I Keep 2 House Plants Alive and Kill the Rest


We’re hearing and reading everywhere that house plants are having their day, and I’m all in – as long as they’re growing in someone ELSE’s house. I have a strict tough-love policy for indoor plants, which only two species have been tough enough to survive long-term.

I can’t really explain my aversion to fussing with indoor plants. After all, outdoors I grow potted annuals that I happily water every day it doesn’t rain. But the idea of wiping some tropical plant’s leaves every day to prevent some infestation or other is ludicrous to me!

So I’ll stick with the two apparently fool-proof house plants I’ve kept alive for 20-30 years now (I’ve lost track) by watering every two weeks, and that’s it. No wiping of leaves, no feeding, no repotting.

One is a Hoya of some type or other. It’s hanging in my living room right now (top photo) but will spend the summer under a skylight in my porch, where it still only needs bi-weekly watering and even blooms! And the bloom is super-fragrant.

My other unkillable house plant is the lowly Philodendron, which I’d consider trading for an artificial one if I could find one that didn’t look cheesy. My two are surviving in the  inauspicious location above – at ceiling level – and in my previous homes it’s been in spots with even less light.

Yet look how healthy they are!

Lately, my house plant situation was complicated by this gorgeous succulent-filled pot I was given at Christmas (by someone who doesn’t use the Internet and won’t see this post). My cat Harry was happy to pose with it after rejecting it as something to eat.

Two and a half months later, it’s almost time for hospice care. With nowhere sunny enough to put the damn thing and just one small off-center drain hole, I knew the plants were doomed and even considered regifting the pot to a better, sunnier home.

I chose instead to reframe my thinking. I see these plants now as lovely but fleeting, like cut flowers. My guilt over killing them is gone.

Readers, you probably know more about these plants than I do, so do you think they could have been saved?


  1. My philodendron is probably over 20 years old, despite my neglect. I also have a mother-in-law’s tongue, a Norfolk Island pine, a shefflera, and a couple of plants I no longer know the names of. I am either under watering them in summer or over watering them in winter. My rule is NEVER FEED HOUSEPLANTS other than refreshing their potting soil every five years or so. Otherwise, they grow too big and need crazy stuff like repotting.

  2. Hi Susan,
    I am a houseplant nut (read “devotee”) although don’t have too many succulents inside. So will give this a shot.
    You might try repotting them out of that gift pot which looks like plastic. And into some terra cotta. They love the clay.
    And you might invest a few dollars in some special soil that has little chips of tiny rocks in it. My neighbor who has tons of succulents & cacti swears by that stuff.
    Also, they do prefer a dry climate or area. And good luck!
    P.s. There are currently 19 plants inside my house, all thriving. About 3/4 will go outside in two months or so.

  3. I’m sorry you have problems with houseplants. I love them and have 100’s. I think your hoya is gorgeous and is one of my favorite plants. The other is actually a pothos or Epipremnum aureum, not a philodendron, but does look a lot like a heart leaf philodendron. You would probably do well with that plant as well. The succulent bowl is hard to keep alive without a ton of sun. It is hard for me to wrap my head around houseplants as disposable plants, but I have a friend who has made me realize it is okay to treat them as annuals. Not easy for me, but I get it. Have a great weekend!
    The Houseplant Guru

  4. I like that reframing! No more houseplant guilt! The succulents may have been salvageable, but would have required repotting into separate pots and lost of sunshine.
    I do love that Hoya of yours, though. I’m not necessarily looking to expand my houseplant collection at the moment, but when I do, I think it will be with a Hoya.

  5. Those succulents want some sun and no more water. Let them dry out. Do you have a garage where they won’t freeze? Put them outside when the danger of frost is over. They like a crowded container. Doesn’t have to be really warm, just not freezing. Good light, not burning sun.

  6. Hello Susan,

    Interesting post.
    It is unnecessary to wipe the leaves of tropical houseplants to keep them alive. The most important thing is to use a well-draining potting mix, in order to avoid root rot. Most tropical houseplants need high humidity, so the trick is to keep them away from forced air and they need weekly misting.

    As for your succulent planter, it looks like it was far too crammed with plants. It also looks like it was planted with poor-draining soil. It almost looks like a planting mix, which will be heavy in compost. This will for sure rot your succulents. Even something like Miracle Grow’s potting mix is too dense for succulents and cacti. How often did you water them? They need to dry out between waterings. Also, the pot looks like a bowl. Does it have a hole for proper drainage? In my post, https://xylemrising.com/2019/01/14/drain-me-dont-drown-me/, I discuss the importance of drainage for potted houseplants and how to easily drill holes in nice pots that are poorly designed without holes.

    I really hope this helps!
    Don’t give up!

    Xylem Rising

  7. Susan, I understand completely. Most houseplants just require too much constant attention for my likes. I am fortunate to have a heated sunroom, so I’m able to have a couple of Christmas/Easter cacti – but most of the tenants in there are pelargoniums. Several of them have been with me for a decade, and I find them to be almost bullet-proof. They tolerate benign neglect, which is my standard for houseplants.

  8. I have 2 plants that have been with me for around 30 years (I think one is a pepperomia, the other is a variegated tropical whose name eludes me); they’ve been moved into various locations, nearly died multiple times, but always came back with minimal attention. They’ve had many babies which have gone to other homes, and I think of them now as part of the family. One thing they do that my outdoor plants don’t: provide me with “plant therapy” in the winter. There’s something about fiddling with potted plants that is very soothing, plus I like to think of them cleaning my indoor air. But I’ve also had multiple other plants that just didn’t make the cut, for one reason or another, and I’m ruthless about tossing those.

  9. I love this! In fact, it’s like you snagged a page from my mental diary. I had a pothos (though I also called it philodendron) since college. About the time I realized its correct name, I managed to overwater it after all this time and it died. On the succulents: ah yes. Many share this sad tale with you. Indeed, succulents shouldn’t have that mulch-y heavy soil; it was too crowded (looks cute, though, until it dies), poor drainage, and as I you noted, not enough sun. Also, Harry hated that thing and hissed death wishes on it!

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