I’d like to preface this post by saying that I am not a plant expert. Everything I’m sharing now and in the future are information I’ve collected through experience and personal research. I find myself looking up information on plant care too once in a while and it would do well for you to do the same when you’re having trouble with your plant babies.
“I love your apartment and all your plants! I don’t have a green thumb. Can you suggest a few houseplants for new plant parents?”
I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked this question or some other version of it. There are countless of articles and blog posts from other plant enthusiasts that have been written about this and yet I still get asked this question all the time. Instead of answering multiple DM’s, typing up the same answer, I decided to do a post about it.
Before I begin, I’d like to share a few basic plant care tips. I figured it would be good to start with this before I start listing plants to buy because without a good working knowledge on plant care, it won’t matter how “easy” a plant is supposed to be, you might just end up killing it anyway. But you won’t, if you follow a few simple rules.
Plants need light. Light is food. We keep hearing about “feeding” plants with fertilizer that there has been a misconception that fertilizer is plant food. Light is the fuel plants need for photosynthesis, the process where plants convert light energy to chemical energy. I’m sure many of you have seen various houseplants being labeled as low light or bright indirect light plants. What do these mean? Lot of newbie plant folks buy low light plants and stick them in the darkest corner of their home, or worse, a windowless room or office cubicle. Again, plants need light. When a plant is labeled “low-light” a better understanding of that would be LOW LIGHT TOLERANT. The amount of light a plant gets will determine how fast it can convert water and carbon dioxide into food that it needs. Got it? Remember this, I’ll go back to that later.
Plant placement is so important because each plant has a certain requirement of how much light they can tolerate. Some don’t need a lot because their leaves will burn. It all depends on the plant. Every plant will have different needs. It would do well to look up plant care tips for your particular plant to know which area in your home it can live in. I attended a plant class once with Summer Rayne-Oakes of Homestead Brooklyn and she said that when it comes to plants, it’s all about THEM, not you. You can’t force a plant to live in a certain area of your home because it looks good there. Where they live needs to be in accordance to their needs and requirements, not yours.
“How often should I water (insert plant here)?” or
“How often do you water your plants?”
The frequency of watering varies depending on a number of factors. How much light is the plant getting? What season is it? Where is the plant located? Which direction is the window facing?
Determining which direction your window faces would help you know what kind of light your plant is getting. Click here to read an article that describes the kind of plants that would do well depending on which direction your plants are facing.
So how often should you water? Again, consider the light. The quality of light (low or high) will determine how quickly the plant can absorb the water through its roots. The higher the light quality, the faster the absorption, and vice versa. Everything depends on the factors that exist in your space. Are your plants getting a lot of sun? In the winter, plants tend to get less light and most go dormant. Since they get less light, they won’t be able to absorb water as fast as they do in the summer. So water less. During the hot summer months, the longer days expose them to a lot more light which makes for faster water absorption which requires you to water more. The location of plants in your home also matters. During winter, plants kept near heating vents tend to dry them out faster too so consider that. You shouldn’t be keeping them near heat vents anyway. Also plants cannot be on YOUR schedule. They cannot be placed on a watering schedule because they determine when they need to be watered, not you. You cannot water them when you think it’s time. I always advice people to stick their fingers in the soil and water only when the top inch or two is dry. If it’s slightly damp, then I would leave it for a couple days and check again before watering.
Whether you water your plants the regular way by pouring water into the pot or use the Bottom Watering method, one thing needs to be stressed here. Water DEEPLY. Shallow watering means watering your pot just enough until the top layer is damp. The problem with this is that plant roots don’t live in the top 1-2 inches of soil, they’re all the way down so shallow watering isn’t doing much for them. My rule of thumb is keep watering until water flows out of the drainage hole then stop. Throw away the water that pools at the bottom of the dish. If it helps you better to water your plants in the tub or sink and wait until they drain, then do that. I personally have figured out how much water my pots can hold so I no longer need to do this. I’ve since bought a Moisture meter on Amazon which tells me which plants need water or not. It’s a good tool if you don’t like getting your hands dirty every time you need to water.
What do you do with pots with no drainage?
Easy answer. Don’t use them. Unless you are past beginner level and know how much water a pot can hold without drowning the plant, I would advice against using pots without drainage holes. This plus non-aerated soil is a sure fire way to drown and kill your plant.
Okay, so everything I’ve mentioned are general rules. Again, look up care requirements for every new plant you get so you’ll have a better understanding what that plant will need. The plant care I’ve mentioned above will work well with the plants I will list below.
