10 Tips For Keeping Houseplants Alive With ADHD

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I don’t know if this is just confirmation bias, but I’m convinced that house plants and people with ADHD seem to find each other. Plant care can be enormously beneficial to people with ADHD and can help them focus, but it can also be the source of a little accidental hoarding and guilt.

I’m not diagnosed with ADHD, but I either have it, or have a LOT of the symptoms. I spend a lot of my time trying to come up with ways to trick myself into writing/cleaning/plant care and thought I’d share my tips.

Now, ADHD manifests itself in different ways, so these are general tips. Different things work for different people. I looked up a Reddit thread about plant care and ADHD and most people were suggesting things like plant trackers, bullet journals, and apps.

These do NOT work for me. I LOVE planners and bullet journals, but I don’t remember to consult them or keep them up to date. Notifications on my phone stress me out when I can’t delete them immediately so I end up muting them and inevitably forgetting that they exist.

If you think those things will work, go ahead. Many people swear by apps such as Planta, but I do not.

By the way, a lot of these tips are also applicable if you have anxiety or depression. I know all these things are very different, but the tips basically set up your plant collection so it can survive without you (or without you really being present) for a decent length of time.

So, what’s worked for me?

1. Don’t buy too many plants at once

I know, I know.

If you’ve got as far as reading this article, it’s probably too late. We’ve all been there.

ADHD is PERFECT for getting into plant care because there’s so much opportunity for a dopamine hit. Just going to the garden centre is a rush for me (bonus points if it’s one I’ve never been to before).

And then there’s the actual buying of the plant – a real buy one get one free dopamine-wise, because not only do you get a new plant to care for, but you get that ‘I’ve spent money’ high.

Plant care is often suggested as a way to add focus and calm for people with ADHD, but that was not the case for me. It was a hyperfixation. I needed as many different plants as I could find, as quickly as possible. I prowled supermarkets, trendy department stores, and eBay, trying to get another fix.

A few plants are very calming. A houseful of neglected, thrips-addled plants is not.

It took me a while, but I’m much more selective about the plants I buy now.

hoya krimson princess

Set yourself a budget

People with ADHD have a tendency to be quite impulsive, and house plants can be VERY expensive (especially if you develop a variegated Monstera habit early on).

I set myself an upper limit of £15 per plant. If I wanted to spend more, I had to sleep on it for at least a night.

The same with pots – don’t buy a tonne of cheap plants and then bankrupt yourself buying them all beautiful pots.

It’s all too easy to get obsessed with variegated Monstera, or fancy Anthuriums, but don’t run before you can walk.I highly recommend collecting small Calathea because they’re cheap but give you a healthy dose of the reality of caring for plants. Also, they have bright colours and patterns which the monkey part of my brain really likes.

pansy orchid

Stick to plants that require similar care

Yeah, I get it, it’s probably too late. You’re already the proud owners of a fern, two alocasia* and a cactus.

If you can, try to stick to a specific genus of plant. Tell yourself you will only collect, for example, Hoya. Pick a species that will live happily in your home (no cacti if you have crappy light, for example).

You may pick Calathea and accidentally kill them all when you forget about them for a month (been there) but by the time that happens, you’ll probably be into another type of plant anyway.

You can end up getting overwhelmed if you have fifty plants that all need different care.

*Avoid. I don’t have the words to articulate why. Begonias too. They’re not hard to care for per se, but they don’t belong in the hoard of a house plant beginner with ADHD.

variegated monstera adansonii

Lean in to your hyper fixation

Whilst you’re in the hyper fixation stage, learn all you can. Watch YouTube videos, get into LECA, try new things.

Ideally, you’ll have honed in on your preferred method of plant care and favourite plants by the time the hyper fixation has subsided. That way, you already have some sort of routine going and you’re less likely to completely forget your plants exist for months at a time.

Schedule your plant care

Just one hour every week.

Take this time to water, repot, and clean the leaves. Add fertiliser to the water every six weeks – set a reminder on your phone.

What I actually like to do is set aside three hours. The plant care usually only takes about an hour (less in winter) so I now have two hours free for a nap.

Just don’t fall into the trap of rushing your plant care – the plants must be well-cared for else you don’t deserve that nap. Don’t abuse the system.

I do not practice what I preach

Make sure you can water in place

I know that hanging plants look great but they’re a nightmare for anyone with ADHD. Every time you buy a plant, bring it home and put it in its spot, make sure you can water it without having to move it.

