Personal Growth

Hard-to-kill houseplants for beginners — 7 resilient plants that survive neglect

Good luck trying to kill these tough-as-nails plants.

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What makes your house a home? For some it is a fur baby (or, indeed, an actual baby). For others, it is a fiddle leaf fig. But for those of us with a less-than-green thumb, getting into houseplants can feel daunting. Thankfully, science reveals which plants are the hardest to kill — and the best for beginners.

Nothing is sadder than a withering houseplant, and it makes for an awkward time when guests are checking out the dying shrub in the corner.

Don’t worry — these seven plants are the easiest to keep alive in your dingy, tiny apartment.

  • Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  • Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
  • Succulents
  • Air plants (Tillandsia)
  • ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

They are ideal for beginners still honing their plant-rearing skills.

Still intimidated? Don't worry: Inverse found out how to care for them, how to stop them from dying, and whether or not they are safe for pets.

Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)

How do I care for a snake plant?

The snake plant, also charmingly known as the "mother-in-law's tongue," is one of the most common houseplants beginners plump for.

It is very low maintenance — some say it even thrives on neglect — so you do not need to water it more often than once a week.

Snake plants also do not require too much sunlight to stay alive — ideal for a dark city apartment. That said, the more Sun it gets, the more it will grow.

What should I do if my snake plant is dying?

Because snake plants thrive in low light, browning or wilting leaves are probably due to the amount of water the plant is getting.

One of the most common issues snake plants suffer from is root rot, according to Smart Garden Guide. Root rot is often the result of over-watering. Once roots get too soggy, they stop delivering nutrients to the rest of the plant.

If your snake plant’s soil feels super wet, give it a break from watering. Make sure it is in a pot with a hole at the bottom for excess water to drain off.

Snake plants in a nursery.Shutterstock

Are snake plants safe for pets?

No.

While the toxins in snake plants are relatively low in concentration, the ASPCA warns that if your cat or dog eats a snake plant, it can do them serious harm.

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

How do I care for a spider plant?

Spider plants are among the easiest to care for plants.

Spider plants thrive in soil with good drainage, and they prefer to dry out in between watering.

Medium to bright, indirect light is best — so set them off to the side of your windowsill.

What should I do if my spider plant is dying?

Just because a plant is on this list doesn’t mean it will be the easiest for you to grow.

Spider plants are famously easy to keep alive. But — as someone who owns upwards of 45 plants — I have never managed to get one to thrive. My apartment’s air quality, low humidity, a family curse I didn’t know about — all could be factoring in to my bad luck, and it could factor into yours, too. Like all living things, plants can be fussy.

If your spider plant is showing signs of decay, like wilting or browning on the tips, you can try moving the plant, or changing up its water cycle.

Spider plants may fall victim to water stress, so make sure they are draining adequately. If not, change their pot, or pick one made of clay, rather than ceramic.

You can also increase the humidity around your spider plant by placing it on top of a tray of pebbles and water. You could also try putting it in the bathroom — the one spider plant I have not managed to kill (hanging on by a thread, albeit) lives there.

Spider plant thriving, not in my apartment. Shutterstock

Are spider plants safe for pets?

Yes.

Spider plants are non-toxic, so they are okay to keep nearby your pets.

But be warned: These plants have a mild hallucinogenic effect on cats. Similar to catnip, they can make your feline friend a little loopy — and they might like it. As a result you could end up with some rather unexpected chomp marks in your spider plant.

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)

How do I care for a pothos?

Pothos plants come in several variations: golden, neon, jade, and marbled.

These leafy, trailing plants are sometimes called the Devil's ivy because they are so tough to kill — making them a great choice for beginners who want the satisfaction of keeping a plant around for a long time. Plus, watching new leaves unfurl from the tendrils of a pothos is particularly rewarding.

Here are two photos of my own neon pothos, taken two and a half years apart:

Neon pothos after 2.5 years of growth.Nina Pullano

These plants thrive in bright, indirect sunlight, but they will do alright in low-light conditions, too.

The marbled (or variegated) variety will need a bit more sunlight to see new growth. That is because their unique patterning means they do not have ample chlorophyll to help them photosynthesize in darker conditions.

