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on November 14, 2013 10:50 AM

I love houseplants and boy, do I have some beauties! The truth is I don’t have a green thumb, I just know a few secret tricks and tips that I will gladly share with you.

KNOW YOUR VARIETIES: Only consider plants in what I call the “thrivuus neglectus” family, which comes from the Latin root meaning “really cheap and thrives even under the harshest conditions of poor light and neglect.”

Aspidistra is also known as the “cast iron plant” and for good reason. This baby can survive any condition, including low light and a dry environment. And it is not ugly.

Pathos comes in many varieties that tolerate poor light and actually enjoy being left alone.

Ficus Elastica or “rubber plant” likes a cool, dimly lit space. But, if you should happen to set it in a sunny area, watch out. It will grow like crazy and you’ll be searching on the Internet for how to prune the darned thing.

Spider plant, also known as chlorophytum comosum, is tough and does well in low light. It sends out these really cool trailing vines.

Dracaena or “corn plant” is a great choice for hot, dry apartments.

Philodendron likes a medium to low light source and even moisture. Will survive even under the most severe conditions of neglect.

KNOW WHERE TO BUY: I’m a huge fan of the Walmart and Target garden departments. Home improvement centers like Home Depot and Lowe’s are excellent sources as well. Just look for the bargain table, and you’ll run right into the plants on my list above.

KNOW WHEN TO WATER: Unlike silk and plastic, live houseplants do require water, and weekly is good. Pick a day, any day — then water your plants on the same day every week. Don’t overdo it.

KNOW YOUR FERTILIZER: Houseplants need to eat from time to time, but don’t think you have to buy them food. I feed mine selected garbage. Caution: While a little garbage is good, more is not better. Go easy.

• Coffee grounds. Just work used coffee grounds into the soil.

• Egg shells. Crush, and then work into the soil.

• Water from boiling potatoes and pasta. Plants love that starch.

• Milk solution. No, I’m not kidding, but it has to be very, very, very weak. Rinse the empty milk container with water and feed that to your plants. That’s how weak it should be.

• Banana peels. Chop them very finely and mix a small amount into the soil.

KNOW YOUR MAINTENANCE: Keep the leaves of your plants clean. Dust plugs the pores and prevents plants from taking in the carbon dioxide from the air. A damp cloth once every few weeks will do the trick.

Live plants are an inexpensive way to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere in any living space.

As a bonus, they improve the indoor air quality.

And when you select plants that require little or no care, you save yourself time and money.


Mary invites questions at, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

Mary Hunt is the founder of, a personal finance member website and the author of “7 Money Rules for Life,” released in 2012. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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