An Ode to Houseplants (as written by a self-proclaimed black thumb.)

I am just going to open with a disclaimer: I have a black thumb. The blackest of thumbs, in fact. I have killed cacti and various other desert-dwelling flora before, and one of the most thriving plants I have kept was one I left outside for several months. I inherited none of the flower-whispering skills of my mother, who proudly keeps a rose garden alive through the blistering summers in Australia, but nothing can keep me from giving it all my best shot.

From an aesthetic standpoint, I believe one of the greatest moves you can make is to bring plants into your home. Being living organisms, they bring life and color to cold, drab corners of the room – and they require nurturing and attending to, which is great a great skill to have for convincing people you are a responsible adult human being. You also get to watch them grow bigger and healthier (provided you’re doing it right) which is kind of a great feeling, almost like when you had sea monkeys as a kid, or when you grew that fungi in a petri dish in science class – except better, because plants are less creepy.

These days, I’m doing a little better at the plant-keeping…baby steps. So I have decided to share some of the houseplants my roommate and I have around our apartment – and have managed to successfully keep alive for the better part of a year or so. These plants rank at the supremely easy end of the neediness scale, so if you have a black-ish thumb too, you may want to consider some of these options.


Do not be mistaken because of the spindly leaf structure, the plant above is a part of the palm family, not the fern family. It sprouts bamboo-like shoots at its base and the leaves are relatively dry and fibrous. It doesn’t look so hot right now, because I just aggressively pruned off all the dead and unnecessary branches and re-potted it (I was away over the summer, oops!) but it is not dead yet. That is because it is extremely hardy. It doesn’t do well with over-watering, so I check it periodically and give it a little water once a week.

Split leaf Philodendron

These are classic houseplants, and a part of the philodendron family. They put out large, verdant leaves with splits, and they grow upward and also sprawl outwards from their pots. A large, very pretty plant, split leaf philodendrons are also relatively simple to care for. I usually water mine once a week, checking to make sure the soil is dry an inch below the surface before I do (over-watering is a problem too, people.)

Heart leaf Philodendron

The heart leaf philodendron is basically the poster child for houseplants. It is the houseplant of the moment. It’s a creeper. No, literally – because it grows in a downward cascade. A lot of people choose to hang them, and have them grow vine-like tendrils downward. You can also turn them into climbers, however, by giving them a support to attach to and grow upward. These guys are, again, very easy to maintain. I just water my plant once a week with three or four ice cubes (easier to reach when the plant is hanging.)

Rubber Plant

 This plant came as a clipping from my roommate’s grandfather’s rubber tree plant (cool, right? Apparently he has made clippings from his tree for a lot of the family. What a lovely, meaningful gift.) It is super hardy, it only requires a small weekly watering, and it puts out new leaves in a rusty red color.

Chinese Evergreen

I got this plant because it fares well in a low light environment and it handles the occasional dry spell. Basically, this plant is foolproof for beginner gardeners and black thumbs, alike. I also have a particularly shady room that does not receive westward sun at all, so I needed a plant that could survive with less sunlight. It grows upward, and the lower limbs tend to dry up and can be pruned off, as they are replaced by new green shoots that sprout up from the center. Again, I water this plant weekly, but I always gauge the soil moisture level an inch below the surface to make sure I don’t over-water it.

So, there you have a list of the plants that my roommate and I have been able to keep alive thus far. Along with these plants being relatively forgiving, there are some little tricks that have helped along the way. For example, I tend to water my plants with ice cubes. This way, I am always aware of the amount of water I give the plant, and the water melts and soaks into the soil at a slower rate, making sure that the spread of moisture is even, rather than concentrated only in one area. With hanging plants, watering with ice cubes is also easier, because reaching up that high with a cup of water is not always feasible, and often results in unintended sprinkling. I also make sure to rotate the plants in relation to the light source, to make sure the plant is growing evenly – as plants grow toward the light.

Happy planting,



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