If you have been around here for a while, you might have caught on to the fact that I adore styling and designing with house plants. Every single space in my home has plants and I can promise you that if there is a flat surface to be found, I'm very likely going to put a plant on it. I think they are the finishing touch in a space and bring so much life and energy to a room. But, I have a dirty little secret – I am a certified plant killer – through and through… and yet my house plants still bring all the boys to the yard – I could teach you but I'd have to charge (reference). So what gives, you ask? What if you have a black thumb and can hardly keep your kids alive, let alone your plants, you ask? Not to worry, I got you.
This black thumb wearing mama will let you in on her tried and true tips, tricks and tells for the top 8 indoor house plants you probably won't kill immediately… and that aren't succulents. I have actually croaked more succulents than any other plant around – cuz I'm a serious serial plant killer like that and neglect is my middle name.
With the entirety of the interwebs all abuzz over indoor plants, and of course the beloved fiddle leaf fig showcased in virtually every design blogger's home from here to Timbuktu, I figure those of you who also have black thumbs might benefit from a few tidbits I have learned over the past few years for keeping big impact, beautiful, indoor plants alive longer than five minutes. Having to replace every single plant every time I finish decorating a space was getting costly and time consuming, so I figured it was high time I learn a thing or two so that I can keep adding to my collection of beauties rather than dealing with a death every couple of weeks. I wish I got it together many moons ago because there might have been a few additional survivors over the years, but alas it has taken a lot of trial and error to find my sweet spot with each plant, mostly error there for a while.
So without further ado, I give you a list of plants that have hung in there with me through thick and thin, till death do us part – minus the whole death thing, of course. As with any 'best of' type of list, especially where living things are concerned, there will always be the possibility of an exception to the rule, regional variation and availability issues, and the occasional (hopefully) fluke where disease or a pestilence problem may exist and cause the sudden or unexpected untimely death of your precious flora. Aside from that rare (hopefully) set of possibilities, this list of plants should be wildly successful for the vast majority and easily able to hang out on Survivor Island with you.
The list below has been determined by hardiness (both situational and user error survivability) as well as the relative ease that a person can read the plant's 'tell'. At the end of the day, if you can't tell there is a problem, or what that problem is, then you will have a much more costly and frustrating trial and error phase.
1 // MAHOGANY TREE – Big and beautiful, this tree likes a tall drink of water, so those of you who love your plants to death – literally – this may be ideal for you. It is unlikely you will have to worry about this plants needs getting lost in translation since it has a very obvious tell when an adjustment to your plant care routine is needed and the leaves begin to droop and look very sad when it's parched. In extreme situations and severe lack of water (a.k.a. neglect, which I am guilty of quite often) the leaves may turn yellow and fall off. With a quick and ample watering to rectify things, this beauty will bounce right back like nothing ever happened.
2 // SCHEFFLERA – A large tree sized tree or a great and glorious potted plant depending on which variety you go with. I have both which you can see here and here. Often times indoor trees begin as small shrubs and must work their way toward glorious treedom (totally a thing) but this fab specimen can be found for a decent price in an already decent size making this a good candidate for our list right of the bat. Instant gratification in terms of size, visual weight / substance and the ability to replace without selling a kidney are definitely helpful, but this species (regardless of the variety) is also pretty hardy. The plants even more so than the tree as they seem to manage many situations and circumstances with nothing more than a bit of a droop when they are thirsty, but I am still working toward perfecting my plant care regimen for the big guy (tree). So far he seems to withstand both neglect and the 'makeup' watering action that tends to happen once I rebound from said neglect and has even managed to hang in there with the overabundance of light in my kitchen nook. Though this tree has mentioned to me on more than one occasion, through some relatively colorful words (yellowing and sad leaves), that it doesn't prefer to be in direct line of my heating vents. This could be because of the drying affect the heater has or perhaps a bit of animosity for the old dust mite. Either way, something to consider if yours begins to act up is that you might try relocating him within your home.
3 // DIEFFENBACHIA – My fave is the Camouflage variety, but I have both and they are visually big, beautiful, and easy to care for. My Splash took a hot minute to adjust to the surroundings and find it's groove, but once I remembered I needed to water it occasionally (I ignored her for a couple months when I first brought her home – oops!), it now thrives with the random and occasionally waterings from leftover drink glasses that we happen to have upstairs (I know this sounds a tad icky, but t I like to keep it real, and this seems to work for me). My Camo beauty is steady and constant. She likes a weekly watering, especially in the summer months and both varieties will have a leaf turn yellow or wither when they are angry and deprived, but this is a great reminder for me and so I appreciate that. Even if it means they are sometimes sad seeming for a brief moment in time…
4 // POTHOS – My Goldens thrive like mad and are perfect for hanging or draping over the side of a surface. They like their water and are hardy even when they don't get their way. The leaves start to look a little sad when they are parched and if pushed to extremes may have several turn yellow then brown and wither, but the plants bounce back from the trauma quite well and you can simply pull the dead stuff off and no one will be the wiser. My Marbled Queen is awesome looking but has suffered a few tragic setbacks and consequently survives but doesn't thrive. I have yet to determine if this variety has different needs than the Goldens (which is a definite possibility even though they are related) or if I simply pushed it too far beyond the brink and it is struggling to return to full capacity. I will keep you posted.
