Many people are quick to label themselves ‘black-thumbed’ at the first sign of trouble — tips of the leaves turning brown, the occasional leaf falling off. But have you ever considered that maybe you aren’t the problem? It’s possible you brought a high-care plant home and didn’t have the right conditions for it (and that particular plant needs the perfect conditions at all times, because they’re annoying like that). The truth is, if some plants could talk, they’d probably whisper, ‘It’s not you, it’s me,” before showing themselves to the door.
How do I know? I used to work in a boutique plant shop where I was responsible for keeping hundreds of plants alive and looking fabulous, in less than ideal lighting conditions. Within a few weeks, I quickly identified the needy plants. The palms, alocasia and pilea would turn on me without warning — drying out in the blink of an eye and wilting even faster.
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But I also took care of many self-sufficient plants that barely asked anything of me — zanzibar gems, snake plants, and the rest of the green friends you’ll find on this list. They won’t punish you immediately if you miss your weekly watering appointment (you have your own life to live!). They’re not aggressively hungry for light. These plants are perfect for plant novices and forgetful parents alike. That’s not to say you can’t kill these plants. It’s just a lot harder to do. Let’s go shopping:
1. Zanzibar Gems
You’ll often see zanzibar gems in forgotten office corners, or in the front window of an abandoned laundromat or travel agent’s office. When the other plants around them have died, these low-care warriors keep on keepin’ on. No one has watered them in weeks and it doesn’t even matter. ZZ’s are part of the succulent family but actually require very little light to survive (you can put them in low light and water every 14 days and they’ll be just fine).
2. Snake Plants
My snake plants refuse to die on me. They require very little water and very little light, making them one of the few varieties that actually thrive on neglect. Most of us are familiar with the most common snake plant with thick, waxy, upright leaves in different colorways. But you can get some funky varieties as well, like a sansevieria cylindrica (with cigar-shaped leaves that look like a hand) or a sansevieria hahnii (otherwise known as the bird’s nest snake plant).
3. Yucca Plants
Native to Guatemala and southeast Mexico, yuccas have a sturdy trunk with long, leathery, pointed leaves at the end. Like cacti, they lend a hip desert/Southwestern vibe to any interior. But they’re much cheaper to buy and also way easier to keep alive because they don’t require bright light to survive. They prefer bright light but can tolerate lower light. You just have to reduce your watering to make up for it.
4. Haworthia (Zebra Plant)
Small cacti and succulents are notoriously difficult to keep alive. If you want a similar look, with a plant that won’t kick the can, start with a haworthia. They are part of the succulent family but unlike their other friends who hog the sunlight, haworthias will do best in partial shade and like to dry out completely between waterings.
5. Jade Plants
Jade plants are also part of the succulent family, native to the dry hills of South Africa. They have numerous thick, leathery, green leaves that are sturdier than other succulent varieties. While they will thrive best in bright light, they don’t need to be right by the window to be happy. They also like to dry out between waterings, so they won’t need constant attention.
The aloe plant is a drought-resistant succulent that can grow indoors or outdoors. It also goes by the name ‘medicine plant’ because the sap from its leaves can soothe minor skin irritations and burns. They like bright light but can go weeks without watering. Water them well, then allow them dry out completely. In the winter, you can sometimes push it to every two to three weeks.
Pothos are the perfect starter plant and can stay alive for years in less than ideal conditions. As they grow, their leaves trail into a vine that drapes happily over a bookshelf or hanging basket. You can easily propagate this plant and continue replanting the vines that have sprouted roots, keeping the plant looking full and healthy forever. Pothos love bright-indirect light but can tolerate low light situations. They require water every week but if you forget about them, all they need is some quality time with the watering can to make a herculean comeback.
8. Heartleaf Philodendron
The heartleaf philodendron has dark green, shiny, heart-shaped leaves and looks great as a table or hanging plant. They are one of the most popular plants because they’re beautiful and almost impossible to kill. They can survive in low light but do best in bright indirect light and require water every week.
9. Dracaena Corn Plant
There are many dracaena varieties that are pretty forgiving but I’ve found the corn plant to be the most tolerant of low light, missed waterings and overall neglect. Similar to yuccas, they have a sturdy trunk with leaves that resemble corn fields decorating the ends. They have a signature yellow stripe in the leaves and can grow up to 12 feet tall. This plant can tolerate low light but will grow faster in bright indirect light and likes to dry out about halfway between waterings.
10. Air Plants
Air plants get their name because they don’t require soil to survive and receive most of their nutrients from the air. They grow in the wild, attaching themselves to rocks, trees, and shrubs and are native to the southern United States, Mexico, Central America and South America. Air plants have been confusing Millennials for years, but they’re actually pretty easy housepets. All you have to do is place them in a bowl of room temperature water every week for ten minutes and then let them dry out on a cloth. Be careful not to over-handle them — the oils from our fingers can reduce the air plant’s ability to absorb moisture. They also like to have some light, so don’t place them in a windowless room.