We’re sharing our houseplants of choice not because we’re flowering green thumbs, no; we’re sharing because in the last several years – especially since moving into this home – we’ve learned that these are the plants we couldn’t kill if we tried. I’ll admit that I’ll sometimes go weeks (dare I say a month or two?) without watering a single plant in the home. I’ll walk into the studio, look at our Woolly Pocket, and I’ll say, huh, you look a little wilty. (You think?)
Over the life of this blog, I can think of more than a few plants that didn’t stand a chance, but we’re learning. We were persistent, we talked with the experts at the local nurseries, and despite every part of our being needing to have those adorable fiddle leaf figs, we know ourselves well enough to walk away. Side note: For those of you in the Chicagoland area that are much braver than us, Adams & Sons in Humboldt Park is stocked full of figs in every shape and size.
So! All this to say, there are a handful of varieties that we turn to time and time again. When we neglect, they still grow. When we do remember to water, they thrive. When we feed them fertilizer, we can barely contain them. If you’re like us – you love the look of a lively, green home, but memorizing a chaotic watering schedule isn’t for you – here’s a list of our favorite tried and true houseplants with backbones of steel.
We picked up our first ZZ for our living room after learning that they could withstand a desert drought. Perfect!, we said. That was a couple of years ago, and we’ve since sprinkled them throughout the whole house! Another ZZ lives in the guest room, where we almost always keep the shade drawn, and a big group live in the super sunny studio. In every scenario, our ZZs couldn’t be happier. Watering: A healthy drink, bi-monthly.
Split Leaf Philodendron
When looking to fill the somewhat awkward gap between our living and dining spaces, we picked up this pretty planter and began the hunt for a leafy plant. I’ve always loved the look of a split leaf philodendron, and after driving to a couple of different nurseries, we found two small ones at Christy Webber.
Our living room is somewhat shaded throughout the day, due mostly to our front porch overhang. Despite this, our split leaf keeps growing, growing, growing! At least once a month, Scott and I take turns clipping off a leaf or two to make way for the new shoots. We love how perky the leaves are, although we do take time to wipe them down from time to time. Like any other flat surface in our home, we’ve learned that our plants perk up quite a bit after a good dusting. Watering: A healthy drink, bi-monthly.
Baby Rubber Plants
We have a couple of these plants in our home, both in areas that receive a good amount of indirect sunlight – one in our funny little nook, and the other lives in the studio. They were found in the succulent section of the store, and they’ve proven to be pretty hearty in our home environment. We like that they’re bitty and cute, allowing me to break out tiny pots and mini vases to display them. Watering: A small, even drink, once monthly.
A Closed Terrarium
Longtime readers may know that we don’t have the best luck with terrariums (remember this silly story?), but this guy is our big exception! Looking to inject a little greenery into our mostly white kitchen, we whipped together a closed jar terrarium using this Heritage Hill jar (we love these jars and have one for storing coffee, too). The full tutorial for that can be found right here, and more than a year and a half later, it’s still alive and kicking. We had to toss some of the filler plants that began to get scraggly, but our crispy waves are constantly pushing out new sprouts. The only difference between this terrarium and our failed attempts in the past is that this one has a lid. Now, here’s the crazy part – I watered this guy one time at the start, and I have never, ever watered him since. The humidity in the jar has been working like a charm, although every now and then, I’ll remove the lid for an afternoon to let the plants breathe. Watering: None!
Succulents are probably the trickiest of the bunch, as we’ve brought many into this home, only to kiss them goodbye a few weeks in. I almost didn’t include succulents in this list at all, but we’ve found that the thicker the body of the plant, the higher their chances of surviving in the Vargo Home are. Subsequently, the more delicate the petals, the more likely they’ll see an untimely death. These are a few examples of succulents that are not only doing well, they are downright thriving. This one is in our kitchen, and it has more than doubled in the last year (the pot was picked up at Sprout Home, and the stand is vintage):
The following two were potted in the summer of 2015, and during the warmer months, they live on our front porch. (Look at how much they’ve grown!) The first winter we had them, we brought them inside to live in the studio, and they did so well, they returned for a second summer on the porch! We’ve just brought them in once more, so here’s hoping they see the summer of 2017, right? Tip: We were once told by someone at our local nursery that succulents would much rather have a flood of water all at once, rather than many mini waterings over the course of the month. Watering: A healthy drink once we notice the soil pulling away from the pot, usually once monthly.
The Snake Plant
This one is a no-brainer. Our snake plant used to live in the shipping room (right off of the studio), but it grew too tall and too wide for that teeny room! When we renovated our master bedroom, we repotted it in this large fiberstone planter, and we tucked it into the corner. It continues to grow (and grow!), and to be honest, we battle with taming this beast on a daily basis. Still, we love it so. Watering: A healthy drink, once monthly.
