Indoor & Container Gardening

The Amateur’s Guide to Houseplants

March 2, 2015
three planters with various plants inside on a hardwood floor

Want to feel better about spending your entire weekend watching Netflix inside? You can tell people that you got some fresh air thanks to your houseplants. It’s true: having houseplants improves the quality of your indoor air. Modern homes have air-conditioning and heating systems that maintain comfortable temperatures, but they also keep volatile organic compounds (VOCs) inside. A houseplant can purify the air of 87 percent of lingering VOCs — things like formaldehyde and cigarette smoke (not that you’re smoking, right?) — in a 24-hour period.

There are more benefits to having houseplants than purified air, though. They release water into the air, and this moisture keeps our skin from getting dry and our throats from getting sore. Indoor plants have helped hospital patients to feel less anxiety and fatigue. Even students can benefit from a few plants; in one study, students were shown to focus more in rooms with greenery.

Now, don’t go running to your local greenhouse just yet. It’s important that you know just what you’re getting yourself into. The good news is that it can be a simple task, so long as you know what your plants require — and which ones to buy if you want to make it super easy on yourself.

Study up on the essential guide to houseplants to find out just how to transform that black thumb into a green one and breathe easier in your apartment.

How does one go about procuring said houseplant?


Image credit:  Tracie Hall

Some of you might be snickering at this question, but it’s a valid one. You can’t just roll up to your nearest big box store and plop any old plant into the back of your car. Instead, you should head to your local greenhouse. There, you’ll find staff members who have a wealth of knowledge in the flower and plant department. They’ll be able to show you which plants are best for your apartment, how much light it gets, how much maintenance you can handle, etc.

Once you’ve narrowed down the field of flowers into the houseplant of your dreams, you should examine the plants to find the healthiest one to bring home. The things that you should look for and be weary of include:

  • Damaged leaves
  • Insects that have taken up residence on the plant
  • Black spots, a sign of disease
  • Yellowing leaves, a sign of disease

Fortunately, you can fix a plant that looks healthy, albeit limp. It probably just needs some water. You can handle that, right?

Another important tip: don’t buy houseplants online. Many times, these plants are deemed as “rare” breeds. This often means that they will require a “rare” amount of maintenance. Leave that to the professionals.

What kind of plant should I get?

If you can’t get an expert to help you at a greenhouse, do a little research beforehand to find out which types of plants will thrive in your specific living environment. Here are a few tried-and-true varieties to get you started.

Plants that do well in apartments


Image credit:  Michael McCauslin

  1. Rubber Plant. The Rubber Plant can spice up your indoor garden, thanks to its burgundy leaves. It’s great at purifying the air of formaldehyde.
  2. Pepperomia. This guy loves sunlight, but he doesn’t love food — Pepperomia only needs to be fed liquid fertilizer once a month. It’s also a great option if you’ve got gastronomically-curious cats or dogs, as most varieties are non-toxic.
  3. Bird’s Nest Fern. Talk about easy: this plant only needs to be fed three to four times per year. At the beginning, you’ll have to check every two weeks to see if it needs water. Otherwise, it’s good to go.
  4. Limelight. This bright-green beauty is an efficient air purifier that only asks for a frequent misting.

Plants that thrive in low light


Image credit:  Gergely Hideg

  1. Moss. You’re probably wondering how an indoor moss garden can look anything but weird. These days, you can create a moss terrarium, which puts the fuzzy greenery on display. If you put it close to your window, it’ll thrive.
  2. Mint. Mint only needs a little bit of light and moisture, and it gives you a wealth of benefits. For one, it smells nice. If you grow enough, you can even put it in your tea. Yum.
  3. Maidenhair Ferns. Add a little bit of height to your low-light plant collection with a fern. Their leaves will add whimsical interest to your collection, too, with their soft, almost frilled look.

Can’t-Kill-‘Em-If-You-Tried Varieties


Image credit:  stephanie vacher

  1. Sansevieria. The ultimate in hard-to-kill houseplants, Sansevieria has sleek green leaves that grow straight up. That means it’s simple and modern enough for any space.
  2. Bromeliad. Bromeliad also boasts an interesting look, thanks to its almost-purple leaves that grow outward like the leaves on top of a pineapple.
  3. Dracaena Marginata. It’s hard to describe Dracaena Marginata because it comes in a slew of different varieties — green, burgundy, copper, and more. All you need to do is make sure that they’ve got a consistent pool of water in their pots, and they’ll grow.

How do I waylay the expedient death of my houseplant?

With indoor plants, you’ll find that maintenance tips are few and far between. They’re often able to live indoors because they don’t require much upkeep. This is great news, but it doesn’t give you a pass to completely ignore your plants. Although some require more specific care, such as pruning or fertilizer feedings, be sure to tend to your greenery in the following ways:

  1. Water them. Don’t go crazy here. Most houseplants only need to be watered once a week.
  2. Let them rest. In nature, your plant would probably be hitting snooze all winter long, so it’s okay for you to do the same. Trim back leaves, and trim back on the amount of feedings you administer. They’ll wake up in time for spring.
  3. Shed some light. Finally, your houseplant might crave a few rays even if it’s designed to be indoors. Be sure to set your pots in places where they get the light they need — not too much, and not too little.

With these simple tips in mind, it should be simple to get started on your own indoor garden or to erase your past mishaps as a black thumb. No one will remember once they see your thriving houseplants. I promise.


Main image credit:  waysideviolet

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