Soil Quality and Aeration
Soil quality is essential for healthy houseplants. No, you don’t need fancy, expensive dirt to pot your houseplants in. I personally use basic potting soil mixed in with 50/50 of Perlite. I make a big batch of it and keep it in a separate bin ready to use anytime I need to repot a plant. I’ve also occasionally used a mix of 1/3 Potting soil, 1/3 Perlite and 1/3 Vermiculite. Don’t ask me why, I read it somewhere years ago and it has never failed me. But the 50/50 perlite mix works fine as well. Perlite keeps your soil aerated, allowing water to flow freely through the soil keeping your root system evenly moist. Non-aerated soil will compact down to a solid brick of dirt over time which will prevent water from flowing through and will create dry pockets in the soil which won’t help your plant no matter how often you say you water it. Aeration is important. Even if you use the potting mix I mentioned you will still need to occasionally aerate by poking holes into the dirt with a chopstick or similar equipment. If you notice that water drains immediately through the drainage hole as soon as you start watering, then it’s time to aerate your soil.
Your plant pot also matters here. A lot of people recommend using terra cotta pots for your plants because it is porous which allows your soil to breath. But because of this, plants in terra cotta pots tend to dry out faster than plants in, say, ceramic pots. I have a few Pilea Peperomioides in different pots and the ones in terra cotta require more frequent watering than the ones in ceramic ones. Same plant, same light quality, different watering needs.
Easy Beginner Houseplants
So now you want to know what plants to start with? Great! Below I will list the plants I personally started with and encouraged me to continue buying more. I advice you to take it slow when it comes to plant shopping. Learn the ropes and see how you do with one or a few of these before you move on to more complicated plants. I learned the hard way in the past when I overbought plants way beyond my ability to care for them. In general I’ve learned through experience that some plants can’t survive in my apartment due to light requirements and humidity levels so I tend to stick with what works.
Snake Plant or Sansevieria
Can tolerate low-light environments but will thrive in medium to moderate light areas. I have a few of these and I notice the patterns on the leaves on those near windows are more prominent and grow faster than those far from the windows.
There are several varieties of pothos but their care generally remains the same. Just like the previous plant, these can tolerate low light areas but will grow faster and develop beautiful leaf variegations when given proper sunlight. If you want your pothos plants to trail and grow bushy, long vines, give it bright indirect light. Pothos leaves with wilt and curl when it needs water but better figure out the soil moisture and don’t let it get to the point that it wilts before you water it.
I cannot think of a plant easier than a ZZ Plant. I water mine once every 3-4 weeks and they’re kept far away from the windows. I water very deeply every time I do but zz plants have root bulbs that hold water so they don’t need to be watered as often as most leafy plants do. I’ve occasionally forgotten to water them as long as two months and none have died on me. I have two that are almost 3 years old.
Another plant that is advertised as low light. The problem here is, if you want the plant to keep shooting out its white flowers, it needs more light than the far end of your room. The downside is, the more light you give it, the more water it will need. This plant will tell you when you’ve not watered enough because its leaves will droop. Water immediately when it gets to this point before roots dry out and die.
Similar care as most of the plants I’ve already mentioned and this one shoots out babies when cared for well. Very easily propagated and shared.
Cactus or Succulents
If you’re like me and have heard time and time again that cactus or succulent plants are the easiest yet you have killed several of them. Don’t despair. They are actually very easy if you know what their needs are. Think of the environment these plants normally live in, the Desert right? Deserts are very hot and very dry but occasionally when it rains, it does so for days until it floods and then it stops and dries out again. Mimic that environment in your home. These types of plants do very well in south facing windows because it’s bright for most of the day. Water infrequently, depending on your home environment and the season, around once every 3-4 weeks. But when you do, water very deeply until the soil is soaked and ignore it again for another 3-4 weeks. Allow the soil to completely dry out (not just the top inch) before watering again. These plants are built to hold a lot of water so for as long as it gets plenty of sun, it will be very happy.
There are several varieties of these but in general requires the same care as a pothos, depending on the species. There are few that require high humidity environments so consider that when purchasing one.
I’ve had my pothos since 2009 and I’ve propagated it to multiple plants. There were times when we lived in a cave-like studio apartment that I thought it wouldn’t survive but it still lives to this day and is crawling on the wall above Vien’s aquarium. It wasn’t a variegated one when I bought it but it seems to love the light it’s getting and is giving out beautiful variegated leaves. My point is, I started small and made sure I got the hang of these few easy houseplants before I acquired the more complicated ones that need different soil moisture or humidity levels. I’ve killed a lot more than you think and I’m still still constantly learning. I’ve also realized that not all plants can survive in my home environment or some plants just don’t work for me (Damn you string of pearls!) so I’ve stopped buying them. Having a plant is similar to any kind of relationship. If you’re nice to them, they’ll love you back. If you overparent, then they tend to rebel and self destruct. It’s a learning process so don’t let plant failures deter you from becoming the crazy plant lady you always wanted to be.
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