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7 Common House Plants That are Really Hard to Kill

I love house plants and I do have some beauties! The truth is I don’t have a green thumb, I just know a few tricks and tips that I will gladly share with you. Healthy, beautiful common house plants are an economical way to bring instant warmth and beauty to a home, condo, apartment, dorm room, RV—wherever you call home.

A dining room table in front of a palm tree

I have friends who, I swear, were born with a green thumb. These talented people effortlessly grow lush, beautiful, exotic plants indoors. Then there are the rest of us.

Here’s my best-kept horticultural secret: I only consider plants in what I call the thrivuus neglectus family, which comes from the Latin root meaning “really cheap and thrives even under the harshest conditions of poor light and owner neglect.”

Know your varieties

If growing beautiful house plants in your home or office isn’t your forte, I have good news. It is possible to have lovely plants if you pick the right variety—those that are hard to kill.

Peace lily

Indoor plant spathiphyllum with its graceful nickname “peace lily” is an easy-care, low light house plant. It’s beautiful, but that is not peace lily’s finest attribute, which is: It removes many toxins from indoor air including formaldehyde and ammonia. Can you say a peace lily in every room?

A close up of a plant

Cast iron plant

Aspidistra is also known as the “cast iron plant” and for good reason. This baby can survive any condition including low light and a dry environment. And it is not ugly! This plant has sword-like, beautiful broad green leaves and has truly earned its nickname because it can survive in deep shade—does not like direct sun or extreme cold. The soil needs to be kept moist, but water can be reduced in the winter.

A vase of flowers on a plantDevil’s ivy

Epipremnum aureum, commonly called pothos or “devil’s ivy,” comes in many varieties that tolerate poor light and actually enjoy being left alone. Nearly fuss-free, this lush, leafy evergreen pathos plant will tolerate a range of indoor growing conditions including heat, aridity, and dry shade.

This is my favorite variety of houseplant because it is so forgiving. Hint: It’s a trailing plant that will grow “trailers” to 40 feet or more, but I don’t let that happen. I often cut off trailers, stick them in water to root, and then pot them to grow new plants.

A vase of flowers sitting on top of a green plant

Rubber plant

Ficus elastica or “rubber plant” likes a cool, dimly lit space. But if you should happen to set it in a sunny area, watch out. It will grow like crazy and you’ll be searching on the Internet for how to prune the darned thing! Rubber plants love to be “misted” and fed with lukewarm water.

 

A vase filled with purple flowers and green leaves

Spider plant

Also known as chlorophytum comosum, “spider plant” is tough and does well in low light. It sends out these really cool trailing vines that develop tiny dangling baby “spiders” instead of flowers. Really cool!

Spider plants are best grown in hanging baskets, enjoying  bright indirect light. It needs to be watered well but can thrive even if it dries out between waterings. By the way, those baby “spiders” can be planted to start new plants.

A group of palm trees next to a tree

Corn plant

Dracaena or “corn plant” is a great choice for hot, dry apartments. This plant is a popular ornamental houseplant, grown both indoors and outdoors in subtropical climates.

Bright indirect light is best for corn plant. Too much light can cause the leaves to burn. It reaches a height of about three feet indoors and has a bushy tree type of look. A corn plant’s glossy leaves can grow up to one foot long and a couple of inches wide.

A close up of a plant

Mother-in-law’s tongue

The ever-popular sansevieria trifasciata, nicknamed snake plant or “mother-in-law’s tongue” (best nickname ever) likes full sun to low light source and even moisture. Will survive even under the most severe neglectful conditions.

Sansevieria trifasciata is prized for its stiff, upright leaves that range from one to eight-feet tall (!), depending on the variety.

A close up of a plant

 

Know where to buy

I’m a huge fan of the Walmart and Target garden departments. Home improvement centers like Home Depot and Lowe’s are excellent sources as well. Just look for the bargain table and you’ll run right into the plants on my list above.

Know when to water

Unlike silk and plastic, live house plants do require water and weekly is good. Pick a day, any day—then water your plants on the same day every week. Don’t overdo it.

Know your fertilizer

House plants need to eat from time to time but don’t think you have to buy them food. I feed mine selected garbage. Caution: While a little garbage is good, more is not better. Go easy.

Coffee grounds

Work small amounts of used coffee grounds into the soil no more frequently than monthly.

Eggshells

Crush then work into the soil.

Potato, pasta water

Plants love that starch, but in limited quantities. Limited.

Milk solution

No, I’m not kidding, but it has to be very, very, very weak. Rinse the empty milk container with water and feed that to your plants. That’s how weak it should be.

Know your maintenance

Keep the leaves of your plants clean. Dust plugs the pores and prevents plants from taking in the carbon dioxide from the air. A damp cloth once every few weeks will do the trick.

Live plants are an inexpensive way to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere in any living space. As a bonus, they improve indoor air quality.

Select plants that require little or no care you save yourself time and money.

Updated with a factual correction: 1-22-19


Frequently asked questions

What is the best plant to have in your bedroom?

