How to Keep ‘Unkillable’ Plants Alive

Spring means the sun starts rising earlier and setting later, trees start growing new leaves after their autumn shed, and flower bulbs start sprouting. So, naturally, it tends to be the time of year we start thinking of our gardens again, or, if apartment living, our houseplants.

Those who aren’t very green-thumbed but still want the natural beauty, colour and life plants bring to a living space are often recommended to get plants described as ‘unkillable’ or ‘indestructible’, both fancy ways of saying ‘even you can keep these ones alive’. But these words are arguably misleading and definitely exaggerated because even so-called unkillable plants can be killed – and often quite easily.

So, here are 5 ‘unkillable’ plants that were killed by their owners and what to do to keep them alive.

1. Zamioculcas Zamiifolia aka ZZ Plant. Cause of death: overwatering.

Emily says: This plant died on me almost immediately after I brought it home. It had recently been watered. I knew this because it felt heavy and the soil was damp but I thought, “I’ll just give it a bit more water just in case. It won’t hurt.” But it did hurt it. A lot. Over the next week or so I watched the leaves of the plant slowly turn yellow then brown and mushy until it was obvious there was no saving it.

How to keep it alive: The ZZ Plant is a plant for people who tend to forget they have plants. It’s a plant that thrives on ‘neglect’, meaning it likes to be left alone. Water it very infrequently. It’ll continue being perfectly fine if you put it in a corner and forget about it for a few weeks. In fact, this plant would prefer to be on the dry side than to be overwatered.

2. Yucca Elephantipes aka Spineless Yucca. Cause of death: neglect.

Zoe says: I had this out on my balcony during summer and it was thriving so I left it out there during autumn and winter. It was fine out there but then I thought that because it was colder I wouldn’t need to water it as often, which is true, however, I didn’t water it at all throughout the autumn and winter. Eventually, all the leaves shrivelled up and turned brown.

How to keep it alive: This plant has strong, hardy leaves and can surprisingly survive in colder winter climates. However, you can just forget it over the winter. Keep on top of the watering (but not too much) just like how you would during the spring and summer months.

3. Ficus Elastica aka Rubber Tree. Cause of death: freezing weather conditions.

Brian says: We had a particularly cold period in the UK this winter with temperatures below freezing and snow. My rubber tree lived outside on my balcony. It was doing amazingly well and had grown almost as tall as me with big beautiful leaves. Unfortunately, it couldn’t handle the really cold weather. All the leaves drooped, turned yellow, and then fell off.

How to keep it alive: Rubber Trees are tropical plants and love warm temperatures. However, they can survive in cooler climates with temperatures down to around 10 degrees (Celsius). If there’s going to be extremely cold weather and your rubber tree is outside, the only way to save it is to move it inside.

4. Cactus. Cause of death: overwatering and neglect.

Thomas says: I’m not too sure where I went wrong with my cactus. I kept it out on the balcony and one day I noticed that patches of it had started turning brown. I didn’t think much of it until the whole plant had turned brown and was soft and mushy. Because of this, I think I overwatered it. However, not doing anything when I first noticed the patches is probably what finished it off. I think it could have been saved.

How to keep it alive: Cacti don’t need to be watered often and actually need long spells without water. That’s how they’re able to survive desert conditions. Brown or black spots on the leaves and stems are the first sign of overwatering. If you act quickly, you can save the plant by cutting away the dying/rotting leaves and roots, leaving the cactus out to dry for a week, and then repotting it in fresh soil.

5. Sansevieria aka Snake Plant. Cause of death: overwatering.

Annie says: I’m not sure what happened. The leaves turned yellow and mushy and one day they came right off in my hand when I touched them.

How to keep it alive: Sansevierias have similar leaves to Cacti and Succulents and prefer being in drought conditions to being overwatered.

BONUS. Aspidistra aka Cast Iron Plant. A plant that might truly be unkillable.

Sara says: There’s a very good reason for the name of this plant. I threw everything at it. It was severely underwatered, kept in a dark corner where it barely got any light, and left to gather dust and it stayed perfectly fine. In fact, it rewarded me for my neglect by sprouting four new leaves!

How to keep it alive: This plant will keep going in almost any condition. It can live with low light, in cold climates, and it only needs watering when the soil dries out.

So, that’s six beautiful plants that are unkillable…

When given a bit of care, attention, and being mindful of overwatering!

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