Whether you have the greenest of thumbs or struggle to keep a 4×4 houseplant alive, understanding how to care for and nurture an indoor plant — any natural greenery — is a skill worth sharpening.
Sure, you can pick up the faux plant from Marshall’s and call it a day (surely, it’ll be quite thoughtless in terms of maintenance). But, if there’s one thing the height of the 2020 pandemic taught us, it’s this: sprucing up your home with some leafy greens helps improve the space at large, with some plants doubling as natural air purifiers.
“A 2016 study revealed that the presence of more than three indoor plants in homes and businesses enhanced the mood and sharpened the focus of subjects,” Puneet Sabharwal, co-founder of Horti and author of “Happy Plant”, told the New York Post. “And with plants, bigger is better. ‘The larger the plants, the better the mood of the subjects,’ researchers noted. ‘Also, an increase in the number of plants reduced the feeling of boredom in participants. These facts suggest that plants can be a source of fascination… providing an opportunity for reflection and recovery from direct attention fatigue.’”
For the plant moms and dads — including budding plant owners, we should punningly say — we put together an expert-backed guide to the best indoor plants for all skill levels, lifestyles and aesthetics. Even better, our in-depth FAQ section answers some of your most common plant questions and dives deeper into the world of all things botanical.
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Best Low Light Indoor Plants
Snake Plant (Sansevieria)
“Also known as the Sansevieria, this glossy green houseplant is perfect for novice plant parents, or plant lovers who have limited time to care for their personal oasis,” Alfred Palomares, vice president of merchandising at 1-800-Flowers and resident “plant dad,” told The Post. “It’s strong enough to live in a shaded, low-light location, thanks to its broader leaves that make it more energy efficient and able to catch and absorb more light.”
With glossy, emerald-green leaves, it’s bound to be the star of any show. It arrives in a neutral-toned decorative (and non-breakable!) pot and is simple to care for; this plant requires watering when the soil is dried and it thrives in moderate, indirect light with partial sun.
According to Sabharwal, the Pothos plant is ideal for low light. We own this *exact* plant and it has been thriving on our nightstand for one year now. For that reason, it’s ideal for a bedroom as you’ll likely close the blinds or draw your curtains together when sleeping.
Budget-friendly at less than $50, this plant is a bit more forgiving than most and follows a green rule of thumb (another “green thumb” pun, but we’re not sorry about it): the lighter the color in the leaves, the more light a Pothos variety will require.
“This houseplant is great for plant parents whose homes have little light and little time to care for their plants,” Palomares notes. “The ZZ Plant is low maintenance and can survive in a dry environment, needing water only occasionally. Take a deep breath too – the added benefit of this lush, glossy beauty is that it purifies the air.”
This plant varietal grows best in a well-lit space with medium to bright light. It can also adapt to low light or spaces without natural light as well, so it’s quite versatile to position in your home.
Peperomia Green Gold
Sabharwal recommends the Peperomia Green Gold as a suitable plant that doesn’t require much light. Its full, upturned leaves offer an aesthetically pleasing look — just as ideal for your kitchen island as it is for your bonus room.
What’s more, the Peperomia Green Gold is also pet-friendly and, under optimal conditions, may surprise you with a springtime flower spike.
“This is one of the few orchid species that can survive in a low-light space,” Palomares explains. “While most low-light plants prefer a north-facing window, the Phalaenopsis Orchid grows better when displayed near a shaded southern or eastern-facing window.”
Be sure to check the color of its leaves as well; if they start to darken, it means the plant needs some more light. “Although all plants add serenity to a home, the elegant Phalaenopsis Orchid brings a sense of calm and is a wonderful plant for the bedroom,” he adds. “They naturally absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air for a restful night’s sleep.”
“Known for prosperity and luck, the braided bamboo is easy to care for and grows best indoors, in low-light conditions,” Palomares says. “Its size makes it perfect for any table-top or desk, and according to Feng Shui principles will bring positive energy to the space it lives in.”
With an exotic appeal and ability to flourish in low-light conditions, the twisted, multi-dimensional plant type doubles as a conversation piece when placed on your coffee table.