People with ADHD often struggle with doing tasks that require a few smaller steps. ‘Water the plant’ is a task made of a few steps, e.g.

  1. Check if the soil is dry
  2. Get some water
  3. Water the plant

For someone without ADHD, this is fine. For people with ADHD, it’s fine if they’re in the right frame of mind. But if you have to add steps like ‘get the ladder – get the plant down – sit the plant in some water – stop the plant from dripping – hang the plant back up’ it can seem so overwhelming that you forget the whole thing and go for a walk*.

*Fellow people with ADHD – do you do this?? When I was furloughed I went for two 90-minute walks a day because I struggled to sit at my desk and work. You can’t feel guilty about walking, right?! Turns out that ‘tendency to wander’ is a real ADHD symptom. The more you know!

self watering plant pot

Use self-watering plant pots

Preferably with a water gauge.

Honestly, when I’m rich, all of my pots will be self-watering pots with a water gauge.

The visual reminder that the plant needs watering is *chefs kiss*. No checking the soil and trying to work out if the soil is wet or if you’ve just got sweaty hands. You can SEE.

Now they just need to add a ‘fertilise me’ gauge.

Don’t run out and buy a load of self-watering pots (unless you want to). I only have a few for some of my larger plants BUT they’re usually the catalyst for a watering session. A visual reminder that the water level in the soil is low.

Planta, with its bizarre plants names

Try apps/notebooks

As I mentioned earlier, this is really something you need to test yourself.

Obviously, all people with ADHD are different BUT I do think there’s a definite trend of loving to START planners, but not doing so well at keeping up with them.

Sometimes I can keep a planner going a good six months, but then I’m done with it. And there’s no gradual decline in use. I go from being a super-organised queen to agent of chaos literally overnight. And there’s no way to tell when it’s going to happen.

Hilarious that I bought a YEAR’S subscription to Planta (it’s cheap! Whoo!) and stuck to it for less than a month. Didn’t even input all my plants.

Start your planner. Draw beautiful pictures of your plants, and gorgeous trackers for you can keep on top of watering and fertilising. But take note of the other tips just in case…you know.

variegated alocasia amazonica

Make it easy for yourself

  • When you notice pests immediately isolate that plant

Designate a ‘pest room’ or area so they can all hang together away from your healthy plants.

I typically use the bathroom, because I can pick thrips of leaves when I’m letting my Olaplex sit. Also, you can spray plants down in the shower.

If it all gets a bit much, chuck them out. Don’t worry, none of your other plants will know. Neither will anyone else. It’s our little secret.

  • Don’t put any plants out of reach – I don’t care how cute they look. Get a fake one.
  • Don’t buy plants that can’t hack your tap water
  • Don’t buy anything because of the flowers (like orchids) because they take effort to get them to bloom. Hoya bella (below) will bloom EASILY with basic care (i.e. water and light).
hoya bella bloom

Cut yourself some slack

You may find that over the years your plant collection will ebb and flow. You’ll go through phases of culling and collecting. You may give up entirely and come back to it. That’s just the way we are. You can always give your plants away as gifts, or sell them at a jumble sale. You may find you have the itch again 6 months later AND THAT’S OK.

Last month I decided Amigurumi crochet was gonna be my next personality (we can’t just have a simple hobby can we? It has to be my whole life). It started off as a ‘wouldn’t they make cute Christmas presents?’ and then Aldi had a sale so now I have 72 skeins of amigurumi cotton.

I can already feel the hyperfixation ebbing away, which I can see the funny side of. I mean, I can already crochet blankets and stuff, and I need Christmas presents so I’m gonna do it.

Buuuut isn’t it funny how you can be so into something you literally lose sleep over it and then two days later you couldn’t give less of a shit? What even are our brains?

Best plants for ADHD

I was gonna write a criteria list, but there wasn’t a lot of crossover, so instead I’ll just explain my choices:

Peace lily

Yes, they can be arseholes, but if you get a big-ish specimen they tend to be chill. Mine has tapwater. My reasons are thus:

  • They droop when they’re thirsty
  • They bloom, which adds a bit of excitement to our lives without us having to leave the house. Perfect.
  • Pests don’t like them. I have no idea why.

