Indestructible Houseplants

Indoor plants that thrive on the Seacoast

PP Hens ChicksPhotographed by Kindra Clineff When you need a hint of the garden indoors, hens and chicks are the ticket.

Right about now, you are desperately seeking green and are disappointed at every turn. When little goes on outside, that is your cue to look indoors instead. Call it seasonal denial, call it anything you want—it is time to enlist houseplants to come to the rescue. See for yourself: houseplants are the cure for the winter doldrums. A small bit of green can do wonders for your psyche.

PP ChristmasCactus

Have you tried houseplants but failed? Try again, because there are plenty of indestructible plants. The golden retrievers of the plant world never say die, and they are ready, willing, and able to come to your aid in this time of need. Not only do these stoic individuals have the constitution necessary to survive where wussies have failed, but they flourish without fuss. They will not steal your precious downtime. And the beauty is that you can find these botanical superheroes without searching farther than your supermarket—just be selective about what goes into your shopping cart. Supermarkets and the like focus on the unkillables.

PP MaidenhairVineMaidenhair VineNo matter what your taste in décor happens to be, you can find a suitable, green live-in companion. In fact, indoor gardeners who live by the seacoast have advantages over inland windowsill wannabes. Windows in coastal communities often enjoy more light because of their proximity to the water and the lack of large, competing outdoor vegetation. All those perks mean that your sills are right for growing things. Not only can you host foliage plants that love bright conditions, but you also have the potential for blooming botanical buddies. Flowers are fun at other times of year, but they are particularly pleasing in winter. Take advantage of your situation and grow them all year long. With green by your side, winter will not feel so long or harsh. Here are some houseplants that thrive on the coast:

Holiday cacti
Rejoice! Bloom times for your Thanksgiving/Christmas/Easter cactus vary by species (Schlumbergera and Hatiora spp.), with each type blooming around the holiday for which it is named. The foliage differs among the varieties, but they all produce wonderful gaping, dragon-like blossoms by the dozen. And the color range is truly WOW! The spectrum goes from white through yellow, pink, and salmon. These cacti can burn when given too much light, so pull them away from the panes if you have a window with full sun.

PP Geranium

Got the blahs? You need a bright magenta geranium (Pelargonium) by your side. In winter, one cheerful umbel of geranium flowers is worth a whole blooming garden at other times of year. Geraniums are amazing windowsill performers. They will send up a few much-needed flower spikes in an east- or west-facing window, even if there is no bright light. But with a bright coastal window, they will bloom their heads off. Despite their ample output, they demand very little time. Regular watering will keep the leaves from yellowing, and frequent pruning prevents them from becoming woody and leggy. Other than that, you are home free.

PP MedinillaMedinillaHens and Chicks
You love hens and chicks (Sempervivum) in the garden, so why not bring a few indoors for wintertime entertainment? These totally winter-hardy, rosette-forming oddities of nature make quaint conversation pieces. Mildly interesting from afar when viewed in the ground, these chicks have a whole new impact up close on your windowsill. Because they are hardy, you can grow sempervivums in an unheated screened porch or mudroom. Succulent by nature, they will love the additional light available on the seacoast. It is virtually impossible to kill a sempervivum, but severe overwatering can stress their constitution. They thrive on neglect. When hens and chicks are truly blissful, they send up a stalk from the center, followed by flowers.

Maidenhair Vine
Whether your windows are facing east, west, or south, maidenhair vine (Muehlenbeckia complexa) will love your hospitality. The vine features tiny rounded green leaves lining wiry trailing stems. In no time, you can have a full-fledged bush of kinky foliage. The trick is to give the maidenhair vine something to cascade down or crawl around. Give it a little topiary form and you have an instant sculpture. If it becomes unruly, just prune it. The whole effect resembles seafoam. Keep the soil moderately moist—the vines hate drying out and will drop their leaves if you forget to water. In summer, your plant will love the coastal mists if you put it outdoors.

PP NorfolkIslandPineMedinilla
If you are striving for a tropical look, search no further than Medinilla. Also known as Malaysian grapes—a nickname given on the basis of its clusters of purple drupes—this is a king-sized plant that takes up space and makes an impact. With huge, majestic, pleated leaves, it makes a handsome houseguest even when it is not in bloom. Throughout winter, however, it throws out cluster after cluster of lipstick-pink blossoms. They last for weeks and then transition into nonedible “grapes.” Your medinilla will love a south-facing window, yet it continues to perform even with an eastern or western exposure, especially if the light is reflected off the water. Be ever-ready with the watering can, and your medinilla will love you. They almost never wilt but perform better with lots of water.

Norfolk Island Pine
Love the evergreen forests by the sea? Bring that mood indoors with a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). You can find small plants for a song in the supermarket throughout the holiday season—they come in various sizes and look like mini Christmas trees. Keep in mind that small plants take quite a while to gain stature—they are extremely slow growing. Hardy to USDA Zone 9, Norfolk Island pines will not survive the winter outdoors in our climate, so do not transplant them outdoors after the holidays are over. The good news is that the plant can be a companion over the long haul without requiring a huge container. They demand neither bright light nor frequent water. More glad tidings.

PP Rhipsalis

Fond of the funky flora on the seacoast? Rhipsalis translates a similar mood indoors. Commonly known as mistletoe cacti, they come in a wide array of forms ranging from furry-stemmed oddities vaguely resembling tarantula legs—people who easily get the creepy crawlies beware—to smooth-skinned versions that look like sausage links. They all send out jutting stems that form starbursts resembling spider plants. A mature rhipsalis is quite comely, in an otherworldly sort of way, and they are favorites with children. They thrive in the same conditions that make succulents happy. Bright light is ideal, but lower light leads to almost the same results. Do not overwater since they prefer to dry out between drinks.

PP ZamioculcasZamiifoliaZZ Plant
If you live near the ocean, chances are that even your north-facing windows garner some good light. So harness that exposure to nurture a zz plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)—or give it a brighter location; it will be fine either way. With swollen, forest-green stems sprouting shiny, oval, equally succulent leaves, a zz can become a good-sized specimen to fill a poorly lit corner with greenery in winter. The ultimate indestructible houseplant, zz can live with forgetful watering and little light. Treat it well, and it will quickly develop into a beautiful oddity. To push it along to stardom, remember to repot frequently; the root system tends to be ample. Give it a snazzy container, and the end result is gorgeous and architectural. You can have a winter wonderland inside your home.

PP bookcover IndestructibleHouseplantThe Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone can Grow by Tovah Martin, photographs by Kindra Clinef (Timber Press, 2015) Available at Barnes & Noble,

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