Even the healthiest people and animals eventually die, either from illness, accident, or old age. But what about plants?
Houseplants live indoors, and have all their needs met by the person caring for them. Since they’re in such a controlled environment, is it possible they can live forever? Let’s find out.
What The Experts Say
According to botanists, houseplants do not have a predetermined lifespan. This means that, in theory, a houseplant can live forever.
In fact, some have already lived longer than most humans. An Eastern Cape giant cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii) arrived at London’s Kew Gardens in 1775, and is still living there today. It relies on supports to prop up its long trunk, but it is still living and still growing inside the garden’s Palm House. This plant is thought to be the oldest living potted plant.
Houseplants Known for Long Lifespans
While all plants have the potential to live forever, there are some varieties of houseplant that are hardier than others. If you’re looking to pass on your greenhouse to your great-grandkids, here are some types to consider.
Jade plants are gorgeous, easy to grow, and easy to propagate. They are even thought to bring wealth to your household! Jade plants are a succulent that require a moderate amount of light and occasional watering, so even a houseplant newbie can handle keeping one alive.
I love the pothos plant (also called Devil’s Ivy) for many reasons. First of all, it’s absolutely beautiful, with all kinds of cool variegations and varietys. But most importantly, they are so easy to grow!
Pothos plants need regular watering (any time the soil is dry), and moderate light, and they’re perfect for a setting like an office that has fluorescent lighting. Put one of these beauties on your desk and you’ll be the envy of all your employees.
Aloe Vera Plant
Aloe vera plants are the ultimate “set it and forget it plant.” Just place your aloe vera plant in indirect sunlight and let it grow. You should water your aloe plant about once a month, but that’s really all the care it needs.
Bright direct sun can scorch your plant, and overwatering can make it brown and mushy. So, quite literally, placing it by your window and forgetting about it for awhile is probably the best thing you can do to ensure a long life.
If you consider yourself to have a “brown thumb,” you might try your luck with one of the many varieties of cacti. Cactus plants require lots of sunlight and only occasional watering, which makes them a great choice for new houseplant owners. They’re also known to live long lives with only minimal care.
One of the biggest killers of cacti is overwatering, so be sure to water your cactus plant about once a month. You can also fertilize your cactus with a special fertilizer for succulents once a year, in mid to late spring.
Snake plants (Sansevieria, also called mother-in-law’s tongue) are well known for being tough, hardy, and easy to care for. Its tall, straight leaves are particularly striking, and make it a popular choice for home decor.
The snake plant thrives in indirect sunlight, but it can also survive in low light situations. Plant it into a succulent soil that doesn’t hold much water, and water your snake plant about every 2 weeks. The snake plant is definitely a plant you don’t want to overwater.
English ivy (Hedera helix, also called common ivy) plants are gorgeous climbing perennials that can climb as high as 75 feet. English ivy plants are well known for being very tough and hard to kill.
To help your English ivy plant live its best life, keep in partial to full shade, and keep its soil on the dry side.
The rubber tree (Ficus elastica) is a hardy indoor tree that can take just about anything you throw at it. Give it indirect sunlight, occasional watering, and soil with some drainage, and it will be happy.
For an extra boost, give your rubber tree a dose of a general fertilizer once a month in spring and summer. For best results, use about 1/4 teaspoon of fertilizer to one gallon of water when mixing your fertilizer.
The spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) is best known for its leggy, spider-like leaves and the small “spiderettes” that grow out from the main plant. It is also an incredibly hardy plant that can live for a very long time.
To keep your spider plant and its spiderettes healthy, plant it in soil that has good drainage and give it indirect light. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot. Also keep in mind that spider plants like cooler temperatures — generally around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree
The fiddle leaf fig tree is a popular choice for interior design due to its beautiful, fiddle-shaped leaves. The fiddle leaf fig is also very resilient and easy to grow.
Fiddle leaf fig trees do best with moderate, indirect sunlight and watering about once a week. A good rule of thumb for the fiddle leaf fig is to see if the soil is damp one inch below the surface. If the soil feels wet, your plant is doing great! If the soil feels dry, it probably needs a drink.
