There are two kinds of people: those who can admit they’ve killed an indoor plant and those who are lying. Seriously, we’ve all done it, and it’s no secret why. Many of the exotic plants we see in shops require specific care to replicate their natural environment, and unless you happen to live in a tropical conservatory in the botanical gardens, your home probably doesn’t offer what they need. (The opposite is also true: most of us don’t live in desert heat indoors 24/7/365, so it’s totally possible to kill a cactus.)
But killing indoor plants isn’t inevitable, no matter how black you believe your thumb to be. Like most things, houseplant care is a skill anyone can develop. By starting small with beginner-friendly plants and gaining growing confidence before moving on to more advanced plantscape projects, you can become an accomplished plant parent faster than you may think—and you don’t have to do it alone. We’re here to help you put the training wheels on your indoor gardening adventure, and encourage you to remove them once you’re ready.
Read on for the most bulletproof plants and their care, plus next-level houseplants for when you’re ready to graduate to more intensive plant-nurturing skills.
The best way to start slow as a total houseplant beginner is with plants that require less sunlight and infrequent watering.
These varieties teach us a valuable lesson: sometimes, caring for plants means doing doing less, not more. Giving a plant more water than it needs can make it vulnerable to root rot. So, if you’ve got an east-facing window, and can mark the calendar to water once every forty-five days (really!), the following two plants are for you:
Zamioculcas zamiafolia, say it with me now. No? Okay, let’s call it the ZZ plant for simplicity’s sake. This plant does well in areas of the house that get less natural light. (Think of the places in your home that has just enough ambient light to still cast a shadow.) The ZZ plant has beautiful, waxy-looking, succulent leaves that store water, which means you need to do less watering. If this plant starts to look sick, it’s probably too wet, as these babies are prone to root rot. If that happens, the solution is simple: just ignore the plant for a couple months. Easy peasy. Important note: This plant is toxic to both animals and humans. Consider placing it out of reach of your furry friends if they’re the type that likes to nibble on anything new and lively.
Sansevieria species, or Snake Plants, are next up. These attractive serpentine plants also require little water and lower light, though they can handle moderate indirect lighting if that’s what you’ve got. Like the ZZ, let you snakey buddy dry out between waterings (giving them a drink once a month should be fine). You’ll have dozens of varieties to choose from with this genus, offering a whole buffet of different plant characteristics—think broad leaves, cylindrical leaves, variegation, gray colored-leaves, green leaves, or yellow bands. Whichever you pick, enjoy the confidence of knowing these plants tend to survive. Like the ZZ, snake plants are toxic to cats and dogs, but they’re less attractive for chewing on, given their upright growth habit and rigid leaves.
On to Epipremnum aureum, or golden pothos. This well-known, nearly unkillable houseplant is sometimes called Devil’s Ivy because of its outright refusal to wither and die. (Be warned: this one is also toxic to cats and dogs.) Consider placing it higher up on a shelf to trail downward, or give it a small trellis to let it grow upward. The golden pothos will do well with bright, indirect light, as lower light will cause variegated varieties to fade a bit. (Rooms with ambient light from southern or western exposure are great.) Watering can vary on pothos, but it is still important to let the soil dry out completely between waterings, because this is another variety prone to root rot. Most likely, you’ll be watering two to three times per month, but check your pothos for soil moisture by pushing your pinky finger one inch into the soil. If the soil on your pinky is dark and a bit wet, let the plant go another week before watering. If the soil is pale and dry, it’s time to water.
A few other easy plants to care for are Neanthe Bella Palm (Chamaedorea elegans), Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), and Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata).
Important tip: With all of these plants, adequate soil drainage is key. Make sure your pots have a drainage hole at the bottom to allow excess water to escape.
Once we’ve got a little green about our thumbs, it’s time to take on a plant that demands a little more from us. (Careful now, we said a little.)
Tradescantia zebrina is our first recommendation for intermediate-level houseplants. If you like the color purple, get ready, because while you’ll also see variegated green and white varieties available, the purple varieties are most common. These plants need bright, indirect light to stay pristine. Too little light causes the variegation to fade, and when exposed to direct light, the leaves will scorch. They will tolerate a little drought, and a bit of dry air as well. Mist them if you can—they’ll like that. If any stems get knocked and broken off due to their fragile nature, feel free to throw the severed stems into some fresh potting mix and they should root easily. These make for great gifts to friends!
Aglaonema, also known as Chinese Evergreen or Philippine Evergreen, is another tropical plant that is good for intermediate houseplant growers. It is toxic to cats and dogs, and dislikes being too wet and drying out too much. This plant does well in low- to medium-indirect light, and prefers a humid environment. It will tolerate drier homes, but misting or a humidifier will keep it happier. There are multiple species and cultivars of Aglaonema available as houseplants—look around and see which suits your style best.
Monstera deliciosa, sometimes called Swiss Cheese Plant, has holes and splits in its leaves that develop naturally as the plant matures. This could be your first real head-turner of a houseplant. Though it is still approachable and resilient, this South American tropical plant requires more regular watering and appreciates a higher humidity. (For example, in a Minnesota winter, you might end up watering once a week with this plant, depending upon your lighting.) Consider misting this plant regularly, or investing in a humidifier if you want to give this plant an ideal environment. The monstera does not like to dry out completely, nor does it like being overly wet and soggy for long, so even moisture is the goal here. Monsteras prefer bright, indirect light. It does not thrive in lower light, though it may tolerate it. It also dislikes direct light, as their leaves can burn from it. It’s all about balance, folks! Though it is toxic to cats and dogs, pets tend to avoid these plants.
Other intermediate plants include cacti and succulents. That’s right! We don’t consider succulents to be truly beginner friendly. Give these plants as much light as you can, even direct light. Water them every other month in the winter, and once a month in the summer. Don’t worry about humidity control, they’re fine with dry air. Put them outside in the heat of summer—they’ll love it. Cacti, and most succulents, are non-toxic to pets. Their spines might poke and hurt your pet if they get too close, but this isn’t often a recurrent issue. We’ve all learned our first few times handling these that the pokes are quite irritating!
Once you’re comfortable with all everything we’ve laid out above, the entire plant world is yours. Go forth and learn more, and let us know what you learn as you evolve! The advanced-care plants realm is vast, and each focus tends to have its own community of hobbyists and professionals. Orchid shows and societies are easy to find. Bonsai collecting attracts many patient and diligent individuals, and has a lot of beautiful history associated with it. Ferns are a category one can get lost in, with thousands of species available. Tillandsias, or air plants, have become popular in recent years, as have stag-horn ferns. And then there is the ever popular, and ever finicky, fiddle-leaf fig. Check out the Reddit forums on care and help for any of these, or shoot us a message to let us help you find a community for the kinds of plants you’re drawn towards.
If the whole idea of keeping plants with different needs thriving sends you into a little bit of a headspin, but you still want to live in an urban jungle, we’ve got you. We’re pros at curating a collection of indoor plants that suit your lifestyle, decor, and light levels—and we’ll even keep them looking great for you with our indoor plantscape maintenance services. (We can even handle the watering!)