Best Low Maintenance Indoor Plants
“Wildly popular and easy to care for, these adorable plants require less time to nurture,” Palomares says. “They can survive in a wide range of temperatures (40 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and only need watering about twice a month, as they are considered drought-tolerant plants.”
Palomares advises purchasing a potting mix that is more porous so water can drain through the soil with ease. “Be sure to place them in a sunny spot, as they need six hours of light per day,” he notes.
Additionally, Sabharwal also recommends succulents as a wonderful, low-maintenance option. However, be sure to note that they do require full sunlight despite their lackadaisical taking-care-of.
Sabharwal presented the Hoya Carnosa as one to consider when elevating your at-home nursery. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance varietal that isn’t abounding in leaves upon draping leaves, this type is for you.
Hoya plants, in general, enjoy bright light, but the Hoya Carnosa plants happen to be more tolerant to a larger range of lighting conditions. As a best practice, keep them in a warm humid environment and water once the top two inches of the soil feels dry.
“In addition to its minimal sun requirements, the snake plant is also low maintenance because it prefers a dry climate and tolerates droughts,” Palomares shares. “However, it does still need watering – but only when its soil is thoroughly dried. Its leaves will “talk”; if they start to yellow or will, it is a telling sign that it may need another drink.”
It’s important to note that snake plants also prefer a standard, porous potting mix or sandy soil allowing water to filter through quickly. “A cactus potting soil can also be used, as snake and cactus plants share similar characteristics,” he adds.
One of the most popular plant types is the Philodendron Green — one that Sabharwal considers to be an excellent low-maintenance option. From their heart-shaped leaves to low-swinging, trailing vines, the plant itself is a wonderful homage to natural gardens outside.
Thriving in medium to bright indirect light, the Philodendron Green can also tolerate low indirect light. For increased longevity, water this plant type every one to two weeks, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. You can also expect to water it more often in brighter light and less often in lower light.
“Perfect for providing dimension to small spaces, this easy-to-care-for green plant handles light better than most ferns,” Palomares says. “It thrives best in bright, indirect light and while it prefers to be kept moist at all times, it can handle drier conditions. It is recommended to lightly mist the plant one to two times per week.
This hanging plant can also survive outdoors as long as the temperature does not dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. “Knowing when to repot this plant is also important; if its leaves have begun to wilt or it is overcrowding its container it’s time for a new home,” he adds.
Scindapsus Hanging Basket
You’ve likely seen the Scindapsus Hanging Basket in someone’s home. It has the look of an outdoor plant but the easy-to-care-for nature of an indoor plant — and that’s what we love about it, along with Sabharwal.
General background: the Scindapsus belongs to the Araceae family, and is commonly sold as Satin Pothos or Silver Philodendron. Locally grown and apt for beginners, they’re a lovely choice for any room in your home.
As a rule of thumb, avoid direct sunlight and keep the soil a tiny bit moist, but not soggy.
Best Hanging Indoor Plants
“This low-maintenance plant requires little effort and can thrive outside of soil,” Palomares explains. “Living best in a terrarium, the air plant, or tillandsia, can be hung from unique places in the home.”
However, it can, at times, be susceptible to dehydration. Palomares recommends submerging the plant in water for two to three hours every two weeks for the best plant mom or dad experience.
String of Pearls
“While this plant is considered a trailing, hanging plant, it is also part of the succulent family,” Palomares says. “Just like succulents, String of Pearls can survive in drier conditions, but it prefers to be kept moist all the time. Be sure to mist this vining plant two to three times a week, especially in the summer when temperatures are higher.”
Palomares told us that plants will often talk to their parents by giving off certain signals that they need care. “If the pearl-shaped leaves begin to flatten, it’s time for a drink of water,” he notes. “For it to thrive and grow to three feet long, plant this vine in succulent potting mix or sandy soil that is well-drained.”
Above all else, its bead-like appearance is its most attractive feature, especially when it has the opportunity to grow and showcase its long, elegant vines of pearls.
