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House plants can be as cheap or as expensive a hobby as you like. For every person that’s dropping a couple of grand on the rarest aroid node, there are five prop lifting from shopping centres and partaking in plant swaps with friends.
There is no right way to be a house plant person (though be respectful whilst prop lifting - picking up dropped cuttings is fine, carrying around a pair of scissors to ensure there are props to lift is less so).
This article is for those of us that are trying to stick to a budget. It’s pretty easy to do in theory – as long as you pick the right plants, you should be fine.
Which house plants are best for people on a budget?
It would be simple to say ‘just pick the cheap ones’, but that isn’t necessarily true for a couple of reasons:
- Some cheap house plants can be expensive to maintain if you don’t have the correct conditions for them – maidenhair ferns are pretty cheap, for example, but if you have a tendency to be a bit of an underwaterer, then it may be living on borrowed time. You could get a humidifier, sure, but that’s added expensive, both for the initial outlay and on your electricity bill.
- Buying a larger, more established plant may initially cost more, but it will probably be easier to keep alive, especially if you’re new to the hobby.
So, what do I recommend?
I don’t know what it is about the Brasil specifically that makes it that bit easier than the other heartleaf Philodendron, but it just seems a bit…chiller about everything.
To be honest, you can’t really go wrong in the whole Pothos/heartleaf Philodendron/ Scindapsus family, but Brasil is just a bit easier in every way – they can tolerate slightly lower temperatures and still grow, they’re happy enough in a north-facing window, and they propagate quickly.
They’re also pretty cheap, although there are colour variations, like the Rio (which has a cream stripe, rather than yellow), which can be a lot pricier.
Rubber plants can be quite slow growing, so price varies a LOT depending on size. I got a baby Ficus Tineke for the princely sum of £2.99 and it was about 8 inches tall. Three years later and it’s CONSIDERABLY bigger:
My ficus robusta is behind her.
If you want a bigger specimen (and they grow into literal trees, so however big a space you need to fill, you can get a rubber plant big enough) you may have to pay more, BUT they’re pretty chill as long as you give them enough light and water (not they’re they’re particularly greedy about either).
They’re a little bit cheaper in the US, but the plants are smaller, so about the same.
As I said, baby ones are cheap, and if you want a rarer plant, baby Ficus Moonshine is a great place to start.
If you want to get into collecting plants, but you’re on a budget (or have a history of hyper fixation and want to build a decent collection without throwing thousands of pounds at something you may tire of), Syngoniums are a great plant to start with.
There are dozens of cheap varieties, but if you want to splash out, there are some rare ones out there.
This Syngonium pink splash lives in our terrarium perfectly happily. I think it was about £5. It’s not thriving, because the plants in there are currently being overshadowed by this freaking begonia in there that’s climbing over everything – said villain is photobombing the bottom left corner, along with a bird’s nest fern frond.
Peace lilies, hoya (also good for collectors), and Aglaonema are also awesome budget-friendly options, and I could hardly write an article about budget-friendly plants and not mention Pothos, could I?
I personally LOVE Marble Queen Pothos – they’re a little slower growing than a golden or jade Pothos because the variegated areas are free-loaders that don’t photosynthesise, but they’re stunning, so who cares?
They’re happy to trail or climb a pole – dealer’s choice.
Where to buy cheap plants
Many people avoid super market house plants because they think that supermarkets house plants are lower quality than ones you can buy elsewhere. Cheap plants aren’t necessarily worse than expensive ones BUT they may not have received the best care at the store, so require more tlc.
If you find a really gnarly one, be sure to check it for pests.
Garden centres are usually pretty good at selling more unusual plants at decent prices. You could probs find a cheaper Golden Pothos at a supermarket, but plants like Aglaonema and hoya are far more likely to be stocked at a garden centre.
A bit of a wildcard, but definitely worth checking out. Especially good for bigger plants and, weirdly, succulents, which are an awesome cheap option IF you have great light and don’t mind slow-growing plants.
If you want a big rubber plant, Monstera, or Schefflera, check out places like B&Q an Home Depot. I assume because they're more structural and are commonly used as decor plants.
Where to buy cheap plant pots
If you’re on a serious budget and are happy to give your plants extra tlc to make up for your lack of funds, then you can’t go wrong with terracotta pots. Sure, there are pros and cons of using terracotta, but you can’t deny that it’s cheap.