Monstera

  • They’re just chill.
  • They’re cheap and easy to find
  • They probably have thrips, but aren’t that bothered about it

Hoya

  • Happy to go weeks between waterings
  • Sometimes bloom (I think bella is most reliable)

Peperomia hope

  • Just a great allrounder. I write a whole article about how it’s the best plant for beginners.

Anthurium clarinerveum

  • Again, incredibly chill. Just cut off the flowers because they smell like bin juice.

Worst plants for ADHD

Alocasia

  • Chill for years and then needier than a needy puppy
  • Get angry if you forget to water
  • Get angry if you water

Calathea

  • Just…angry

Maidenhair ferns

  • They do NOT like it if you forget to water them The roots will be fine and they regrow quickly but the fronds give you no second chances

Terrariums and ADHD

I highly, HIGHLY recommend terrariums for people with ADHD. You can set them up when you’re in the zone, and then basically leave them alone until the various hobbies and interest cycle back to plants. You can set up lights and foggers and put in things like springtails so you don’t need to worry about cleaning it.

Also, if you’re still mesmerised by Calathea (there’s something about them! I think it’s the colours and the stripes) they do REALLY well in terrariums.

I really hope this was helpful. If you have any tips for plant care for people with ADHD, leave me comment!

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

4 thoughts on “10 Tips For Keeping Houseplants Alive With ADHD”

  1. I have had a different experience regarding ADHD and my houseplant situation. My fixation on them is constantly present. I can spend several hours a day just caring for them and I often spot new growth (or even any issues) practically immediately. I have Syngoniums, Philodendrons, Monsteras, Alocasia, Colocasia, Caladiums, Hoyas, Peperomia, Cacti, Begonias, etc.

    The only plants I will NEVER touch are Calatheas. lol

  2. I oscillate wildly between fixation and completely forgetting they exist. I really struggle to find a middle ground. Totally agree about Calathea, unless you have some kind of climate-controlled environment like a terrarium!

  3. Dank jullie alle…3

    Dus ik hoef me niet zooo schuldig te voelen als ik ze vergeet water te geven?!
    En wanneer ik weet dat ik ze vergeet, verlamd door angst en schuld en al trachtend mezelf zover te krijgen dat ik toch een druppel water in de buurt van die planten breng…maar ondertussen nog geen water geef.
    om dan nog 2 weken te wachten zodat ik bijna zeker weet dat ze echt dood zijn..en dan als ik ooit eens de planten die in een andere kamer staan ga bekijken of ze toch echt dood zijn…dan toch nog iets van teleurstelling te ervaren over de heen gegane plant..

    Voor mij zijn adeniums het leukst, daar ”kweek” ik al jaren mee…maar ja ken het…niet allemaal verschillende soorten: uhuh adeniums, olifantsvoet, orchidee, ik dan wel calathea’s, monstera, anthurium, oh ja strelitzia uit zaad leek me ook eens leuk..

    substraten….nee ik doe het niet, ik ga niet vertellen welke substraten mijn leven verzuurd hebben..
    zo ben ik niet…

    Maar ja ook ik twijfel nog steeds heel hard of ik toch wel dan niet adhd mag genieten….goh

  4. I’m just gonna put the translation here first, and reply at the bottom:

    Thank you all…3

    So I don’t have to feel sooo guilty if I forget to water them?!
    And when I know I’m forgetting them, paralyzed with fear and guilt and trying to get myself to put a drop of water near those plants anyway…but don’t water yet.
    to then wait another 2 weeks so that I am almost certain that they are really dead..and then if I ever look at the plants in another room to see if they are really dead…then still to experience something of disappointment over the passed plant..

    For me adeniums are the nicest, I’ve been “growing” with them for years…but yes I know it…not all different types: uhuh adeniums, elephant’s foot, orchid, me calathea’s, monstera, anthurium, oh yes strelitzia from seed also seemed to me have fun..

    substrates….no I won’t, I’m not going to tell you which substrates have soured my life..
    I’m not like that…

    But yes, I still doubt very hard whether or not I can enjoy adhd after all….gosh

    No, you don’t have to feel guilty for forgetting to water them. It’s not your fault, it’s the chemicals in your brain. I am intrigued to hear about the substrates you don’t like though. There’s so much emphasis on putting plants in soils that don’t retain much water, which is fine for a lot of people, but not those of us that accidentally forget that our plants exist for weeks at a time.

    I’m currently growing some cacti and Ficus benjamina from seed and it’s really fun!

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