The 10 Houseplants You Will Always Kill

It’s inevitable, but how guilty you should feel?

When I asked my readers on Facebook what houseplant they always seemed to kill, thousands longed to confess. Vegecide is rampant throughout the land, as folks abandon plants given as gifts or mismanage those they bring inside from their gardens. Each demise usually results from one of three causes.

Reasons Houseplants Fail

Too Much Water

Most houseplants need watering about once a week. It might only be once a month for plants that store water in their leaves and stems, such as succulents. Wet soil leads to rotting roots and quick death.

Plants Hate Being Inside

The light's too weak, and the air's too dry. Most hardy plants also need a cold dormant period outside. So, no, you can't keep a dwarf Alberta spruce on the bathroom vanity unless it's fake.

Cats Cause Mischief

Cats can also spell doom for small houseplants. They will chew on them, sleep on them, shove them off the countertop, pry them from the windowsill, and rub them until they're merely single cells. Coexistence is impossible.

Readers find certain houseplants particularly difficult to keep alive at any time. I've compiled a list so you know the risk you take. I've also assigned each plant a guilt factor from zero to ten (no guilt to overwhelming guilt) that you should feel when it succumbs, as well as reader testimony, so you know you're not alone.

Potted Red Poinsettia on Table
Ralph Anderson

Low Guilt Factor

Poinsettia

Guilt Factor—0

"I have a beautiful poinsettia going through a slow, agonizing death right now." – Connie Phillips, reader.

There is no shame in this, Connie. Even though plant breeders have made poinsettias much easier to grow indoors, unless you own a greenhouse, any subsequent blooms next Christmas will be small and pitiful. Buy a new one every year and keep our economy strong.

Norfolk Island pine
DEA / G.CIGOLINI / Getty Images

Norfolk Island Pine

Guilt Factor—0

"I used them as indoor Christmas trees, but they always died by March." – Jean Hutchinson.

Yes, Jean, and by doing so, they did you a huge favor. These semi-tropical evergreen trees may start small but never stop growing. Eventually, they'll push through the ceiling and roof, but not before all the lower branches have dropped. No one will take such monstrosities off of your hands. Count your blessings.

Moth Orchids
Group a collection of moth orchids in matching pots for maximum impact. Ralph Anderson

Moth Orchid

Guilt Factor—1

"Orchids. I can't stand them, and they know it." – Lorenza Foxglove, reader.

You could buy dozens of orchids, but the one most people find the "easiest" is the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis). These are the orchids you see displayed on greenhouse tables with incredibly showy blooms in colors of pink, purple, white, yellow, orange, and—if injected with dye—blue.

They bloom for months after you buy them, then go into a sleep from which most never awake. Some people get them to bloom every year, but this is rare. So when you finally get sick of looking at nothing but leaves, chuck them and get new ones. Three months of blooms for $15 a plant is a pretty good deal, considering a flower arrangement costs as much or more and lasts about a week.

Potted Rosemary on Kitchen Counter
Ralph Anderson

Rosemary

Guilt Factor—2

"Rosemary. I know. Pathetic." – Kelley Sassard, reader.

Cut yourself some slack, Kelley. Everybody who tries to grow rosemary and other herbs indoors kills them unless they have a sunny window or sunroom. Herbs despise the indoors because they need full sun and well-drained soil that's allowed to dry out between waterings. You overwatered it—you know you did. Indoor herbs are also prone to spider mites and mealybugs. Just. Say. No.

English Ivy Topiary
Robbie Caponetto

English Ivy

Guilt Factor—3

"English ivy. It flourishes all summer long, but as soon as bring it into the house in fall, it dries out and falls apart." Tom Smith, reader.

The ivy is telling you something, Tom. It loathes growing indoors! It doesn't get enough light, but it does get spider mites. It's perfectly hardy outdoors, so just leave it there. Don't feel too bad about the dead one, though. Where ivy grows, there's always more.

In a Low-Light Room: Maidenhair Fern
kf4851 / Getty Images

Maidenhair Fern

Guilt Factor—3

"It does fine until I forget for a minute to put water in the pebble tray, and then it gleefully dies." – Patti Smith.

You'd think a plant that thrives in the shade would love growing indoors, but you'd be wrong. It hates heated, dry indoor air. Frequently misting the foliage and placing it atop a pebble tray will help, but not if you forget the water.

Medium Guilt Factor

African Violet in white vases
Christina Schmidhofer / Getty Images

African Violet

Guilt Factor—6

"My mother grew African violets by the dozens. I can literally kill one in three to five days." – Melissa Huston, reader.

Remember all those beautiful African violets blooming on the windowsill in your mother's and grandmother's houses?

You don't see that anymore, but they aren't hard to grow. These flowers only need a bright window (no direct sun) and well-drained soil. Wet soil is the number one killer and probably the method Melissa prefers. To avoid this, plant your violet in a self-watering pot designed for violets. You can also place the pot in a saucer filled with water for as long as it takes for the soil at the top to become moist. Then empty the saucer.

Christmas Cactus in Pot
Ralph Anderson

Christmas Cactus

Guilt Factor—6

"I have two of these that a 98-year-old lady from church gave me! One is from HER Mother's plant, and the other is from her plant! In the summer, I keep them outside on our covered deck and bring them inside when it turns cold. They are in front of a window, and I open the curtains, so they get indirect daylight! And I don't water until they are dry!" – Sheila Luster, reader.

Well, Sheila, you just about said it all. Properly cared for, a Christmas cactus can last for decades. All it needs is a bright light (no direct sun), good drainage, and watering about once a week. To get flowers, give it 14 hours of darkness per day for four weeks beginning in fall.

Peace lily plant in a bright home
Grumpy Cow Studios / Getty Images

Peace Lily

Guilt Factor—7

"I kill. Every. Single. One." – Stephanie Haynes, reader.

Every one? You're kidding, right? I've had peace lilies (Spathiphyllum sp.) all over the house for years. They're easy. Just provide bright light (no direct sun) and water when the leaves begin to droop and fertilize every couple of months. If they don't bloom, give them brighter light. No sympathy for you, Stephanie!

High Guilt Factor

lavender plant flowers in pot
nevarpp / Getty Images

Lavender

Guilt Factor—10

"I can't keep lavender alive." – Melissa Thompson, reader.

Didn't you read about plant seven, Melissa? Herbs, lavender is one, are harder than stale fruitcakes to grow indoors. Lavender is a pain to grow outdoors. Why would you bring it indoors? I must give you a ten for this one.

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