How to choose the hardiest indoor plants

Living Well | Jane Canaway | Posted on 22 February 2019

Try your luck with these hard-to-kill indoor plants.

It could be the colour plants bring, or maybe foliage makes us feel calm, but the trend for greenery indoors seems here to stay. What may be shorter lived, however, are the plants themselves.

The problem lies in the term ‘indoor plants’. They don’t exist. Yes, rainforest plants cope with minimal sun, and some succulents can survive drought, but we’ve yet to breed anything that thrives in aircon and heating. You can help improve the chances of survival of the plants you keep inside by giving them a spell outside occasionally – especially if there’s light rain to freshen them up. But never put them straight into full sun.  

Ceropegia woodii potted plant isolated on white background

String of hearts (Ceropegia woodii). Photo: Getty Images.


If you’re a beginner or registered plant killer, resist the exotic rarity everyone is bidding for online, and instead visit a church or school fete to see what locals are growing. Not only do old favourites exude retro cool, you know they’re bulletproof – and if you can talk to the person growing them, you can learn a lot too.

The most common cause of Death by Owner is overwatering – so test the soil with a finger (buried to the first knuckle) and, if it’s damp, don’t water. Use good potting mix and a ‘Goldilocks’ pot that’s neither too big (the mix will stay too wet) nor small (the roots will get pot-bound). Boost with a liquid fertiliser in spring and autumn.

Here are some hardy suggestions:

String of hearts (Ceropegia woodii

The cute string of hearts – named for the heart-shaped leaves paired along its trailing stems – is tough and will cascade over cabinets, occasionally producing tubular pink flowers. It isn’t a succulent but you can treat it like one.

Care: Grow in bright shade and add sand to the potting mix to improve drainage; let it dry out between waterings. 

Parlour palm (Chamaedorea elegans)

The parlour palm copes with low light and humidity, and its elegant fronds bring a tropical look. They’re also slow growing and don’t get as big as other palms. They’re non-toxic to pets and an air-cleaning plant. 

Care: Direct sun may scorch the leaves. Allow the soil surface to dry before watering.

English ivy (Hedera helix

This elegant vine can become weedy (so be careful how you dispose of it) but its toughness is a bonus indoors – plus it was rated 9/10 for air-cleaning by NASA scientists. It’s poisonous to eat, so keep pets and toddlers away. The variegated form is especially pretty and it will cope with quite deep shade.

Care: Allow surface soil to dry out between waterings and mist occasionally if in a heated room. 

Parlour palm in pot against white background

Parlour palm (Chamaedorea elegans).


close up of English ivy (Hedera helix) against black background

English ivy (Hedera helix).


Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’

With graceful, cascading fronds, the Boston fern looks lush in a hanging basket or on a stand. It will thrive in a cool, humid bathroom and appreciates a weekly misting if the heating is on. Another 9/10 air-cleaning plant. 

Care: Water once a week in summer, less in winter. Avoid direct sun and heat.

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum

Arched, strappy leaves perfectly suit hanging baskets and it produces flower shoots with ‘spiderettes’ – tiny new plants that you can pot up and give away. A 1970s favourite that looks right at home in a macrame hanger.

Care: Allow the soil to dry out a little between watering. Leaf colour will darken in deep shade.

Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) in a teal pot against a white background

Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’).


Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) in a white pot on a timber side table next to assorted beige vases and shells

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum).


  • Warning: Not all house plants are pet and toddler friendly – Dieffenbachia is also called dumb cane because its poisonous sap can render you temporarily dumb, while philodendrons are toxic to eat, as are Zanzibar gem, jade plants, cyclamen, and some aloes.