ISOLATED AT HOME WITH AN UNPRECEDENTED AMOUNT OF FREE TIME, the early days of the pandemic saw people substitute their social lives with new hobbies and projects. Some picked up musical instruments, golf experienced a renaissance, as did sourdough (for those who could find flour), and, with water, sun and soil insulated from supply chain woes, many turned to the ancient art of plant care.
Kimberly Mozal’s thumb has been green since long before the coronavirus came to town. From home, surrounded by her lush houseplant family in the early days of the pandemic, she watched as her friends and people in her community grew increasingly interested in home horticulture. What began as a pop-up at a friend’s yoga studio in the fall of 2020, where Mozal sold her own propagated plants, has blossomed into a full-fledged nursery. In December 2021, Dirty Girl Plant Co. expanded into the former Monterey County Republican Headquarters at 1098 Del Monte Blvd., a space with a windowed façade where the defining color has shifted from red to green.
Although the pandemic has created a growing community of new plant parents in its wake, for many, the art of keeping even just one or two plants from dying is a work in progress. Mozal, meanwhile, has staked her financial well-being on her skill in keeping an entire store inventory of plants happy and thriving. Surely she has secrets to share.
Weekly: Where do you find most of your customers are in their plant journeys?
Mozal: We have a lot of different people who walk through the door, from people who are like, “I want my first plant, I think plants are cool,” to “I want my first plant, but I don’t really want to interact with it.” There are people who want to engage their plants and water and wipe down their leaves, then there are people who already have a huge collection of plants who are looking for that really uncommon, rare species.
For the beginners, I will show them more low-maintenance plants that will essentially tell you when they want water, that don’t need super bright light and aren’t super picky with their watering schedule, pothos, philodendron, or zz plants. Then you have something like palatias, that are a little bit diva, they want filtered or distilled water, medium light, high humidity. Every plant has their own little thing. Just like people and animals, they all have their own little quirks.
Sounds like there is a lot of variety, but I’m sure there are some founding principles of plant care …
Yes, they don’t want to be in a room with no light (laughs). Seriously, though, medium to bright light is most plants. Most houseplants do not want direct light, they’re going to burn if they get direct, midday light as it is super hot sun. So, make sure you’re giving them diffused light or they are at least pulled back from a really hot window.
Plants also need plant food – fertilizer. Every plant needs it.
And that’s more than just soil?
Yes. I like to use fertilizer every time I water, just so the plants get extra nutrients. You have to be careful though because you can burn your plants if you put too much in, so always err on the side of diluting the fertilizer down. But you also have to be careful with water. You can kill a plant a lot faster by overwatering than underwatering.
What about haircuts?
Cut off yellowing leaves. Get rid of them. They’re just sucking energy from the plant that is trying to get rid of it and trying to grow new leaves. If you also find that there is a lot of space between leaves on your plant, you can cut the stems back and give them a little extra light so you have less space between leaves. I also recommend repotting your plant a month after you bring it home from the store, then every year to 18 months after that.
What’s your thought on wiping down leaves? Is that simply for aesthetics?
Plants are getting their sunlight through their leaves – that’s how they’re creating their nutrients. If a plant is in bright light but its leaves are under a layer of dust, then it’s getting less light. Wiping down leaves also allows you to detect pests earlier.