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How To Turn Your Brown Thumb Green

In the gardening world people tend to be divided into green thumbs and brown thumbs. Most people think they are either one or the other and this is their lot in life.

Green thumbs are just naturally good at gardening. Brown thumbs are people who don’t grow plants very well and are without hope of ever having a garden they can be happy with.

So what is this secret then that green thumbs know and don’t want to share with the world? Let's find out. 


Difference Between Brown Thumb and Green Thumb

Difference Between Brown Thumb and Green Thumb

The secret is pretty simple really; Being a Green Thumb is a mindset! You read that correctly. I fully believe that being a green thumb is a mindset and not something you are simply born with or without. 

And if you believe you are a brown thumb I believe the first step you need to take to grow a better garden is to change your mindset.

With that in mind, I have one very important revelation to tell you to start your mindset overhaul.

Green Thumbs kill plants too!

What you do need to have to start changing your mindset to that of a green thumb is a solid understanding of what a green thumb actually is. So, what is a green thumb? My definition is

“a green thumb is someone that learns from his or her gardening mistakes!”

Yes, that is right, I actually believe the only difference between a green thumb and a brown thumb is, at the end of the day, they learn from their mistakes and how they approach their garden afterward.

How a Brown Thumb Turns Green

In my gardening role at Aussie Green Thumb I have had many clients from the more experienced generation. These clients have lovely, sprawling gardens that traverse the lengths of their properties. Many of these gardens are no longer in their glory days because age has got the better of them.

As I talk to these clients I realise how little, comparatively, I know about gardening. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself to be a green thumb, but I am a young green thumb with much learning to do.

These clients are so very wise in the ways of gardening and would definitely be referred to as green thumbs. However, they still have plants die. They have always had plants die. 

(Check out our list of the most common reasons why new plants die.)

“Is there perhaps a misunderstanding about what a green thumb really is?”
What is a Green Thumb?

Sometimes when people are new to gardening, or are trying once again to get into gardening, get quite distressed at their initial inability to grow plants. They automatically apply the brown thumb tag to themselves and give up on the garden because of this and hit the escape key on their gardening dreams.

I myself have been gardening for most of my life. I can tell you right now, I have lost track of the number of plants that have either died for some obscure reason or other, or, quite frankly, the number of plants I have outright killed.

Yes, that is right, Mr. Aussie Green Thumb has killed plants! So, if this is the case, what really marks the difference between a brown thumb and a green thumb? Simply how you approach your garden when something does go wrong.

When a green thumb has a plant die, they start to ask themselves a lot of questions. Now, the questions they ask depend on their depth of knowledge. A 10-year old green thumb will ask very different questions from a 70-year old green thumb. But they ask questions just the same.

A green thumb will investigate and try and determine the cause of death, almost like undertaking an autopsy. Was the plant over-fertilised? Was the plant under-fertilised?

Was the plant over-watered or was the soil unable to absorb water? Was the plant under-watered? Was the position of the plant in too  much sun, too much shade? Was the plant simply old?

A green thumb takes the death of a plant and doesn’t take it personally, they simply take it as an opportunity to learn. A brown thumb on the other hand will likely chalk up the death of the plant as yet another ‘attack of the killer brown thumb’, referring to themselves.

I remember a while back, when I was quite new to Australian native plants, I had a beautiful Red and Green Kangaroo Paw. I knew that plants needed to be fertilised so I went out and bought some fertiliser.

Now, though I wasn’t new to gardening, I was new to natives, and so didn’t really know what you need when growing natives. I bought a fertiliser that was high in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium; a standard fertiliser. I then applied this to my Kangaroo Paw. About a month later, my Kangaroo Paw was dead.

What happened? Well, what I didn’t know was that Australian soils have traditionally been very lacking in phosphorous. 

As such, Australian natives have generally got away without needing much of this nutrient and many have, in fact, become very sensitive to it. The fertiliser I used had too high a concentration of phosphorous and this actually killed my Kangaroo Paw.

Did I come away from this experience and chastise myself as being a brown thumb?

Did I take this personally and suggest to myself that I was a horrible gardener?

How to Become a Green Thumb

How to Become a Green Thumb

If you consider yourself to be a brown thumb then I would suggest the first thing you need to do, in order to become a green thumb, is to stop thinking of yourself as a brown thumb, and start thinking of yourself as a green thumb in training.

Like I said above, I have been gardening all my life, yet there are still times I am finding friends who don’t really garden at all who know more about some gardening topics than I do. This doesn’t disqualify me from being a green thumb, it just highlights areas in which I still have much learning to do .

When you come across an issue in the garden, see it as an opportunity to learn. Jump online and do a little research. Perhaps read a few books on the issue. Make friends with other local green thumbs who are perhaps further down the garden track than you and ask them questions.

Take the opportunity right now to change your mindset and realise that if you are to ever have the garden you actually desire, you need to believe that you can actually achieve it and set about learning what you need to.

Yes, some people pick up gardening really quickly while others take time to get there. However, I am yet to meet someone who hasn’t eventually realised the green thumb inside when they persevered.

Cultivating a gardening lifestyle is all about the way you look at things. If you see a plant dying and your first thought is ‘I’m an awful gardener,’ then you have actually lost the first battle. Thankfully, if this is you, you have not yet lost the war.

Being a Green Thumb is a Mind Set

How A Brown Thumb Turns Green

As a gardener, you just need to see challenges as an opportunity to grow, which is a useful concept when tackling gardening. As you learn to grow plants, you will learn to grow within yourself and discover that, with a little perseverance, and often times a dash of luck, you can have the garden that you desire.

Green thumbs can be born over night, but honing the green thumb skill takes a lifetime. Whether you are thinking of yourself as a green thumb for the first time or if you still think that you are well and truly a brown thumb, I’d like to encourage you to keep going, take a chance, experiment, and most of all, learn from the mistakes that you make.

Start turning your Brown Thumb Green

Gardening is fun. Learning about gardening should be fun, too. Don’t expect a TV-style garden overnight, give yourself a few years to really get a hold of the gardening trade.

Besides, but I have seen a few TV gardens a year after the fact, and they don’t all still look like they did when on TV. So, cultivate a gardening lifestyle, learn lessons from your mistakes, and you too can become an Aussie Green Thumb.

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