Work Hard, Plant Hard


So You Want to Host a Plant Swap?

ResourcesChristine K3 Comments

Having hosted 3 swaps now, I’ve received a lot of questions about the best way to do it. I learn a bit every time, so here are some tips thus far.

1)    Find a good venue. The most obvious place would be a local plant shop or nursery, who are often happy to host this type of event at their space. It brings them revenue since plant lovers like to plant shop! Make sure they have their own tables to fit the number you’re anticipating. (I’d recommend about 2 square feet of table space per person) and a nice open space. It’s also good to have the event somewhere that’s used to hosting. They may even have their own sign-up site you can use, and a group of regular customers who might be interested.

North Park Nursery (@northparknursery) is experienced at holding events. When we arrived, they had this sign ready to go.

North Park Nursery (@northparknursery) is experienced at holding events. When we arrived, they had this sign ready to go.

2)    Recruit people to help if you can. Even if they are just assigned to help recruit swappers, it’s nice to have a team! And unless you’re in the plant business yourself, you’ll be using your free time to organize. Having additional help will come in handy!

My team for the last swap made all the difference. From L -> R: Marsi of @northparknursery, Me (@workhardplanthard), Suz of @shopsuccsandstuff, Shannon of @horticulturistaa and Maryrose of @soiledplanties.

My team for the last swap made all the difference. From L -> R: Marsi of @northparknursery, Me (@workhardplanthard), Suz of @shopsuccsandstuff, Shannon of @horticulturistaa and Maryrose of @soiledplanties.

3)    Create an event sign-up and decide on the max number. This is typically set by the amount of space you have. EventBrite works well, but keep in mind they do take $1 per sign-up.

4)    I recommend a small fee (we’ve done $5). This not only increases the likelihood that people who sign up will show, but also provides money for light drinks/snacks, materials, and possibly a little giveaway. If the cost is too high, you risk pricing people out of coming. Plant swaps are all about community and sharing, so try to make it accessible to everyone.

5)    Provide basic instructions on your event sign-up. People will be nervous and have a lot of questions. These can preemptively be answered by giving lots of information up front in your sign-ups. I’ve included an example at the bottom of this post. I also included an email update we sent for the last swap.

6)    Start recruiting. Stories and posts on Instagram are one of the best ways. If you have a swipe-up function, use it. There are also Facebook groups you might announce on. (I’m seldom on Facebook, but if you are, you probably know where to find them).

7)    Consider bringing to the swap:

a.      Name tags

b.     Signage

c.     Basic instructions (can be on a whiteboard from Michaels, for example)

d.     Scissors

e.     A roll of paper towels and rubber bands to transport plants with a damp paper towel wrapped around the bare roots.

f.       Labels for plants or plant flats. At the last event we used masking tape and labeled peoples’ names on their flats.

g.      Cups, plates, snacks, drinks, ice/ice bucket or cooler. We were able to provide alcohol at the last swap by shopping at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Of course it’s important to have non-alcoholic options as well. As you can see in the instructions, I encouraged people to bring their own water/water bottles since I’m not a fan of plastic water bottles for environmental reasons.

h.     If you do a giveaway, bring a jar for giveaway names to be placed in along with entry cards

i.       Sharpies – lots.

j.       Plant flats – this was a first for this swap, and I think it worked well. The black mesh plastic flats are usually abundant at nurseries. They are not a must, but they allow an easy way to determine whose plants are whose. The entire flat can be labeled with that person’s name instead of individual plants. Special thanks to Shannon Stone of @horticulturistaa for this idea.

8)    At the swap: Welcome your attendants! Ask people to sign in and get their name tag. People will be nervous at first. This is normal. Many will be first-timers and feel awkward walking up to each other asking to swap plants. I make announcements with basic instructions that encourage people to grab a snack/drink and mingle first to loosen the atmosphere. Some people come to socialize with fellow plant lovers more than anything. I also encourage people to approach their host(s) with any questions. Any time they want to approach someone about a plant, just ask if they might be interested in seeing what they have to offer in a swap. Typically after about 20 min there’s no stopping anyone! Often there are a few generous people who just want to give away cuttings, which is fun as well.

