We’ve all heard it: people who claim they have a brown thumb instead of green. I always smile in disagreement, because I believe everyone can have the proverbial green thumb, which is simply giving plants what they need to survive and thrive.

Three different routes can lead any of us to a green thumb. First, we all know people who instinctively are good at growing plants through a natural talent, and their route is easiest. Second, experience is the best teacher, and we can be awarded a green thumb by trial and error, learning from our gardening mistakes and building on our gardening successes. Lastly, we can read, study or attend gardening programs and then practice what we’ve learned.

No one should write themselves off with a negative plant attitude. If I can grow plants, anyone can, and houseplants are a good example.

Houseplants vary in their requirements, and some are easier to grow than others. Why are some plants relatively carefree? They’ll tolerate a little neglect, such as forgetting to water regularly. Such plants also cope well with conditions of low humidity and dry indoor air. They require little pampering and their light requirements are more flexible.

Peperomia, with its waxy leaves, is among the easiest-to-grow houseplants.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Peperomia, with its waxy leaves, is among the easiest-to-grow houseplants. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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Houseplant names can be confusing because there are often multiple common names for the same plant. Luckily, houseplants also have botanical names, which are standard worldwide. A favorite example are the many names given to the plant called snake plant, sword plant, or mother-in-law’s tongue, which is universally recognized also by its botanical name Sanseveria, although it’s recently been reclassified into the Dracaena genus.

Following are easy-to-grow houseplants, with botanical names in parenthesis.

  • Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron scandens). Glossy green heart-shaped leaves grow on a vigorous vine. Pinch to encourage branching or train vertically on a support.
  • Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata). Spear-shaped leaves on a tree-like plant create a nice floor feature. Slow growing, but can reach six feet indoors.
  • Jade Plant (Crassula ovata). Becomes more beautiful with age as it forms a small tree. Use a heavy container because they become top-heavy. A member of the succulent group, a sandy mix helps prevent soggy soil and adds container weight.
  • Cacti and other succulents. Ideal if watering just isn’t your thing. A grouping of several different kinds makes an interesting display in a sunny window.
  • Snake Plant (Sanseveria). If all else fails, these will please both beginners and experienced gardeners. Thrives in both high and low light. Available in green, variegated, dwarf, and tall types. Prefers dry air and soil, and rarely needs repotting.
  • Golden Pothos or Devil’s Ivy. (Epipremnum). Heart-shaped leaves emerge green and become variegated with cream and yellow. Stems can trail up to eight feet. Trim back several times each year to keep bushy. Does well in offices with fluorescent lights.
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum). Impressive for beginners and experienced alike. Slender arching leaves are available in solid green and variegated forms. They like to be “pot bound” and are best grown on a pedestal or hanging planter to display the hanging brood of spiders.
  • Wandering Jew (Tradescantia). Glistening purple, silver, and green striped leaves are produced on fast-growing vines. Keep ends nipped to prevent “legginess.”
  • Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra). Tough plant survives heat, dry air blasts, and low light. Content with infrequent watering.
  • Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema). Dark green pointed leaves are marbled with white, cream, or silver. Rarely needs repotting. Not fussy, but won’t tolerate cold drafts or cold soggy soil.
  • Corn Plant (Dracaena massangeana). Similar to field corn in appearance, they can reach a height of three to five feet, creating a great floor plant.
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum). Dark green glossy leaves arch away from the central base. They’ll produce white blossoms if light is sufficient. Soggy soil and salt accumulation can cause its leaf tips to brown. Re-potting every five years is often sufficient.
  • Peperomia (Peperomia). Many varieties in assorted leaf shapes and colors. Their waxy leaves conserve moisture, meaning they’ll forgive occasional neglect.
  • Arrowhead Plant (Syngonium). Triangular leaf shapes and attractive foliage. The plant becomes slightly vining with age.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.