Every gardener has killed a few houseplants. Not all of us are born with green thumbs, and sometimes we learn about our plants through trial-and-error. We add a little water here, a little fertilizer there, and if things don’t go well, we dump clumps of brown leaves in the backyard—and hope nobody’s watching.
But if you choose the right houseplants from the start, you won’t have to make that sad trip to the compost pile. Here are five almost “brown-thumb-proof” favorites. Any of them will brighten your rooms, and lift your spirits when you see you really haven’t killed them, after all.
Snake Plant, also known as Mother-In-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria spp.)
Even if snakes make you shiver, don’t let this plant’s common name turn you off. Snake plants are tough-as-nails, with thick, stiff leaves. While they prefer bright light, they’ll do fine in low to medium light. Keep your plant moderately watered, although it won’t hurt if the soil dries out between waterings. Sansevierias are part of the succulent family, so they’re easy to care for. Look for varieties with striped, variegated, or dark green leaves.
Also called dumb cane, dieffenbachia is a plant that produces a poisonous sap in its leaves and stems that can burn your mouth and even temporarily paralyze your vocal chords. It’s not a plant to grow around children who might touch it or pets that might be tempted to chew. If you handle a dieffenbachia, be sure to wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly when you’re finished.
Aside from those cautions, dieffenbachia makes a great choice for locations that get bright but indirect light. Water when the soil feels dry below the surface, or more often if the edges of the leaves turn brown. Dieffenbachias have beautiful, variegated leaves. Native to the rain forests of Costa Rica and Venezuela, the plants have a tropical, exotic look.
Make your cubical or corner office feel more like a garden with a pot or hanging basket of pothos. These undemanding plants tolerate almost any growing conditions, and don’t mind artificial lights. Let the trailing stems cascade over the sides of a container, or train them on a support. When your plant starts to get out of bounds, snip it back. Pruning will encourage new growth at the base, so it becomes fuller and bushier. But don’t toss those cuttings. Give them to an office mate to root in a glass of water. It won’t be long before the cuttings will be ready to pot up as new plants. For a little extra color, grow the gold or variegated varieties.
Cast Iron Plant
True to its name, cast iron plant is almost indestructible, able to survive even in poor light (in fact, the plants like low light) and extreme temperatures. We’ll admit: cast iron plants might be a bit plain-looking. But if you tend to water plants irregularly or otherwise neglect them, you can’t find a hardier species to grow. The leaves are sword-shaped and pointed. Most cast iron foliage is solid green, although a variegated variety with white stripes is sometimes available. While they’re often hidden by the foliage, small, brown-purple flowers often appear, followed by tiny, dark berries. But this isn’t a plant to grow for flowers. Instead, use it for its reliability and durability.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.)
It can be tricky to get houseplants to bloom indoors (with the exception of African violets, some orchids, and other plants), but peace lilies are as dependable as they come. Their glossy green leaves have been shown to help purify indoor air, and the plants thrive in bright, indirect light. Keep the soil moist, and feed about every two weeks during the summer with a balanced 20-20-20 plant food.