Raise your hand if you love a good house plant! We sure do! They add so much life to your space—not to mention color and texture. And we’ve waxed poetic more than once about the health benefits of houseplants. (Cleaner oxygen! Boosted moods!)
But as people who have killed more than our fair share of house plants, we know it’s not always a rosy outlook. Some plants are very finicky or downright difficult to care for. Even the easiest-to-care-for plants need the right light and environment and a solid watering schedule. And this might leave you wondering—are indoor plants worth the work? We say: yes. If you’re not convinced, we dare you to keep reading our indoor plant care guide and discover the best house plants for your lifestyle and your level of plant expertise!
What Kind of Plants Should I Get?
The plants you choose depend on a couple of factors:
- Do you have kids or pets? (Some plants are toxic if ingested!)
- What lighting levels do you have in your home?
- What space are you trying to fill—big or small?
- How good are you at keeping plants alive?
Each of these variables impacts what house plants you should bring into your home. To help break it down, we’ve divided some of the most popular indoor plants into three categories, from easiest to care for to the most needy of the bunch!
Level 1 Plants: Easiest to Care For
What we’re calling “Level 1 Plants” are the plants that are easiest to care for. These are the ones that can go weeks without water and not drop a leaf. (And they can handle some overwatering, too.) They’re able to battle through bad soil conditions, poor lighting, are more resilient to pests, and can tolerate neglect. Think of these as your “set it and forget it” plants.
Spider Plants: Spider plants are highly adaptable and can grow in a range of conditions. Their arching leaves give them a graceful look and make them perfect hanging plants. They thrive when planted in well-drained soil and sitting in bright, indirect sunlight. Spider plants occasionally flower, producing babies or “spiderettes” which makes them easy to propagate. Spider plants are non-toxic and safe for humans, dogs, and cats.
Succulents: Succulents are a group of plants that are characterized by storing water in their leaves—resulting in leaves that are thick and fleshy. There are many different types of succulents out there, but in general they thrive in dry climates and don’t like too much humidity. This means they can handle infrequent watering. However, make sure you plant them in a pot with a drainage hole, as succulent roots that sit in water for too long will begin to rot, and will ultimately kill the plant.
Snake Plant: Sometimes called “Mother-in-Law Tongue,” snake plants are a fan favorite. With coloring ranging from light yellow-green to a variegated dark green, we love the architectural shape of these hearty plants. Put a snake plant in indirect sunlight, and let the soil dry out between waterings. Snake plants are mildly toxic to humans and pets and can cause mouth and stomach irritation if ingested.
ZZ Plant: Known for your ability to kill off even the heartiest of plants? Then a ZZ Plant might be for you. It’s said that these plants are virtually indestructible; they can withstand months of neglect and low light and still look wonderful. However, they do best in moderate to bright indirect light. Let soil thoroughly dry out between waterings—because the one way you can kill this plant is by overwatering. ZZ Plants are mildly toxic to humans and pets and can cause stomach irritation if ingested.
Pothos: The trailing vines of a pothos plant can add a lot of visual interest to your home—whether it’s potted in a hanging planter, or set on a shelf with the tendrils trailing downward. They do well in bright, indirect light and nutrient-rich soil—but they handle low light and nutrient-poor soil with aplomb. And, in fact, they can survive without soil at all! They can be grown in water, and happily stay alive, untouched, simply sitting in a vase. Pothos is mildly toxic to humans and pets and can cause stomach irritation if ingested.
Level 2 Plants: Require a Bit More Attention
These plants are a bit more sensitive than their Level 1 counterparts, and they require a bit more attention. But they’re not so sensitive that they’ll keel over after one missed watering session!
Broadleaf Ferns: Broadleaf ferns are distinct from the more common leatherleaf or Boston ferns in that their leaves are undivided rather than compounded. So, their name literally comes from their broader leaves. Ferns are generally low-maintenance houseplants. But they do require a more specific environment. Since ferns originate in dense, shady woodlands, they need lower light and plenty of humidity. Mist your fern daily and keep it out of direct sunlight to keep it happy!
Philodendron: Philodendrons are a type of plant that comes in a variety of shapes and sizes (nearly 500 species!). They can range from tall, tree-like plants to small, vining varieties. We love the fact that a philodendron readily adapts to new conditions and will tell you exactly what it needs. (Droopy? It needs water! Leaves yellowing? It’s getting too much light!) With simple adjustments, these houseplants will stay happy for a long time. Place philodendrons in bright, indirect sunlight and allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. And keep out of reach of kids and pets, as philodendron leaves are toxic when ingested, causing swelling in the mouth, upset stomach, and vomiting.
Dieffenbachia: Dieffenbachia plants have beautifully variegated leaves, making them a lovely decoration in your home. They’re fairly adaptable to different environments—but they’re sensitive to overwatering. Keep their soil moist but not soggy, and allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. They like filtered light best, and require being rotated regularly so that all sides of the plant receive adequate sunlight.
Fittonia: This compact plant has striking patterning on its leaves, often with pink veining. Fittonia plants prefer bright, indirect light and like to be kept moist. While average household humidity is generally fine, these plants like it on the humid side—so regular misting will keep them very happy. Bonus: fittonia is non-toxic and pet-friendly!
Level 3 Plants: Needy But Beautiful
Ready for a challenge? These plants make a beautiful statement in your home—but they definitely require some babying. They’re very sensitive to over or under-watering and some need a lot of humidity. And they absolutely won’t tolerate incorrect lighting conditions, the wrong type of soil, pests, or any other adverse conditions. But don’t let that neediness scare you! These beauties are worth the work.
