Dreaming of turning your home into a dreamy, zen green space but not sure you can keep a plant alive? I’ve got you covered with my top 8 low maintenance house plants for beginners, plus 2 best pieces of plant care advice.
If you’ve caught a glimpse of my Instagram feed over the past couple of months, you may already know that since moving to LA, I’ve discovered a strange, rather unexpected obsession for plants. There once was a time where I couldn’t keep a single green thing alive, but earlier this year when I lived in Vancouver, I decided to try my hand at keeping a few succulents alive in my old apartment. That went surprisingly well. Then in June when I arrived in LA, the mild climate and the patio in my new apartment were two things that made me think I should give it a go on a larger scale.
Ok, not quite that large scale.
As the weeks passed, I found myself wanting to spend my weekends perusing nurseries, learning about all the amazing types of plants that can grow here, and discovering a LOT of absolutely stunning plant-filled Instagram accounts. Have I purchased a single piece of art to hang on the walls in my new place? No. Have I bought enough plants to cover the wages of the staff at my favourite nursery? Possibly. Did I buy a drill specifically so I could hang shelves to house more plants in my living room. You bet I did. Even bought a stud finder to go with it. And a drill bit set.
So why would you want to turn your home into a jungalow?
Aside from being fun to collect and learn about, there are a number of scientifically-proven health-related reasons to have more plants in your home. For example…
- They allow us to connect with nature. In a world where we spend so much time in our cars and offices, and in front of screens, most of us probably don’t spent more than an hour or two outside each day. Studies have linked time spent in nature with lower anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, lower risk of depression, and better concentration.
- They can help lower risk of inflammation-related disease. This study found that students who spent time ‘forest bathing’ had lower levels of inflammation than students who spent the same amount of time in a city environment. Knowing that inflammation is a key contributor to many chronic diseases, the findings of this study and others suggest exposure to nature (including bringing it into your home) can have a preventative effect.
- Plants work as natural air humidifiers and purifiers, both outside and indoors. Some of the outdoor toxins we’re exposed to are obvious, like car exhaust, second hand cigarette smoke, dust and gas fumes. But your indoor space can be toxic too, thanks to things like mold, asbestos, building materials, and emissions from plastics, building materials, central heating and A/C units. Crazy right? But plants can help filter that, making our environments healthier to live in.
- In colour psychology, the colour green is linked to nature, calm, renewal and growth. Spas often have plants as decor because they can help create a calm, zen-like atmosphere – also perfect for the kind of space you want to be in after a long day at work, don’t ya think? (More tips for turning your spa into a spa-like sanctuary here!)
Plant Care Basics: My #1 top tip (and a close #2)
I’ll preface this by saying that I have a long track record of killing anything green that I’ve tried to grow, so if I can do this, so can you! Before getting into the types I’d recommend starting with, I have to share my #1 plant care tip, which is not to over-water.
It may sound counter-intuitive because you’d think that neglecting any living thing would have negative consequences, but plants are a bit different. In fact, if ever one of my plants starts to look a little sick, it’s 90% of the time been more of an over-watering issue than anything else. Sure, you can get into the nitty gritty of soil types and water nutrients, and those things do matter, but don’t let them scare you. Like I said, not overwatering will likely solve the majority of your plant symptoms.
So how do you know when your plants need water? No fancy tools are needed to diagnose – just your finger! For most of the plants I’m about to list, all you need to do is touch/poke the soil. If the top inch or two feel dry, it’s time to water. If not, leave it and let it keep on being its planty self.
What about that other 10% of sick cases? The answer (and my #2 plant care tip) has been proper light. With both water and sunlight, you want to aim to replicate the type of each of these that the plant would get if it was growing in nature. Plants need sunlight in order for that magical process of photosynthesis to take place, but in my experience, direct sunlight can be just as much of a problem as not enough. Some of the plants I’ll list below are almost indestructible and can deal with much lower levels of light, but almost everything else seems to do best with diffused light – that is, natural light coming in a window or through a sheer curtain. Think of it kind of like sitting under an umbrella on the beach. You still feel the warmth and it’s bright and warm under the umbrella, but not nearly as bright or hot as being directly exposed to the sun. The majority of the plants in my house are within 10 feet of my patio window.
Ok, let’s talk species!
Top 8 low maintenance house plants for beginners
I adore succulents, so much that I’ve started venturing into making succulent arrangements – kind of like floral arrangements, but the difference is that they don’t die after a week. One of my favourite local nurseries makes stunning ones, so every time I go, I take photos for inspo and try to recreate them at home. Yep, major #plantgoals.
