What Is A Green Thumb?

A lot of my family members and friends have started to focus their attention to gardening during this pandemic. I was searching for gardening-related stuff online when I came across the subject of Green and Brown Thumb. I have heard it before but didn’t care much so I made some research about it now.

What is a green tumb? A person who has an amazing and natural talent at gardening. It means they can successfully grow plants and NOT literally have a green COLOURED Thumb. The opposite of this is a BROWN Thumb, a person who lacks the skill in gardening or keeping plants alive. 

The History of the term, “Green Thumb”

There are some interesting stories as to how the term came to be. Apparently, back in the day, it includes staining thumbs green. According to James Underwood Crockett, it comes from the fact that algae growing on the outside of earthenware pots will stain a person’s thumb (and fingers) if he or she handles enough pots. Hence, a person who is always working with flowerpots has a green thumb. Another theory is that it originated during the reign of King Edward I of England. He was fond of green peas and kept half a dozen serfs shelling them during the season. The serf who had the greenest thumb, presumably from working more hours to shell, won a prize. 

Debunking the Myth

Yes, some people can grow plants that ultimately thrive no matter where they choose to place it in the garden. And it seems even when they pay little to no attention to it. But the question lies with how much knowledge this green-thumbed person actually has. Most likely, success in gardening has more to do with science than with pure luck. 

Some plants do better in a specific kind of soils than others. Some prefer well-drained soil while others grow better in heavy dense soil. So if a person follows the recommended planting guide given to most plants upon purchase, their success rate will be higher. This is because they followed the recommended guide and provided the plant with the necessary sources. Another factor is that gardeners will most likely purchase a plant from a local nursery or source. A general rule of thumb is that nurseries sell plants to what is suited to the local area. If they were to sell plants to an area where the climate and soil are vastly different, the plant will most likely die. This is something that will surely not encourage repeat customers and the nursery won’t be able to maintain its integrity.

Trial and Error Approach

People who seem to just choose plants randomly are usually doing so based on experience. They may already be hobby gardeners where they potter the day away in the garden tending to their plants. As they are in the garden for long periods of time, they are familiar with their surroundings. They have already analyzed what works and what doesn’t. If a plant fails to bloom in a specific area, they assess what the causes may be, gather the collected information then try elsewhere. Gardeners are very aware of their surroundings and even more aware of what is happening to their plants. They observe the changes, look for any signs of bad health, and do their best to remedy the situation. 

All of these trials add up to experience. The trial and error of planting different plants, different fertilizers, different soil types, or new pruning techniques are essential. Still, even when cared for, plants can die anytime. Perhaps they were poor quality, to begin with; a bad graft or pot-bound plants are some reasons a plant may fail in the garden. They can also contract a disease or pests can attack them. Several reasons can hinder a plant’s growth.

Knowledge from Media

People who are growing plants may have acquired their knowledge from various outlets. Watching television shows, reading magazines or newspapers, visiting nurseries (maybe even as a hobby), going to parks and gardens, visiting open gardens, listening to podcasts, or watching YouTube, these are all possible sources of information. For eager gardeners, there are many avenues to learn more. Some people can retain knowledge better than others. They gather information along the way and use what they have learned over the years whenever an opportunity to put this into practice arises. 

Alternatively, gardeners can research to find the answers they are looking for. This makes gardening possible for everyone.

Time – Quantity

Another very important factor to consider when gardening is time; time spent in the garden and time waiting for the plants to successfully grow. It is more about patience. With gardening, success does not happen overnight. Gardens take time. Plants grow over time with some taking longer than others. It also depends on the time of season you are planting or the type of plant you chose. 

For example, annual plants that complete their life cycle within one growing season can grow quite quickly. In the space of 2-8 weeks. A perennial can take longer, maybe 6-8 months (again this depends on the season). A bush or tree, depending on the size to start with, can take years to fully develop. Fruit or citrus bearing trees require time to produce the perfect product. 

Successful gardening also requires many hours spent in the garden. Little and big things matter. How much time you spend watering, fertilizing, weeding, or whatever it takes to create a successful garden, matters. 


Yes, having the appropriate tools can make or break your garden. The right tool even makes difficult tasks easier. The easier the job the more likely you are going to succeed. Also keeping your tools in good working conditions is highly important. For example, keeping your secateurs sharp will help give you a better cut when pruning which in turn leads to a healthier plant. If your secateurs are blunt when you cut the plant, there’s a higher chance you cause damage to it. When this happens, the plant will then send all of its nutrients to the affected area to help it heal. In turn, the rest of the plant suffers. Too much of this and the plant dies. 

The Opposite of a Green Thumb is Brown Thumb

Where the green thumb has a successful garden, it is supposed that the brown thumb’s garden is a failure. They plant trees that eventually die. 

Brown thumbs may blame the plant or even their luck for their failure. But do they give the plants enough attention or is it a plant and forget method? Do they read the recommended planting guide for location and care? Do they give too much or too little water? They most likely believe in the tough love scenario where they leave all the work to the plant to survive. Brown thumbs are perhaps just people who are not that genuinely interested in gardening. After all, it’s not something that everyone is interested in. If you do not have a passion for gardening, the result will be evident in your garden. The care and attention given will be visually obvious.

Anyone can have a Green Thumb

If you truly want to have a successful garden, you can. You can take lessons, get educated, or even self-learn. Knowledge is what’s needed in the garden. The desire to be a successful gardener will drive your passion. Learn as much as you can. Ask questions when purchasing plants. Get involved in local community gardens. The more we learn about gardening, the better we get. 

Plants require 5 sources – soil (or other), water, air, light, and nutrients. Read how these factors affect a plant’s growth and follow gardening recommendations and guidelines. You will be more likely to be called a Green Thumb as opposed to a Brown Thumb.

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