OK, So, What's The Hardest Houseplant To Kill?

mbg Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability Editor
Emma is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."

Image by Bloomscape

As a New Yorker with no pets and no kids, my most serious relationship is basically the one I have with my houseplants (if my long-term boyfriend is reading this, you're up there, too!). I check in on them every day, inspect them for any signs of distress, and worry about them when I go on vacation. In exchange, they make my apartment look great, clean up my air a bit, and help me forget that I live surrounded by concrete.

So, understandably, when a houseplant dies, a mourning period follows. If I can't save its scorched leaves or oversaturated soil, I am annoyed, then sad, then angry at myself for being the world's worst plant parent. I know I'm not alone: On one particularly active Houzz thread about the number of plants that have fallen on people's watch, responses range from "lately? Five and a half" to "I can't count that high."

One way we can all save ourselves the heartache of dead greenery is by choosing different plants in the first place. In search of the ultimate hardy houseplant, I reached out to Joyce Mast, a longtime florist and designated Plant Mom at direct-to-consumer plant company Bloomscape. She was quick to tell me that the most universally resilient of all plants is the almighty ZZ.

Image by Blue Collectors / Stocksy

What makes the ZZ plant so hard to kill?

"The ZZ plant, native to East Africa, is perfect for the most forgetful plant owners as it can survive four to six weeks without water, plus it grows well in any light except for direct sun," Mast says. Basically, this guy does best when it's pretty much ignored. The one thing you do need to do to ensure it lives a long, happy life is to give it a good home from the get-go. Choose a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom, or keep your ZZ plant in the plastic container it comes in and put that directly into your pot. You just need to make sure that there's a way for water to drain from the plant's soil, or else it'll suffer from root rot—one of plants' most notorious killers. (This goes for all plants, not just the ZZ!)

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Is there anything I need to know to keep it alive?

From there, Mast says, you can get away with watering your plant every three to four weeks, or four to six weeks during the winter. You can know when it's time for a watering by sticking your fingers a couple of inches into the plant's soil to see how it feels. "If the soil feels wet at this level, then hold off watering and check again in a couple of days. If the soil feels dry, take your plant to the sink and water it until the water begins to trickle out of the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot. Once it does, allow a bit of time for all the water to be expelled from the pot and then put it back on the saucer."

If the leaves of your plant start to turn yellow, you're overdoing it. If the leaves start to fall off entirely, the plant is thirsty and you should water immediately. And if the edges of its leaves turn brown? "It usually is a lack of humidity or water quality [issue]," Mast says. "I suggest getting a plant mister and give your plants a spritz every day... Another reason often is due to minerals like fluoride, salts, and chlorine found in tap water. Fill a pitcher with water and allow to stand uncovered overnight so the minerals can evaporate, or use distilled/rainwater."

There you have it! Near-guaranteed plant success.

Any other low-maintenance plants I should know about?

Image by Bloomscape

And if you want to give your ZZ some friends, the Green Hoya and Sansevieria are two other easygoing varieties. "These three plants specifically can adapt to nearly all light conditions and require very little water and thrive well on their own," Mast says. Bloomscape now sells these in its Tough Stuff collection, and Mast recommends placing all three next to each other at home. Beyond looking nice and having similar needs, these plants (and all plants, for that matter) actually help each other out when clustered together.

"When plants are kept in groups, they create a microclimate that improves the humidity and health of all the plants nearby... Clusters of plants will create very good humidity for each other and the surrounding air," Just when I thought I couldn't love them any more

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