Calathea: Known for their bold, patterned leaves, calathea are unique in that their leaves fold up slightly at night, revealing a beautifully colored underside. They do best with medium to low indirect light, and they like when their soil is kept moist but not saturated. You should also mist it regularly, as these plants appreciate some extra humidity. Calathea are also non-toxic and pet-friendly.
Fiddle Leaf Fig: Fiddle leaf figs get their name from their large, violin-shaped leaves, which can make quite a statement in your home. They grow best when exposed to consistent, bright, filtered sunlight. You’ll want to turn the plant every few months, as fiddle leaf figs are prone to leaning toward sunlight. Let these plants dry out between waterings, then really drench them when you do water them. It’s good to keep them in pots with a drain hole so that you can water them to the point that it drains to the saucer. And since these plants are native to the tropics, they like regular meetings to keep the humidity levels up. Fiddle leaf figs are mildly toxic to humans and pets and can cause mouth and stomach irritation if ingested.
Alocasia: Alocasia plants can grow quite tall—up to 8-10 feet! Their height, combined with their arrow-head shaped leaves and tall stems makes quite a statement in your home. They thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. Just make sure it’s not direct, as their leaves will burn; conversely, they also can’t handle a dark corner. Alocasia is fairly tolerant if you forget to water them, but they prefer to be kept damp. And they love extra humidity—so make sure to mist them regularly, and you could even consider keeping a humidifier nearby! (They also love to live in bathrooms, where humidity is higher!) Alocasia is mildly toxic to humans and pets and can cause mouth and stomach irritation if ingested.
Bird of Paradise: Considered the queen of indoor plants, birds of paradise add a tropical flair to your home. These large, upright plants can adapt to a wide variety of lighting conditions, but they especially thrive in the sunny corners of your home, with the ability to handle direct sunlight. Keep this plant on the drier side, and especially make sure that its roots aren’t sitting in wet soil. Occasionally misting these plants will keep their dark, glossy leaves looking great. Bird of paradise plants are mildly toxic and can cause stomach irritation to humans and pets if ingested.
What supplies do you need when caring for plants?
Ready to bring home a new indoor plant (or five)? Just like bringing home a pet, you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared with the right supplies for proper houseplant care! Here’s what you need.
- Pots: You can’t plant a houseplant without a pot! There are a ton of beautiful plant pots out there, but you don’t need anything fancy. Just be aware of if your plant needs well-drained soil, as this requires a planter with a drain hole and tray.
- Soil: Make sure you buy potting soil that specifically suits the plant you’re potting. (Desert plants will want a “cactus mix,” others can tolerate an all-purpose potting soil.)
- Watering Can and Mister: A watering can makes watering your plants easier because of their long, slender spouts. But plants don’t just want water in their soil—they love a nice mist on their leaves, too!
- Fertilizer: Fertilizing your plants is a way to introduce nutrients into the soil. Think of it like taking vitamins, but for your plant!
- Pest Control: Unfortunately, with house plants, pests are inevitable at some point. Be prepared for any outbreaks of mealybugs, spider mites, or scale with the proper pest control.
- Clippers: Regular pruning helps keep your plants happy and healthy. Invest in some clippers rather than using household scissors, as you’ll get a cleaner cut. Bonus: These are also great for trimming the ends of fresh flowers!
Common Houseplant Pitfalls
Of course, even with the easiest and most low-maintenance plants you’ll encounter some pitfalls. (And certainly with the needy varieties!) Whether it’s the wrong amount of water or lighting, some sneaky little pests, or a pot that’s too small, little shifts can dramatically improve the quality of life of your plants!
- Overwatering or underwatering: Many plans come with basic watering instructions. But you can always do a quick Google search to find out what your type of plant needs!
- Incorrect lighting conditions: Some plants can’t handle direct sunlight; others crave it. The right lighting conditions will make a big difference. This is another case of Google being your friend to figure out what your plant needs!
- Root binding: As plants grow, sometimes they outgrow their planters to a point that they become root bound, with their roots densely packed within the planter. This can be detrimental long-term—but a simple upgrade to a larger plant pot can easily improve its outlook. Just try to untangle and loosen up the roots before transferring it to fresh soil and a new pot.
- Dry air or conditions that are too hot or too cold: Some plants are very particular about their conditions. They may need slightly warmer and more humid conditions, while others can happily thrive in cooler or drier conditions. Figure out what your plant needs and make simple adjustments to their environment.
- Pests, disease, and nutrient deficiencies: Mealybugs, scale, spider mites, fungus, mold, rot. Who knew so many gross things could grow alongside your plant?? Regular observances of your plants during your watering routine will help you quickly notice abnormalities or pests and allow you to deal with them quickly and more easily.
Overwhelmed by all that can go wrong with plants? If you want to avoid these pitfalls and the risk of dead plants, you can always opt for faux plants instead! While they won’t help clean your air, they’re certainly more low-maintenance than their live counterparts—one of the many benefits of faux plants.
Additional Houseplant Care Tips & Tricks:
- Create a watering schedule so that you never forget to water your plants.
- Rotate your plants around your home once a month to switch up the angle from which they receive sunlight.
- Every plant varies in how often they need to be fertilized—but in general, fertilize your plants approximately once a month during their flowering or growth phases to continue bringing nutrients into the soil. You can skip fertilizing in the winter, though, when many plants go dormant.
- Keep your plants clean by periodically dusting or wiping down leaves with a damp cloth. If they get too dusty, it impedes their ability to take in sunlight and photosynthesize!
- Don’t forget to prune your houseplants to get rid of any dead leaves or unwanted growth.
- Finally, learn how to style indoor plants and integrate your plants into your home’s decor!