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Did you ever wish that someone could build a quick list of houseplants for busy people?
After all, many of us love the beauty of houseplants but don’t have time for a lot of fuss and plant pampering.
In my search for un-killable houseplants, I perused many houseplant blogs. You know, the ones that give you a list of 15 houseplants and claim that they are all “easy?”
I probably read the blogs of stores whose primary business was to sell more houseplants, so perhaps that was a mistake, and I ended up buying a lot of these so-called “easy” plants. A few months into my houseplant journey I became frustrated with so many plant casualties!
I’m not going to call myself a brown thumb here, nor am I going to claim to be an expert, but I think I fall generally somewhere in the middle. There are no grow lights or plant humidifiers or any additional setup for my plants, because I don’t have the time or space for it. There’s also no time to mist or turn or move or otherwise deal with fussy plants, even if I do find them beautiful.
This post showcases the houseplants for those who want the “set it and mostly forget it” plant. Or maybe you call yourself a “lazy” houseplant person, which is totally ok!
As a side note, I think there are just some plants out there that generally don’t like to live in average home conditions. And it’s not the plant’s fault. I mean, here we are ripping these things out of their ideal environment, which is a comfortable, steamy, shady rain forest somewhere, re-cultivating them in greenhouses under optimal conditions, and then we stick them into our dark, lower temperature, low-humidity homes. It’s a wonder they survive at all!
I guess I should caveat this by saying that if I, a “good enough” houseplant person, did not kill these, then it is likely that you won’t either. But hang tight for the List of Plants I Killed below–you can even allow yourself to feel a bit smug if you’ve been successful with one on the “killed” list!
Pothos (epipremnum aureum)
This one is at the top of every easy houseplant list for good reason. It can take all sorts of abuse, including occasional under watering. I’ve even managed to take cuttings of these and propagate them in soil in the winter, which is impressive. Place a moss pole like this inside the pot, and the leaves can get impressively large.
Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron cordatum)
I really like this one because it can nearly survive in the dark. Well, not really, but this is the lowest of the low light plant, and I’ve put it in areas further from windows. It can get thirsty, so modify your soil with a slightly higher peat content (more on soil mix at the end of this post). The plain green variety tends to be a little tougher overall than the variegated ones.
Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
This is great plant, but I’m going to issue a big disclaimer. If you want to keep your bamboo plant for a long time, don’t let it live in exclusively in water the way that you see it sold in stores. This plant is absolutely gorgeous when grown in soil, but most of us don’t see it any other way except in little glass vases. Give your bamboo a chance to develop terrestrial roots, and you can end up with a pot of bushy stalks that look stunning. My bamboo potted in soil is going on 6 years now.
Zebra cactus (Haworthia)
This upright little plant is actually for the cacti reluctant. It doesn’t need to be in a south facing window, so if your home is lower in light, then this one may work for you. I had the world’s tiniest windowsills as an apartment dweller, but these plants can be purchased extra tiny (so cute!) to fit on a small sill. Because they are slow growers, you generally don’t have to worry about them taking up a ton of space.
Aloe (Aloe barbadensis miller)
This one needs a lot of light, or it will literally start to bend, but once they have their spot near the window you can set it and forget it. An un-glazed clay pot is ideal for this one as it doesn’t like being soggy at all.
Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema commutatum)
This is my favorite mall/hotel lobby plant, and it stops me dead in my tracks every time I see a really large one. South facing windows are a definite “no” on this one. I bought my Tigress variety below in a 5-inch pot, and we are going on our 6-year anniversary with it now being at its max height. An added bonus is that it gets lovely little white flowers each year!
Snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata Futura Superba)
Believe it or not, I have killed the large varieties of snake plant, because more often than not, I’ve purchased one from a big box store where it’s been sitting for months in damp soil, completely over-watered. You may question me and say, why try that again, then?
Well, the dwarf varieties of this plant are so easy it’s almost magical. Plus, let’s say you do purchase one on the soggy side and need to re-pot immediately. With a smaller plant, there’s no risk that you’ll be fumbling around with spiked leaves and accidentally stab yourself in the eye! (Yes, true story.)
Baby rubber plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)
Don’t let the nickname “baby” rubber plant fool you. These plants can tolerate more neglect than you might think. Not nearly as delicate a variety as say, the watermelon peperomia below, I would definitely call this one a toughie. Mine grew pretty vigorously in a high light setup but seems pretty well adapted to medium light. Luckily, you don’t have to overthink this one. I like this “baby” version because it grows shorter and bushier than the taller variety, which tends to start to lean over from its weight.
The Most Difficult
Now, I can’t give you the winners without giving you a list of my failures! I’m more than happy to share this list, because who wants a dumpster full of plant corpses??
For whatever reason, I could not seem to make the 8 plants below happy, no matter what. Hopefully this provides a rough guide to help you in your houseplant shopping.