Some experienced plant swappers go all out. Here is Joseph @plantdaddy_sd’s setup from the last swap. Plants are labeled and even on stands. This is not necessary but very cute and fun!

Some experienced plant swappers go all out. Here is Joseph @plantdaddy_sd’s setup from the last swap. Plants are labeled and even on stands. This is not necessary but very cute and fun!

Example event information:

“It’s plant swapping time! Come join us for a Plant Swap on Saturday, March 9 from 2-3:30pm. Bring your plants and cuttings to share with others, meet other plant nerds, make new planty friends, eat some snacks and check out all the goodies for sale in the nursery!

How does a plant swap work? Each attendee brings plants or plant cuttings to share with others. New to the plant world? Bring something simple like some succulent cuttings or babies. Plant enthusiasts — bring some of your special stuff to share with the rest of the collectors. Remember that everyone is in a different place in their plant journey so be prepared to chat, trade & learn. Learning is half the fun (ok, collecting is half the fun). Please, no plants for sale, just trades.

Space is limited, so sign-up soon! A $5 fee will help defray snack costs and secure your place. Once you register, more details will be forthcoming. 

Street parking will be available; but please be prepared to possibly walk a block or two, as things can get a little busy on the weekends.

$5 per person payable upon registration via EventBrite. Registration is only complete once you receive a payment confirmation email.

—    $5 fee is non-refundable”

Here’s an email update we sent a couple of days prior to the event (the nice thing about EvenBrite is you can easily email all the attendees): 

“Hey Plant Swappers,

Greetings! Thank you so much for signing up for our plant swap this weekend. At 60 people, it's sure to be lots of fun! We wanted to review a few things before the event; for additional information, see the EventBrite signup page. 

We recommend you come prepared to walk up to a few blocks. 
There's neighborhood parking around the nursery. We will have drinks and snacks, but please bring your own water bottle/water as we are staying away from plastic bottles for environmental reasons.

When you arrive at the event, please find one of the event hosts to get your name tag and sign in. 
We’ll also have more information for you to get situated and swapping.  We'll also have a giveaway, so be sure to put your name in the jar for that.

Say hi and get settled.
Typically the first part of the event is full of mingling--don't be nervous! It's a great time to connect with our plant community. We'll guide you through how to go about swapping, or feel free to dive in. Remember, no selling; just swaps or giveaways. Please feel free to grab us if you have any questions. We're excited to host you!”

Here’s some additional information that might be helpful to include, especially for new swappers. I borrowed it (with permission) from a post by Folia Collective (

-Use a sharp knife or shears, taking care not to crush the stem. 

-When taking cuttings of most leafy plants, cut low enough on the stem to leave 3-4 leaf nodes, or sets of leaves, intact. Other plants can be propagated from one leaf, sections of leaves, or simply dividing new plantlets off the mother plant, depending on the plant. 

-Place cuttings in water immediately, or wrap in a wet paper towel and place in a plastic bag. This is not necessary for cuttings that need to callus over, like succulents, cacti, sansevierias, etc. “

Katie of @learning_2_grow is happy with her haul!

Katie of @learning_2_grow is happy with her haul!

I always have fun meeting new people and seeing old plant friends like Manny of @perennialpapi.

I always have fun meeting new people and seeing old plant friends like Manny of @perennialpapi.

Three generations of plant lovers attended the last swap together. So heartwarming!

Three generations of plant lovers attended the last swap together. So heartwarming!

I hope this information helps you host your first plant swap and many more! If you do, be sure to message me @workhardplanthard on Instagram so I can see. If you’d like to check out scenes from swaps I’ve held, check my highlights on Instagram – I’ve saved them as Swap 1, Swap 2, Swap 3 etc. Happy swapping!

What a crew! We limited to 60 for this last swap. I recommend starting smaller - my first swap there were 20 in attendance.

What a crew! We limited to 60 for this last swap. I recommend starting smaller - my first swap there were 20 in attendance.