Another option is that one you’ve amassed a few pots, you can just keep buying bigger pots and up-pot each plant one size when it comes to re-potting, like hermit crabs moving shells.
Tk Maxx is also a great option for fancier pots on a budget. I like these T4U pots on Amazon they have loads of sizes and styles, including self-watering ones (I like the wicking ones, but I’m less of a fan of the LeChuza knock-offs – I still use them though)
House plant pesticides on a budget
The trick here is to find one method and stick to it. The thing with pesticides is that we always think that the next chemical will do the trick, when in fact consistency and persistence are the key to house plant pest eradication.
If you're on a serious budget and you need a pesticide, water works fine on thrips, mealys and spider mites BUT you'll need to be very thorough in your execution.
Either castile soap or hydrogen peroxide are great – I prefer castile soap purely because it doesn’t matter so much if I accidentally leave it out. Hydrogen peroxide decomposes to just water if it gets exposed to too much light, which is a great way to waste £12.
Neem oil is also a good option, but again, you need to be consistent, it doesn’t smell great, and it’s solid at room temperature which can make storing it and making it into a solution a pain. It’s easy – literally add it to warm water and swill it around to melt it and you’re ready to go – but castile soap is every so slightly easier (and smells better).
If you want to try systemic granules go ahead, but they’re not readily available in the UK so I can’t advise.
House plant soil on a budget
If you want to make your own in bulk, then that’s fine – buy some bark, perlite, coir, charcoal and worm castings and you’re good to go. There’ll be an initial outlay of around £50, but you’ll be set for a while.
If you don't have £50 to spend on house plant supplies, then just buy house plant potting mix. If you tend to overwater and want something chunkier, then you can buy bark to add a bit of aeration.
Fancy soil is great, but it won’t make or break your plants – the light and care you give them will have FAR more of an impact, I promise.
I use an old teapot, because as you’ll see in the video, watering cans for house plants tend to spill out of the top. My teapot doesn’t, so I use that. A measuring jug will work fine. If you don’t have anything you can use bottom water using a bowl.
House plant fertiliser on a budget
Again, the brand of fertiliser won’t make or break your plants. Fertiliser brands differ a lot worldwide, so I usually recommend people go onto Amazon and search for a 10-10-10 fertiliser.
Luckily, the Venn diagram of people that are really good at fertilising house plants, and people that like to leave really detailed Amazon reviews (with pictures) is a circle, so just find a reviewer that you like and take their recommendation.
Extras that are nice to have but 100% not necessary
If you use a chunky soil, then there’s probably no point in getting a moisture metre – you need a lot of contact with the probe bit for it to work. If you’re new to plants and you’re planning on keeping them in their nursery pots for a while (which you should do to avoid shocking them) then the soil the come in is usually fine to use with a moisture metre.
I found them to be extremely helpful when I was first getting into plants and learning how not to overwater them.
There’s a more in depth article about moisture metres here if you’re on the fence about them.
If you have very dry air (less than 40% ambient humidity) or you’ve fallen in love with Calathea, then you probably don’t need a humidifier.
I don’t have one, but I do have a big terrarium that my Calathea live in.
If you want serious, professional-style grow lights, then I recommend the Bestva ones (review here) – they’re not *quite* as good as my Mars Hydro ones, but they’re considerably cheaper.
For those of you that want grow lights to brighten up a dark corner, then I’d probably recommend getting grow bulbs to fit into your own lights – remember that grow lights need to be close (like, a foot away) to make much difference.
I didn’t really go into the pros and cons of the various fancy waters you can get, but that’s because I use tap and rainwater (and aquarium water).
If you have really, really bad tap water then maybe a water filter will be worth buying (I mean, you probs already have one).
You could also go down the root of buying drought-tolerant plants like cacti that are less fussy about water quality. Definitely stay away from true low-light plants like ferns and Calathea, because they use a LOT of water and will sulk if it’s not top-notch.
Please leave any budget house plant tips in the comments – I’m a pretty frugal person, but I have access to a great, cheap garden centre where they do a LOT of baby rare plants for great prices AND I have good tap water (#brag), so if you have tips for good prop lifting sites/ways to filter water on the cheap, we’re all ears!