Before we bring anything new into the house, we talk about care and maintenance with the green thumbs at the nursery, and if it doesn’t sound like something we can provide – i.e., lighting conditions or an intensive watering schedule – we pass. For those that make the cut, we sprinkle this fertilizer into the soil, and we cross our fingers and hope for the best! I should also mention that none of our pets care a lick about plants (quite literally), so definitely keep this list of less-than-pet-friendly species in mind if you have dogs, cats (gerbils, hamsters, ferrets, what have you) that love to chomp on greenery, or have a conversation with your vet.
To all of our fellow black thumbs, you got this. And for those of you that have the magic touch, please chime in with suggestions! We want to soak it all in.
PS! All of our home’s wall colors and a full source list can be found right here.
Thanks so much for these details! You mentioned at the beginning that you sometimes add fertilizer – I was wondering if you could provide what kind you use and the frequency for these plants. I can sometimes keep a philodendron going for awhile, but eventually they die on my water-only regimen and I remember that they might have wanted food too, but I never know what to give!
Hi, Kim! I linked to this fertilizer at the bottom of the post, but so far, I’ve only mixed it once when I first pot the plants. We’re totally open to suggestions for future feedings though!
Aren’t philodendron’s poisonous to animals? Not sure what the level of your cat getting in to plants is, but mine is all over anything new I bring in the house. It makes it tough. He chewed a fern down to a nub, before I noticed and had to move it out. Poor little fern.
In large quantities, they can be (we talked to our vet about that), but luckily our pets don’t care AT ALL about plants. Definitely have a conversation with your vet if you’re unsure, and be sure to check out this list of potentially poisonous plants if your pets eat plants for lunch!
oh I needed this – we are on the hunt with all the same parameters – thanks for sharing!
Really great ideas! I have to ask, what keeps/kept you from a fiddle leaf fig?? Just curious. We have one and LOVE it and find it very low maintenance….
Maybe it’s all in our heads? From what I’ve read online, they seem notoriously fickle. Given our handful of dead plants that we’ve invested in over the years, I’m not sure we’re willing to risk it. Unless… how do you care for yours? Maybe it’s worth a shot down the road!
We just give it bright (indirect) light and do a heavy watering every few weeks. By heavy, you want to have water coming out of the bottom of the planter to wash away any salts that can accumulate. I even took mine out of the original pot to do a re-pot where you hack off 1/3 of the roots and then put it back in the pot with fresh soil, and it survived. (it was terrifying, ot was like slicing bread – I thought for sure this was going to kill it!!) I know they can get pricey and hard to find for the large, tree-like ones so we just bought a young/small one and we will hopefully see it reach its “tree” potential as we care for it. :) they are so pretty! And I am pretty bad with houseplants ;)
Kim, I have a fiddle leaf fig and mine is pretty fickle. It went on a big growth spurt, then paused, then churned out four new leaves all at once that all died when they were still baby-sized. Then it did nothing for many months before it slowly started dropping mature leaves I can’t quite figure out what makes it happy and what makes it sad, although I’ve heard they hate drafts and do not like to be moved once they acclimate to a spot. I got mine when it was fairly little from Ikea for $13.99, though, so I figured if I eventually kill it, it’s not too much of a loss!
That’s exactly what I fear would happen to us! Worth a shot for that price though.
We have many of the same plants you mentioned that grow well in our not a ton of light Chicago apartment. I have really good luck with oxalis (shamrocks!). They have such pretty deep green/purple leaves and sprout delicate white flowers often. I also love African violets. Most of mine don’t blossom after I initially purchase them, but I think their leaves are so pretty (mine have white and green frilly leaves). Neither takes much maintenance which is good because I often forget to water them!
Ooh, sounds so pretty! Love the oxalis suggestion!
I bought a snake plant a couple months ago because I had heard that they were nearly impossible to kill! I’ve had bad luck with plants in the past so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it continues to do well. :)
The more you ignore it, the better it grows, haha!
Gosh, your photos are gorgeous! My favorite plants are ferns, olive trees, topiaries of any kind and my meyer lemon tree. I love succulents because I keep them alive the longest! I may need to add a few of these into our home.
I have one snake plant that is only about 15″ tall and 8″ wide. It is hapoy and sprouting new leaves but never gets taller. I REALLY want a tall one to put in our dining room. Was yours fairly tall when you first bought it? Thanks!
Hi Sarah! Ours was always pretty tall, but it just kept getting wider and wider! You can see how it first looked here: https://yellowbrickhome.com/2014/04/03/the-workroom-ready-to-work/