watchchain succulent

Which house plants thrive on neglect?

Deep breaths Caroline.

NO PLANTS ACTIVELY THRIVE ON NEGLECT.

I HATE this narrative.

There’s a stark difference between being left the hell alone unless required, and being neglected.

There’s also a stark difference between plants that take two years to die and plants that die in a week. Neither is thriving on neglect, one is just hardier than the other.

What I think people mean by plants that ‘thrive on neglect’ fit into five categories.

Plants characteristics that could be misinterpreted as thriving on neglect:

  1. They tell you when they need something
  2. They need watering infrequently
  3. They’re happy with natural humidity levels
  4. They’re low light tolerant
  5. They grow slowly

The ones that are purported to thrive on neglect, poor things, may well have characteristics that fall into all five categories, and display all the qualities of an easy-care plant.

But easy to care for is NOT the same as ‘thrives on neglect’.

You’d never say that about a human. Just because a person lives on their own, chooses not to socialise, and doesn’t require any special care, doesn’t mean they thrive on neglect.

They still need water and fresh air, however infrequently, to live a full and healthy life.

Ugh, it’s like rabbits living five years out in a hutch – everyone thinks they’re fine because they’re not dead, and then think I’m weird because I keep my bunny in my living room, and are shocked when they live to twelve.

See, I’m mad now.

You reward an easy-care plant with the care it requires, and it’ll grow and grow and grow. If you don’t give it the care it needs, it’ll die, but very slowly. And it gets a ‘thrives on neglect’ label slapped on it.

OH, THE INJUSTICE.

Even a FAKE plant doesn’t THRIVE on neglect. It’ll look worse over time because it’s getting older and will collect dust and grime.

ANYWAY.

No shame for wanting an easy-care plant. Read through each of the five categories and see which one fits you best. If you’re still unsure, feel free to email me here, and I’ll help you pick a suitable candidate. Or send me a message on instagram.

Plants that tell you what they need

This is what I like in a plant – one that will have a massive hissy fit and collapse when it needs watering, and then rise up again, like a phoenix from the ashes, when you’ve watered it, and pretend like nothing happened.

So, if you love plants, and are happy to water them, but need a physical reminder to water them, how about trying:

  • Peace lilies

Peace lilies are easy to care for IF you’re going to water then when they droop. Since they like to be kept fairly moist, this might be quite often.

  • Syngonium

These like to dry out more than peace lilies, and they are as overdramatic when it comes to drooping from lack of water.

Do not get a Syngonium if you panic easily though, because they don’t stand back up as quickly as peace lilies and they look, er, deader.

  • Oxalis

Also called false shamrock plants. Like Syngoniums, they take their sweet time to stand back up again, and look REALLY dead when they lie down. They grow from bulbs (or tubers) and sometimes die all the way back n winter.

I’ll let you know if they regrow back in Spring – mine is down to about two leaves at the moment, and I don’t know if it’s part of the natural cycle or if I’ve inadvertently killed it. Still, it’s still blooming, so it can’t be that sad.

monstera leaf

Plants that don’t require frequent watering

If you travel, if you’re lazy or just plain forgetful, these are the plants for you:

  • Cacti/succulents

They can go for MONTHS without watering and are very much victims of the ‘thrive on neglect’ narrative.

If you do water your cacti every fortnight/month then you’ll be rewarded with a lot of growth. If you go for the annual watering approach, sure, it won’t die, but it won’t grow, and it almost certainly won’t bloom.

  • Syngonium

These can dry all the way out, and recover well. Annual waterings will be pushing it, but once a month will probably keep it alive.

  • Pothos

Happy to dry all the way out, as are a lot of philodendron and peperomia. A lot of plants are happy to dry out more than a plant newbie would think.

Most prefer under watering to overwatering.

Again, growth will be limited, because the plant will think water is scarce. It can’t know that its caregiver is just too lazy to water it.

monstera leaf

Plants that don’t require high humidity

This is really dependent on your house, so don’t steer clear of higher humidity plants until you know what the ambient humidity of your home is. Check out my resources page for a cheap hygrometer.

For example, my house is naturally humid enough for Calthea, so I would consider them an easy-care plant. If you need a humidifier and to water them a lot, you might not.

