, or east-facing windows (these are where a lot of common plants are happiest)? Or do large trees shade your whole house, leaving you with low-light conditions? If so, would you consider adding grow lights to your home, or do you truly need to stick with low-light plants?”
Quinn says you should also think about your time commitment. Are you someone who likes to put in a lot of time and effort with your plants, or do you need a low-maintenance plant that you only have to check once in awhile?
“Really thinking through these questions — again, before you head to the plant shop — will absolutely help you make good choices for your space and guide your care,” Quinn said.
One of the most common mistakes new houseplant owners make is watering on a set schedule, which very often leads to overwatering, Quinn says.
“For the vast majority of houseplants, you want to avoid watering until you can stick your finger into the soil one to two inches and it comes out dry. If you like schedules, I always tell people to designate a plant checking day once a week, rather than a plant watering day,” she said.
For Quinn, who has about 120 houseplants and a “work-in-progress garden,” plants just make her happy.
“I love the meditative quality of inspecting (plants) for new growth and the beginnings of flowers (yes, many houseplants flower!) on my water-checking days. With gardening, it’s about creating something beautiful, seeing butterflies and bees and even hummingbirds swarming my flowers in the summer, and again, the meditative state of mind I slip into when weeding or planting or doing other garden chores,” Quinn said.
“In short, plants bring me joy. Plant care is my self care.”
For more friendly planting advice, join the Facebook group and follow #CUPlantPeople on Instagram.
Garden and Flower Farms in Champaign-Urbana and Beyond | Best Kept Secret: Plant Biology Greenhouse on the University of Illinois Campus