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I was hoping to do some kind of flow chart here, BUT it turns out that I have neither the skill nor the inclination to do so.
In the future, perhaps.
My personal ethos surrounding what plants are hard/easy to take of comes down finding a plant that likes your care methods and the conditions in your home.
FOR EXAMPLE if you’re a bit of an overwaterer with a humid house and great water quality, a Calathea will positively THRIVE in your care. A cactus, however, would probably die.
If you’re a bit of a micromanager, a plant that gets bugs a lot will be right up your street, since you can lovingly wipe down the leaves every day to keep pests at bay.
The trick is to pick the plant BEFORE you go to the garden centre.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Most of the plants I’ve bought are ones that I saw in the garden centre and simply couldn’t leave. And I can’t research their care in the garden centre because I pay £7 a month for my (SIM only) phone contract so I NEVER have good internet outside of my house.
I’d upgrade, but I rarely leave my house, and tbh have no desire to do so any more than I already do.
But if you just want a Plant for some Home Decor, and you want something that will live in your house and like it, the following guide is for you.
Now heads up, it is just a GUIDE. A quick scroll through any house plant Facebook group reveals that there is no right way to care for plants. But in general, this guide should serve you well.
What kind of light does your house get?
This is especially important if:
- You don’t have a lot of money and can only afford small, immature plants or
- You want to drop a large amount of money on a big-ass plant and don’t want it to die
Small, immature plants are harder to convince to thrive in less than optimal light. Big, expensive plants will probably do better, but they won’t thrive in crappy light, which will, in time, turn a big, beautiful plant into a sad-looking specimen.
I have a whole article on which plants do well in bright light, but the gist is that whilst a lot of plants do well in full sun, they may well need acclimatising (which can be a bit of a learning curve).
Some people argue that ‘proper’ bright light is impossible inside, because windows block the sun’s rays, but I think that sun rooms, conservatories, and exposed south or west-facing windows provide bright light.
Remember that light can change year round, and if you have an unheated conservatory it will be unsuitable for some species in winter.
Plants that will grow well in bright light:
In fact, they won’t thrive in anything but. Also great for those unheated-in-winter rooms because they don’t mind cold temperatures as long as they stay dry.
- Fiddle-leaf fig tree
This is for those of you that want a big, expensive statement plant. Personally, I can’t recommend them for that. They’re expensive, slow growing, and will drop down dead if you dare to move them half an inch. I’d definitely go for a…
Monstera are pretty chill in most lighting situations, but they’ll truly thrive in bright light. They can burn, so acclimate them properly, but even if the old leaves burn, the new ones will come through so quickly it won’t matter.
Bright, indirect light
If you have big windows and a generally bright home, you’ll have this in abundance. It’s light that’s bright enough to cast a sharp shadow but not so strong that heat beats down on the leaves.
Most plants are happy to live in bright, indirect light, though some plants (like Calathea) may suffer from low colouration/bleached leaves.
Medium light is usually a few feet away from a window. Often medium light spaces will get a couple of hours of bright, indirect light and then medium for the rest of the day.
In the wild, plants that get medium light are those that live on the forest floor but don’t climb – ferns, aglaonema, peace lilies, Calathea etc. I have an article here about working out plant care based on where they originate from.
Many plants CAN live in medium light, but they won’t thrive. Plants that aren’t thriving can attract pests, and then can’t fight them off well because they don’t have the energy (b/c not enough light).
It’s a vicious circle.
If you’re the type of person that quite likes the challenge of seeing off pests, then go ahead and shove your dracaena in medium light, but you have been warned!
Some plants do fine in medium light, but won’t mature. They’ll still grow, but they won’t grow as they would in the wild. Plants like Monstera and golden Pothos develop massive, fenestrated leaves in their mature forms which they won’t bother doing in low light.
I wouldn’t recommend putting a plant in low light. Get a realistic looking fake one. Some plants, like snake plants, won’t die in low light (because they cling hard to life) but they won’t grow well. You end up with long, spindly leaves that look sickly.
How warm is your house?
If you have a cold house, look for cold-hardy species.
One the off chance that you have a cold and bright house, then go to town on succulents. They won’t mind the drop in temperature as long as it’s light enough
If you have a cold, dark house, then you need to be looking at hardy plants. ZZ plants and yucca do fine (my yucca lives outside year round and it’s doing ok – the heavy rain earlier in the year saw off the old leaves, but new growth is coming in thick and fast).
