Nothing bugs me more than to have someone tell me that they kill every houseplant they ever owned. Houseplants make a house look so much better, and they also filter out a lot of the impurities in the air. Taking care of them is really very easy. It just requires a little common sense. Some people have a bad experience with them starting out, and never try again. There are some types that are harder than others, but with a little persistence you can find houseplants that you can live with your whole life. I've got some that I've had for over 30 years now, and I don't think I could kill them if I tried. They're damn near big enough to kill me, come to think of it!

Here's a couple of basic rules of green thumb that you can use to try again, if you think it's impossible.

  • Choose your plants wisely. I'll give you a list in a minute of common houseplants and what luck you can expect to have with each.
  • Make sure they are in pots with drainage holes! This is crucial! Never buy a plant in a pot that doesn't have a place for the excess water to go. Or, repot it, if you do.
  • Make sure you have enough light coming into your house to keep them alive. If you're sitting there listening to the Cure, all draped in black with tinfoil over your windows, forget about it. You don't need houseplants; you need a life first.
  • Don't overwater them! This is how most houseplants are killed; they're drowned. Actually, they don't drown, like you or I would, they rot from too much water. How much is too much? When you water the plant, make sure you water it until the water runs out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. This insures that the soil got evenly wet. Once you've done this, the chances are real good that you only need to repeat this every 2 weeks. Succulents (cacti and their relatives) need to be watered much less; maybe every 2 months. Others need water more often; but the plant will usually let you know when it needs water, and water will solve its problem. It will begin to wilt or the leaves will begin to droop towards the floor. This is the best thing to do: Establish a pattern of just noticing every day when you walk by the plant if the leaves are drooping. Is that too damn hard? After a few weeks, you'll know how often that plant needs water. On the other hand, if you water them too much, you won't notice until it's too late. Then, if you're lucky, you can let the plant dry out and it may survive. Often, however, root rot has already set in and it's just a matter of time.
  • Fertilize the plant some, but not too much. Throw a tablespoon of Miracle Grow in a gallon of water and use that every other time you water, but only in the spring and summer. Don't fertilize in the fall or winter.

OK, now how about what types of plants you need to get? Let's start with the ones that might be hard to grow.

  • Diffenbachia (Dumb Cain). A common plant which is pretty hard to turn into a permanent member of the family. Even if you do get it to grow, it will most likely get leggy and start looking like that skinny girl with the glasses that kept snorting at you in high school.
  • Ficus Elastica (Rubber Tree.) The same problem. They just get out of hand, and the more you prune them the uglier they get.
  • Ficus Benjamina (Weeping Fig.) A tree that probably should have never been turned into a houseplant. It tends to just drop leaves like Bill Clinton drops his pants; daily. The plastic version of this is probably your best bet.
  • Jade Plant. A beautiful little rubbery-looking plant that can live for a long time. However, it needs less water than most, and is usually drowned. It also is very popular for the dreaded mealy bug which will build cottony death underneath the leaves. Leave this one for the pros.
  • Shefflera (Umbrella Tree). Somewhat like the situation with the Ficus Benjamina. It will drop a lot of leaves and probably wind up disappointing you as much as that last crappy writeup you just posted. (Yeah, I read it. Jesus, what goes on in that peanut head of yours?)
  • Hoya (Wax Plant). If you can get this one to grow, you truly are a master. I had two in hanging baskets that I'd had for 30 years now. They went through good and bad times, but they went the way of all flesh. One of them used to bloom every year about this time. The cutest and most sugary little purple flowers you've ever seen. These are somewhat like succulents in that they don't require a lot of water. They also like cooler temperatures than other tropical houseplants. I love 'em, but this may be another one that requires expert attention. I don't see many of them around in people's houses . . . They aren't in mine any longer. RIP.
  • Maranta leuconeura (Prayer Plant). These are the little plants that fold up at night, as if to pray. You see them a lot in floral arrangements. They will live fairly easily, but the leaves will turn brown on the edges and, if you're as anal as I think you are, this will bother you so much that you will then murder the entire plant.
  • Aglonema (Chinese Evergreen). You see these in floral arrangements a lot, too. They are fairly easy to keep alive, but they will tend to become leggy if you give them too much light. They do better in a north or south window with less water than most tropicals.
  • Dracaena (Corn Plant). Now we're getting to those that only the blackest thumb among you will be able to kill. I've got one of these that is touching the ceiling right now. I'm going to have to chop it real soon and let it grow again (which it will). But it won't ever be as pretty as the single stalk it currently is. Plants will disappoint you. Get over it.
  • Philodendron. Now, this vine, along with its cousin, Pothos, can only be killed by those who piss on their houseplants. And that may not even work. These plants could even possibly grow in the dark dungeons that some of you live your on-line life in. The light from your monitor might be enough to keep them alive. But they aren't spectacular, until they begin to fall over the pot or basket and create that Babylon Garden look.
  • Sansevieria (Snake Plant or Mother In-Law's Tongue). You can't kill these either. But you do have the problem of the edges turning brown on the waxy leaves. They don't like as much water as other plants, and I do think they could go for a year with no water and still live. Don't try that, however. They like it hot, so be sure and put them outside in the summer. Full sun? Hell, yeah. Bring it on!
  • Aloe Vera. Did you know this miracle of a plant is in the lily family? It's almost Biblical, isn't it? These are easy to grow and they will fix a burn better than any medicine you can buy. Even when you buy stuff at the store that says it has aloe in it, it ain't worth a shit. It's got to be straight from the living plant to do any good. Down in the tropics, little kids will sell gringos big aloe leaves to rub on their sunburned heads and necks. And you'd be wise to pay whatever they ask. This plant is a "must have" for any home.
  • Philodendron Selloum (Elephant Ear or Lacy Tree Philodendron). This is my all-time favorite. If you live in Nawlins or Florida or in the tropics, these grow like shrubs outside your house, don't they? They are mystical and beautiful plants. And you can grown them in your house until they get so big that small animals can get lost in there. I've had mine for over 30 years, and I've had some magical stuff happen with that plant. But this is getting long and I'll tell that story some other time.