If you think you have a brown thumb when it comes to growing houseplants, chances are you give them too much attention. How can that be, you might ask? The reality is that many people who kill off houseplants do so because they overwater. Of course, you do have to remember to water plants to keep them alive, but overwatering is a surefire way to rot their roots.
When selecting a houseplant, make sure you put it in its ideal spot. All plants need light, but some thrive on low-light situations, which are common in an indoor environment. There are a number of plants that can take a little neglect. Here are my top five recommendations for people who want houseplants but haven't had good luck in the past.
Cast-iron plant (aspidistra elatior) got its name for good reason. This plant thrives in low light, such as a north-facing window or more than 8 feet away from any window. Deep green leaves provide a tropical feel; or choose the interested variegated version to brighten up a room. This plant also tolerates a little neglect, meaning it won't wilt if you miss watering for a day or two.
Arrowhead (syngonium podophyllum) is another easy-to-grow plant. The leaves are bright green and, as the name implies, shaped like arrows. This plant requires medium light, which translates to 4 to 8 feet from south, east, and west windows, as long as the plant does not receive direct sun.
Pothos (epipremnum aureum) is a very common houseplant. As a rampant growing vine, it's a great choice for hanging containers. There are two varieties: one with splotches of yellow on the leaves and one with creamy white variegation. Pothos is a low-light plant, making it a good choice for north-facing windows or rooms with indirect light.
Spider plant (chlorophytum comosum) is another easy houseplant. Available with both all green and variegated leaves, this hanging plant produces "babies" that can be potted up and shared with friends. Tiny white flowers occasionally appear in the spring. Spider plants need medium light, so place within 4 to 8 feet of a bright sunny window, but avoid letting the sun shine directly on its leaves.
Sprenger asparagus (asparagus densiflorus 'sprengeri') looks like asparagus or a feathery fern. The drought tolerance of this plant means if you forget to water for a week or more, it will suffer few, if any, ill effects. Sprenger asparagus takes medium light, and in mild climates it will survive outdoors. Just bring it inside if a hard freeze is predicted.
Aside from providing the right light for the right plant, watering is crucial. If you are one of those people who give a plant a drink "just because," it's time to break that habit. The wisest investment you can make is the purchase of a simple moisture meter. This $5 gadget will tell you when your plant needs water, eliminating all guesswork and reducing the likelihood you will kill your plant with kindness.
Linda is a landscape architect and certified arborist in southern Arizona. With over 20 years experience in landscape design, she also has a passion for all plants and gardening. As a freelance writer for a number of websites, she has produced hundreds of articles on plants, plant care, and design.