  • Hoya

If you have a lot of light and dry air, hoya will live you. I have two in probably medium-bright indirect light (bright for an hour per day tops though) in the driest parts of my house and they’re growing happier, even in winter.

  • ZZ plant

As long as you don’t overwater them, ZZ plants are happy practically anywhere.

  • Dracaena

They do like bright light, but mine is happy in medium light. These also like to dry out between waterings. They grow like mad if they’re watered and in a bright windowsill, but will tolerate being pulled back from the window.

If you give a plant lower light, then it will grow more slowly and therefore need less water. It’s can be a delicate balance though, which is why it’s important to keep an eye on your plants and use a moisture meter to check their soil.

monstera leaf

Plants that don’t mind low light

  • Calathea

Since I have access to rainwater and have a sitting room with an ambient humidity of 60%, I consider Calathea to be easy care.

A lot of people consider them to be picky, because they won’t tolerate tap water, and they go crispy if they don’t get high enough humidity.

In contrast, I have no luck with peperomia because I can’t give them the light they require. It’s fine for my cacti, because they can tolerate being on the cold windowsills, but less hardy, light-loving plants aren’t an easy-care option for me.

  • Ferns

Ferns are more tolerant of lower humidity than calathea, but expect the odd crispy frond.

  • Philodendron

Generally just…not fussy. Just please be aware that they’re HIGHLY collectable.

monstera leaf

Plants that grow slowly

If you live in a big house with a lot of light, fast-growing plants like ferns won’t be a problem for you.

However, they can be for me because they grow quickly (they love the humidity) and they’re not the easiest to cut back.

Plants that grow slowly require less time-consuming care – they don’t need to be repotted often, or cut back or divided.

  • Succulents

Succulents like burros tails are quite slow-growing indoors because they don’t get the light they need to really get going.

  • Hoya

Hoya just…don’t grow that big. At least not in my experience. It’s just not a plant you ever see massive specimens of.

Older plants

If you want a statement plant that doesn’t require much care, palms and other large plants are often easier to care for than their younger counterparts.

For obvious reasons though, large plant specimens are often pretty pricey.

For a start, they’re more established. They have bigger (and more) leaves so they can photosynthesise very effectively. Their root system is stronger, so they can recover more quickly from pests and fungus infestations.

Big plants are in big pots too – the bigger the pot the more soil, and the more soil the more water the soil can hold. Therefore, you often don’t need to water as often. Some large plants won’t require more than a couple of waterings all throughout the winter. Some examples of large, easy care plants are:

  • Yucca

An awesome statement plant that you can often pick up pretty cheaply. They’re cold and drought tolerant, but they do like to have a lot of light.

  • Monstera deliciosa

An oldy but a goodie. Monstera deliciosas don’t require watering very often anyway and don’t mind drying out a bit. In my experience, as they get older they require less water in relation to their size, presumably because they can absorb more through their leaves. The same is also true of philodendrons such as Golden Dragon and Pedatum.

monstera leaf

I don’t believe plants thrive on neglect EVER

In fact, I believe they’re mutually exclusive terms – if a plant is thriving it’s not been neglected. Caring for a plant doesn’t automatically mean watering it – it can just be the act of observing it and seeing if it needs anything.

There is no plant that will actually thrive on neglect.

It’s just that often the nurture we give is misdirected, and we think that a snake plant is finicky because it died even though we watered it every day, and yet the cactus that is only watered every three months is fine.

Finding a plant that you can keep alive is all about being honest about a few things:

  • The conditions you can provide within your home – light, warmth, and humidity are the main factors, but also things like seasonal change and draughts. A hoya will not thrive by a window that opened and closed all the time.
  • How much time you’ll invest in learning about plant care, as well as how much time you’re willing to put aside to actually take care of them. If you need to water a plant every three weeks, will you remember/ set a reminder?
  • The condition of the plant when you buy it – a mealybug-infested orchid is already on borrowed time.
  • Your personality – I actually find it easier to check my plants on a daily basis, and cycle which ones I check on which days, so I’ll have a go at caring for any plant. If you can’t be arsed with that, and would prefer the ‘water every two weeks but otherwise do nothing approach’ get a decent-sized pothos.

RANT OVER.

Leave a comment