10 Common Houseplants That Are Difficult to Take Care Of
Indoor plants can make a room feel fresher—but some are more temperamental than others.
Plants bring a wealth of benefits to your home: They refresh the air, introduce a welcome touch of nature into your home, and straight-up look pretty. But depending on your space and habits, keeping up with a finicky plant can be downright frustrating! My husband and I had a Madagascar Dragon Tree that—despite the plant store assuring us it would be easy to take care of—withered from a peppy piece of greenery to a single, sad, skinny trunk with about three leaves on it. Was it us…or the dragon tree?
I interviewed gardening expert Melinda Myers, author and host of The Great Courses How to Grow Anything series, and the first thing she told me was that perhaps the plant just wasn’t my perfect match. “Trust me, there’s somebody out there killing the same thing as you,” she laughed. “There are the over-waterers, who kill a plant with kindness, or the ones who can never remember. The difficulty is matching the plant to the person who will take care of it.”
Myers emphasizes that the main reason houseplants can be difficult to take care of is that the environment isn’t right, particularly the amount of light and humidity in the area where you’d like to place it. And especially as we head into the colder months—a time when we really want a little greenery indoors—indoor conditions for houseplants can be tough with dry heated air and low winter light. In brief: It’s not exactly your fault if those houseplants die!
That being said, there are a few houseplants that are surprisingly temperamental, despite how frequently they pop up at the grocery store or on social media. Here are 10 common houseplants that are difficult to take care of.
Popular on social media, Myers wishes any post that shows a fiddle leaf fig include this disclaimer: “And after this photo shoot, they moved the plant back in front of the window.” All kinds of ficus, including rubber plants and weeping fig, need bright, even light to be successful. “And with any kind of change, they drop their leaves,” says Myers, which can be discouraging. Fiddle leaf figs also like humidity and moist soil, but not too much watering. Tricky!
“These can be tricky—and when they drop leaves, they’re a mess,” says Myers, who notes that these popular hanging plants like moisture, which is why they’re popular in the summertime, but “they suffer in the dry winter air.” Unless you like keeping your home warm and humid—and have a spot where a Boston fern can get frequent but indirect sunlight—it will be tough to keep it alive. (Myers does note that a new varietal of the fern was introduced, the Austral Gem, that is more tolerant to low humidity, if you love the look but not the maintenance.)
These fluffy conifers get popular around the holidays, but their compact size and unique branches make them attractive all year round. “These are hard to kill, but they end up looking ugly,” says Myers, when the lower branches start to brown and drop and the new growth comes in uneven. These plants like bright, even light and humidity, so they can be tough to maintain over the winter.
These are a favorite in indoor commercial spaces, like shopping malls, for their broad leaves and attractive flowers, but if you’re an under-waterer, they’re not for you. “These wilt quickly, perk up with water, and wilt again—but one day, they will not perk up,” says Myers. Peace lilies don’t like drafty windows and can also be sensitive to chemicals like chlorine and fluoride in your water, which can cause browning on the leaves.
These perky potted plants shown up in grocery stores over the winter, and they’re tempting with all that color in the winter months. “But miniature roses suffer in lower light and low humidity, and then they get spider mites if they’re too dry,” says Myers. “They struggle and then you feel bad.” Set these up in a spot with high humidity and several hours of direct sunlight for your best chances.
Drecaenas and yuccas are popular for interiors since they’re tall, but compact—but they’re also finicky. “They need the right conditions—slightly moist soil and humidity—or they’ll lose their leaves and get brown tips on the ends,” says Myers. Dragon trees like light shade (direct sunlight may scorch the leaves) and an occasional misting to stay moist, but not too wet.
“These are popular plants to get kids interested in gardening…then they die!” says Myers. Venus flytraps like the high humidity—best created in a terrarium—but they struggle in dry, cool environments like our homes. Plus: They eat bugs, which most of us avoid having fly around, which means catching them and ‘feeding’ them to the carnivorous plants.
These pop up in grocery stores in the fall, and with those orange, yellow, and red veins in their green leaves, they seem like a nice complement to autumnal decor. But in reality, croton plants are sensitive to low light and drafts, and picky about watering, too, says Myers. In a dark corner, they’ll lose their dazzling color—but moving them to new conditions can cause leaves to drop.
While gardenias are lovely, with their heady scent and bright-green leaves, they’re notoriously fickle. “They want to be in California, not in your house,” says Myers. She says that these are some of the hardest plants to keep alive and get to bloom. They like bright light and acidic soil, and in the winter when our homes are dry and the light is low, they fail to thrive. They’re also prone to all kinds of pests, including mealybugs, aphids, and spider mites.
This ground cover is popular for its vibrant green, round, delicate leaves, and in the right conditions, can spread so quickly that it’s invasive—but it’s tough to get those perfect growing conditions indoors. “It’s hard to keep baby’s tears plants moist, but not so wet that they rot,” says Myers, who suggests that a terrarium, versus open planter, is a better environment for the plant.