So you want to be a plant parent? Houseplants are a fantastic addition to any home—and they’re so much more than decoration.
Like taking a walk in the woods, being surrounded by greenery at home triggers the release of the mood-lifting serotonin. Caring for plants has also been associated with the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes calmness and relaxation. In general, getting our hands dirty reminds us of our connection to nature—something we’re always looking for here at Sunday.
But where to start? “Easy” is in the eye of the plant holder, and easy houseplants for beginners can be broken down into two categories: Plants that like a lot of attention, and plants that would rather be in a long-distance relationship with you. Things like your lifestyle (do you travel a lot?) and how heavy-handed you are with a watering pail can have a big impact on what plants will do well in your home! Here are a few to consider:
Also known as “devil’s ivy,” pothos makes a great starter plant because it’s both undemanding and quite forgiving. It can be content in bright, indirect light as well as lower light levels, though it may grow more slowly in the latter. If you miss a watering, it will sulk but bounce back pretty quickly rather than holding a long grudge. It’s also rather expressive about its needs, which is ideal for beginners! If its leaves begin to droop a bit, it’s thirsty, but it will perk back up in just a few hours after a good drink. If it starts to etiolate—aka, get “leggy,” aka increase the distance between its leaves—that means it’s reaching for more light.
Planty trivia: When grown in the wild and allowed to climb up a tree, certain species of pothos can develop leaves up to three feet long!
Lucky bamboo doesn’t get the same sort of spotlight as loyal ol’ pothos, but perhaps it should. It can survive sporadic watering, bad lighting, and poor air quality and still be there for you. Plus, it can be trained into unique shapes and has a refreshing, ornamental appeal. Like the other plants on our list, this one can tolerate a variety of lighting arrangements (just keep it out of direct sun!). Unlike the other plants on our list, this one is frequently grown in just water, though it’ll thrive best in soil over the long run. It’s hard to over-love this one since it appreciates a weekly water change or soil that stays evenly moist.
Planty trivia: Lucky bamboo is commonly used in the practice of Feng Shui. Facing east, it is said to attract good health, and facing southeast, it is said to attract wealth.
Want to try your hand at propagating (growing new plants)? Props to you! Tradescantia zebrina, colloquially known as the inch plant, is both forgiving and fast growing, which makes it a great learner’s plant. Let’s start with the basics. Its striped purple and green leaves shimmer in the light, and it has a cascading habit that’s great for shelves or hanging baskets. In terms of water and light, it prefers an evenly moist soil and bright light, even a bit of direct sun! In low light it will become spindly and leggy—which is where the propagating comes in. Simply chop off those unruly vines and pop them straight back in the soil! It will root quickly and encourage fuller, bushier growth.
Planty trivia: The common name “inch plant” comes from its ability to grow about an inch per week! When we say fast growing, we mean fast growing.
Another great beginner plant is the zamioculcas zamiifolia. Trying saying that three times fast—or just call it by its common name, the ZZ plant. It’s one of the most low-maintenance plants around, asking little of you in terms of both water and light. Nicknamed the “Zanzibar Gem,” it originated in drought-prone east Africa where it developed rhizomatic roots that store a great deal of water (and look kind of like potatoes). This means it can go over a month at a time without a drink—but also that it will react negatively to too much water; to avoid rotting the roots, let the soil dry out completely between waterings. In terms of light, you’ll often find ZZs in corners all by themselves because they can get by without much of it. It’s a relatively slow grower—especially in low light—and prefers to keep snug in its living quarters, so it’ll be awhile before it outgrows a pot.
Planty trivia: A more recent cultivar called “Raven” boasts nearly black leaves, which contrast in a stunning way with the lime green new growth.
Ah, the snake plant. Content in bright windows and dark corners alike, this low-maintenance plant thrives on neglect and is great for beginners. In fact, it probably tops just about every list of “plants you can’t kill”—and for good reason. You may know it as mother-in-law’s tongue, Saint George’s sword, or even viper’s bowstring hemp (it’s one of the plant fibers used to make bowstrings!), but don’t call it sansevieria*. Native to west Africa, it has fleshy roots that are built to withstand drought and is quite intolerant of overwatering—so this is more of a “long distance relationship” sort of plant. But we think that’s OK, given that it’s so nice to look at. With its striking sword-like shape (in an eye-popping 70+ varieties!), it’s great for adding texture and architectural interest to homes and offices.
Planty trivia: Snake plants belong to the family Asparagaceae, just like those bitter green stalks you see on your plate!
*Sanse-what? This plant was reclassified in 2017 to the genus Dracaena, though many people—including some who know better—still refer to it nostalgically as Sansevieria.
Last but never least when it comes to easy indoor plants, the hardy aloe vera. Good for so much more than sunburns, it’s an easy, attractive, and low-maintenance plant that’s great for beginners. Whenever you’re learning to care for a houseplant, it helps to consider its natural environment. Succulents are used to hot and sunny conditions, with deep but infrequent rain showers. So give your aloe a sunny (south- or west-facing) window perch, plant it in a gritty cactus mix, water thoroughly, and let it drain freely from the bottom—then admire it from afar until the soil is completely dry. Then you can treat it to another drink!
Planty trivia: The word aloe comes from the Arabic alloeh, which means “shining bitter substance.” Hint hint: Stick to topical applications.