Succulents make great indoor and outdoor plants too, and since their native environment is in places with really high heat and not much rain, they can withstand long periods of neglect. They store water like champs and as long as you give them enough light, they should be just fine. If you do have an area that gets direct sunlight such as a window sill or patio, these are great candidates for that space. I water mine once every 14-16 days.
Jade is in the succulent family, but I’m calling it out separately because you might not realize that at first glance. Like other succulents, it does best in bright (including direct) light. The leaves are thick and can hold a lot of water, so this plant won’t need water until the soil is dry. Mine currently live outside, but in cooler climates, they’re still good picks because they’ll grow well indoors too. I should note that jade seems to grow like crazy, but are also really easy to propagate (that is, make new baby jade plants using cuttings from your mama jade plant). There’s a great how-to article here if you’d like to give that a try.
Unlike the succulents, the ZZ plant is a perfect low light plant and one that I can keep more than 10 feet away from my windows with great success. Its fancy name is Zamioculcas zamiifolia, but most garden centers will know what you mean if you say ZZ plant. (Nerdy tip: If you pronounce Z the American way, Zee, then Zee Zee rhymes with ‘easy’, and it’s an easy plant to care for. Bahahaha.) I water mine even less than my succulents – about once every 3 weeks. Since it doesn’t get as much light as the others, the soil doesn’t dry up nearly as fast.
Also known as the Sansevieria or mother-in-law’s tongue, the snake plant is also a hard one to kill and seems to LIKE to be ignored! I water my little family every 2 weeks, and have found that these plants are also more tolerant of lower-light areas (or being further from windows).
When it comes to air purification, snake plants can help to remove formaldehyde. (That’s a chemical which is unfortunately found in many conventional personal care and cleaning products – yikes!) Interestingly, snake plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen at night, whereas other air purifying plants do this during the day. If you keep one in your bedroom, it’ll mean you get to breathe cleaner air and more oxygen while you sleep. Sweet dreams!
There are lots of different kinds of pothos varieties – dark green leaves, neon leaves, patterned leaves and speckled leaves – really, your whole houseplant collection could be made up of pothos varieties and still look diverse! These guys are gems if you don’t have a ton of natural light in your space, but are pretty happy in brighter indirect light too. Like the snake plant, they’re good air-purifying picks, although their work happens during the day instead of at night. I water mine every 7-10 days, or whenever the top inch of soil feels dry. Their trailing leaves and vines make them stunning choices for shelves because they can drape over the edges and wind around whatever you decide to place them on.
I love these guys because they have the coolest colourful leaf patterns! Apparently there are over 300 varieties, 3 of which I’ve been able to track down. These are also called prayer plants because at night, their leaves fold up like prayer hands. Cool right? They’re kind of like a clock without numbers – when the leaves are closed, you should probably be in bed! Calatheas do best in bright diffused/indirect light, and watering only when their soil is dry. (Again, use that finger test!) Oh, and avoid really cold water with these beauties. They’re tropical plants that like humidity and room-temperature water. (Still, I promise they’re low maintenance Just don’t water them with ice-cold water and try to avoid placing them near A/C and heat vents.
These are easy to mistake for pothos plants, but they’re quite different and have a bunch of their own varieties. They like bright, indirect light and watering when the top inch or two of soil is dry. They grow really quickly, and like the pothos, can be really pretty as hanging or climbing plants. Philodendrons are tropical plants, so just like the calathea, try to pick a spot in your house that isn’t near a vent.
The philodendron variety above is one of the kinds I have in my living room and kitchen, but I can’t go on without sharing a pic of my favourite philodendron of them all – and my very first plant in LA! It’s the monstera deliciosa, also known as a split leaf philodendron or Swiss cheese plant. She’s a wild thing growing in all sorts of directions right now, but these are just more reasons to love her! Over the weekend I stuck that bamboo post in the pot that you see in the back, and with the help of some green twist ties, tied up a few of the really wild stalks so that they grow a little more up and a little less out. I find this one always tends to lean towards the window, so rotating the pot is part of my weekly plant care routine.
I have a mini (or major, depending on the size of the creature) freak-out any time I find a spider indoors, but spider plants are nothing to be scared of. There’s a couple of types, including this guy….
….as well as the crazy one you see below. They seem to like indirect light best, so you should be successful if you position them indoors a few feet away rom a window. Once you’ve got one, you’ll notice that they grow ‘baby spiders’ (smaller leaves) which you can propagate by cutting and placing in a smaller pot. Like many of my plants, I only water this one when the top layer of soil is dry.
Alright, are you feeling inspired to start your own house plant collection now? If you do, I’d love to geek out with you on planty things and hear how you’re getting on. Comment below and tell me about your plant babies!