Houseplants forum: Houseplants for a black thumb

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goreycat
Aug 9, 2016 12:03 AM CST
I'm looking for suggestions for plants that are incredibly hard to kill, and most of the lists I'm finding include several plants I've killed more than once, so I'd like to try something else before I give up and resort to fake plants. (Also I really like plants and feel awful every time one dies.)

On the lists of 'difficult to kill' that I've killed many times: Spider plants, aloes, jade plants, arrowhead plants, boston ferns, basically any sort of succulent. I think my problem is that I overwater, but when I try to let things dry out more between waterings they die anyway.

I currently have a very happy philodendron, orchid, and coleus. And a bamboo that's recovering from some cat pruning surprisingly well.
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gasrocks
Aug 9, 2016 8:08 AM CST
Sansevieria. Gene
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purpleinopp
Aug 9, 2016 9:09 AM CST
Hi & welcome!

Watering plants shouldn't be a mystery, trying to guess that perfect moment of when to add more water w/o making a plant ill, and it doesn't have to be. That's the one thing a potted plant *needs* for its' person to do - give it a drink. It shouldn't be the thing that kills them. Overwatering isn't about adding a certain quantity of water or waiting for a mysterious period of time before adding more. Soggy peat that doesn't have enough oxygen in it is likely the culprit, not you & your watering can. Most bags labeled "potting soil" are mostly peat, an unsustainable product, and not a healthy or helpful thing to have in a pot.

Trying to deal with peat also gives rise to the related old wives' tale about plants preferring to be root/pot-bound. No plant likes to be rootbound. What is necessary for plants to stay alive is for their roots to not rot, which can happen so easily in a pot with dense soils, like ground dirt, or bagged mixes of predominantly tiny particles of peat, (or to simply shrivel from simply never getting any water.) Having very little soil around the roots would make the soil dry more quickly, and for even the most dedicated plant-overwaterers to not rot the roots of their plants. This is not ideal, since most non-cactus plants are stressed by dry conditions, it's just a way of coping with soil that has little air in it when moist. A more porous, chunky soil (like cactus/palm, if one is buying bagged,) can have more air in it even when it is moist because there is space between the particles. Roots need oxygen and moisture at the same time to function. When there are tiny particles of any kind in a pot, such as peat, sand, silt, clay, they filter into all of the tiny spaces in a pot, eliminating the air. "Overwatering" is the label and manifestation when roots have suffocated and/or rotted, combo of both. Over time, organic bits decompose into smaller bits, so even the "best" soil, if it has organic components, will need to be replaced when this happens. The speed at which this happens depends on many variables, but on average, about 1-3 years.

Other common pitfalls are using a pot w/o a hole in the bottom for excess water to drain away, putting a drip tray under a pot & letting water sit in the drip tray. Both of these can cause a build-up of fertilizer &/or tap water chemicals in the soil over time which can make plants ill. Misunderstandings about light are also common. "Low light" isn't interpreted the same by everyone, and sometimes plants are placed in a much too dim spot indoors.

If the soil isn't causing unnecessary hardships for plants your only limits are the amount of sun you have & the usual temp/humidity level in your home.
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xoxomonisia
Aug 11, 2016 10:31 AM CST
Hello...and welcome!

I was in the same situation about 5 yrs ago! I'd kill all my houseplants.... too much overwatering. The past 3 yrs I've managed to have a few houseplants that are still going strong. I have pothos, spider plant, and aloe vera. I water my pothos every 2 weeks as well as my spider plant. I water my aloe vera the 1st of every month... I give it a good watering and keep it on bright (not direct) light. I've also bought a few more succulants and I water them every 3 weeks. I put a reminder on my calendar when to water my flowers. By keeping that same schedule... I've managed not to kill the plants. I hope this helps.
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sallyg
Aug 13, 2016 7:05 AM CST
These plants take abuse without much complaint,.I have been caring for them in a public library. Use good quality potting mix as described above, pots with holes, and a dish under so you can see if water has drained all the way through AND discard any that is sitting in the dish. I water once a week; if I see a dribble into the dish, I consider it done and let the dribble evaporate.

