The title concept bears repeating, so I’ll repeat it: You can’t train a plant. You can, if consistent and firm, train a dog; you can train your children (provided you start early), you can sort of, kind of, train a spouse. But you can’t train a plant. Plants lack the higher-order cognitive functions—not surprising given that they don’t have brains. So you can’t plant them in areas which are radically different than the environments of their ancestral origins and expect them to plot out a survival strategy. They will look at you in shock and surprise, and then in despair, and then they will cease to look at you at all and gaze directly into the ground–and then fall over. Very dramatic. A sad commentary on your efforts, and guilt-producing to boot.
And expensive, needless to say. So if you have had trouble getting plants to “do” for you, consider whether in the past you have chosen a plant solely for its looks (and just a thought: how well has that worked for you in your romantic life?) and then decided it would work, by golly, wherever you wanted to put it. Just like picking a partner by looks and blind hope, that approach works, with luck, maybe 5% of the time.
Here’s a thought: start by assessing your actual, physical, real-world needs (this really is starting to sound like relationship advice–the parallels are striking! I may write a book!) and then search for your plant based on that. Do you have a corner that is in shade all day? A hot, sunny balcony? A tree whose roots have lifted up above the soil, spreading in every direction? How often—truthfully, now—will you be checking the progress of your plantings to adjust water and care as needed? How much money are you willing to spend on water monthly? Ask these questions, don’t judge your responses, take a little time to think, and then it’s time to sally forth to the singles bars, um, nurseries, to pick out your right plant for the right place.
You can, of course, read widely and educate yourself about plants; you can take your next neighborhood stroll with an eye to noticing what plants are working in the kind of spots you’re planning for; and last, which might be first, you can seek expert advice. Start by finding a nursery close to you. Though the big-box stores are ubiquitous and value-priced, the staff is often not especially knowledgeable, so seek out local counsel, which can be far more accurate and useful.
You may have to find the manager—some nurseries seem to cycle through employees, so you want someone who’s worked there long enough to amass some knowledge of subject matter and region—but it’s absolutely worth your while. Describe in specific detail the space you’re shopping for (low water, morning sun, deep afternoon shade, living room windowsill, e.g.), and then pay careful attention. And then buy something from them. If we expect these places to stay in business against the cutthroat competition and enormous buying power of the Home Depots et al, we have to be willing to do our part.
Whatever you plant, though, here are your mantras: You have to water consistently till the plant is established. Always. And you can’t train a plant.