Ferns (all types)
I know what you’re thinking. “My fern looks great outside!” Yes! It does! And I think that’s a good point to note. Ferns need humidity and bright light, so unless they meet these two conditions continuously, I don’t think they do that well. I even tried out the Birds’ Nest fern (asplenium nidus), which actually did well in Year 1, but by Year 2, it had had enough and developed ugly brown tips.
English ivy (hedera helix)
Here’s another one that gets recommended often as a houseplant. In the first year or two, you will feel somewhat smug in that you dodged those dreaded little spider mites, only then to have the pests invade in spades. You spray, frantically. You search every houseplant forum in a desperate attempt to save your ivy, to no avail.
On the flip side, English ivy does very well outdoors in many climates and looks great in a mixed pot arrangement—you don’t want this one to run away unattended, though, as it’s considered invasive in many areas.
Watermelon peperomia (Peperomia argyreia)
This is the most adorable little plant, is it not? I just had to have one. But being the ultimate Goldilocks plant, I could never please her. The watermelon peperomia needs moisture and humidity, but not too soggy, needs well-draining soil, but at the same time loves a good peat mixture, but…oh, I give up. It’s pretty, but utterly exhausting as you find yourself obsessing over what it really wants. It will present its complaints to you sometimes in the form of misshapen new leaf growth.
Nerve plant (Fittonia)
These are so tempting to buy when they first arrive at the garden center. The lovely pastel colors, especially the pinks, can make you ooh and aah. Sadly, this one meets the same fate as the ferns. It needs lots of humidity. Unless you plan to put this one a terrarium or in a very humid location in your home, I would pass on it.
Corn plant (dracaena fragrans)
Have you ever seen one of these without brown spotted leaves? It could be chemicals from tap water, who knows, but by about Year 3 mine started to develop the inevitable spotting. Sigh.
Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia)
I’ve seen a lot of so-called green thumbs struggle with this plant. The leaves are beautiful when they’re not starting to yellow in protest. When you feel how delicate the leaves are, it makes some sense. Poor dieffenbachia is just a Highly Sensitive Plant (HSP). As a High Sensitive Human, I totally get it, Dieffenbachia.
Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
It’s called a cast iron plant for a reason, and it is indeed very tough. It’s a shade lover, deer resistant, and freeze tolerant in many areas outdoors. It often gets recommended as an indoor plant due to its low light requirements, but I was disappointed with its performance indoors.
A few years in there was a strange infestation of the stems, but before that I had to look at a lot of ragged leaf tips (another unfortunate quirk of this plant). Because it’s a slow grower, it’s expensive – if you can even find one at all. A half-gallon pot aspidistra, which had about four to five leaves total on the plant, cost me roughly $45.00 at the local nursery several years ago.
Parlor palm (Chamaedora elegans)
The parlor palm is a cutie but looks good for about 6 months to a year after which come the browning tips. Like ivy, it can be prone to spider mites. If you aren’t a daily plant mister, you may want to skip this one.
If you are interested in a couple of other houseplant tips, I’ve included my houseplant soil mix and recommended fertilizer below.
“Good Enough” Houseplant Soil Mix Recipe and Fertilizer
Having a drier, faster draining house plant mix saved my plants from the inevitable sogginess that contributes to root rot, a sign that you will become an eventual Plant Murderer. There are premium ingredients that some expert gardeners recommend for making your own soil mix, such as pine bark fines, which can be purchased online or in specialty stores. I’ve listed here instead the easiest to find ingredients, available at most any garden center.
For the aloe and the snake plant, I tend to leave out the potting mix entirely and make sure I keep these plants in unglazed clay pots that will wick away any excess moisture.
I do judge a lot of my soil mixes by “feel” so this recipe may not be exact, but it is close. The ultimate goal is to have more chunky parts in the soil in order to provide air to roots and good drainage, which is where the orchid mix comes in.
Don’t overthink it, but if it’s been over a month and the soil is still wet, you may have a problem. With this soil mix, most of my tropical plants get a dose of water every week and a half to two weeks in winter and once a week in summer. The best way to gauge water needs is the simple finger test–no special meters required.
4 or 5 parts coarse orchid mix, gently hammered into nickel or dime sized pieces (you can do this in a concrete area, such as a garage or driveway, leaving the mix inside the bag)
1 part perlite
1 part basic houseplant *potting mix such as Miracle Gro
*Note: Some gardeners use straight peat in place of potting mix; this can work well, but if you’re watering regularly, you may notice an extra loss of peat through pot drainage holes. A coffee filter placed in the pot drainage hole can help with this, but just know your drain time may take a bit longer.
Perlite and peat contain many fine particles. Wear a mask and goggles while mixing this.
Foliage Pro 9-3-6, available on Amazon. Standard commercial fertilizers were burning my leaves on the ends and causing a faster buildup of salts in all of my pots. A little goes a very long way with Foliage Pro, and depending on how many plants you own, it could last you a few seasons. Lovers of indoor plants swear by it, and I’ll have to agree that the leaf burn problem has stopped entirely!
I certainly hope this article helps you with your houseplant choices! I’d love to hear your plant success stories below in the comments. Which ones are your winners and losers?
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