Anyone who complains about having a brown thumb may simply be choosing the wrong plants to grow. Some plants are exceedingly sensitive, needy, temperamental and difficult. These are plants that go into extreme shock if the soil gets a bit too wet or dry, or if the light or air temperature is not just so. Stay away from those plants.
Instead, if you want things growing in and around your home (other than mold spores), choose plants that have a history of hardiness. Some plants actually thrive when the soil dries out completely between watering. Plants whose native habitat is on forest floors prefer that dark corner of your living room. So even if you're a little forgetful with your plant care, or your house is not flooded with natural light, you can still enjoy green success inside and out.
You can be a victorious gardener if you make the right choices.
English Ivy (Hedera)
You know a plant is hardy when even people who want to kill it are often unsuccessful. That's the case with the ivy, whose creeping tendrils and root systems can fairly take over gardens, fences, sheds and even houses. Therefore, planting invasive ivy in the ground may bring future problems you don't want to deal with. But if you keep it contained to a pot, either indoors or outdoors, you get all the hardy benefits without the takeover troubles.
By directing your ivy's fast-growing tendrils, you can create any number of whimsical topiaries. To create a privacy screen on a patio or deck, stick a wooden trellis in a big pot, plant English ivy and watch it take over. The plant likes moist, well-drained soil and bright light. To keep it bushy, pinch of the tips of new growth.
The next plant could be called the quintessential hanging houseplant.
The glossy leaves of the pothos plant are heart-shaped and often variegated with green and white. This very hardy plant looks nice in a hanging basket, where the leafy stems will grow vigorously to astonishing lengths if you don't pinch the ends off. Pothos likes moist, well-drained soil, and it gets along well with other plants. You could put a pothos in the same pot with other houseplants to create a little indoor garden, or to fill in around the base of a potted tree.
This plant can lose color in low light [source: University of Illinois Extension]. To keep the striped, variegated colors vivid, rather than fading into on monochromatic tone, make sure this plant gets lots of bright light, though not too much direct sun. In fact, this plant can grow in offices with virtually no natural light. Propagating new pothos plants could not be easier: Just pinch off 6 inches (15.24 centimeters) of stem with a few leaves attached, put the cut end in a glass of water and voila! In a few days or a week, you'll see little roots begin to grow. When the roots get a little longer, put the new plant in some soil, and all the fun begins again.
If you like an upright plant with some attitude, the next page may be of interest.
Snake Plant (Sansevieria)
Often referred to as "mother-in-law's tongue," the snake plant's stiff, sword-like leaves grow upright in clumps, reaching 18 to 30 inches high (45 to 76 centimeters). The color is dark green with cream-colored edges. This plant is hard to kill, but if you really wanted to, you'd give it too much water. The healthiest schedule is to let the soil dry out between watering sessions [source: Colorado State University Extension]. This is especially true in winter, when you want to add just enough water to keep the leaves from shriveling. Sandy, well-drained soil works best.
To make new plants, shake the potting soil off the roots and divide the plant into two or more sections, which can then be transplanted into separate pots with fresh potting soil. For most vivid colors, give this plant some full sun.
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum)
The spider plant does indeed look like a big green spider, with long pointy leaves that arch over and look good in a hanging basket. Best of all, if the plant gets a little root-bound, meaning there are more roots than there is room to spread out. The plant will begin putting out rosettes, or little baby spider plants at the end of stems. If you snip off one of these baby plants and put the bottom in some water, you'll have healthy roots in no time, which you then can plant in another pot.
Like many other houseplants (or patio plants), the spider plant likes its soil to dry out somewhat between watering [source: University of Illinois Extension]. Even with a brown thumb, you can learn to sense when your plant needs some water, such as when the leaves get a little dull. Or, you can stick your finger in the soil to see if it's dry. This plant likes bright light, though not direct sun, which will burn the leaves. Leaf burn on the tips can happen with too much fertilizer or too many salts in the water.
For a beefier, more substantial specimen, check out the plant on the next page.
Jade Plant (Crassula)
Jade plants are thick-leaved succulents that can live for a long time -- decades even -- and can grow into small trees. They originate in South Africa, where they grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) high. Jade plants like warm temperatures and bright light, even a few hours of direct sun. Too little bright light and the stems can be weak. As for moisture, let the soil dry somewhat before watering. You can see the leaves begin to shrivel a little when watering is needed. Too much water and the roots could rot.
These plants are easy to propagate. Just stick half a leaf, cut side down, into some moist soil, and you'll have a new plant shortly. Theoretically, jade plants bloom with delicate white flowers. However, it would not be unusual for a jade plant to go years without putting out flowers [source: University of Oklahoma Department of Botany & Microbiology]. So if it's flowers you're after, the jade plant might disappoint. If you're looking for a longtime companion, it's a good choice.
But if flowers are the only thing that will do, the easy-care plant on the next page is simple to love.
"Geraniums are one of the most reliable plants in the home garden," states a fact sheet from the University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program. "They can be obtained in flower in late spring and will add color to the garden until frost" [source: URI]
New cultivars, the fact sheet continues, provide almost "shatter-proof" flowers that can withstand wind and rain. For many of us, geraniums are synonymous with Americana. They come in dozens of colors, the leaves can be smooth or fuzzy, the shape bunching or trailing.