Plant CareChristine K1 Comment

Last year, while researching the best care for my Fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata), I came across a lot of sources that said these plants prefer filtered water. As an alternative, one could let the water sit out for 24 hours to “evaporate the bad stuff.” I proceeded to usually use filtered water from my refrigerator. However, the water comes out cold (and somewhat slowly) so I would either let it sit out to warm or even sometimes microwave it. Occasionally I would use tap water that I would sit out because I’d read that would work. As someone with a science background, I probably should have questioned that to begin with.

My collection of watering cans. I use them all - the larger ones I fill with filtered water from the garden hose (read on), bring inside then fill the smaller ones. I prefer the smaller, long narrow spout for watering container plants.

My collection of watering cans. I use them all - the larger ones I fill with filtered water from the garden hose (read on), bring inside then fill the smaller ones. I prefer the smaller, long narrow spout for watering container plants.

Hard Water

What is “hard” water? Some of us have a lot of calcium and magnesium carbonates in our tap water. The water tends to be more alkaline. Calcium and magnesium are not bad for plants (or us) in and of themselves, however theoretically if you are using them all the time on your plants you could be throwing the balance of your minerals and pH off. Some plants prefer less alkaline water as well. As for drinking, I prefer to filter it since I don’t like the taste. These compounds are not gas, and therefore they don’t dissolve if you let the water sit out. In fact, they will concentrate since they are salts.

Softening your hard water (using a water softener) does not help this issue. Water softeners contain salt and this alters your plants’ abilities to use the water that’s available to them.

Treated Water

Most people living in developed countries have treated water. I don’t want to minimize how important it is to have our water treated. There are many water-borne illnesses that kill millions of people around the world every year. Many of these diseases happen in places with untreated water.

Most water is treated with cholorine. Chlorine comes in many forms, including compressed gas. This is where I believe the myth of letting water sit out came about. The chlorine in gas form will dissolve. However, most water treated with chlorine nowadays is in the form of chloramines. These are solid compounds, not gas. Not only will they not dissolve, they will concentrate if you let water sit out because some water evaporates.  Some of us also have sodium fluoride in our water. I won’t get in to the debate over that here, but the idea is that chlorine and fluoride regularly used on (especially container) plants can concentrate over time. Results can be browning/yellowing of leaves. There are other potential ill-effects such as killing some of the good microbes in the soil.

Bottom line: I’d rather not take the chance. Based on my research, my new system is to use a carbon filter. I’ve attached it to my garden hose so I can easily and quickly fill all of my watering cans and have them ready when I need them. You can find the filter I’m using on my Planty Products Recommendations page on amazon: There are other filters available, including ones for your sink in case you don’t have an outdoor hose.

This is the filter I’m using, recommended to me at my local hydroponic store. Not all carbon filters are the same but I haven’t fully researched that issue yet!

This is the filter I’m using, recommended to me at my local hydroponic store. Not all carbon filters are the same but I haven’t fully researched that issue yet!

I hope this helps dispel the myth of “dissolving the bad stuff” by letting water sit out. Have fun planting!

Humidity: Maximizing the Health of You and Your Plants

Christine K

Humidity is a hot topic in the plant world right now. In many places, it’s the dead of winter. Many of you are running your heaters 24/7. Full disclaimer – I do not have to worry very much about humidity. Although it feels very dry in San Diego compared to Hawaii (where I grew up), we are close to the ocean. This provides significant humidity that is ideal for many of my plants. The humidity does periodically drop to lower than ideal levels. And, believe it or not, the temperature does drop to the 40s sometimes at night – that’s when we run our heater. But it’s not a huge problem for me. At the same time, I am fascinated by plant science, especially when there’s interplay with human science. And I love learning and researching new topics, so I took some time and dove in to this one.

Increasing ambient humidity prevents water loss from foliage. Putting water directly on leaves does not do this. In fact, having water sit on foliage regularly can increase the chance for disease such as fungal and bacterial infections. Standing water is, in general, not good for plants. And it’s not good for humans.



