Houseplants. Pa has them. Gram has them. Your office lobby has them. The airport has them. Your doctor’s office has them. Even the mall has them. They are seemingly everywhere, yet many of us can’t claim to have even one in our home.
Houseplants are beautiful. Among many other benefits, they filter the air. There are varieties for every single situation. They are cheap and easily accessible. And they are a perfect way to add life to your house or apartment. They make every room feel more complete and they make your house or apartment feel like a home. So why don’t you have any? It’s time to liven up your home with a houseplant or two or five. This guide will help you decide which houseplant is right for you.
My first houseplant was a little chunk of english ivy from my Gram. I planted it in a cast iron turtle planter and placed it on my dresser. I was so proud and pleased to have that little sprout of greenery next to my clock radio. I was about ten years old and it took me less than a summer to kill the poor plant.
In college, my plant was a cactus with the thick green stem and the reddish-orange bulb on top. He sat on the window ledge and died of drowning from my roommate and I pouring our excess EasyMac water into his soil. R.I.P. cactus and forgive me the foolishness of youth.
When I moved out on my own after college, my Gram gave me a spider plant and a little oxalis (or more commonly “Shamrock plant”) for my apartment, along with another small ivy plant. That same turtle planter killed this ivy (with my help) and before Christmas both the spider plant and the oxalis were barely hanging on. That was when I knew I needed help.
I went to the library in search of information, guidance, and maybe a miracle that would keep my little plants alive. I found several great books, but only one that offered all the answers I needed: The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual by Barbara Pleasant. Using the book, I found that my spider plant was suffering from the fluoride in my water, something that my Gram had never had to worry about when watering with spring water. The oxalis was saved by a call with my Gram, who urged me to give it a rest out in the cold weather. It would go dormant and then sprout again. This felt an awful lot like killing it outright, but I trusted her. Sure enough, a few months later when I brought the oxalis out of dormancy, it came back bigger and more beautiful than before. My black thumb had a momentary glimpse at becoming a green thumb.
I was hooked.
learning & growing
I spent hours pouring over my book and thinking of all the new varieties of houseplants I could buy. I added several more small plants to my collection over the next year by picking up the ones that are tiny and under $5 at Home Depot or Lowe’s Home Improvement. Even Target was selling small plants for $5 back then. Before I knew it, I had a dozen small plants to keep my larger spider plant company. And no, that is not my house above – that is a nursery full of beautiful houseplants.
Over the next several years my collection grew; I had indoor plants, outdoor plants, and plants at work. One of those tiny plants from Target became taller than me in less than 5 years. Another small plant, a $3 golden pothos, grew from 3 leaves to a big, bushy plant. I split it into several smaller plants and even now have 3 descendants from that original plant that are each nearly 5 feet long and dangle from a shelf to the floor. I read more and more about the plants I owned, and I learned slowly how to care for each one.
Now I feel like a room is empty if there are no plants in it. When we change apartments, we are not officially settled until each plant has found its new place. When I get a new job, my desk is not comfortable until I’ve chosen a plant or two to hold it down.
There are hundreds of studies that report the benefits of houseplants for mental health, productivity, longevity, and healing. They clean the air by removing toxins. They produce oxygen. They increase productivity. They make you happier. Whole books have been written about the benefits they bring to our lives.
But to me one reason to have plants is enough: they bring a room to life.
Adding a houseplant to a room literally adds a living, breathing element. This is something that no cool, hipster vignette or fancy, decorative flourish can do. No neat knickknacks or artfully arranged bookshelf or nostalgic retro sign can pack the same power as a single, simple, $10 houseplant.
The best thing is that there is a perfect houseplant for every situation. And it’s easy to get started.
Here’s how to get started with houseplants:
1. Figure out where you want to put it.
The place you choose for your plant will help you determine the best kind of plant to get. Some plants work better on a shelf, while others are better suited to a large pot on the floor. Some plants look great hanging by a window. Others make a great living centerpiece for your table. Light is usually strongest near south and west facing windows. But remember, even if you have low light or get no direct light in your home, you can have a plant. We start with choosing the location so we can choose the right plant.