Best Tall Indoor Plants
“Originating from the Mediterranean and growing as tall as 25 to 30 feet, it has beautiful grayish-green leaves that make it the perfect addition to home decor,” Palomares notes. “When it is fully mature and properly tended to, it can produce fruit annually.”
This showy perennial does require some maintenance but is relatively easy to care for, pet-friendly, and worships the sun. “They require at least six hours of full sunlight, daily. If indoors, it will thrive best near a window with southern exposure,” he explains. “However, since it can tolerate temperatures as low as ten degrees Fahrenheit, it can also grow beautifully outdoors.”
Moreover, the olive tree has a rich history and is famous for the symbolism of peace, goodwill, abundance and friendship. Their association with the Mediterranean landscape — as Palomares puts it — “can inspire and transport you to a place known for its beauty, romance and delicious cuisine.”
Sabharwal loves the classic Burgundy tree as a lofty choice for tall plant lovers — both literally and figuratively. You’ve likely seen them in miniature varieties at your local greenery, though we love their tall-form appearance to accentuate the corner of your living room or the empty corner in your foyer.
You’ll want to place the plant by window or porch with direct natural light for at least a portion of the day. Additionally, giving the Burgundy Tree two to three cups of water weekly is best. To *really* allow the plant to flourish, check on it weekly and add water when the top two inches of soil dry out.
Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane)
“With its lush, cream, yellow and green leaves, this tropical, low maintenance shrub will brighten up any dim corner and grow up to 10 feet tall,” Palomares highlights. “Also known as the Dumb Cane plant, it will thrive best in a bathroom as it prefers to be kept moist. Its soil will not tolerate being dried out.”
Native to the West Indies, it prefers a temperature range of 65-90 degrees Fahrenheit. While it will tolerate low light – bright, indirect light is best (per Palomares) and weekly drinks of water will help this plant thrive and maintain its moisture.
Fiddle Leaf Fig
“Growing up to 10 feet tall indoors, this beautiful and temperamental plant, will thrive if cared for correctly,” Palomares says. “If plant parents are looking to add additional fiddle leaf fig plants to their collection of greenery, this plant can be easily propagated. Proper watering is key, as it should be watered thoroughly but only when the soil is dry to the touch.
Be sure to use well-drained soil and a container with drainage holes, so the water can easily move through the soil. “This will help avoid root rot,” he explains.
Best Flowering Indoor Plants
“If you’re looking to add a traditional plant to your home decor aesthetic, and have time to care for an indoor garden, the classic rose plant is the perfect choice,” Palomares recommends. “These budding perennials love moist soil and mulch, so be sure to give it a thorough watering once a week.
The soil should always be well-saturated but well-drained to avoid root rot in its container. “They love soil that is rich in magnesium to promote healthy leaves and petals, so add Epsom salt or banana peels to the base of the plant so it can soak in its nutrients,” he advises.
When thinking of where the roses should live indoors, a spot with direct sunlight for at least seven hours each day is best, per Palomares’ expertise. “Once its petals expire, rose plants can be moved outdoors to be planted in the ground,” he says. “However, keep the temperatures in mind, as they cannot survive in freezing climates.”
“Known for their beautiful fragrance and bright, waxy white petals, this perennial can be grown both outdoors and indoors,” Palomares says. “While it’s challenging, if cared for correctly, gardening enthusiasts can enjoy it year over year.”
Interestingly, this blooming plant loves a humid environment but also requires about six to eight hours of sunlight that isn’t too direct (otherwise its leaves can burn).
As a tropical native, it likes plenty of water – so setting up a schedule to water a gardenia plant is helpful to ensure it is never fully dried out before its next drink. “However, do not mist its leaves, as it could cause fungus,” he instructs. “Plant enthusiasts should also be mindful of the type of soil and fertilizer they use, as gardenias prefer well-drained soil and a regularly scheduled drink of water.”
Additionally, be sure to use fertilizer for acid-loving plants and to give the correct amount, otherwise, it can stunt its growth.