Common Ways Houseplants Die
If it’s possible for houseplants to live forever, then why don’t they? It’s usually the fault of us humans who are caring for them. There are some common reasons that houseplants die, despite our best efforts. Here are a few to keep in mind:
Oftentimes, new plant parents are eager to take care of their new houseplant. In fact, they’re so eager that they get a bit overzealous with watering. Too much watering can lead to root rot, fungus, and pests, all of which can hurt your plant’s lifespan.
Most plants do not need to be watered every day. You’ll find that many common types of houseplants only require watering when their soil starts to dry out. Plants like succulents and cacti need even less water. Tools like a moisture gauge can help you determine if your plant is in need of a drink.
In my experience, overwatering is more common than underwatering, but underwatering still happens, and can lead to the demise of your plant.
I think that underwatering is often a byproduct of forgetfulness. No one wants their plant to dry out and die, but sometimes life gets busy and plant care gets neglected. Simply keeping your plant in a spot where you can see it daily can be a reminder that it needs some TLC.
Another way to combat this problem is to set a reminder in your phone to check in on your houseplants once a week. A moisture gauge can also be helpful for determining when your plant is too dry.
The Wrong Amount of Light
All plants need sunlight to live, but different plants need different amounts. Many novice plant owners put their new plant in the brightest spot they can find, not realizing that the majority of plants do better in indirect sunlight. There are even some plants that thrive in shade!
When in doubt, indirect sunlight is your best bet. However, if you notice discoloration on your plants’ leaves, try shifting to a less sunny spot. On the flip side, if your plant seems thin or droopy, see if a sunnier spot gives it more life.
Pests and Diseases
While plants don’t get sick in the same way that humans do, they can suffer from conditions that inhibit their ability to thrive. Probably the most common cause of distress for houseplants is pests. Things like aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites can wreak havoc on your plants. Here’s a great resource for learning more about common pests and how to treat them.
Fungus and mold are other common houseplant ailments. Luckily, “over-the-counter” treatments from your local garden store or nursery can often help treat these conditions.
Pets and Children
Sometimes the greatest threat to our houseplants come from those we love! Houseplants can be irresistible for curious children or pets, and they don’t always survive these encounters. An occasional nibble usually doesn’t hurt a plant, but intense chewing or continual uprooting can.
It’s also important to remember that some houseplants are toxic to pets and children. Make sure you do your research if you’re mixing pets or kids with the plants in your home.
How to Help Your Houseplants Thrive
Thinking about what can go wrong might make owning a houseplant seem a bit intimidating. However, just a few simple steps can increase your chance at successful plant parenting.
Do Your Research
One of the realities of raising houseplants is that some plants are just easier to care for than others. There are certain types of plants that are extremely finicky, and others that seem to survive anything. The trick is to find the right houseplant for your lifestyle and experience level.
If you’re new to plant ownership, look for plants that are easy to care for, like the ones in this post. This list of hard-to-kill plants might also give you some great ideas!
Resist the Urge to Overwater
As a mother of three, I am used to my children constantly needing something from me. It can be tempting to think that my plants need that same level of care, but in reality, most houseplants require only a small amount of attention.
It can be hard to leave our houseplants alone and let them do their thing. Watering them is an easy way to feel like we’re helping them grow. But watering too much does more harm than good. Resist the urge to dump water on your plants every day, and when in doubt, use your moisture gauge to see if they really need a drink.
Ask for Help
I am probably biased, but plant people are some of the best people you’ll find. We love helping people find the right houseplant, and we love to see new folks embrace our hobby!
If your plant is struggling and you’re not sure why, ask your local plant community for help. Your local nursery or garden store can be a great source of information.
Plant groups on the internet are another way to find green-thumbed friends. Search out groups for houseplant lovers on Facebook, or post your plant questions to Twitter to get help from around the world.
With the right care and a bit of luck, there’s no limit to how long your plants can live. Treat them right, and one day you could be passing them along to your grandchildren! And even if they don’t live forever, owning houseplants can help improve the quality of your years.