Lavender has been shown to reduce both blood pressure and heart rate.

Jasmine makes an attractive accent plant, but it's more than just a pretty face.

Peace lily has been found to reduce the microbe count in a room's air.

Is dieffenbachia good for indoors?

Dieffenbachia is one of the easiest indoor houseplants to grow—and one of the most common indoor plants. This tropical shrub shows off lush leaves that are usually marked in shades of cream, yellow, or white, making dieffenbachia a top pick for brightening dim corners indoors.

How do you take care of house plants?

Keep potting soil moist, but not wet. Water your plant if the soil becomes lighter in color or cracked.

Should I spray my indoor plants with water?

A general rule of thumb is that many plants like to go slightly dry to the touch before being watered again. Humidity: For the most part, the water that is applied to the surface of your soil is only helping strengthen the roots and stems. The leaves, however, could really use a spritz or two now and then.

Why do indoor plant leaves turn yellow?

The most common reason that plants' leaves turn yellow is because of moisture stress, which can be from either overwatering or under-watering. If you have a plant that has yellow leaves, check the soil in the pot to see if the soil is dry.

Why do indoor plant leaves turn brown?

When houseplants get brown tips on their leaves, it's generally an indication of poor watering habits. The best way to water a houseplant is to thoroughly flush it until water runs freely out the drainage holes. Shallow watering can cause brown tips on the leaves.


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15 replies
  1. Marion says:

    Hands down the easiest plants that I’ve kept alive and thriving over the years are the Devil’s Ivy or pothos. My easy-care method is simple: to determine when to water it, look for it to just begin to droop, then soak the heck out of it so water runs out of the bottom. Don’t water it again until you start to see it droop, then soak it again. Repeat and repeat. I’ve kept those plants alive for many years with this method!

    Reply
  2. Linda says:

    The only plant on your list that I would put a question mark on is a peace lily. I find them to be very particular about watering and humidity. I have almost lost mine a number of times. I have a green thumb and summer is not a problem but winter kills off plants right and left. The humidity tanks down to 2 or 3 percent once the electric heat kicks in and I can’t keep the area around the plants humid enough.

    Reply
  3. Charlotte Coates says:

    I’ve tried for years to keep green plants growing in our house only to watch them slowly die. Cactus, closet plants, ivy… all the plants listed here, plus air fern! My husband lovingly tells folks, “My wife even kills SILK plants in our house!!” But we do have a bumper crop of ‘dust bunnies’ year round! o:)

    Reply
  4. Nan Henderson says:

    Peace Lilies (and all lilies) are very toxic to cats and dogs. There is a great website that will give you all the info- www.aspca.org (or search animal poison control). Based on their info, several other of the plant types listed are toxic to dogs &/or cats, so be careful. Cats are especially prone to chewing on plants.

    Reply
  5. DB says:

    The only plant I have good luck with is “Christmas” cactus, I have a few and love them.
    The problem with other plants, esp spider plants for some reason, is they get these little bugs, fruitfly-like but smaller, I call them gnats, living in the soil and flying all around. I spray with weak soap solution but it never gets rid of them completely. Drives me crazy!! I end up tossing the plants because I’m grossed out by the bugs.
    Xmas cactii never have this problem, but I would sure love to have a variety of plants.
    Suggestions?

    Reply
    • Don says:

      I read that if you crush a mosquito “donut”, mix it in water, and then use the water on your plants, it will keep the gnats away.

      Reply
      • Debbie says:

        Try repotting the plants in a sterilized potting mix. Wash the roots before you transplant. Throw the old soil out. I put mine in my composter which seems to work well. Those pesky little flies lay a lot of eggs and can live around your drains, too. So, clean your drains with stong cleaner, as well. I also use the apple cider vinegar & a piece of fruit in a jar to catch them. Put a piece of plastic wrap on the jar, secured with an elastic. Poke a few holes in the plastic. They will crawl in but not be able to get back out.

  6. Rita Corvelli says:

    I’m so grateful for this information on plants! I’ve been thinking of getting some but just didn’t know what to buy. Pretty sure I don’t have a green thumb because everything I’ve bought in the past had died-even a cactus lol. Do you know if any of the above are poisonous to dogs or cats?

    Reply
  7. Jackie B says:

    Sorry, but new research shows that unless you have so many houseplants you have no place to sit or walk, there is not enough “cleaning” taking place to register on the meters. So grow plants because you love them, not because they are cleaning your air.

    Reply
    • Luisa says:

      I love plants in my home, but I love my cats more. Having cats chewing plants is bad for the plants and can be lethal for the cats. These days I have fewer plants because I only put them in places the cats can’t reach. And if you have cats, you know that’s not a lot of places, lol.

      I have a friend who manages a plant nursery. She keeps many beautiful plants in her home office, and keeps the door closed to the cats. That won’t work for me, but she likes it.

      Many pet supply stores sell potted plants like “cat grass” that are safe for them to chew or eat. They typically come in small light-weight pots, so you need to re-pot them in pots the cats won’t be tipping over and spilling.

      Reply

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