Today’s post is my top 10 easy-care, hard-to-kill houseplants + the second in my series of ‘HPH guides’, after putting together the low light tolerant article that went up a few weeks ago. Soon after sharing that one, I got a call from a friend that prompted me to write this particular guide next…
The conversation went a little like this… ‘Laura, I want to buy a moving in present for my sister — I really want to get her a plant to liven up the living space, but it has to be something that’s easy because… *whispers* well, she’s a bit of a plant killer…’ Now I know you might think that my first reaction would be to advise against gifting a plant for said recipient, however I really do think everyone can get into houseplants with a little guidance + most importantly patience! The whole concept of having a ‘green thumb’ when it comes to gardening can cause unnecessary anxieties. Don’t put pressure on yourself + feel a failure if all plants that enter your home don’t immediately flourish as they cross over the threshold, it’s a process. The benefits of keeping houseplants far outweigh the initial struggles + it’s the best feeling when you manage to bring round a struggling plant + get it to thrive!
The posts in this series of guides are topics that I tend to talk about more in person with customers + clients but as the last year has very much been online + at home, I want to build up a section of my website that covers all the foundational topics of plant care that are easily accessible, in one place. These guides are naturally longer in form to provide enough detail about the plants mentioned, with plenty of space for photos too. It’s divided up into headings that are easy to navigate so feel free to dip in + out if you want. I hope you enjoy!
My story with plants — a brief summary.
I wanted to mention a few points here about my own journey with plants as I think it provides some necessary context in a post of this nature. I started off tentatively with a few spider plants, a snake plant + a peace lily + I still have all these plants today. There might have been the obligatory overwatering of some succulents + a few Calathea that have kicked the bucket along the way but as I said above, it’s a process + it can take a while to figure out what plants suit you, your life + your style. I genuinely do believe there is a plant for everyone! But don’t be disheartened + don’t give up if you haven’t quite got there yet.
As I’ve said previously, I got into houseplants in a big way around a decade ago when I was writing up my doctorate. Being simultaneously attached to both screens + books for most of the week, I found my work space slowly filling up with plants. They were a counter balance to my life in academia + despite always enjoying a bit of allotment / balcony gardening, I’d not really had many plants indoors before this point. Fast forward a few years though + I found myself nurturing an array of plants that were dotted around all the rooms in my apartment, gradually + quietly multiplying. I’d often find myself picking up a plant when I was going to buy groceries, swapping cuttings with a work collague or if I was travelling anywhere, I’d often return with a plant or two in tow as a souvenir…?! I still look at my snake plant that I got in Brighton about 8 years ago + think of weekend coffees in the Lanes…
As these plants + I were happily co-existing in my apartment, things were getting increasingly viridescent + it was only when friends started commenting on my ‘collection’ when they came to visit (this was pre-zoom meeting backdrop considerations!), did I really start to give some thought towards how having houseplants around made both myself + my space feel.
We know now about the positive benefits that the influx of indoor greenery has on our wellbeing — plants actually do reduce stress + promote mindfulness + self-care. And I can attest to that — I am without doubt that my houseplants helped me get through PhD stresses by providing a pause + a calm in my everyday life + they still do that for me today. But more than that, I realised that from an interiors perspective, these plants just made my place feel like home. I look back at old photos of the apartment + it looked SO much better with plants compared to how it was just after moving in — all blank + lacklustre! To me, spaces without plants always look in need of some vitality + I’m not talking crazy quantities here — but a few choice pots in areas that get decent light add life + body + dimension to any space. They aren’t just decor though, so if you also introduce plants into your home, don’t position them + forget about them too much!
Be inquisitive — take it back to basics.
When starting out with houseplants, take the time to do some research before welcoming a small jungle into your home. It sounds obvious, but taking an interest in where your plants grow in their natural habitat can really help to understand their care requirements + importantly, how to keep them happy at home.
Also consider what plants you are naturally drawn to + don’t be swayed just because you’ve seen them in unrealistic setups on social media. The aim of the game here is to grow houseplants that make you happy + that stand the test of time — I know I say this often, but don’t feel pressure to build up a collection that doesn’t reflect your life, style + taste.
Have a think about the following pointers + choose plants that work for you:
- SPACE: What space do you have for plants in your home?
- LIGHT: What’s the light like where you have spaces for plants?
- HUMIDITY: What sort of humidity do the spaces in your house have? Older properties I’ve lived in have quite high humidity — around 60-70%. New builds tend to be more on the dry side.
- DRAUGHTS: Do you have single or double glazing? Are your windows draughty + cold over winter?
