A common misconception about plant influencers is that they know everything about keeping plants alive. Just because they post pretty pictures of their plants, it doesn’t mean there aren’t some struggling behind the scenes. After all, even for plants, Instagram is still largely a highlight reel.
Some plants are absolutely baffling; they just keep on dying regardless of how well-tended to they are. My nemesis? The Corn Plant. I've killed two.
We spoke with three other plant influencers to find out which plants they struggle to keep alive—and more importantly, to get their tips for caring for them.
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Calatheas and Ctenanthes
Who: Leo from @Phileodendron
“Most plant lovers would agree with me that the distinguished divas Calatheas and Ctenanthes are the most beautiful but a hassle to care for. Their big, gorgeous foliage and leaf patterns hypnotize us plant parents as we purchase another one and think I'm ready to get hurt again.
“Calatheas are unique tropical plants that require a little more humidity and the right temperature to maintain their luscious leaves. The brown edges or curling of leaves are the tell-tale signs of their unhappiness which is something plant parents, including myself, struggle with. They love bright indirect lights which we can manage, but our homes don't usually have the high humidity of their liking. Spider mites must find their leaves the most delicious of all since Calatheas are at constant risk of a pest infestation.
“I personally have killed probably 6-7 Calatheas before knowing exactly what they need to keep them happy and thriving. Every now and then, I still experience some issue with them and might lose a plant or two.”
Tips for Calatheas and Ctenanthes: And as any good plant parent deals with a plant dying, they learn from their previous experiences.
- Soil: “I like to dig into the soil and check the roots of troubled plants. I learned that Calatheas have very small and delicate roots, so they're often planted in peat moss or very fine soil. This type of soil is optimal for them to grow and also helps to better retain water so the roots system can stay moist. The problem with peat moss is that once dried out, they can be very hydrophobic.
- Watering: Most plant parents water their plants at the top of the soil and more often than not, the water doesn't get deep into the center of the plant pots before it drains out. I bottom-water all of my Calatheas by placing them in any type of container, a deep saucer, or even my kitchen sink. I let the water slowly soak entirely through the soil from the bottom of the pots. After a few hours, I check the top of the soil and if they're wet, I know that my Calatheas are fully watered. With this method, my Calatheas get the water that they need to stay hydrated to prevent the brown and crispy edges on the leaves.
- Humidity: I also find that a humidifier to add some moisture to the air around my Calatheas also helps to keep them looking fresh and pretty. If you have windows in your bathroom, a vacant corner or a big counter top, a Calathea is not a bad decor idea.”
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Who: Bella from @the_plant_shelf
“A plant that I’m a little ashamed to say I struggle with is the Pilea," Bella said. "This was the 'it' plant of Instagram two years ago and now has become a staple common plant sold at local nurseries and big box stores. Most people say this plant is super easy and perfect for beginners, which definitely hurts my ego a little.
"Typically the most popular reason for plants dying or not doing well is overwatering. However, I am the laziest person ever and watering plants is so exhausting (mainly because I have 150). So I can rule that issue out, so that really leaves lighting as one of the main issues to consider.”
"Typically the most popular reason for plants dying or not doing well is overwatering."
Still, Bella keeps on trying. “I have gone through three pileas so far. This was actually one of the first plants I got when I started my plant collection one year ago. My first pilea lived about 8 months before I was so over it dying and threw it away. The second pilea I had did nothing for me and just sat there. I eventually just put it outside and it ended up shriveling up in the sun. My third one was a pup from my friend's mom's giant pilea plant. I’ve had this plant for about four months and it has been doing amazing!”
So, what changed?
Tips for Caring for Pileas: “Something I did differently with my last pilea was moving it around to find the perfect lighting it likes! Online it recommends keeping this plant in medium indirect light. I personally found that it does best in bright indirect light. I have kept it in two different locations with medium indirect sun and found it to not do much. However, when I placed it in my west-facing sunroom that gets lots of bright indirect light it exploded with so much growth. It’s all about narrowing down the issues and experimenting!”
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Philodendron Pink Princess
Who: Elisa from @myplantlover
“I have actually struggled to keep every Philodendron Pink Princess I’ve had alive! I know it’s shocking because I have so many needy uncommon aroids, but I’ve always struggled with PPPs.
"I find that the Philodendron Pink Princess is more prone to root rot than other philodendrons. I have owned two and have taken several cuttings from each plant in order to save them before they completely rot. The cuttings that have taken root and grow well when planted into an airy mixture of perlite and moss because the roots have room to breathe.” Instead of chalking the plant deaths up as a loss, she’s turned it into something bigger and better.
“At this point, I have let my love for PPPs go and have given away and sold many cuttings to friends and plant parents that will love them just as much as I used to. It’s been great being able to spread joy and give someone a chance at growing their wishlist plant!”