Some people have a “green thumb,” and some people seem to have a “kill-a-houseplant-dead-within-a-few-hours-of-bringing-it-home” thumb. If you belong to the latter group, don’t be so hard on yourself: It’s not always what you know about houseplants ¬— it’s who you know. With some advice from the experts, those of us who are houseplant-challenged can grow the green thumbs we covet.

Some people have a “green thumb,” and some people seem to have a “kill-a-houseplant-dead-within-a-few-hours-of-bringing-it-home” thumb. If you belong to the latter group, don’t be so hard on yourself: It’s not always what you know about houseplants ¬— it’s who you know. With some advice from the experts, those of us who are houseplant-challenged can grow the green thumbs we covet.
“The most important facts to know about houseplants are: No.1, how much light they need and No. 2, how much water they require,” says Jane Perry, author of How To Be Successful With Houseplants: From the Plant’s Perspective (Lulu, 2006), a book that teaches readers how to maintain a houseplant according to the plant’s metabolism.
“The best thing to do is to put the plant in the kind of light it needs to thrive, and understand how to water the plant according to its needs. That doesn’t mean water on your schedule — once a week — but when the plant needs water.”
But what plant is right for you? When looking for a houseplant that’s right for you, do a houseplant-readiness assessment. Do you travel frequently? Do you have pets or small children? How committed are you to caring for the plant? This is when advice from the experts is crucial. Talking to employees at your local garden center, doing research online, and contacting the pros before you go plunking down your money for a plant can save you a lot of time and heartache and save the plant from certain death.
Perry, who has worked in tropical retail greenhouses for 36 years, says that someone like her is a font of valuable information on houseplants.
“If you want a houseplant,” Perry says, “Talk to me. I will ask you several exacting questions about where you want to put it — how far away from a window will it be, and what direction your windows face. Once I know how much light a plant will receive, I can then suggest the ones that will thrive in that area.” In addition to helping you with plant-sustaining guidelines, experts like Perry can also suggest how to use your plants decoratively. If you’re interested in a creating a little indoor garden, those in the know will help you get growing.
Mark Davis, is a retired commercial airline pilot from Texas who always had a fondness for plants, but now, thanks to a “Master Gardener” course he took via Iowa State University’s extension program, he’s on his way to becoming a plant expert himself. “We learned so much about gardening and houseplants — I recommend that kind of course to anyone,” says Davis, who suggests a pothos plant for the houseplant-challenged. “A pothos is a simple, elegant-looking houseplant that can thrive in low-light conditions. It’s a popular plant because it’s so hearty — you really can’t go wrong with a pothos.’”
And even certified green thumbs need a little help from time to time. Davis says that though he learned a lot in his gardening course, if he’s having trouble with a plant, he’ll go straight to the source.
“If you have a plant you want to save and you’re really stumped,” says Davis, “Ask an expert to help you. Teachers from the course that I took encouraged their students to send a sample of a struggling plant, along with its data, to the college. They’ll tell you what’s wrong with the plant and how to revive it.”
So as you attempt to “green up” your house with some tropical houseplants, don’t be afraid to ask questions — it’s sure to prolong the good vibes of your houseplant and your house.