Some of those Instagram-worthy plants are tricky to grow. But with the right care, you can grow these cool houseplants like a pro.

By Jenny Krane

We've all killed a plant (or two, or three) in our lives. It happens. We always hear about indestructible plants, like snake plant, pothos, and dracaena. But what about tough-to-grow plants? They deserve a loving home, too! These plants may be considered a little high maintenance, but that doesn't mean that keeping them alive isn't realistic. Oftentimes these plants are challenging because they're outside of their natural habitat—a tropical rainforest—and the dry, forced air found in most homes is a shock to their system. Here are some common signs of struggle in each of these seven popular houseplants and what you can do to help them thrive.

1. Elephant's Ear

This tropical plant is known for its bold leaves and ability to thrive in wet areas. You'll often see this dramatic plant growing alongside ponds or in container water gardens. Elephant's ear loves moist soil, which can be difficult to provide in an indoor setting.

It's easy to tell when it needs a good drink of water—the stalks will droop. Each stalk that holds a large leaf at the end is actually like a straw full of water. The more water, the stronger the stem will be; if the stalk isn't full of water, the leaf will become too heavy for it. If watering at the first sight of drooping doesn't work, try staking the plant for a couple of days—the stalks should perk up once they are not feeling so top-heavy.

Another sign of a problem is leaf-browning. Elephant's ear plants typically do best in partial sun. Too much sun will scorch the leaves and make them turn brown. If you're seeing brown leaf tips or spots, close the blinds a bit to filter some of the bright light from the window, or move the plant to a place with more indirect sun.

2. Fiddle-Leaf Fig Tree

One of the most popular indoor trees, the fiddle-leaf fig, is actually a variety of ficus. They typically come with a higher price tag than other indoor trees, so you'll want to keep this plant alive for as long as possible to make it a worthy investment. For best results, place them in a room that gets filtered light (not South-facing).

If your fiddle-leaf starts dropping leaves, you know it's dealing with some water issues. Limit watering to once a week and don't water if the soil is still wet. These finicky trees need to be in a container with good drainage. Keep your tree away from forced air units that will dry out the soil too quickly.

Leaf drop and leaf discoloration (brown spots or yellowing) are signs that the soil is not draining well. If the roots stay wet too long, they will get root rot. If the soil isn't holding any moisture, you'll choke out the roots and the leaves will dry out. If your plant is experiencing distress, it's an ideal time to repot it.

3. Bird's Nest Fern

The bright green leaves of this fern variety have a delicate, curly edge that adds a bit of whimsy to your indoor garden. The glossy leaves are atypical for ferns, which makes this plant really stand out.

Like most ferns, Bird's nest fern likes to live in a lot of moisture. If it doesn't have a moist-enough environment, the leaves will start to brown on the edges. Try to mist this plant a little bit each day to keep the soil moisture levels consistent. You can also try placing the pot onto a plastic dish with water and pebbles in the bottom—then it has a reservoir where it can take water when it needs it. Grouping it together with other plants also helps add moisture and humidity.

4. Boston Fern

A big, full Boston fern in a hanging pot adds dimension and texture to any corner of your home. They are often inexpensive, so give them a shot! Just like the bird's nest fern, they need humidity and moisture consistently because they're native to moist, tropical locations. Give them a good spritz of water every day. The delicate leaves can also get singed when they get too much direct light. Don't be alarmed if your fern struggles when you move it to an area with less light—they don't like environmental change, but will eventually adapt to the new area. Boston ferns thrive if they're in a room with a humidifier since it mimics their native habitat.

5. Moth Orchid

Being a plant parent to moth orchids requires a little bit of patience. After a bloom, these plants need time to regenerate before putting out another round of flowers. An orchid will drop their previous blooms so it can give all its energy to new flowers. Although their regeneration time makes them look dead, there are some warning signs to look for that may mean your orchids is actually dying.

White or black spots of dead tissue are damage from heat. Orchids are very sensitive to heat, so keep them away from heaters, radiators, and even lamps. If the leaves or your orchid are shriveled or the roots become spongy, you're probably not watering it enough. To remedy this problem, mist the orchid twice a day until it starts to improve.

6. Croton

It's hard not to be attracted to crotons—their thick, glossy leaves are multi-colored and bold—however, they require ideal conditions to thrive. These tropical plants don't like being moved and are particular about water levels.

If leaves start dropping, it's most likely a moisture issue. You can use a clean pair of sheers to clip off brown parts on leaves. Since they are native to humid, tropical areas, they need plenty of moisture to be happy. Like ferns, crotons will respond positively to a humidifier in the room and daily misting. However, don't overwater the croton or put it in a pot without a drainage hole. Sitting in water drowns the roots.

7. Tradescantia

If you want a plant with dramatic foliage, try tradescantia. Some varieties have variegated green and purple leaves, and others have leaves that are soft and velvety to the touch. Tradescantias are trailing plants, so they're ideal for keeping in macramé plant hangers. Keep watch for changes to the leaves—they'll tell you everything you need to know about what the plant needs.

Brown leaves mean you are allowing the soil to dry out too much in between waterings. The soil should be moist at all times, so your spray bottle will be your best friend when it comes to caring for tradescantia. If the colored leaves turn yellow, the plant is in too warm of a spot which stresses the plant. Move the plant to a cooler spot, but keep air moisture levels high.



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