Best Indoor Plants for Pet Owners
Maranta Red Prayer Plant
“This plant thrives best in spaces with bright, indirect light so it is best to avoid full sun exposure, otherwise the coloring of its leaves can fade and potentially burn,” Palomares says. ” As a native to the tropics, this lush plant loves high humidity, so a bathroom is a good place in the house for it to live.”
When cared for properly, the Maranta Red Prayer Plant can have some of the most striking leaves, with its distinct herringbone pattern and hints of red — as Palomares describes.
Sabharwal recommends the Calathea Wavestar as a lovely option that’s pet-friendly. With striking, jagged leaves and a full lush composure, we’re adding the plant variety to our wishlist as we type.
It’s also a highly air-purifying plant, so it’s wonderful to place in any room you’d like to freshen up. Calatheas also prefer medium, indirect sunlight and require a regular dusting of their leaves to ensure they’re able to absorb nutrients from sunlight effectively.
“This on-trend green plant is nicknamed the ‘UFO Plant’ for its saucer-shaped, bright green leaves,” Palomares explains. “It’s perfect for any desktop, bedroom or any spot in the house that needs some sprucing up.”
Uniquely, the Pilea Peperomiodes plant can also be propagated to create offspring. As far as location, you’ll want to place the plant variety in a spot where it can soak up bright, indirect sunlight.
“Also known as the ‘Good Luck Tree,’ [the Money Tree] features glossy green leaves and a braided trunk, that adds texture to any plant collection,” Palomares says. “This hardy tree is easy to care for and known among feng shui enthusiasts to attract good fortune and prosperity.”
Similar in appearance to the low-light Modern Bamboo variety, this plant fancies low light and infrequent watering. It should also be kept out of direct sun. Oh, and with minimal care, your Money Tree will hopefully thrive and confer plenty of years of good luck.
Best Air Purifying Indoor Plants
Calming Peace Lily Plant
“This fragrant, low-maintenance beauty originated from the South American tropics,” Palomares shares. “While it thrives in this type of climate, it has a high transpiration rate that can humidify the air and promote better airflow, helping its plant parents breathe better.”
And, here’s a bonus: it will also produce more white blooms if exposed to more bright, indirect light.
Majesty Palm Plant
“This lush plant stands tall with its feather-like fronds and requires little maintenance,” Palomares says. “Thriving best in bright, indirect sunlight, it only requires watering once a week or when the top two inches of its soil is dry and will help freshen up any room.”
To gauge its livelihood, be sure to note the Majesty Palm Plant also survives in a temperature range of 65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’ve probably heard numerous sources boast the benefits of aloe — whether nutritionally or dermatologically. And, its advantages are also in full bloom when it comes to indoor plants.
“Known for its soothing gel produced by its upright, green leaves, the aloe vera plant is also considered a succulent,” Palomares notes, an interesting tidbit we learned from. “It can be watered infrequently (every two to four weeks) and can survive in bright, direct or indirect light.”
The location of choice he recommends placing it in is a sunny windowsill — which, in turn, will allow your home to feel cheery and bright.
An FAQ on Indoor Plants
Ahead, our team of plant experts dish out the 411 on plants. It’s one of the most unique Q&As we’ve put together (because, after all, there’s a science to plants and nature — and we were truly geeking out about all the info). Scratch that, we still are.
Why are indoor plants so popular?
It’s safe to say that people who don’t regularly tend to a garden may still be all the rage about indoor plants and stocking their bookshelves and tables with fresh, leafy blooms. And, rightfully so, but why are we seeing a surge of these natural home accents and trendy new services — like plant subscriptions — blooming as well? Our experts tell all.
“Recreating nature indoors is an alternative that humans have turned to for thousands of years,” Sabhwarwal explained to The Post, traveling back to historic times. “Ancient cultures were abundant with indoor greenery — from Chinese ornamental plants cultivated as early as 1,000 BCE to the famed (possibly fictional) Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World engineered around 610 BCE.”
Here’s your History Channel briefing: King Nebuchadnezzar II is said to have ordered the construction of the impressively tiered gardens — complete with a complex irrigation system — to soothe the homesickness of Queen Amytis, his wife, who missed the countryside of her homeland.