Water pothos plants about once a week — making sure they don’t get too soggy. And then sit back and watch this funky “ivy” do its thing.

What should I do if my pothos plant is dying?

If your pothos is giving up the ghost, check the soil. It should be damp when you water the plant, but nearly dry in between waterings.

Make sure you are not over-watering your pothos.

You can also try moving it closer to a window to give it more light, especially in the winter when there is less Sun overall.

Are pothos plants safe for pets?

No.

Pothos plants are not safe for pets, according to the ASPCA. Please keep your dogs, cats, or any other floor-crawling creatures away from pothos plants. If your cat is a climber, maybe skip this one.

Succulents

How do I care for succulents?

Succulents are so popular that there is an entire subreddit dedicated to them, r/succulents.

You can find many of these plants unmarked in gardening shops, but some favorite types for beginners are aloe vera plants (Aloe barbadensis), and hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum).

Succulents need well-draining soil, but they do not need a ton of water. Once a week should do it, or possibly even less, depending on conditions in your home.

What should I do if my succulents are dying?

Dying succulents are often a sign that the plants are not getting enough sunlight.

Keep them on a windowsill — or even hanging in the window — to make sure they get enough rays.

Are succulents safe for pets?

Maybe.

There are many different kinds of succulents — more than 25 plant families include succulents among them — so there is a lot of variation here.

Many succulents, including hens and chicks, are non-toxic. But others, like aloe, can be harmful to pets. Make sure you research your specific succulent if you have pets at home.

But even if a succulent is safe for your cat, though, we can not guarantee that the plant will be safe from your kitty.

The cutest succulent pest of all. iFunny

Air plants (Tillandsia)

How do I care for air plants?

Air plants come in various shapes in sizes, making up the genus Tillandsia.

These plants are epiphytes: In nature, they tend to grow on the surface of other plants, getting their water and nutrients from the the air, rain, and organic debris in their environment.

Their unique properties means these strange plants do not need soil — making them great for hanging or displaying around your apartment with a cool air plant stand.

Air plants don't need soil, making them great for hanging in windows. Shutterstock

To water air plants, give them a good soak in a water bath about once per week for an hour or so.

Some air plants only need a bath every two weeks — but they can dry out if you wait too long. Spray them with a misting bottle in between baths to add some extra moisture, especially if the air in your home runs dry.

What should I do if my air plants are dying?

When the conditions are right, keeping an air plant is pretty effortless — but there is a Goldilocks effect here in terms of sunlight and water.

Too much, or too little, of either Sun or water can cause your air plant to wither.

Try changing up the plant's conditions if this happens. You can try increasing or decreasing water, or exposure to the Sun.

Keep in mind that you might also be seeing the signs of changing seasons: It is easy to assume that indoor plants are unaffected by weather, but consider that sunlight, humidity, and temperature all change throughout the year. Your home is not a hermetically sealed environment, so your indoor plants are bound to be affected by the seasons (just like us humans).

Are air plants safe for pets?

Yes.

Air plants are generally non-toxic.

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

How do I care for a ZZ plant?

ZZ plants are some of the funkiest, un-fussiest plants you can add to your home.

They do well with a range of light conditions, from low, to medium, to bright, indirect sunlight — but avoid direct light with these plants.

ZZ plants reward regular watering and sporadic fertilizing with new growth, but they are also tolerant of a slightly erratic watering schedule. If you run on the forgetful side, ZZ plants might be a good call.

At the top right of this photo is my own ZZ plant, which has lived with me in two different apartments over three years:

The ZZ plant, at top right, will tolerate an odd watering schedule and low light.Orion Taylor

What should I do if my ZZ plant is dying?

Discoloration in a ZZ plant is likely due to problems with over-watering.

Too much water causes fungus to grow on the plant's roots, choking out the rhizomes that bring food and water to the plant.

If your ZZ’s leaves look burnt, it might be getting too much sunlight, so try a dingier spot.

Are ZZ plants safe for pets?

No.

Like the aloe and pothos plants, the ZZ plant is toxic to pets.

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