Much ado is made about easy or low-maintenance houseplants that are "impossible to kill," but what about their counterpoints, the fussy diva houseplants that are "impossible to keep alive?" These houseplants are sold in the same home improvement centers as their hardier brethren, and someone must be buying them: maybe you have fallen for their charms? These fourteen houseplants are difficult to grow, but easy to love, and might give you bragging rights if you can keep them alive for more than one season indoors.
01 of 14
Gardeners who have successfully grown hardy azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) outdoors for years are surprised when their florist azaleas fail. These azaleas are forced into bloom under specific greenhouse conditions that manipulate light, temperature, and humidity within a narrow range. Sometimes, chemicals called growth regulators are also required to force growth during the off-season. Florist azaleas usually last longer than a bouquet of cut flowers, but will not keep or regain their original beauty longterm. Keep them in bright light with moist but not soggy soil, and make it a game to see how long you can keep them looking handsome before discarding.
02 of 14
If you purchase a mature bonsai specimen, it may already be many years old. Through careful root pruning and shaping, trees like Japanese maple, oak, or crabapple never outgrow their container, while their trunks become thick and gnarled. What the seller may not tell you is that in spite of their small size, bonsai trees and other shrubs grown in the bonsai method are meant to live outdoors most of the time. Although there are as many ways to care for bonsai as there are species grown as bonsai, consider whether your specimen is tropical or not: tropical trees like ficus can adapt to a bright window indoors, whereas hardy trees like oak and pine need to weather the natural change of seasons to thrive.
03 of 14
Look in the houseplant section of any home improvement center, and you might find a display of carnivorous plants set up as an aisle end cap. The cute little sundews, pitcher plants and Venus fly traps grow in cup-sized terrariums, and pictures of animated insect eaters adorn the advertising poster. However, many carnivorous plants are winter hardy, and are endemic to very small regions like acidic bogs where the moisture, sun, and soil pH is just so. Carnivorous plants need wet conditions, high light, and mineral-free soil and water. Hardy plants also require a period of winter dormancy that mimics their cycle in nature. Consider these needs before making an impulse purchase for the kids.
04 of 14
Norfolk Island Pine
During the winter holidays, the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) shows up in home and garden centers as an alternative for a living Christmas tree. At first, the plant seems low maintenance, but that is because it is entering your home during its period of rest, when it needs less light and water. As spring approaches, the soft green needles turn brown and begin to drop off. These trees need strong light, ample humidity, and regular water. If you provide ideal growing conditions for your Norfolk Island pine, you may be faced with too much of a good thing: a tree that soars to twenty feet or greater in your living room.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
05 of 14
The lush, shaggy fronds of the Boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata) look like the perfect green accent for your bedroom or living room. Once in place, the fronds begin to shatter, shedding worse than a golden retriever in July. Likely what's missing is humidity, and lots of it. If your family can't live without long, steamy showers, try rehoming your Boston fern in the bathroom. Give it an outdoor vacation in humid summer areas, and supplement with a mister.
06 of 14
Codiaeum variegatum looks like a sturdy plant, with its colorful, leathery leaves growing in abundance on stocky plants. If you've ever seen crotons growing in a tropical region like Southern Florida, you might fancy that your croton will grow taller than a grown man like the ones you see around hotels and shopping malls. Alas, a croton growing indoors is no happier than a jungle parrot crammed in a cage in the corner. Crotons need very bright light, lots of moisture, and high ambient humidity. Plants that don't have their needs met exhibit dull coloration, and tend to attract spider mites.
07 of 14
The re-blooming poinsettia: is it the unicorn of holiday plants? Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) have a highly specific photo period that growers adhere to in order to trigger blooming, and even a bit of light shine from a neighboring room can disrupt the plant's ability to re-bloom. Those that do re-bloom often have smaller bracts and lanky stems, hardly worthy of a holiday table. Best to leave cultivation to the horticulture experts, and treat yourself to a new plant when December arrives.
08 of 14
Bird's Nest Fern
The bird's nest fern (Asplenium nidus) has the distinction of being an epiphyte, which cause problems right off the bat for some owners, which want to plunk it into a container of potting soil. Instead, look for chunky orchid potting media, or even consider wiring it to a slab of wood to resemble the way it grows in nature. This growing method allows the roots to dry out quickly, but therein lies the challenge: the bird's nest fern likes lots of moisture and humidity.Continue to 9 of 14 below.
09 of 14
Hardy hydrangeas are some of the most reliable workhorses in the landscape. The so-called "florist's hydrangea" is usually a Hydrangea macrophylla, which may be hardy in your landscape if you live in USDA growing zone 6 or warmer. Florist's hydrangeas are forced into bloom for holidays, and do not have a natural all-season blooming cycle. When the blooms fade, frustrated homeowners often trash the plant, but it may have a second life as a garden ornamental in partial shade. The forced blooms mean the plant probably won't do anything but rest for a year, but where hardy it can thrive outdoors in moist areas.
10 of 14
The intoxicating fragrance of the gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) makes it difficult to resist as a houseplant, which is the only cultivating choice for gardeners north of zone 8. High humidity and very bright light striking all sides of the plant (like one kept in a conservatory) give you a leg up in getting this subtropical plant to bloom indoors.
11 of 14
Another holiday throwaway plant, the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) can experience a second wind as an outdoor plant, but will slowly deteriorate as a houseplant. Hardy in zones 4-8, the bulb requires a cold dormancy to rest and prepare for future flowering. After blooming, move the plant outdoors when the weather warms and plant it in the ground. The plant might bloom again in late summer, or you may have to wait for an encore performance the following summer. A bonus of growing the plant outdoors is an increased height of three feet, unlike the compact plants forced for container sales.
12 of 14
Miniature roses (Rosa spp.) have increased in popularity in recent years as a longer-lasting alternative to cut roses as gift flowers. Their petite stature, even down to teacup-sized, gives them appeal on small desktops or narrow ledges. All roses, large or small, need a full day of direct sun to flourish. Miniature roses also need to stay moist, which can be a challenge in their tiny pots. Stressed plants attract spider mites readily, but if you want your miniature rose to last, plant it outdoors in the garden, and treat it as you would any hardy rose.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
13 of 14
When growing a banana plant (Musa spp.) indoors, it's best to limit its time to that which is necessary to survive the winter. Bananas are fast growing plants that need lots of sun, water, and nutrients to maintain their tropical appeal. Some gardeners choose to let their banana plants become dormant indoors over the winter, which keeps the plant going for future landscape beauty but does not make a desirable houseplant. For a permanent indoor specimen, try a manageable dwarf like 'Truly Tiny' or 'Little Prince.'
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Fiddle Leaf Fig
It's unfortunate when a plant like Ficus lyrata becomes so trendy, without accompanying information about its needs. When it fails, the unfortunate homeowner thinks, "I have a brown thumb." What those interior decorating magazines don't say in their photo captions is that even seasoned houseplant owners struggle to keep the fiddle leaf fig looking good in the average indoor environment. The fiddle leaf fig grows in rainforest conditions, which most people don't want to replicate in their living room. Bright, filtered light and a juicy atmosphere will prevent leaf drop and discoloration.
Cadiaeum Variegatum. Colorado State University Extension.
Twospotted Spider Mites In Home Gardens. University of Minnesota Extension.