(Ditto )Sanseveria of course
Aglaonema aka Chinese evergreen
Schefflera arboricola aka Umbrella plant
Pothos (Epipremmnum aureum)- This plant was in a pot much too large, but it worked out. I watered very sparingly. It's grown huge.

Spathiphyllum, aka Peace lily, can look good but must be kept moist, so I do recommend that if you tend to overwater. They look happy for me as long as I do NOT let them dry out.

It seems that many beginners also have plants in pots that are bigger than needed. That actually makes it easier to overwater if you are not very careful. purpleinopp mentioned the potbound myth. I think part of that is that many people have had plants in tight pots that thrive. They use the moisture in the soil quickly, thus avoiding the soggy problem condition.

PS I have terrible luck with spider plants!
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purpleinopp
Aug 13, 2016 7:40 AM CST
Yes, using a smaller pot can be a coping mechanism if soil doesn't have much/any air in it. Relying on that instead of soil that wouldn't suffocate/rot roots is like treating a symptom instead of the underlying cause.
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sallyg
Aug 13, 2016 8:22 AM CST
I agree heartily! All of your advice is excellent, purpleinopp. I'm sure many people are trying to learn by what they observe, and there are variables that confuse things by letting a plant seem to do well when it 'shouldn't'.
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WillC
Aug 13, 2016 8:31 AM CST
Caring for plants is a lot like cooking - everyone has their own recipe, approach and advice. What works for one may not work for another. This site and its contradictory advice is a prime example of that.

My advice (after 30 years of professional experience) for whatever it is worth, is to keep it simple, attend to basics and don't get bogged down detail or quick fixes (fertilizer). First and foremost, there has to be a good match between the available light in your home, which most folks tend to overestimate, and the plant species. If a plant requires medium or high light and you only have low light, then all the advice in the world will not help. Second, understand that the pot and soil a plant is grown in at the nursery are almost always the best match for that plant, at least initially. Inexperienced and unnecessary repotting is the single most common cause of inadvertent over-watering and plant failure.

In general, the less fussing you do with your plants, the better they will be. As for the hardiest of indoor plants, a ZZ Plant is adaptable to many light conditions and is tough to kill as long as you don't repot it and just water it weekly.

And now you can expect lots of disagreement with what I have written! So it goes.
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sallyg
Aug 14, 2016 6:39 AM CST
"And now you can expect lots of disagreement with what I have written! So it goes."

haha WIll, I hope not. Among your excellent points, you reminded us about matching the plant to the conditions. I have suggested things that I've grown in low light or 'office commercial lighting'. Someone else could be picking a plant for a sunny windowsill in Florida.
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purpleinopp
Aug 14, 2016 6:59 AM CST
I couldn't agree more with the overestimation of light and how insignificant light can never yield a thriving plant. BUT, for those that can survive anyway, some long-time low-light specimens are quite unique with a survivor characteristic with which a normal looking plant could never compete as far as being simply interesting.

After moving from OH to AL, I finally understood how a different location could affect house plants inside so much. The winter rays in OH are always going to be weaker, and, generally, there will be many more sunny hours over winter in AL. But there are plenty of plants that are never going to be happy here, like those that can't take high temps/humidity during summer, are total divas about some low humidity during winter, can't live through temp fluctuations of about 45-95 from being in unheated rooms for winter and outside for summer... those that can't survive variables beyond my control & the conditions I have to offer.

These last comments of mine and other people speak to the topic and assure us that nobody has a black thumb, but inappropriate expectations and inexperience are common. Both can be eliminated but nobody can keep every plant alive indefinitely. Don't take losses too hard, there are plenty of other plants to try.

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Cinta
Aug 15, 2016 2:02 AM CST
The main thing I saw was the confession of "water". When I saw ........"when I try to let things dry out more between waterings they die anyway. "

The word "try" usually means trying was not long enough. Too much water will only end up with a rotted plant which is death especially succulents. In the winter when my succulents are indoors they get a drink once a month or less.

My suggestion of plants that are easy for someone that loves to water is plants that do not like to dry out.

Callisia fragrans I bet you could not kill this plant even if you watered it too much.

Aglaonema

Bromelaid. Since you like to water these need to have water in their cup at least you can see if it needs water if the cup is dry.

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