Tips for Techs: 7 Ways to Make Plant Maintenance More Efficient

For plant techs, it’s all about time. At least, sometimes it seems that way. Efficiency is the key to getting everything done in the amount of time you’re given.

I spent a lot of time doing plant maintenance, during which I developed some routines and practices that really increased my efficiency, which made me more effective as a plant tech, and (not surprisingly) made me a much happier person in general. Here are seven tips to help make your plant maintenance more efficient.

1. Always keep a look out for ways to shave off time as you move through accounts and drive your routes. Even if you’ve gone into the account with a good map and summary, you never know when you’ll find a way to reduce your time.

2. Move through the account one time and one time only. Do everything to each plant as you come to it, in order. That means, you’ll need to have all the tools and supplies you need going in. And that means you’ll have to make good notes on the previous visit, and check them before starting the day.

3. Keep complete and accurate notes. See above. I keep repeating this, so I guess it must be really important. Write down the tools or supplies you don’t usually carry that you’ll need for the next service along with the chemical and moisture usage of troublesome plants.

4. Cut down on “stand around time” as much as you can. I’m not a big fan of multi-tasking, but standing around doing nothing will seriously erode efficiency. Start maintenance on the plants while the water fills if you’re close enough, check for bugs while you turn plants, and always be on the lookout for ways to do things faster and better.

5. Develop a service routine and apply it to each plant.

Here’s the routine I always try to use:

  • Inspect while you’re walking toward the plant
  • Feel soil moisture (keep using your eyes, too)
  • Trim-turn-trim (keep those eyes going; look for bugs and dead stuff)
  • Water
  • Spray or otherwise treat if you’ve seen pests or pathogens
  • Special work (i.e. prune, fix top dressing, etc.)
  • Clean plant, plant container, floor, table, etc. Make sure to use disposable cleaning materials if the plant has bugs.
  • Look back as you walk away

6. Measure with your fingers instead of a tape measure. One less thing to carry, right? For instance, when I stretch out my hand, the distance between the tip of my thumb and the tip of my ring finger is 8”. I can use this to size anything I need to know.

7. Use fertilizer concentrate in a small squirt bottle that you can easily carry. When it comes time to fertilize, just squirt some of the concentrate onto the surface of the soil and water it in. Use a few drops on a small plant and a healthy squirt on a big one. This works for sub-irrigation also, if you have a set up where you might not want to fertilize all the plants the same. I use regular granular fertilizer mixed with water (1 part fertilizer to 2 parts water). Using a clear spray bottle lets you see if all the fertilizer is dissolved.

As it has happened before, when I set about to list some tips, I thought of so many (maybe my mascot should be a porcupine) that they wouldn’t fit in one post. So next time, I’ll have a post focusing on tips to improve effectiveness.

In the meantime, I hope some of you out there will add some of your own tips in the comments section.

Marlie Graves, known as The Ficus Wrangler, has been keeping plants beautiful, training techs and relating to clients at half a dozen companies for 30 years. She studied creative writing and psychology in college and went on to start an independent film company with her first husband. She decided to focus on plants full time after completing the NYBG Horticulture School interior landscaping course. Marlie is retired, operates "The Ficus Wrangler" YouTube channel, contributes regularly to several houseplant forums, and is working on a plantcare book based on professional methods.

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