How to choose a houseplant that will live a long time – even decades

How to choose a houseplant that will live a long time – even decades

Most of the conversation about the lifespan of houseplants revolves around the struggle to keep them from dying. But many plants, with proper care, can outlive their human owners and live for generations.

For example, the same Boston fern appears in family photographs by Lisa Eldred Steinkopf dating from the 1960s. Her mother first received it as a wedding gift. Steinkopf inherited it when she moved homes in 2018. She cherishes it even more now that her mother has died. “It’s comforting for me to know that I have the actual plant that my mom took care of,” says Steinkopf, founder of Houseplant Guru and author of Houseplants: The Complete Guide. “Every time I water it, I think about it.” Steinkopf in turn gave a piece of the fern to her daughter when she married.

Unlike heirloom seeds, which are typically defined as being at least 50 years old, there is no specific category of long-lived houseplants. “Any indoor plant — if you give it good conditions so it doesn’t get stressed and struggle, will have the potential to live for years (or) decades,” says Justin Hancock, horticulturist at Costa Farms, a family-run houseplant grower in Florida. He adds that plants that tend to be passed down from generation to generation show “inherent robustness” – such as the ability to survive in a range of light conditions and in very wet or dry soil.

Steinkopf points out that ferns aren’t usually a good candidate for overwintering, because they struggle without frequent watering. I kept it blooming by placing it in an east-facing window all year round and never letting it dry out.

One of the keys to providing proper care for any houseplant is knowing which plant you are going to grow In reality It relied on its scientific name, not just the common name. “Grandma may have said it’s ‘one thing,’ but it’s another,” says Sarah Vogel, a horticulture professor at the University of Illinois Extension. “The correct identification will help in finding the right care requirements.”

If you’re looking for a houseplant that has the potential to live for decades, here are some good bets.

Croton (Codiaeus variegated)

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Crotons can live a long time and tolerate some neglect as long as they get plenty of light. “Crotons tolerate either too much or too little water, thanks to their thick leaves,” Hancock says. “Indoors in low light levels, (they) can suffer — especially if irrigation isn’t in place.”

These plants need fertile, well-drained, moist soil, Vogel says. “Only water when the top of the soil is dry,” she advises. Crotons prefer warm temperatures and sunlight. Hancock suggests placing them “near a window” as long as it’s not too cold.

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Holiday cactus is a term used to describe several species of cacti that bloom around the time of their namesake, such as the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera bridge(and Easter cactus)Schlumbergera gartneri). “Unlike other cacti, they like high humidity and bright but filtered light,” Vogel says. To keep it thriving for years, you’ll need to avoid overwatering—wet soil can lead to root rot. It’s easy to propagate it by pressing it flat, then letting it dry for a day or two before placing it in the soil, Steinkopf points out.

Maria Zampini, author of “Garden-pedia: An A-to-Z Guide to Gardening Terms,” ​​inherited a Thanksgiving cactus when her mother died in 2018. “I’m thinking about you,” she says. It maintains its roots, which she says encourages better flowering, and resists watering until the soil is almost dry. So far, he has been alive for eight years.

Jade tree (Crassula ovata)

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Jade trees, also known as jade plants, are succulents that thrive in sunlight. “An east- or west-facing window sill is usually your best bet for getting the most light,” Hancock says. These plants can live for decades, in part because they tolerate neglect. They’re famous for their “ability to survive when watered once a month or so, depending on conditions,” Hancock says.

Teresa Woodard, author of “American Roots,” inherited the 30-year-old, 2-foot-tall jade tree from her mother last summer. Her mother’s simple advice: “Don’t water it too much, and let it dry out between waterings.”

Night-flowering epiphyllum (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)

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“Night-blooming cereus can grow for decades indoors or outdoors,” says Hancock, as long as it gets enough light and moisture. As the name suggests, these plants produce short-lived flowers at night that die back in the morning; It can bloom several times per growing season. “It will always flower better when you spend the summer outside because of the higher light levels,” Hancock says. “If I were to plant one, I would put it near a large window or patio door so it gets the light it wants.”

Carol Mischel, a horticulturist and author of Dig and Delight: Living Your Best Gardening Life, inherited her father’s night-blooming wax plant in 1987. “He would take it outside every summer, and it would put out some flower buds and open up.” he says via email. Once in her care, it took nearly 10 years before it bloomed again. “My kid doesn’t spend a lot of summers outside, so it’s not as active as it used to be, but it’s more family-friendly now.”

To keep them happy, Michel fills his container with a potting mix meant for cactus plants and gets them rootbound. “He doesn’t mind a crowded bowl,” she says. She waters them only when “the top half or so of the potting mix is ​​dry” — and even less in the fall and winter when they’re not actively growing. In spring and summer you fertilize it.

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

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Spider plants are incredibly tolerant of neglect. It has tuberous, thick roots that store moisture, so you can get rid of it by not watering. However, they do prefer some sun: “Anywhere there is enough light that you can read a newspaper or a book without having to turn on an extra light most of the day,” Hancock says.

Even if you’re afraid you’ll kill the original spider plant, you can keep its lineage alive by propagating it. “It produces a lot of little plants—just pick a plant, drop it into a potting mix, and enjoy,” Hancock says.

Pamela Hubbard, a home gardening expert and writer, inherited her mother-in-law’s spider plant in 2000. Although he died in 2004, she was grateful she made cuttings from it first. “The moral of this is: No matter how long your heirloom plant lives, it’s a good idea to do a little propagation to make sure you always have a piece of it,” she says via email.

Lauren David writes about gardening and sustainability.

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