How Not to Kill Your Houseplants
Were you born with two brown thumbs? This condition is the opposite of having 'green thumbs.' It means that any plant which enters your house will soon end up back outside... in your dumpster.

All joking aside, caring for houseplants seems simple. Just give the plants water and sunshine. However, this simple recipe can go very wrong. Here's how to troubleshoot your plant’s health problems and choose which houseplant varieties work for the brown-thumbed among us:


Plants need sunlight, but you may have problems when you stick that lovely potted fuchsia under your brightest window. What kind and now much light should you provide?

Direct and Indirect Sunlight

The problem: More is not always better when it comes to sunshine. In fact, some plants much prefer growing in indirect light or the shade. This is even trickery if your place has weaker Northern sunlight or the strong rays of the Southern sun.

The fix: Check your houseplant's tag or ask at the gardening supply store to learn what kind of light it prefers. Pick the brightest window of your house for sunshine lovers and stick shade-dwellers in a darker corner. You can also hang sheer curtains to block out some of the light.

Try these plants: Astilbe, Hosta, Bromeliads, and Primroses do well in shady environments. On the other side of the scale, Lavender, Hibiscus, Petunias, and Marigolds love getting hit with direct sunlight.

Amount of Daylight

The problem: In winter it's inevitable that you'll get fewer hours of daylight. If your home is shaded by trees, this could seem like almost no daylight at all. Less light means your plant will grow slower, may shed leaves, and could even die.

The fix: Look for houseplants which require less light (such as the shade lovers listed above) and move them to a brighter window during overcast times of the winter. If you have your heart set on a variety that loves the sun, you may have to bite the bullet and buy grow lights, like this one from Gardener’s, for your plants.

Try these plants: Plants that enjoy shady environments (see above) have a good shot at making it through dark winters. Varieties which do especially well under artificial lights include Jade Plants, Peace Lilies, Snake Plants, Spider Plants, and Gerbera Daisies.


The problem: Did you vow to water your houseplant every day to ensure this one doesn't die? Did it rot immediately? On the other hand, do you find yourself so busy in the mornings that you keep forgetting about the watering can ... right up until you're faced with a brown plant?

Just like with sunlight, plants have a wide variety of watering preferences. This can range from a mere teaspoon of water a month for the most extreme desert-dwellers, to watering twice a day – or that pot of basil wilts.

The fix: Find out how much water your houseplant needs and schedule your watering.

If you're struggling to remember those daily waterings, program a reminder into your phone. However, keep an eye on the soil. Plants kept indoors may use less water than those outside in dry summer heat. If you notice the dirt is looking more like mud, skip that watering session.

Houseplants which need minimal water present their own challenges. If you only need to water your cactus every two to three weeks, it's easy to totally forget this detail. Setting yourself reminders can help here too, or you can tie waterings to your schedule. For example, break out your watering can every payday.

Finally, you may consider automated watering systems like this Plant Sitter from Home Depot. Other options include simple glass bulbs you upend and stick into your pot and more sophisticated electronic water dispensers.

Try these plants: Do you have a big problem with over-watering your houseplants? Try Boston Ferns, Pitcher Plants, and Umbrella Palms. These plants love the water so much that they're almost impossible to flood.

Meanwhile, plants that can weather a drought include succulents like Aloe, Lithops (living stones), Lavender, decorative cacti, and Sago Palms. However, these varieties are vulnerable to splitting and rotting if they get too wet, so watch their moisture levels.


The problem: All the babying in the world won't save that spindly Poinsettia if your kids knock it over or the dog chews it up. Meanwhile, if you have a smaller apartment, there may be limited spaces where your plant can sit. Bigger or more fragile houseplants and bushes are especially tricky to place. Finally, plants in the bathroom or kitchen may accidentally be exposed to toxic chemicals. This can kill even the toughest varieties.

The fix: If your plant has died for no clear reason, take a look at its environment to see if it was exposed to an outside toxin. Try moving your air fresheners, cleaning supplies, etc. Next, consider relocating your houseplants out of reach of small children and pets. Finally, look for robust plants that can survive an impact if your Great Dane runs wild.

Try these plants: Sturdy houseplants include Yucca, Snakeplant, and barrel shaped cacti.

For compact plants you can fit into protected corners, consider Gerbera Daisies, African Violets, and Lucky Bamboo.

Another angle is purchasing quick-recovering plants. This category includes Spider Plants, Hen and Chicks, Aeonium, and Aloe. If the plant gets damaged, pinch or break off those parts. It will regrow and look healthy again in no time.

Growing houseplants is like baking. Add a sprinkle of water to the right dirt mix, 'bake' in sunlight, and enjoy. Hopefully this article has given you the right 'recipe' for developing your green thumbs.