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What Does It Mean to Have "Green Fingers"?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated May 23, 2024
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If a person is described as having green fingers, or a green thumb as goes the American version of the idiom, it means the described person has a talent for gardening or otherwise dealing with plants. She might have a knack for growing healthy flowers and other plants, or she might have a talent for reviving struggling ones. Such plants might grown indoors or outdoors, in pots and baskets or sprawling gardens. The origin of these English sayings likely stems from the association of the word “green” with the color of most plants, but it also is a word connected to most of the natural and organic world. Similar to other sayings, this idiom can be meant as a compliment in its true meaning or insult when used ironically.

Similar to other idiomatic expressions, this term has different versions depending on the location. For example, saying that someone who has a talent for gardening has green fingers is primarily an Australian and British version of the saying. In the United States, people tend to say those who are skilled with plant care have green thumbs.

The English sayings likely originate from the fact that most plants are green. If a person is talented at handling such green things, it's like she has chlorophyll — which makes plants green — in her blood. Many herbs, bushes, ferns, vines, and trees are green. Even most colorful flowers have green stems, stalks, and leaves. Plus, “green” is a word often used in connection with something natural, regardless of color.

Sometimes, people will say someone has green fingers or a green thumb and mean it in a sarcastic or ironic way, rather than truthful or as a compliment. Not everyone has a talent for gardening, and some people are actually bad at it. In fact, some people are so untalented at keeping flowers and plants alive, much less helping them thrive, it might seem as if they are cursed. So, people may say such a person has a green thumb, but actually mean the opposite. Depending on the speaker, using the idiom in this way can be construed as an insult or just playful banter.

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Discussion Comments
By hyrax53 — On Oct 05, 2011

My parents love to garden, but I admit I'm another one who has had little luck with plants. To be honest, most of it is forgetfulness. I forget to water things, and then they die, and then half the time I'm actually surprised.

Thankfully, though, I have a cactus that I love dearly and take quite good care of. I put it in moderate sunlight, water it when I remember, and leave it alone...that last part, I think, is the key to its survival!

By popcorn — On Oct 04, 2011

If you need a green fingers walkthrough I would suggest heading to your local plant nursery and asking one of their gardeners how they get all of their plants looking so healthy.

When I first started gardening I had no idea what I was doing, so the nursery where I purchased my plants gave me a bit of a crash course in preparing to take my new additions home. I was told what plant food to use, how often to water each plant and tips on the amount of sunlight each liked.

I am happy to report that I haven't killed any of my plants yet, so I guess having green fingers comes down to knowing your stuff.

By SarahSon — On Oct 04, 2011

I have several friends who have green thumbs, and it is always a treat to visit their homes because I know there will be beautiful flowers outside and lush plants inside.

They also spend a lot of time and work at making sure they take good care of their flowers and plants. I do agree that they have a talent for it, but they also love spending their time working with plants and flowers.

I can grow a few plants and flowers without too much trouble, but don't consider myself having a green thumb. I would rather spend my time doing other things than working with plants and flowers.

For my friends that have green thumbs, this is not work for them but they find it very relaxing. For me, I see it is as work and don't enjoy it nearly as much.

By Mykol — On Oct 03, 2011

While I have never heard of having green fingers, I definitely know that I don't have a green thumb. The only plants I try to grow inside are ones that I know take no special care.

I have been able to grow philodendron plants and have one that is quite long. The only reason this plant has survived is because it can take a lot of abuse and still keep growing. I am not very good about remembering to water every week, but it still seems to do OK.

When I have tried to grow other plants that require better maintenance or more care, they die every time.

I have friends who have green thumbs, and everything they grow seems to flourish under their care. I think this is something you either have a knack for or you don't - and it doesn't take very long to find out!

By Mae82 — On Oct 03, 2011

My grandmother had the most amazing green fingers, and her garden was always the envy of the neighborhood. I loved how she could get even the smallest of flowers to bloom to their full potential.

Apparently the secret to her green fingers was great soil, and her own mix of fertilizer that she would lace with household compost. If she had any food scraps she would make compost out of it, and this rich mix made her flowers really happy.

I actually think that plants grown with a great compost grow faster, though that could have just been the way I remember things. It always seemed like my grandmother's garden bloomed first and lasted the longest.

By turquoise — On Oct 02, 2011

I really need someone with green fingers to help me out right now. My cat tipped over my beloved Angel Ivy Ring plant. It was a gift from a friend and had bloomed recently. Now the main stem is broken and I don't know what to do.

I am so upset. I'm not particularly good at fixing plants. My aunt could do wonders with it if she were here. I remember when I was young, we would go on walks and she would break off small stems from wild plants and flowers and make them grow to full size at home. I don't know how she did it, but I guess that's what they mean by having green fingers.

By serenesurface — On Oct 01, 2011

@fify-- I don't think you are untalented with gardening. In my view, gardening is something that requires knowledge and experience. When someone works on it and keeps trying, he or she will eventually get good at it and will have 'green fingers'.

One reason you might have been unlucky with plants is that you might not know much about that specific plant. Each plant has different water and sunlight requirements. So what works for one might not work for another. Even though I am an experienced gardener, when I buy a new type of plant, I have to read up on it and learn what kind of temperature, water, sunlight and soil is best suited for it.

My family and friends say that I have green fingers and admire my garden a lot. But believe me, it didn't happen overnight. I'm very interested in plants and take the trouble to learn about them. So don't give up hope, you can turn those 'black fingers' 'green!'

By fify — On Oct 01, 2011

My dad says that I have a black thumb, meaning that I'm really bad at taking care of plants. I agree that I am naturally untalented when it comes to gardening. My mom and dad definitely have a green thumb, or green fingers. They can make anything grow. They somehow always know what the plant needs, how much sunlight, how much water and so forth.

They also want me to keep plants in my apartment and keep bringing plants and flowers over in pots. I'm not able to keep them alive though! No matter, what I do, the plants are not happy. If I give them water, it turns out to be too much. If I move their spot so that they get more sunlight, they hate it and start to wither away.

I am convinced that I lack green fingers, I have black fingers! I just can't care for plants.

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