Up until recently, I used my cute little misters to periodically mist my calatheas and ferns. I would never spray the plant directly, just the air around the plant 2-3 feet away. But that only increases the humidity for a brief period of time – about 15-30 minutes maximum. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t do much. It may not hurt the plants, but theoretically it could. Thankfully I still get to use my cute misters for my tillandsias. (I like to soak them but if they are overdue for a soak and I haven’t had time, I mist to tide them over.)  At the same time, I am not interested in having another device to maintain. Thankfully I think my plants will be okay because of where I live. I also use the grouping method (placing clusters of plants together around the home) which helps increase humidity around them. However, many of you really do need to consider humidifiers during these cold months. Read on.


The same way that standing water on foliage is not good for plants, standing water sitting in trays under plants or sitting in a humidifier can breed bacteria and fungi. These microbes can be aerosolized into your home. Keep in mind, there are bacteria and fungi (microbes) everywhere. Many of them are good; diversity of microbes can help keep “bad” microbes in check at lower counts. In fact, there is research going on about houseplant microbes helping keep human pathogen levels down. (But that’s for another time.) If you have standing water sitting around, it could allow for a small number of microbes to overgrow. For this reason, I don’t recommend trays with pebbles and water unless you’re sure you will empty and refill them regularly. Standing water could create issues for people with allergies, asthma, or immune conditions and is a breeding ground for mosquitos. Theoretically you could develop sensitivity to the fungi over time that you didn’t have before, due to repeated exposure. Additionally, if you don’t monitor your humidity levels (or get a humidifier that does that for you), you could end up with such high humidity that you have precipitation in the home and on your plants. I have actually seen black mold growing on walls in rooms where people have humidifiers set very high.

Here are some great articles listed below on the topic of humidifiers that I hope you will read if you are looking to buy one. I would recommend one that turns itself off if it gets to a certain level of humidity. Alternatively, you can get a hygrometer and check levels regularly. Consider placing it at least 2-3 feet from your plants and don’t direct the jet directly on to foliage. Be careful with humidifiers that use steam around kids. And please consider cleaning it very regularly (empty and refill most days, and thoroughly clean weekly) as the first article below explains, for the health of you and your plants!

Importance of cleaning your humidifier regularly:

Humidifier buying guide:

Good brief resource on misting:

Research on bacterial growth in humidifiers:

Fungus, Mealybugs, and Colored Snot.

InfectionsChristine K

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s cold and flu season. And it’s a bad one. And once again, patients (not to mention friends and family) are telling me on a daily basis, “my mucus is colored,” usually stating or implying that they may need antibiotics. I would love to dispel that myth and also offer some strategies for your plant boogers, too. Let’s start with plants. If you have enough plants, and especially succulents, you’ve probably dealt with mealybugs and/or fungal infections in your plants. They can infect any plant, indoors or out. They don’t just look gross, they can also interfere with your plant’s ability to photosynthesize, among other things. It’s important to keep an eye out and start treatment immediately when you notice any signs. Prevention involves just trying to keep your plants healthy. Provide them the right light, water, and ambient air circulation to thrive. Separate infected plants from the healthy ones. Even then they will not be immune. Rather than repeating all of the other great articles out there on getting rid of fungus and mealybugs, I’ve provided some links below to good quick reads. In my experience, I’ve had mild mealybug infestations that respond well to a small amount of natural dish soap mixed in water and sprayed on the plant weekly for about 4 weeks. This gets them through their whole life cycle. I would be wary of starting with alcohol for a mild infection unless used sparingly (gently dabbing over affected areas) – consider starting with the most gentle method and escalate as needed. You can try adding baking soda to the dish soap/water mixture to kill mild fungus. If it’s severe you may have to get rid of all of the affected foliage and hope that whatever is leftover will recover.






