New Year’s Houseplant Roundup


This is the perfect time of year to focus on indoor gardening. The holiday hubbub has died down and we all could use something green to get us through the winter (though the days are now getting longer — yay!).

I usually give my houseplants a good inspection in January. I want to see which ones are thriving, which ones are neglected, and which ones are goners. If I really make a mistake and let one go by missing a few waterings or placing it too close to a radiator, I don’t fret about it. If the plant doesn’t revive then I just chuck it instead of letting it linger a slow death. It’s survival of the fittest in this apartment.

Here are some selections that I’ve whittled down over the past few years. These no-fail varieties can survive my diverted attention for days (if not weeks).

I’ve had this Norfolk Island pine for nearly ten years. And most remarkably, I’ve never repotted it! The small container must restrict the tree to a smaller size since I’ve seen 7-foot versions of the same trees in friend’s apartments. I only add a little new soil and some houseplant fertilizer twice a year and give it a good watering every week. These subtropical conifers thrive in bright indirect light.

This dark-leaved philodendron is another good candidate for people with low-light conditions. I’ve had this plant for about three years. Once in a while, I clean the leaves with a damp cloth so they don’t get dusty but other than that, it seems to thrive without me.

Some people struggle with stag-horn ferns. But I’ve had great luck with this hanging version. I take the basket down and water it thoroughly in the shower about once every two weeks. Even if the leaves show signs of wilting, they always revive. The moss hides a plastic pot that houses the plant’s roots and I think this added protection allows the fern to retain extra moisture for those periods when I’m neglectful.

This rhipsalis is a soft, spineless cactus that usually grows in tropical rainforests. But for this city-dweller my bookshelf seems to do just fine. It’s in the back bedroom so I really forget about caring for it and only get around to watering every three to four weeks, which I do in the sink so I can really give the pot a good soaking.

This tufa stone planter once housed an indoor bonsai. That beautiful plant sadly didn’t last too long so I refilled it with a selection of succulents (so much easier!). They’ve been in their stony container about three years now with no fuss or effort required. Just lots of bright indirect sun and water every two weeks.

Air plants make the easiest houseplants. Just throw them in the sink once a week or so and douse with water. Once they’ve drained I place them loosely in vases on a bright sunny windowsill. The silver varieties seem to be more drought-resistant.

These amaryllis are just starting to bloom. Keep a careful eye on the stems, they’ll become weak and floppy without adequate sunlight and water.

This terrarium could use an edit. Once a year I usually take my contained gardens apart and throw away any old or overgrown plants (which can’t be repotted). I also clean the glass and add new soil. Other than that, these little worlds are very low-maintenance and great choices for beginners or kids.

I’ve had two rabbit’s foot ferns in on my bathroom windowsill for several years. They love the spray from the shower and the air humidity. This species can be difficult without adequate moisture.

This small cycad does well in a glass dish garden. I have to be careful not to overwater since there isn’t a drainage hole. My best technique is to water it in the sink every couple of weeks and then tip out any excess water that might cause root rot.

Stephen Orr is the Editorial Director for Gardening at Martha Stewart Living. He loves that his line of work allows him to see so many beautiful sunrises while many folks are still asleep. (Editor’s tip: Most gardens look their best photographed right after dawn). Follow his horticulture blog at

Comments (4)


  • Author Comment:

    Hi, Dorothy! If your orchid is done flowering, cut the flower spike down to the base of the plant. From there, move the plant to bright, indirect light and repot if necessary using proper repotting medium, such as orchid bark; combine with charcoal and sphagnum moss to help with drainage.

    If you need more info, you can check out Orchids 101.

  • Have you ever grown a TickleMe Plant that closes its leaves when Tickled?

  • Thanks for the post! Your succulent planting has inspired me to start one with left-over Hen and Chicks from my outdoor garden. We’ll see how they do!

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.