- PETS: Some houseplants are toxic to animals. Whilst some pets aren’t bothered about plants, pet friendly plants are the safest choice — you can look these up on the ASPCA website here.
- OUTSIDE: Do you also keep plants outside? Does your garden take a lot of work?
- TIME: This is very important. How much time do you have to dedicate to your plants? Are you away a lot travelling or for work?
- EXPERIMENTATION: Do you prefer statement plants or does plant experimentation, growing cuttings + playing with propagation fascinate you? (see photos below of my experiments + ‘propagation stations‘)
A bit of neglect is ok — put down that watering can.
The number one cause of plant death is overwatering. Most houseplant lovers go through the usual process of enthusiastically over-watering followed by a period of correctively-cautious under-watering, so please don’t feel bad if you have these tendencies too! It’s all a normal part of getting to understand your plants + of course, this will be different for all of you based on your environmental conditions + the plants you choose to keep. Plants are surprisingly resilient — they actually do want to live + have built in survival techniques to aid them in doing this — producing offsets, or baby plants is one mechanism for example, think of the classic Spider plant or Pilea. You do need to take the time to get to know your plants a bit though + you can kill them with kindness — so try to practice restraint until you grow in confidence, or failing that, buy a smaller watering can! (I’ve actually found this a great way to help over-waterers!).
The plants featured in this post are all ones I have had personal experience with growing for a number of years. I’ve chosen them based on their resilience + longevity in my home + they are also ones that I recommend to my customers or use when plant styling for new plant lovers.
My top 10 easy care — hard to kill houseplants:
1. Golden Pothos — Epipremnum aureum
A humble golden pothos is my number one pick for a ‘starter houseplant’ + it’s also the one I recommended my friend to get as a housewarming present in case you wondered! If you have a space to hang a plant — off a bookshelf, curtain pole, or even arguably less ‘instagrammable’ locations like on top of your fridge, an easy going pothos can really add some life into an otherwise dull location. I had one of mine trailing down the side of a second hand fridge in my old apartment + it did a great job at disguising the ‘white goods aesthetic‘ that a rental kitchen can sometimes be guilty of. Epipremnum are great at bouncing back if they start to look sad + droopy from a lack of water — just take them to the shower + using tepid water, give the whole plant a shower + clean the leaves before letting the water properly saturate the pot + run through the drainage holes, before putting back in its desired location. Alongside being hard to kill, these plants are very tolerant of a lower light spot as I mentioned in a recent blogpost, they’ll just revert to more of a solid green colour.
NOTE: A similar choice would be a Philodendron scandens which looks similar, but the tell-tale signs are that the leaves are heart-shaped + the stems are thinner — I personally find a golden pothos more robust than a heart-leaf Philodendron.
2. ZZ plant — Zamioculcas zamiifolia
If you are a little forgetful with houseplant watering — (something I am guilty of from time to time…) then a ZZ plant is one to welcome into your home. A ZZ has a chunky root structure with bulbous rhizomes that store nutrients + water for the plant, which means that they don’t need frequent watering at all. Even in the height of Summer (bear in mind I live in the North of England here) I only need to water my plant every 2-3 weeks + in Winter, it’s only around every 6 weeks. For something easy going + elegant, a Zamioculcas zamiifolia looks great in the corner of a living space, or in an entrance hall. They cope well with average household humidities + don’t have any special requirements at all. They are slow growing but can last for many, many years + rarely need repotting, which I know is an appealing point for some. Architects + interior designers love them for their sculptural style + you’ll have probably seen these in shopping malls + hotel lobbies, which is also a testament to their resilience! See photo above right, which is the largest, most out of control plant I’ve seen (from a hotel lobby from where I was snowed in a few years ago)! I have two varieties as you can see in the photo above — the one to the right is a regular ZZ but the one to the left is a newer cultivar called a ZZ ‘raven‘ which has dark, inky foliage that almost looks black in most lights. The new growth is a bright lime green + darkens over time. Both are staples in my plant collection + I wouldn’t be without them!
3. Snake plant — Dracaena trifasciata
Snake plants are pretty common, but there are so many varieties, there’s definitely one to suit all tastes. There are smaller rosette style plants which look great on a table top or kitchen windowsill, or taller elongated forms that give height to a shelf or grouped at floor level. You can see my collection in the photo below left. Formerly known as Sansevieria, this gang of plants were popularised in the 1970’s as mother-in-laws-tongue + they look right at home on a mid-century sideboard — I think the colour of the rich green with golden edging of the popular laurentii cultivar really works with the warm hue of a lot of wooden furniture from this era. These are perfect houseplants for smaller spaces as they have an upright growth habit + don’t require a large planter to grow well. As with ZZ’s above, they aren’t the fastest growing plant, but giving them a well-lit location can really help. They have succulent leaves which means they don’t require frequent watering, especially throughout the colder part of the year. These are often labelled as low-light plants but I would 100% recommend a brighter position if you are able to provide it — long periods in dark rooms can result in spindly growth + coupled with overwatering, can be the cause of root rot — not really what you want for your snake plant + it’s why generic plant care labels should not always be adhered to (like the good old ‘foliage plant’ label at the supermarket!). I have a snake plant care guide which I’ll link here.