Similarly, if you are ill with a severe pneumonia, you may need very strong antibiotics to treat you or even save you. Although some pneumonia is viral, we would never want to miss a bacterial infection in the lung so we treat most pneumonia with antibiotics to be on the safe side. But if you are ill with a cough, sinus congestion, or runny nose lasting less than 2 weeks, you probably don’t need antibiotics at all. Would you throw bleach on your plants if they had a few mealybugs on them? I sure hope not. The majority of upper respiratory symptoms are caused by viruses. This includes bronchitis. (Yes, bronchitis!) So many of my patients are shocked by that. It also includes infections that turn your mucus green or yellow. I remember when I was younger, I was told that colored mucus meant I needed antibiotics. This is completely false. The color of our mucus does not tell us whether we have a viral or a bacterial infection, or whether we have an infection at all. If you want to read more about your mucus and why it can be colored, here’s a nice article from a Harvard Medical School professor (if the link doesn't work you may copy and paste in to your browser window):


Viruses do not respond to antibiotics. In fact, more and more research is showing that the overuse of antibiotics for viral infections is increasing bacterial resistance across the globe, meaning they will be less effective over time among populations. This is true on an individual level as well – the more antibiotics you take in your lifetime, the more likely it is you will develop resistant organisms that are very difficult to treat if you do someday develop a serious bacterial infection. Additionally, antibiotics kill both bad and good bacteria. We depend on good bacteria (part of our “biome”) to help our immune system stay balanced. Having good bacteria flourish in your gastrointestinal tract has been directly linked to a stronger immune system. So repeatedly disrupting it could make you more susceptible to illness moving forward.

Viruses are bad. They kill people. I often have patients say, “So you’re saying I just have a virus” when I counsel them that they don’t need antibiotics. Run of the mill cold viruses (rhinoviruses) may be “just a virus,” but there are many other viruses that cause much more severe illness. Influenza causes a high fever, dry cough, headache and body aches. Prevention, early supportive treatment, and sometimes oseltamivir (Tamiflu, an antiviral medication specific for Influenza) can be life saving. There are many other viruses that can cause more severe illness than a simple cold. Adenovirus can cause pink eye, ear infections, sinus infections and bronchitis that can last weeks. For these we really don’t have “antiviral” medications that are commonly used and accessible. So why do doctors still give antibiotics when they are seemingly not indicated? Two reasons – 1) It takes much longer to explain all of this than to prescribe an antibiotic and 2) they don’t want patients expecting a prescription to be disappointed.

So how do you know when you might have a bacterial respiratory infection? First, always seek medical attention if you are having any trouble breathing, as this could be pneumonia (a “lower” respiratory tract infection) or constriction of the airways such as asthma. Secondly, if you are having recurrent high fevers (over 101F), respiratory symptoms that aren’t improving over a two week period (such as sinus congestion or cough), ear pain (not just “fullness”), a bad sore throat with fever but WITHOUT significant cough (strep generally doesn’t cause a cough), or if you have a weakened immune system for any reason, you should be seen by a provider who can help determine whether antibiotics are indicated.

Finally, the most important thing really is prevention. Washing your hands well and frequently has to be the very most important thing we can all do to prevent spread of infections. If you haven’t just washed your hands, don’t touch your face. Think of all the times you rub your eyes, nose and mouth during the average day. Now think of all of the places those hands have been. Instead, use the back of your wrist. If you do get sick with a cough, cough in to your elbow, not your hand (or especially the air!). Avoid close contact with others as best as you can and drink lots of fluids. Your plants can keep you company. All of their fresh filtered air is just what the doctor ordered.

Moisture Needs of Plants and Skin

SkincareChristine K

I see so many similarities between skin care and plant water needs. Many of us know our plants vary in the amount of water they need/use. In fact, the first steps in being a good plant parent are knowing what level of light your plant needs and how the soil should feel before you water it again. Some plants, such as ferns and calatheas/marantas, should be somewhat damp to the touch – they enjoy a humid climate and really don’t like to dry out. (There are many ways to create humidity even if your air is dry, but I’ll let you research that on your own and maybe touch on it myself in a future post). Others, such as the ever-picky fiddle leaf fig, like to have dry topsoil before being watered again. The worst mistake I ever made was watering my first fiddle fig too much. No, I didn’t kill it---it’s hard to kill a plant from overwatering if it is getting enough light-- but it did shed all of its underside leaves and ceased new growth. The whole reason I bought a water meter was because of my fiddle fig. Since the first 3-5 inches like to be dry, I didn’t feel I could reliably determine when it was time to water again without a tool. image1

Succulents, widely thought of as “easy” to care for because they “don’t need watering” can survive on very little water and lots of sun, but they often won’t thrive under these conditions. I’ve been guilty of forgetting about some of my succulent plants for months (such as my postpartum periods – no time or energy for plants!). Living in San Diego, I always found them alive but definitely not thriving. The good thing is they are almost always easy to perk back up with a bit of TLC that includes occasional watering.


