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Easy houseplants for neglectful gardeners

Aloe vera is a a low-maintenance plant to keep inside. Jessica Damiano via AP

Confession time: I’ve murdered a Monstera, slaughtered a snake plant, assassinated an African violet and offed more orchids than I’d like to admit.

It’s not that I don’t know how to care for these houseplants – I do! I just have a tendency to neglect them, and since they’re among the hardest to keep alive, it usually doesn’t end well.

So when I bring a houseplant home, it’s of the low-maintenance, happy-go-lucky variety — the type that doesn’t pitch a hissy fit if I miss a watering (or three), move the pot around or grow it away from the window. Not coincidentally, they’re also the best houseplants for beginners to grow.

My spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) asks only two things of me: moderate to bright sunlight and lightly moist soil. I keep it on a stand by the bathroom window and pour in whatever happens to be left in my nightstand water glass every morning. Sometimes, the glass is empty, but the plant doesn’t care. And it makes dozens of free plants for me despite getting just one or two fertilizer treatments a year.

Meanwhile, a pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is perfectly happy hanging in a windowless kitchen corner, subsisting only on the light from an LED bulb recessed into the ceiling and a good soaking when the soil completely dries out. Its beautiful vining stems, covered in glossy, heart-shaped leaves, have grown halfway down to the floor, no thanks to me.

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) is a stunner that also tolerates low-light conditions. Its glossy, smooth leaves -- sometimes mottled or variegated -- provide maximum eye candy for minimum effort: Just keep its soil lightly moist at all times and fertilize monthly during spring, summer and fall (bi-monthly over winter).

If they weren’t its initials, I’d be convinced somebody gave the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) its common name because you can pretty much sleep on its care. It doesn’t like a lot of water (make sure the soil is well-draining) or bright light. In fact, it thrives best in low-light conditions.

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is about as tough as it sounds. It’s so aloof it doesn’t even want your attention. Avoid providing too much sunlight -- it prefers artificial lighting or a shadowy north-facing window. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, and fertilize bimonthly in summer and fall and just once over winter.

My mother used to keep an aloe plant (Aloe vera) in the kitchen to treat the inevitable burns that occurred in that room from time to time. When the need arose, she would split open a leaf and apply the watery gel from within it to her injury. That liquid not only hydrates burned skin, but it also helps keep the plant hydrated, reducing its dependency on you. Just place it by a window that provides bright, indirect sunlight and water every three weeks (less often during winter).

Other succulents share aloe’s ability to store water within their leaves, so they also tend to thrive indoors, where the conditions are often dry and warm. Most also share aloe’s minimal requirements, making them ideal for new (or neglectful) plant parents.

Jessica Damiano writes the award-winning Weekly Dirt Newsletter and regular gardening columns for The AP.

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