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Popular Plants That Are Actually Hard to Grow

A woman taking care of potted houseplant in a bedroom..
Dasha Petrenko/Shutterstock.com

Collecting houseplants can be a rewarding and therapeutic hobby…until you end up killing some without a clue what you did wrong. Remember, not all popular plants are equally easy to cultivate, and if you want to avoid killing your favorites in the future, there are a few things to know.

While some plants thrive in a variety of conditions and require flexible, minimal care, others are hard plants to take care of and demand precise attention and specific conditions to flourish. We’re calling out some highly popular houseplants that are actually notoriously hard plants to grow.

Next time you’re headed to the nursery or garden store, use this list to make informed decisions about what plants you’re ready to add to your home garden.

Fiddle Leaf Fig

A fiddle leaf fig sitting in a corner by the stairs.

The fiddle leaf fig has gained immense popularity for its large, glossy leaves and elegant appearance. It’s adorable, stunning, and impressive…but also highly dramatic and arguably one of the hardest plants to grow.

The beloved fiddle leaf fig can be an extremely finicky plant to care for. It requires bright, indirect light and consistent moisture, but it’s sensitive to overwatering and changes in environmental conditions.

Essentially, if you place it too near a door, vent, or other air source—or if you water it too much or too little—it’s likely to drop leaves and die.

To keep your fiddle leaf fig thriving, make sure it gets plenty of bright, indirect light but keep it far away from your exterior doors, windows, and HVAC vents. Put it on a regimented watering routine so it stays hydrated without being overwatered.

Costa Farms Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree

If you're feeling brave, snag a fiddle leaf fig for a cozy corner of your home.


Blooming white gardenia and black steel scissors.
Maryana Volkova/Shutterstock.com

Gardenias are renowned for their fragrant, creamy-white flowers. They’re elegant, gorgeous, and smell amazing. Yet, they are notoriously finicky and won’t bloom unless you get everything right.

They must have good soil drainage and can be pretty picky about light. They need regular fertilizer and rich, acidic soil. They require occasional trimmings but die off if trimmed too much. They are also highly susceptible to pest infestation which, as you may have guessed, kills them quickly.

Because this is one of the hardest plants to grow, it helps to keep gardenia in an area of your home that you see regularly—such as above your kitchen sink. This is a great way to ensure you give it the regular attention it needs.


Azalea flower in plant pot and watering can on white table indoors.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Azaleas are known for their vibrant, showy blooms in lovely colors. These draw in a lot of plant parents because they’re so irresistible. However, they can be quite particular.

Azaleas like to have moist soil that drains super well and stays high in organic matter. They tend to stay shallowly rooted, however, so they often dry out and get dehydrated quickly. They like a bit of shade but don’t do well when kept too close to other plants.

D'vine Dev Ceramic Planter Pot with Drainage Hole and Saucer

Ensure your pot has adequate drainage for a hydrangea.

Inch Plant

A close-up photo of an inch plant's leaves.
Ana Sha/Shutterstock.com

The inch plant boasts striking purple and green foliage. It’s adorable and unique, and it grows like a weed under the right care, so they aren’t necessarily hard plants to grow, especially with the right care. However, with the wrong care, it gets leggy, dry, and ugly (and it quickly passes away).

The inch plant is notorious for its invasive plant tendencies. Keeping this plant in check and preventing it from taking over can be a constant battle.

On the other hand, it will dry out quickly and die if you don’t balance your light and water correctly. This plant loves a ton of light and can be pretty thirsty, so keeping up with it may be a struggle.


Close up view of a pink flowering orchid on the window.
Adriana Sulugiuc/Shutterstock.com

Orchids are known for their exquisite beauty. They have such interesting blooms and present themselves so regally…but they are incredibly mysterious in what they want. This makes them hard plants to grow.

If you’re willing to figure out their unique preferences, however, then you can expect them to grow and bloom.

It helps to remember that orchids are tropical plants, so they do best in warm temperatures (that is, temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit). They do not like the cold, so don’t place your orchid in a draft, cold room, or anywhere that experiences sudden temperature changes.

Orchids also like humidity, so they do well in groups or in a bathroom window. They like to get a lot of light but might burn in direct afternoon light. Their roots also prefer to have some oxygen, so let them dry a bit between thorough waterings.

4-in-1 Soil Moisture and PH Meter

Keep an eye on your soil's acidity.

Boston Fern

Boston fern on wooden table.
Benoit Bruchez/Shutterstock.com

Ferns in general like to be a bit difficult and are often considered some of the hardest plants to grow. Boston ferns are no exception.

These ferns are prized for their lush, feathery fronds and they make for wonderful porch décor (or home décor). Unfortunately, they can be pretty high-maintenance plants.

Remember that most ferns are native to forests so too much light will harm them, not enough water will dehydrate them, and a lack of humidity will traumatize them. Boston ferns are native to humid forests so they grow best in humid locations.

They require high humidity levels, consistent moisture, and indirect light. Without the right conditions, they can quickly wither and turn brown. Keep an eye out for pests since they can be more attractive to bugs than some other easy plants out there.

O-Mei Stars Plant Humidifier

Keep your plant thriving with a tiny humidifier.

Zebra Plant

A close up of a blooming zebra plant.

The zebra plant’s striking striped leaves make it a sought-after addition to indoor gardens. While there’s no denying that this plant is a stunner, it’s also a challenge to keep this plant healthy.

This beautiful plant grows best in indirect light or even shade…though if you place yours in complete shade, it is unlikely to bloom. Anytime they experience direct sunlight, they are susceptible to burning and, you guessed it, dying.

Zebra plants also tend to prefer humid climates. You should consider watering your zebra plant with filtered water to help it stay happier. Keep it moist but avoid overwatering. They like the perfect balance of staying moist without being waterlogged.

Norfolk Island Pine

A close-up of a Norfolk Island Pine branch.
Suriyawut Suriya/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve been out shopping around the holidays and spotted that adorable mini-Christmas tree, you probably brought home a Norfolk Island Pine. These fluffy little evergreens are positively adorable but incredibly difficult to keep happy.

Make your Norfolk Island Pine care easier by realizing this most important detail: they are not a normal, cold-loving pine tree. They are tropical plants. If you treat them like a pine tree, they will die.

Give them the bright, indirect light and humidity that you give your other tropical plants and you’ll find your little pine is much happier. Make sure to keep up a regular watering routine and it’ll stay happy all year. That way, you can always have a mini pine ready for Christmas decorations.

American Plant Exchange Live Norfolk Island Pine Plant

They might be popular at Christmas time, but make sure you keep this pine out of the cold.

When building your plant collection, remember that not all of them are created equal. Some are downright hard plants to take care of. Carefully research the care requirements and preferences of your different plants so you can help them all thrive. Thankfully, there are a lot of low-maintenance plants that are easy to keep alive.

Abbey Ryan Abbey Ryan
Abbey Ryan is a storyteller, preferably of stories in written form. Across the 5 years of her professional writing career, her work has been featured in The Chicago Tribune, Amazon, The Medical News Today, and more. When she's not writing (which is rare), she's likely traveling, painting, or on the hunt for a good snack. Read Full Bio »
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