Geraniums like a loose, loamy soil and will not do well in a solid, clay soil. Let the soil dry a bit before watering. For best results, water the soil directly and avoid wetting the leaves. For handsome-looking geraniums, break off faded blooms and leaves. Making new plants is usually as easy as sticking a stem with some leaves into moist potting mix.
If it's a more exotic mood you hope to create, the plant on the next page will help achieve that.
This is another one of those plants that grows better than you might want, especially as it takes over your yard. But if you want a feeling of satisfaction for your gardening proficiency, planting fast-growing bamboo will give you that.
Bamboo grows best in a warm, humid and tropical climate. However, the American Bamboo Society (ABS)lists some cold-hardy species that can tolerate frost. In recent years, bamboo has become an environmentally preferred material for furniture, floors and other household furnishings. Bamboo plants are said to remove carbon dioxide from the air and are being marketed as environmentally beneficial.
Bamboo is valued in landscapes for its quick growth to provide a tropical ambiance and tall privacy screens. Some bamboos grow to 30 feet (9 meters). To avoid the invasion of bamboo in places you'd rather not have it, the ABS suggests choosing a species whose roots clump rather than one whose roots have runners.
If it's a hot and dry garden that needs an easy-care and profusely flowering plant, go to the next page.
This delicate-looking groundcover is remarkably hardy during times of drought and grows native in Western and Southern states. It also is the state flower of California.
The poppy's orange thin-walled, cup-shaped flowers bloom from April to August, but the plant will not tolerate temperatures lower than 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.6 degrees Celsius) [source: Texas A&M Dept. of Horticultural Sciences].
If you give this plant the ideal environment and geography -- in a rock garden in a hot climate, for instance -- it will provide stunningly vibrant blooms for many months on end. For scrapbook crafters and others who like to press flowers, this is a popular choice.
The poppy likes hot outdoor sun. But if you have a cooler place in mind, you might consider the plant on the next page.
Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior)
The aptly named cast iron plant survives in situations like low light and little water that would kill off lesser species. This plant has glossy, coarse-textured, lance-shaped leaves that grow upright. Its native habitat is on the forest floor in East Asia and China, so it's well-adapted to cool areas with little light.
The University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service calls the cast iron plant "unsurpassable" for its "dependable" dark green foliage [source: UF]. And if you're a neglectful gardener, so much the better as this plant thrives on somewhat poor soil and dryness between watering. For best results, make sure the soil drains well. The plant will do OK in bright light, but it could get bleached of color.
And finally, if a small, leafy indoor tree is what you're dreaming of, go to the next page.
Ficus Benjamina (Ficus)
Also known as a weeping fig, the Ficus Benjamina grows upright like a little tree and has small glossy leaves. This plant tolerates low light and so it would do well in a parlor or north-facing bedroom. It likes its soil to be kept moist, but you could allow just the top few inches of soil to dry out before watering. The Ficus is hardy most of the time, with one big exception: It doesn't like big changes. In fact, the Ficus is notorious for dropping leaves when it gets moved from one spot to another [source: University of Minnesota Extension Service]. For most success, decide where in your house you want your Ficus, and leave it there.
A new website is designed to bring farmers and heirloom seeds together. HowStuffWorks takes a look at why seed saving is more important than ever.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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- Hedera sp., English ivy, Canary Island ivy. Houseplants. University of Illinois Extension. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/houseplants/types/hedera.cfm
- Plants Profile: Hedera helix. USDA. http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=HEHE Scindapus, Devil's ivy, Golden pothos, Silver pothos. Houseplants. University of Illinois Extension. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/houseplants/types/scindapus.cfm
- Sansevieria, Mother-in law tongue, Snake plant. Houseplants. University of Illinois Extension. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/houseplants/types/sansevieria.cfm
- Spider Plant. Plant Talk Colorado. Colorado State University Extension. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/1328.html
- Spider plant, Chlorophytum. Houseplants. University of Illinois Extension. http://urbanext.illinois.edu/houseplants/types/chlorophytum.cfm
- Jade plant. Crassula argentea. Plant of the Week. University of Oklahoma Dept. of Botany and Microbiology. http://www.plantoftheweek.org/week060.shtml
- Jade plant. Plant Talk Colorado. Colorado State University Extension. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk/1320.html
- Geranium Culture. Fact Sheet. University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program. http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/geraniums.html
- Introduction to Hardy Bamboos. American Bamboo Society. http://www.bamboo.org/GeneralInfoPages/BarnhartIntro.html
- Bamboo. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. http://www.uky.edu/Ag/NewCrops/introsheets/bamboo.pdf
- California Poppy. AgriLife Extension. Texas A&M Dept. of Horticultural Science. http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/Wildseed/22/22.1.html
- Aspidistra elatior. University of Connecticut Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Plant Growth Facilities. http://florawww.eeb.uconn.edu/198500883.html
- Aspidistra elatior. University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service. http://hort.ufl.edu/shrubs/ASPELAA.PDF
- Yard and Garden Brief. Rubber Trees, Weeping Figs, and Other Friendly Ficus. University of Minnesota Extension Service. http://www.extension.umn.edu/projects/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h146ficus.html