5 // SANSEVIERIA SNAKE PLANT – This is one of those plants that is hard to kill – which is why it is on the list. I can't say that I have it's preferred plant care regimen figured out yet because mine isn't necessarily thriving, but I can say that this plant has survived through both neglect and perhaps the occasional bout of too much love. I figure this to be a good thing, suggests it's relative hardiness and should cover those of you who bounce between the two problematic behaviors – like me – or happen to favor one of these killing methods or the other.
6 // RUBBER TREE – I have a few of these, my favorite is the variegated one you see in the top image of this article. The darker burgundy variety I have (seen here) is the most hardy plant I have by far. It never complains, and only bounces between happy or content depending of my level of plant care. The variegated variety I have is certainly a bit more picky and has a very obvious tell with majorly drooping leaves for several days following a good watering. But neither have ever lost a leaf or even shown discoloration during adverse situations, so I say yahoo to that.
-Seen here, here, here and here
7 // SHIELD OR PLUM ARALIA – A tad finiky where watering is concerned and doesn't like to be forgotten entirely but he will kindly let you know how he is feeling with a bit of the old changing of the leaves (yellow then withering and falling off when you really screw things up). All in all a relatively forgiving plant with a big show of dark green and burgundy leaves and stems, this guy provides decent bang for your buck.
8 // PHILODENDRON – Easy as can be and an obvious tell when parched with yellowing leaves, but utterly resilient and easy to please. Big bold leaves and a feminine tropical look making this plant a great companion plant to any space that needs a bit of softening without getting overly mushy – if you know what I mean.
-Seen here (on my kitchen counter in the background of the 7th shot)
Phew, lot's of words… but of course I have a few more that may help you tremendously (helped me a ton)… Behold my tips and tricks for house plants in general. This isn't specific to any one variety, and definitely applies to every plant listed above.
1 // IT'S VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO ACTUALLY OVER WATER A PLANT – That isn't to say that too much water can't be detrimental, but if your plant seems waterlogged or is suffering from root rot, it is more likely an issue of your soil not having proper drainage and / or sitting up too high on the stalk or stem. Your water should run out the bottom of your pot with ease and if it is draining properly, over-watering will likely only ever result in a less than happy little friend, but shouldn't result in a whole lot more.
2 // PLANTS LIKE TO BE PLANTED – This may sound like an obvious statement, but hear me out. Almost every plant that exists will prefer to be in soil that is loose-ish, rather than the tightly wound root ball they come in, and actually planted in a pot with decent soil and a bit of room for it to spread out, grow and breath – which means the pot you transfer it into should be slightly bigger than the pot it comes in.
3 // PLANTS LIKE A BATH EVERY NOW AND THEN – For most plants this simply means they benefit from having their leaves and stem given a good rinse. This cleans the dust off and helps to rinse away any mites or other bugs that might attempt to move in on an otherwise undisturbed leafy locale. If your plant is small enough, you can turn it slightly on it's side and give the leaves and stem a nice rinse with your kitchen sprayer. For the larger beauties, a spray bottle and towel do the job pretty well.
4 // YELLOWING LEAVES DO NOT MEAN OVER WATERING – I'm not sure where along the lines I was told that yellowing leaves mean too much water, but I can certainly attest to having been told this very thing on more than one occasion. In fact this bit of misinformation alone is the likely culprit of many an untimely death to my plantings. For more info on this, see Tip 1, and then refer to each of the plants above and their particular 'tells'. My personal experience is that every single plant I have that has a yellowing of leaves at any point, is actually being under watered (not to be mistaken for underwater, which would indeed be problematic). I can't speak to every plant under the sun, but with this list of plants, you can be fairly certain that yellow leaves equals not enough water.
5 // PLANTS DO NOT LIKE TO EAT WHEN THEY ARE SICK – Just like many humans, giving your plants vitamins every so often may be a good thing, but also like humans, if your plant is sick and suffering from some sort of something (like that time you forgot to water it for 2 months), giving it an extra dose of vitamins may be hard for it to stomach and may actually do more harm than good. An easy rule of thumb is to think of plant food as being more like a heavy duty prenatal vitamin and less like a medicine to help with an illness. You can give them plant food about once a quarter or so and only when they are doing well and happy. Also, if you never remember to do this at all, they will still survive just the same.
That is it, that is all she wrote – literally – and I hope this list of tidbits helps you keep your indoor plants alive and maybe even thriving. I am going on several years worth of green leafy glory with those plants shown above and I will be testing out a few new beauties over the next several months. I will keep you posted with my success (or failure) and would love to hear any of your flora faves. Do you have any tried and true tips for growing and maintaining your greenery? Do tell… This mama needs all of the input she can get, and I'm sure I'm not alone!