Like plants, we all have slightly different skin that will alter its moisture based on our environment. You might notice that plants that like to dry out between waterings have thicker/denser leaves (peperomias, succulents); they have good storage mechanisms for water, preventing evaporation. Thin-leaved plants (ferns, calatheas) can’t store as much water in their leaves and allow for more evaporation, so they rely on having a more constant source from the soil.



Skin is one of our main barriers to infection. This is such an important job! So it’s important to keep skin moist. Moisture helps preserve its integrity. Even if you were born with naturally moist or even oily skin, I would still recommend moisturizing after every shower (which sucks moisture out of our skin) with a lightweight moisturizer. In fact, keeping oily-prone skin properly moisturized can actually balance the surface oil production. If you’re prone to dry skin, you will need a heavier moisturizer or even cream. Parts of your body may even need ointment (think Vaseline consistency). This is especially true on the heels, which can dry out and crack easily. Nightly ointment on the heels works wonders for this. For the body, buy a large bottle of moisturizer with a pump and have it readily available by the shower. Get in the habit of using it every time everywhere you can reach. I also recommend avoiding very fragrant moisturizers that often can be quite irritating to the skin (and sometimes to those around you). If you have very dry skin, especially eczema (see below), you should stick to ONLY fragrance-free, sensitive skin products such as Cetaphil, Eucerin, Lubriderm, CeraVe and some Neutrogena products.

Part 2 – Common Skin Problems.

“Doc, I have a rash.” One of the most common rashes is caused by eczema, a common skin condition. In simplified terms, eczema is a sign the skin cannot hold on to moisture well in those areas. This causes inflammation resulting in redness, flaking, and cracking. Preventing eczema flares requires constant attention to skin moisture and regular use of lotions/creams/ointments. Treating flares may require anti-inflammatories (steroids) for short courses.

What about oils? Essential oils are used all the time on the skin. Keep in mind, though, that these can be irritants as well. Lavender is a classic one. You can develop a skin sensitivity at any time to an ingredient. Lavender is great for your aerometer but not necessarily as a topical ingredient. Despite this, many skin products have lavender in them because of the lovely smell. Beware. Similarly, many people use avocado as a facial moisturizer or even mask. I have seen countless cases of “contact dermatitis” from this – an itchy, red, sometimes painful rash. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s harmless!

Can our skin have too much moisture? In a way, yes. Fungus infections of the skin can be a sign of too much moisture. Patients always ask “How did I get that? Who gave it to me?” In reality, fungus is everywhere around us in our environment. It’s just looking for opportunities to overgrow and cause problems. Loving moisture and heat, it will thrive in places on the body that trap moisture/sweat such as under the arms, under the breasts, and in the groin. Candida (fungus/yeast commonly found in these areas) will cause a red, sometimes itchy rash. Simply making sure to dry under the breasts (for large-breasted women it may help to use a blow dryer on a cold setting), around the groin and under the arms can help prevent candida. Changing clothes after a sweaty workout is equally important.

Tinea, also caused by fungus, results in circular lesions that are usually about coin sized, typically red but sometimes white, in the case of tinea versicolor. My husband has a symbiotic relationship with this fungus due to all of his surfing – the moisture and warmth inside his wet suit creates the perfect environment for it to thrive. Treating and preventing tinea can be as simple and inexpensive as using a selenium sulfide based shampoo (such as Selsun Blue) as a body wash in affected areas (the fungus don’t like this). Apply and leave on for several minutes before rinsing off.

I’ll save plant fungal infections for a future post. For now, I hope this helps you keep your skin (and your plants) thriving, not just surviving!