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Confessions of a serial house plant killer

… and my ode to the ‘Plant Doctor’

For as long as I can remember, I have taken great pleasure in the fact that I can grow almost any plant in my garden successfully, regardless of the growing zone I live in. Granted, there have been some challenges involving stubborn little plants that needed to be moved, often more than once, but ultimately, I prevailed. Sadly, the same cannot be said of my house plants. Despite my best efforts, none of my house plants ever survived. It didn’t matter if they were inexpensive little plants or extravagant floor plants – the ultimate result was always the same – they were all deader than a doorknob, usually within a matter of weeks.

So dear readers, my New Year’s resolution for 2021 is to successfully grow and maintain a house plant which I could then check off my bucket list. Not wanting to set the bar too high, I reached out to our local legendary plant whisperer, Carol Guedalia, for some advice. I was half expecting Carol to say, “Seriously?” when I approached her. Instead, she replied, “OK, given your propensity for ‘planticide,’ I would suggest the following bullet-proof plants.” Her top five recommendations for house plants are … (drum roll please):



Epipremnum Aureum and Scindapsus pictus. Toxic to pets and humans if ingested. One of the most popular trailing houseplants, pothos is the gold standard for houseplant beginners, preoccupied office workers, and serial plant killers. While they’ll tolerate low light, they won’t grow much. In low light conditions, a Golden Pothos will lose its variegation and revert to solid green. That makes the Jade Pothos optimal for lower light. Keep any pothos out of any hot, sunny windows. They’ll burn in no time. In bright light, pothos appreciates a watering when the soil has dried halfway through the pot. In low and medium light spaces, it is best to allow the soil to dry almost all the way through the pot, but do not let the plant sit dry for extended periods.

Birds nest fern

Asplenium nidus. The key to a healthy bird’s nest fern is providing enough warmth and moisture. Given these two conditions, the ferns can withstand higher light levels. One of the best places to put a bird’s nest fern is on a shower ledge or the wide edges of a bathtub in a bathroom near a window, where it will get optimal humidity and warmth, along with sufficient but not direct light. New leaves will constantly emerge from the central area of the plant, or the “nest.” Do not touch, move, or handle the new delicate fronds as they emerge from the nest. They are extremely fragile, and if you touch them, there is a high chance of them becoming damaged or deformed.

Peace Lily

Spathyphyllium. Toxic to pets and humans if ingested. Peace lily blooms best in high-light situations. It will tolerate low-light conditions well, but won’t bloom much, if at all, so keep lighting in mind if the flowers are important to you. Water your peace lily enough to keep the potting mix moist, but not wet or soggy. The plant will wilt dramatically when it gets too dry, but happily, its leaves pop back quickly after it gets moisture. Being a tropical plant, peace lily prefers high levels of humidity. If the leaf edges turn brown, supply more humidity by grouping it with more houseplants (which release moisture into the air as they breathe) or set it on tray of gravel and water so the pot sits on top of the gravel, above the water.

Parlor palm

Neanthe bella. One of two palms known to be safe for pets. These palms prefer soil that is lightly moist, with a slight period of drought between watering. Water when the top 1”- 2” inches of the soil are dry, likely every 7-10 days. Too much moisture in the soil can cause root rot, while too little can lead to brown and crispy leaves. Check in with the soil once a week until you establish a routine with your plant. Parlor palms are happy to grow with crowded roots, so there’s never a rush to repot them. However, the larger the palm gets, the quicker its soil will dry, so regularly review your watering schedule as it grows.

Bamboo palm 

Chamaedorea seifrizii. This plant is listed as non-toxic to animals by the ASPCA; however, while the stems and foliage of the plant do not present any harm to people or pets, the bamboo palm can sometimes grow berries that are highly poisonous. Water the palm using room temperature filtered water when the soil surface feels dry. Water the plant until the soil is evenly moist. Don’t over water the palm plant or leave it sitting in water. Check often to be sure that the plant is draining properly. Caring for bamboo palms also involves using a time-release fertilizer during the growing season. Granular fertilizers work best. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when feeding your palm plant, and always water the fertilizer in.

Expert advice

For those of you who have lived here a while, Carol Guedalia needs no introduction. For those of you who are new to the area, Carol has worked at The Greenery Garden Center for decades and has a following that is as deep as it is wide. Referred to by many as the “Plant Doctor,” Carol patiently and willingly shares her knowledge with locals and tourists alike.

She has forgotten more about plants then I will ever know and yes … I readily admit to having a “bromance” with her. She wanted me to be sure to remind everyone before they rush out to purchase a houseplant to check the ASCPA web site to see if the plant in question is toxic to pets. A quick surf on the web will also tell you if its toxic to humans should you have any toddlers residing or visiting in your home. Last but not least, she recommended using Osmocotes 19-6-12 as a slow release fertilizer but wanted y’all to know that Dr. Armitage from the University of Georgia likes Nature’s Source fertilizer.