4. Aglaonema — Chinese Evergreen
An Aglaonema is another slow grower with a compact growth habit, so perfect if you are short on space. There are many cultivars of these table top plants too, which have a large variation of patterning, in a rainbow-like array of colours. The darker leaved types cope well with less light + the pink + red plants are generally a little more fussy + prefer a brighter location, so that’s worth noting if you like the look of a Chinese evergreen overall. I’ve grown both of my plants for a number of years + they still fit on my sideboard with ease + they’ve only required one re-pot. They work well with a number of decor styles + if you are looking for something leafy with minimal fuss, an Aglaonema is a solid choice.
5. Maranta leuconeura var. kerchoveana — ‘rabbit tracks’ maranta
A Maranta is one of those houseplants that I feel like I’ve had forever + despite my shameful neglect, it keeps on going + growing in the most adverse of conditions. Coupled with my golden pothos, it’s been a ‘top of the fridge’ plant for me on more than one occasion + it’s where my plant currently lives in the cottage. It gets blasted by cold draughts from the back door yet has minimal crispy edges + in the deepest darkest depths of January, showed signs of new growth at the base! I forget to water it on occasion, but it always bounces back + I appreciate that very much! I love this particular cultivar with it’s blue-green toned leaves with splotches of dark browny-purple, that dance around by folding + raising at night, as those in this ‘prayer plant’ family often do. If you like those colourful Calathea but struggle to keep them alive, a Maranta is by far my preferred choice. If you want something with a more pattered leaf, check out the Maranta leuconeura erythroneura (red-backed herringbone maranta) I featured in my low light tolerant houseplant post.
6. Fishbone cactus — Disocactus anguliger
One for the succulent lovers now — if you are looking for something with instant impact as opposed to those tiny pots often lurking on supermarket shelves, you might consider a fishbone cactus / epiphyllum-now-disocactus anguliger. My customers + clients love these + it’s easy to see why. These ziggy zaggy stems store water so are a great option if you occasionally forget to give your plants a drink + they need infrequent repotting which makes them a breeze to care for. Unlike desert cacti, this is part of the jungle cacti family + is more adaptable to less light as a result — perfect for a typical home environment. They look excellent in a hanging planter, or spilling off a shelf or mantlepiece + are just quite fun to look at! I’ll link my Fishbone cactus care guide here if you are tempted by one of these.
7. Monstera Deliciosa — Swiss Cheese plant
Is there anything better than an unfurling monstera leaf? I think not. Joking aside, my Monstera is hands-down my favourite houseplant. I have waxed lyrical about my love for this plant quite a few times before, but let’s just say that I love the human scale of these plants — plus the large deep green leaves are welcoming + look so classic in many different decor styles… when you find a good position for one in your home they aren’t too fussy + they cope so well in regular household humidity. In short, I think a monstera is such a versatile houseplant + that will explain why I have three, yes three monstera plants here at HPH. I’ve included them in this post about hard to kill houseplants because mine have all coped so well in a number of conditions over the years — last year they handled a 300 mile move in Winter + have settled into this freezing temporary cottage while some of my more tender plants have taken a nosedive. Inadvertently, this winter has really tested them + they deserve a spot in this post as a result of their ability to tolerate low indoor temperatures (it was just 9°C inside in January) + in coping considerably well with living too close to a radiator (never a good idea FYI) in the short term. Of course I wouldn’t advocate putting your plants through the wringer like I have this year, but I have learned some valuable plant care lessons first hand. And which ones are tougher than others!
If you have the space to let a plant really grow, it can be such a feature in your home. Whenever I move to a new place, I always think about where this one, my big monstera (I grew from a small plant) will go. But if you don’t have loads of room, start with a small one that you can prune if it gets big. But don’t worry — this can take a number of years. There are different cultivars with smaller leaves that suit modern homes too.
