I used to be a serial plant murderer. Walking the halls and rooms of my home was a disturbing graveyard tour of dried-out plant husks and yellowed, drooping leaves. Sad empty pots calling attention to themselves and my infinitely black thumb. But fast forward to today, and I'm practically a botanist compared to my old life.
I've turned course on my black thumb and have now successfully kept plants alive...and discovered some tricks that work for me. People who grow things successfully without trying: This post isn't for you. People still lousy with plants: Read on for tips that might help you turn your black thumb around (and five plant suggestions that if I can keep alive, anyone can).
We've had a few "hard-to-kill" houseplants posts published on Apartment Therapy (See: 5 Hard-to-Kill Houseplants), but I thought it might be helpful to those still struggling with murdering house plants to find a list of plants that can truly be vouched for. I've now kept these five plants below alive for more than a year and through several moves:
1. Aloe plants
My current aloe plants (I have two pots with large plants in them) are planted in the wrong type of soil, have been placed in almost constant shade in a corner and are in pots way too small for what they probably need to be in. And yet, they survive. Actually, they look pretty happy. I do get a lot of natural light in my apartment, so that might help, but in general, it seems like you can basically leave these guys alone and they do their own thing.
2. Sansevieria (also known as Mother-in-Law's tongue)
My dear bedroom corner plant is a delight to behold. Tall and architectural, it cheers up the corner of my sleep space, doesn't need or want all that much water and I'm pretty sure probably isn't in the right soil either. I'd go so far as to say it's thriving right now.
3. Pothos plant
This is by far the happiest of all my plants. Set high atop my living room bookshelf, most of the day it's bathing in shade in a bright room, but gets a bit of a sun soak as the sun aligns itself with my transom window. Its main vine seems to grow longer by the minute, and now reaches down to nearly half the height of my bookcase.
4. A miniature cactus
This will directly conflict with some of the advice I give below, but I took the label off of this little guy (or was there even a label on it?) so I don't know exactly what type of cactus this is. But it's still green and perks up the corner of my desk at home. I barely even do anything to him and yet here he is. He does enjoy perhaps the most sunlight of all my plants, which may be contributing to his happiness.
My rosemary plant I planted in a big, bright green container and have placed outside by the door of the last few apartments. It requires little to no actual attention, has gone from a nearly rain-less drought environment to a rain-every-day climate after my most recent move, and is perfect for grabbing fresh herbs off of when I cook at home.
→ My extremely non-expert tips on keeping plants alive (that might help other black thumbs reverse course):
I’ve put myself on a watering schedule
This was the biggest thing that changed my life. It seems so simple, so "duh." And yet when a friend suggested it, it completely changed my life. All I did was read what the plant's label said it wanted in terms of water and then scheduled regular waterings in my calendar. Now I never go two months without watering them (thinking it's probably only been a day or so) and because I put how much/how to water them in with the calendar note, I get instructions that pop up with my phone reminders. If it sounds like technology is holding my hands with something that many people do intuitively and without trouble, IT TOTALLY IS. But it's helped me not forget about my plants.
I constantly mist
I’m what you might call a fusser. If I’m not forgetting about plants until they evolve into sad, dried husks, I’m over watering them with abandon. But keeping a water bottle near me so I can mist my plants anytime I feel like puttering around the house has helped keep me from drowning them.
I dust them
I’ve got one slightly slumped snake plant blade, the cause of which alluded me for awhile. Until I finally turned it over one day to find that a spider had built a home in a curled up leaf corner (ew!). I now take the advice to lightly dust my house plants with a wet wash cloth to keep their leaves their happiest. Who knows if this is really having a measurable affect on the lives of these plants, but I can tell you my home feels cleaner for it.
I've taken it slow with adding to my collection
I think a lot of my problems with plants in the past has been my over-enthusiasm when the weather got spring-y. Dashing off to the nursery and coming home with a truck-load full of plants I bought because they were pretty looking (and not because I had any clue how to take care of them). As the above list illustrates, I've started off slow and simple, and have gained the confidence to strike out into new plant challenges. (Not pictured is a happy little cucumber plant in my kitchen I'm growing!).
Are you a former black thumb who has turned their life of murdering leaves around? Share your picks for no-kill plants and the tips that have made you a plant grower.