2. Choose a plant.
Suggestions for specific plants are below, but let’s start with some general guidelines:
- Start small – this means both small plants or only one or two
- Buy low maintenance plants until you get the hang of things
- Pick affordable options – if it dies you don’t want to be out a ton of money
3. Get a real pot.
The plastic pots that most plants live in at the store are only meant as temporary homes. You will need to repot the plant into a more permanent home. The pot you choose will really influence the overall look of the plant in your home. The cheapest, easiest option is a terra cotta pot. If you are looking for more modern looking options, Ikea and CB2 have great looking and affordable options. If you aren’t picky, most garden centers have plastic pots in a variety of colors. Just choose something you like that doesn’t clash with the room your plant will live in.
4. Learn how to take care of your plant.
The book I mentioned earlier (The Houseplant Survival Manual) has become my plant bible. I’ve learned how to keep my plants alive, yes. But also how to propagate (which is a fancy plant term for the magic of creating new plants from your existing plants) and fertilize and repot and all sorts of useful things that help me take care of my plants well.
Some very basic tips:
- Do. Not. Overwater. This is the number one cause of houseplant death. Just like us, plants need air. If you overwater, there is no room left for air in the soil and the plant will drown.
- Plants need food. Plants cannot exist on air and water. They need a source of nutrients in order to flourish. The simplest option is to get premixed houseplant food, like Miracle-Gro, and put a little in the water every two weeks. A LITTLE. Follow the directions so you are not overfeeding. Overfeeding doesn’t make plants fat – it kills them. This is an example of that old adage that there can be too much of a good thing.
- If your plant has big leaves, dust them off with a cloth or rinse them in the shower every month or so. They can’t synthesize light if they are covered in dust and a dusty houseplant does not enhance a room.
good beginner houseplants
Suggestions for easy care houseplants:
Snake’s tongue – Great for a pot on the floor or window ledge.
Pothos – Looks best on a shelf, where its vines can hang down. Super easy to propagate.
Dracaena or Corn Plant – Good on a table when small, but better on the floor when it gets taller.
Bamboo (sometimes marketed as “Lucky Bamboo“) – Perfect for a table or shelf. Does well in very low light.
Ponytail palm – Looks best on a table or desk. Great for the office.
Cactus – Huge variety. Many look best in a small pot on a shelf, window ledge or counter. Choose carefully – a sharp cactus in a high traffic area can be trouble.
Croton or Joseph’s Coat – Beautiful colorful leaves. Smaller look good on shelf, but larger look best on the floor.
Jade plant – Great for a table, shelf or counter.
Spider plant – Looks best where it can hang down – either hanging or on a shelf or table. When healthy, will grow many beautiful “babies” that drape around it and can be propagated to create new plants.
Arrowhead – Beautiful upright form that also trails over a shelf or table. Perfect for a bookshelf.
Peace lily – Dark foliage and pretty white flowers. Can grow large and is therefore adaptable to either table or floor displays.
Earth star – A compact little plant with beautiful color that is perfect for a table centerpiece or a bedside table.
Schefflera – A beautiful plant that grows tall. Great as a standing plant in a large pot.
Oxalis – One of the few houseplants that also flowers. Choose between green or purple varieties. A beautiful tabletop plant. Best for an area with direct sunlight.
Wandering jew – This plant is great for a hanging pot or a table top where it can hang over the edge.
So what are you waiting for? Go get your first houseplant today and see how it changes your home in the best way.
Photo credits: Snake’s Tongue; Pothos; Dracaena; Ponytail Palm; Cactus; Croton; Jade Plant; Spider Plant; Arrowhead; Peace Lily; Earth Star; Schefflera; Oxalis; Wandering Jew