Do you consider yourself a serial plant killer? Have you ever watched your Majesty Palm wither away, wondering what you could have possibly done to cause its untimely death? We’ve all been there. We caught up with landscape architect Scott McCuaig at the Future Dream Home at this month’s National Home Show to ask him about his top picks for hardy houseplants and low-maintenance outdoor plants.

First thing’s first: don’t overwater your houseplants.


Photo: Emily May/Flickr

“Water is obviously essential [to keeping houseplants alive], but there are a lot of plants that people tend to overwater, when really they need to dry out to survive,” explains McCuaig. If the soil is wet and new-growth leaves are turning yellow, chances are your plant has had too much to drink. “Overwatering drowns the roots, which need oxygen to dry out,” says McCuaig.

Regulate your home’s temperature.

window plant-compressed

Photo: De Vetpan Archive –

Just like a roommate who insists on controlling your apartment’s thermostat, houseplants can be picky about indoor temperatures. “Some people will turn their heat up in the winter, which can dry plants out,” says McCuaig. “Mind drafts around windows and doors because cold temperatures in your house can kill plants as well.” A good rule of thumb is to maintain daytime temperatures between 65° to 75°F (18° to 24°C), and then lower the thermostat slightly overnight.

Orchids are (surprisingly) easy to care for.


Photo: James Bombales

“Believe it or not, orchids are some of the hardiest houseplants,” notes McCuaig. “But the problem is, again, people over-watering their orchids.” These delicate, flowering plants only need to be watered once a week during the winter months, and twice a week during dry summer weather.

Succulents are good plants for frequent travelers.


Photo: James Bombales

Succ yeah, they are. “We call them ‘vacation plants,’” laughs McCuaig. “Succulents are modern, they’re almost indestructible and you literally don’t need to water them for almost a month.” They also come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes — from sky-high snake plants to water-retaining ponytail palms.

Variegated plants don’t require much light.


Photo: James Bombales

“A variegated plant is one that’s got white and the green in the leaf — that means there’s a lack of photosynthesis, which helps it to survive in areas like basements or bathrooms.” Scott recommends spider plants, pothos (also known as Devil’s Ivy) and dieffenbachia, a tropical flowering plant.

For condo and apartment balconies, consider artificial plants.


Photo: Stephanie Overton/Flickr

“For clients who don’t want to have to do any maintenance, we’ll do faux,” says McCuaig. “They look very real and last a long time outside in the sun and wind — also you never have to water them!” If you’re still keen on growing a *real* container garden on your sun-soaked or wind prone balcony, try succulents. “They work really well outside,” notes McCuaig.

Hostas are ideal for yards and gardens.


Photo: Erik Anestad/Flickr

“These perennials are indestructible — you can dig them up and they’ll multiply,” says McCuaig. “It’s a plant you may pay $20 for at the garden center, but in four years you’ll probably have four more.” With their leafy greens and flower clusters, hostas are sure to boost your home’s curb appeal. “You basically can’t kill them, they’re great,” says McCuaig.

Ferns are also fantastic.


Photo: James Bombales

“A lot of people are afraid to plant ferns, but they grow really well in low light,” advises McCuaig. “There’s this belief that they need moisture, but there are a lot of dry ferns that can grow in full sun and with low water.” That explains why ferns outlived the dinosaurs.

Sedums will prevent green roofs from drying out.


Photo: James Bombales

Summer in the city is hot, hot, hot, largely due to the urban heat island effect. Rooftop gardens, or green roofs, can help to offset this phenomenon. Sedum species, which are low-growing, reign supreme in the world of rooftop landscape design. “They’re almost like a succulent plant, the leaf is very juicy and it holds the moisture in so it can survive droughts,” explains McCuaig. “Sedums are great for indoor or outdoor use, and in hot or dry weather as well.”

Ornamental grasses are gaining popularity.


Photo: Dinesh Valke/Flickr

“I have clients who say, ‘Oh, it looks like hay,’ or ‘It looks like a weed,’ but there are some really beautiful ornamental grasses and there are so many new varieties that are coming out,” insists McCuaig. “They’re very tolerant and they like sort of a dry climate.” Looking for a pop of color? They’ve got that too. “Some grasses have red to the leaf, and then in the fall it turns into a seed head. In the wintertime the seed head stays put, and it’s gorgeous when the snow falls on it. It’s truly a multi-seasonal plant.”

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