Gardening for the Brown Thumb
Hard-to-Kill Plants

Leisure Pursuits
pink begonias
Photo credit: Rob Cardillo for PHS

We get it. Not everyone can be a gardening guru when it comes to maintaining plant life. So, for those who are self-proclaimed “brown thumbs”, we have good news for you! There are several houseplants that can thrive in a less-than-ideal environment.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has provided a few pointers on low-maintenance, tried-and- true plants that require very little care. “There are a handful of house plants out there that are tough as nails and are a great choice for first-time plant owners; think of the plants you see at libraries, malls, and banks.” Says Julie Bare, PHS estate gardener and horticulturist.

Try your thumb at one of the plants below and see for yourself how easy it can be!

  1. Aloe Vera: You may be familiar with this plant, as the sap from its leaves is a popular remedy for healing minor cuts and easing sunburn. Aloe is a member of the succulent family, therefore requiring very little water to survive. However, this plant does enjoy bright, but indirect sunlight, especially when growing in cooler temperatures. The aloe plant will quite happily grow in the same container for years, so there will be no need to re-pot these plants as they become bigger.
  2. Snake Plant: Another member of the succulent family, the snake plant also goes by the name “mother-in-law’s tongue” – and is the perfect species of hard to kill plants for those who aren’t great at remembering when to water their plants. This plant can thrive in low-light and only requires watering once every three weeks or so.
  3. Air Plants: These plants are so low-maintenance, they can even grow without soil. Each leaf on these air plants are covered in specialized scales that absorb water. In a home setting, these plants like bright but filtered sunlight. The best way to water these plants is to keep submerged in water for 12 hours. After this, an air plant won’t need watering for 10-14 days.
  4. Begonias: You may be familiar with growing begonias outdoors, but many varieties make excellent houseplants and bring a bright, warm reminder of Spring indoorsBegonias favor bright, indirect sunlight, and like their soil to dry out a little between each watering, so when in doubt, wait a few days before you water.
  5. Philodendron: These plants have been a common household favorite for generations and come in two varieties – climbing and non-climbing. These houseplants are one of the toughest varieties you could possibly grow, therefore being a top contender for those who are prone to killing plants. Keep in well-drained pots, as philodendron do not like sitting in water. They thrive in light shade and consistent, medium moisture.
close up of succulents
Photo credit: Rob Cardillo for PHS

For more tips on how to find the perfect houseplant for you, you can visit the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s blog on Easy, Beautiful Houseplants listed in the resources section below or stop by the 2018 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show. The 2018 PHS Philadelphia Flower Show, “Wonders of Water,” happening March 3rd-11th will celebrate the beauty and life-sustaining interplay of horticulture and water. The annual Flower Show attracts 250,000 visitors annually to the Pennsylvania Convention Center.


This blog post was written by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society.

Some houseplants may be harmful to pets. Consult with your veterinarian to learn more.