Additionally, indoor plants’ budding benefits extend past the home. “When placed in hospitals and recovery rooms, plants can capture and hold the attention of recovering patients, producing a calming effect and accelerating healing time,” Sabharwal says. “According to research, rooms with plants are ‘perceived as more cheerful, pleasant, and inviting” than those without, and plants should be considered not simply as decoration but as therapeutic tools that are ‘noninvasive, inexpensive, and effective complementary medicine for surgical patients.’”
How do you care for houseplants?
Ah, the golden question.
What’s more, plants have a presence in our homes; we feel more alive when they are near us because they are the embodiment of our existence. “Instead of seeing a flourishing plant as a symbol of our own success in its maintenance, we should approach plant care as an act of gratitude — a moment we say thank you for the mostly thankless work that plants have been doing for millions of years to transform our once inhospitable planet into a lush, liveable home,” Sabharwal graciously adds.
How often do you water houseplants?
The method to the madness? Sabharwal instructs you to finger your plants. “No, seriously — stick your finger into the soil near the stem and see how damp it is,” he begins. “For most plants, if it’s dry, it’s time to water. If it’s still damp, hang tight.”
You’ll also want to be sure to research your particular plant type to learn more. Our expert-recommended picks include our research — and theirs — to help you treat your plants with care.
How long do houseplants last?
According to Sabharwal — with the right care — plants can last decades if not your entire lifetime.
Expert tips to abide by when caring for indoor plants
Ahead, Palomares and Sabharwal tip off a few key learnings to follow when you’re sprucing up your home — or a loved one’s — with indoor plants:
- Always check the top ½ inch to 1 inch of soil: If it’s dry, it is an indicator that it’s time to give your plant a drink. This will help you determine when and how often your plants need water, especially as the seasons change.
- When shopping for an indoor plant, do your research: It’s important to keep the following in mind — Do you/they have time to tend to plants? Do they have some experience as a plant parent? Or are they willing to learn about plant care? How big is their living space? Does the gift recipient have any pets or children? What type of environment do they live in?
- Too much love is as bad as too little: Conditions that are too moist or too nutrient-rich can facilitate the growth of fungal and bacterial pathogens, and damage plants in a way that allows these pathogens entry into plant tissues (so remember, all good things in moderation).
- That cute container? Drill holes in it: Many cute containers sold in garden and hardware stores aren’t equipped with drainage holes. In an anaerobic or non-oxygenated environment, bacterial pathogens are much more likely to thrive, causing the bane of every container gardener: root rot. The best way to avoid this is to let roots breathe (Related: Best cordless drills).
- Bugs aren’t always all bad: Take action early on in any infestation with simple preparations like soapy water. Further, when bringing home a new houseplant, keep it quarantined from your other plants for a few days until you are sure it isn’t hosting a potential population bomb of harmful critters.
- Don’t be afraid to prune: Everything from pruning out old leaves and stems to occasionally clipping away old roots while repotting can stimulate vigorous, healthy new growth. So, if your plants start looking a little tired, give them a haircut and watch them grow back with a vengeance.
What are the main differences between indoor and outdoor plants?
As you can imagine, there are so many key differentiators between indoor and outdoor plants: light requirements, temperature tolerance, humidity levels, soil conditions, pest and disease exposure, space limitations and watering needs are all factors, of that Sabharwal listed.
“It’s essential to choose plants that are well-suited to their intended environment, whether indoors or outdoors, and to provide them with the specific care and conditions they require to thrive,” he adds.
What are the best locations for indoor plants?
“Depending on their light requirements, we recommend that plants should be within 3 feet of a bright window,” Sabharwal advises. “Succulents should be able to get at least four to five hours of direct sun wherever they are kept.”
Tropical plants can be closer to the window that gets at least one or two hours of direct sunlight, they can also be placed in bright bathrooms since they love high humidity. In the wintertime, avoid keeping plants next to a cold, drafty window, as well as a hot radiator.
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