Ferns are also not too fussed about warmth DEPENDING on the fern. You’ll also want to ensure that it’s humid enough, though in my experience, cold, dark houses tend to be damp, so you should be fine (yay, I guess?).
If you have a hot house, most tropical plants will be FINE. I’m making the assumption that it’s comfortable for you to live in, and if that’s the case, most tropical plants will be fine.
Ambient heat isn’t usually an issue with house plants, but if they’re next to a heat vent or sat in direct sun, you may end up with casualties. If you have no option but to live in a boiling hot house, go for plants that live in hot, exposed places (again, we’re back with succulents).
If you live in a hot, dark house, palms are an option or stick with tropical plants that don’t mind medium light. If humidity is below 50%, consider a humidifier.
How humid is your house?
A lot of tropical plants live in the rainforest, and the rainforest is pretty humid (it’s all the rain!).
First port of call is getting a hygrometer and measuring what the ambient humidity is. If it’s below 50% then you’re pretty much limited to plants with thick, succulent leaves.
There’s a decent selection (even if you just consider actual succulents), but if you want the freedom to go into the garden centre and get whatever the hell you like, get a humidifier (they help you breath! It’s an investment in YOUR health!).
Bringing the humidity up to 60% will allow you to keep a tonne of cool plants (Calathea, peace lilies, ferns) happy without making your home damp. If you don’t fancy buying a humidifier, you could buy a cabinet like this, and keep your humidity-loving plants in there.
Oftentimes, the plants create enough humidity themselves when they’re in a small area, so you wouldn’t need a humidifier. You can get cloud-effect ones though which look SO COOL. We have one for our terrarium.
Be sure to use filtered water in your humidifier/fogger, otherwise they get clogged with limescale and stop working. I speak from experience!
How much time do you want to devote to plant care?
If you’re a bare-minimum type of person, stay away from plants like crotons and Calathea, because they attract pests like nobody’s business.
I actually think that peace lilies are great for lazy people, because they’re pretty pest-resistant and they droop when they’re thirsty, so you don’t need to remember to water them.
Just pop them in a spot that you walk past every day and water when it’s collapsed.
Succulents are a great option (if you have the light) because they need nothing from you in winter, and in summer a monthly water will do fine. All my succulents go outside all summer and I let the rain water them.
Full disclosure: I put my succulents out waaaay before the last frost (i.e. March, and the last frost here is mid-May) and they’re doing GREAT. I mean, they look like shit, but the new growth is looking INCREDIBLE.
Be realistic here. Do you have the inclination to water your Maidenhair fern every few days? Or are you better off getting a Syngonium that doesn’t mind drying out to a crisp?
How much time do you want to devote to pest care?
If you just LOVE cleaning your plants:
- Monstera (thrips)
- Calathea (particularly Ornata) (spider mites)
- Crotons (spider mites)
- Hoya (spider mites)
- Alocasia (every pest out there)
- Succulents (mealybugs)
- Ferns (aphids – not especially prone to them, but they’re IMPOSSIBLE to shake and will kill new growth quickly)
If you hate pest care and will just let an infested plant die:
- Monstera adansonii (shake off pests well after a treatment or two)
- Peace lilies (rumoured to be pretty pest-resistant)
- Peperomia (personal experience only, but I’ve never had an issue)
Do you have any pets?
This isn’t just a toxicity issue, but obviously if you have a dog/cat you need to stick to plants like Calathea and spider plants that are non-toxic.
This is more of a keeping-your-pets-out-of-your-plants thing. I have a post on keeping cats out of house plants.
Hanging plants can be a great idea for getting plants off the floor, BUT they can be a pain to maintain (watering them is a pain in the bum unless you don’t mind little puddles of water everywhere.
I have recently decided that my favourite starter plant is the Peperomia hope.
They’re just so good for beginners.
- They don’t mind a bit of overwatering
- They really don’t mind being underwatered (she says, from experience)
- They bloom readily (the blooms are cool, in a long, thin way, though not exactly flowery)
- They shake off pests well
- They grow well in a tonne of different lights
- Just generally give off chill vibes.
- They’re unusual but not rare. So fairly cheap and pretty easy to get hold of (this Etsy shop has them at the time of publishing)
- Easy to propagate.
In grabbing my specimen to photograph for this article, I accidentally snapped off the vine with the bloom on, so I’m going to go and pop in my aerogarden, and hopefully, we can save it!