5 “Easy” Houseplants That Are Actually Really Hard, According to an Expert Plant Parent

updated Apr 9, 2021
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Come, all ye failed plant owners and commiserate on all the times you were told a plant was easy, but the thing was actually extremely difficult to care for. You are not alone. Some plants have a much more easygoing reputation than is deserved, and buying (and killing) one of these beauties can be seriously discouraging.

I come from a long line of plant lovers, have worked in nurseries, and have even written a book on houseplants — but even I have found that some plants were far more finicky than I expected. These five are the worst offenders. They’re all stunning and make worthwhile additions to your collection, but be warned: These houseplants are more high-maintenance than their tags will often indicate.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy


The Codiaeum variegatum, commonly known as the croton plant, is one of the most common yet most finicky houseplants out there. These plants tend to be a favorite find at flower shops and big-box garden centers because of the dramatic red, orange, and yellow coloring on their leaves. And guess what? They’re almost always found around a sign that says “Easy to Care For!”

But if you’re reading this, you might have personal experience with the fact that crotons are extremely finicky plants when being grown indoors. 

In the southern United States where the climate is tropical and balmy year-round, crotons are easily grown outside. In fact, they grow like weeds. However, when you try to bring them indoors, you’ve got a different situation on your hands. 

Crotons don’t like cooler temperatures, so if you’re the type of person who loves to set the thermostat on 60 degrees in the winter months, crotons aren’t for you. You should also steer clear if you don’t have many windows. Bright, indirect light is a key for croton success. 

These plants are also sensitive to overwatering and under-watering, and when a croton is unhappy, it starts dropping leaves like a ficus.

Skip these plants if you’re a plant newbie, but if you’re more experienced, have a lot of light, and can keep your indoor temperatures warm, you might have some luck with these beauties.

Credit: Zigzag Mountain Art/Shutterstock

Rex begonia

The rex begonia, just one of the many types of begonias, is my personal horticultural arch-nemesis. Over the years, I’ve killed at least nine of these gorgeous plants.  

This is what happens: I walk into a plant nursery, and before long the big, textural, colorful foliage of a rex begonia variety catches my eye and then I end up with two or three plants in my cart. I take them home, pot them up, and try to care for them (I’ve tried many different approaches) and within a month each rex begonia is inevitably struggling. Within three months, they’re toast.

A quick Google search will tell you that these are supposed to be some of the easiest houseplants to care for. An image search brings up pictures of massive, award-winning specimens whose owners boast about mostly ignoring their plants. 

Turns out, this plant is a little needier than others let on. Rex begonias need high humidity but hate to be overwatered, and require distilled water (hard water dries their leaves out). So anyone who dares to water their rex begonias with tap water (the gall!) might be due for some heartache.

If you take one on, make sure to crank up the humidity and give the plant plenty of drainage. These plants hate being over-watered — they’re also known as the “cacti of the jungle,” and are very sensitive to root rot. Wait until the soil is completely dry and then water thoroughly.

Peace Lily

Spathiphyllums, or peace lilies, might be one of the most common houseplants found in homes today, thanks to their gifting popularity for holidays, housewarming, funerals, and more. You can find peace lilies stocked at the grocery store, at your local nursery, and at your favorite florist. Odds are you’ve seen at least one in your life, even if you haven’t realized it. 

These plants are gifted and recommended as if they’re the most simple things to care for. But here’s the truth: Peace lilies are drama queens if you are a neglectful waterer.

The most common issue with peace lilies is wilting leaves. This is typically because of “drought stress.” Your peace lily will bounce back a few times after you forget to water, but eventually it will become permanently droopy. This is a plant that needs attention.

Peace lilies are tropical plants that naturally thrive in high humidity and filtered light. For high-level success, you should replicate this exact environment in your home. If your peace lily isn’t flowering, it’s probably because it’s not getting enough light. It also could be that the plant is in need of fertilizer. 

Credit: Yaoinlove/Shutterstock

Spider Plant 

In advance of this story, I polled 150 houseplant enthusiasts about the plants they cannot seem to keep alive. Roughly 46% said they can’t keep a spider plant alive no matter what they try.

Perhaps the misinformation that spider plants are easy to care for comes from the fact that spider plants are very easy to propagate. Yes, it might be easier to make an entirely new plant rather than to help a mature one thrive. 

So what’s the deal?

One of the most common issues with spider plants is something called water stress. Similar to peace lilies, spider plants freak out when they are over- or under-watered. Even though they need a significant amount of humidity, these plants don’t like their roots to sit in water. If the leaves are turning black or brown, that’s a sign of overwatering. If the tips of the leaves are dry, crispy and brown, you’re under-watering.

As important as it is to not give them too much water, you should let these plants dry out, either. That means you’re walking a pretty narrow tightrope to to hit the “just right” mark.

The key to successful spider plant rearing seems to be a keen sense of observation without a heavy watering hand. In other words: If you’re a true beginner, skip this one.

Credit: Emma Fiala

String of Pearls

The string of pearls plant, Senecio rowleyanus, has the reputation of being a finicky diva even though it is frequently marketed as an easy-to-care-for succulent. Let me explain why. 

Really, it all comes down to size. The smaller the plant you have, the more you’re going to have to coddle it. Most plants that are available are juvenile and in smaller 4-inch grower pots. These plants have shallow root systems and need completely different care than larger, more mature plants. 

Inexperienced owners tend to think that because it’s a succulent, it doesn’t need to be watered often — even if they have a smaller plant.  Because of this, younger plants will shrivel up and die before they get a chance to establish their roots. The juvenile string of pearls plants need to be watered with smaller amounts of water in closer increments. 

These plants also need a ton of bright light to thrive and produce those long strings of leaves. A south facing, non-obstructed window is best for them. If you’re less experienced, you’re better off shelling out for a more established plant that’s a little more hands-off.

Note: Senecio rowleyanus is toxic to dogs and cats.