8. Peace Lily — Spathiphyllum
In the first post in this series of guides, you might remember I mentioned that my Spathiphyllum definitely deserves some kind of award for being the most tolerant houseplant here at HPH. Peace lilies are a classic houseplant + for good reason — in my experience they have an ability to cope with neglect, which includes but is not limited to draughts, cold temperatures, heating — even open fires, pretty low light + a lack of water on occasion too. This is one of my oldest houseplants + sometimes I am amazed it survives, but it does + I’m so happy about that. In my next place, I vow to give it a bit less of a hard time, because I’d love it to flourish. It’s a slow grower — particularly in a lower-light position, so is a good option for smaller homes.
9. Birds nest fern — Asplenium nidus
My Birds nest fern is another one in my plant collection that I have had so long I can’t even remember buying it! They are widely available + you’ll often be able to find these in larger grocery stores, nestled in with pots of blue star ferns + maidenhairs too. I grow quite a few varieties of ferns + overall I’d say this is one of the most resilient to keep looking happy. I have tested this plant to it’s limits by letting it completely dry out (not recommended) + it had completely flopped over the sides of the pot. I thought it was done for, but I placed it in the sink + let it soak up water from the bottom of the pot over night + by morning, it was back to it’s usual perky appearance! It copes well in a variety of lighting conditions + will develop more ‘wavy’ fronds if given a brighter, indirect light position. But for the last year, mine has had to tolerate quite an ambient light setting around 3 metres from a South-East window + whilst growth hasn’t exactly been vigorous, it’s still looking lovely + green with minimal crisping at the ends. Even in good light, it’s a slower growing plant so it won’t outgrow a space for many years + I think I’ve only repotted this once in the 4-5 years I’ve had it. I think I’ll give it some fresh potting mix this Spring now that I think about it…!
10. Hoya pubicalyx
A plant that has surprised me in its resilience is one of my Hoya collection — my Hoya pubicalyx. If you have followed my instagram for the last few years, you might remember the saga I had with this plant + it’s journey through the postal service from Sweden as a lovely gift a few Summers ago. It got to the UK then got lost in the post for a few weeks. The cutting landed on my doorstep when I’d almost given up hope + miraculously rooted in water. If you look carefully in a photo from earlier in the post (in the section: Be inquisitive — take it back to basics) you will see how this plant looked as a small cutting when I opened my plant mail. From here on in, this plant has grown slowly but steadily into such a unique looking houseplant in my collection — the glossy, speckled leaves are just starting to trail + it’s almost ready to be displayed in a plant hanger. It has put up with periods of neglect when I’ve forgotten to water it + more recently it escaped being positioned too close to a candle with little more than a small burn mark (photo below left)! These plants really dislike regular repotting + they have the most incredible blooms, which often appear in connection with getting stressed, so it would be remiss of me not to mention this added bonus here too! For more on this, have a read of my Hoya care guide.
Some honourable mentions…
This post isn’t an exhaustive list, but instead I have focused on the top 10 plants that I think would suit a wide range of beginner houseplant enthusiasts, that I have found to be the most hard to kill plants here at HPH.
For further reading, I’ll link my low light tolerant houseplants post here because as you might imagine, there is an element of similarity between some of the plants that cope well with less light + ones that are quite robust. You’ll find some different plant suggestions in this post that you might consider if your home is on the darker side, so you can cross reference here for the houseplants that are both resilient and that grow well in less than perfect conditions.
Some other honourable mentions I wanted to include here are:
- My Aspidistra — there’s a reason they are called Cast Iron plants!
- A Marimo moss ball — see more about these unusual plants in my low light post
- If you like cacti looking plants a Euphorbia trigona / Cathedral cactus is a good choice, it’s actually a succulent so more adaptable that a true cacti as a houseplant. Most homes don’t have enough light intensities for Cacti to properly thrive.
- Following on from above — if you have an unobscured south facing windowsill then a couple of Succulents or Cacti can look good here! But they don’t cope well with overwatering + are relatively slow growing. As a succulent, I like my kalanchoe orgyalis quite a lot (see more here), but I don’t have the best conditions for Cacti right now + they tend to look a bit sad + etiolated when not given enough intensity of light.
- A Tradescantia zebrina is a bit of a ‘marmite’ houseplant (some love it whereas others hate it!) but if you like its silvery purple foliage + trailing growth habit then I’ve found it to be very hard to kill!
- In the Pothos family, there are a number of options to choose from that are a great way of diversifying your collection as your confidence grows. For rooms with good light levels, a Marble Queen is my Pothos of choice, closely followed by a Pothos n’joy. These are two other cultivars that are quite resilient in my experience, but require more light than a Golden pothos — my top pick.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read A mindful approach to keeping houseplants that I wrote a few months ago. If you have any posts you’d like me to write, I’m always happy to take requests!
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