These Houseplants Stay Small (Though You Will Have to Prune Them)

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There are few house plants that won’t grow as big as they can (because that’s pretty much what they’re designed to do) BUT there are a few varieties that have small leaves, grow slowly and/or can be pruned back without causing damage to the plant.

African Violet

African violets don’t grow that quickly (or at least they don’t for me), and they have the added bonus that they produce beautiful blooms. You can get a few different varieties and colours, and there’s a variegated version that’s fairly common.

These plants are pretty easy to grow. They like bright, indirect light, and whilst they’d love to have consistent water, they don’t mind totally drying out every so often (oops). You can easily propagate them by sticking a leaf cutting in some perlite of water.

Fittonia

Also known as a nerve plant.

I’ve killed two fittonia (my boyfriend bought them – I knew I’d kill ’em but he wouldn’t listen) because they do NOT like to dry out. They wilt dramatically and then spring back to life when you give them water. Except one time they didn’t spring back.

The only way I’ve managed to successfully keep Fittonia alive is in the terrarium. It has a lid on it, so the humidity is super high and keeps the soil moist without me having to water it myself.

Pilea depressa

Super cute, easy to care for, and I had mine on a pretty dark shelf in the kitchen and it BLOOMED. It’s one of those plants that sends out little puffs of pollen which is very confusing when you didn’t realise plants did that. I thought my plant was having a tiny quiet firework display before my boyfriend told me what was going.

Pilea in general is a pretty good genus for small plants. Pilea peperomioides is very popular and are a small/medium size. You could always keep chopping off the top of the plant to encourage new babies though.

Peperomia

I bloody love a peperomia. Small and not needy. We love.

If you’re the kind of person that loves to collection a certain plant species, peperomia is a great one. There’s loads of small species that are really cool but all look a bit different. There are a few larger species too, but most of them are pretty wee.

They will take a certain amount of neglect, but I’m afraid my string of turtles is on its way out. So I’d estimate they can take around year of moderate neglect before blooming and dying (yeah, she’s a bit of a drama queen).

Pothos/Heartleaf Philodendron

If you treat your pothos well, it’ll grow like mad, but you can just cut the vines back to whatever size you like without remotely damaging the plant.

If you find that the leaves are growing to big, move it aways from the light a foot or so and see if the leaves shrink. You can reduce the light until the leaves are small enough BUT you’ll find that you’ll get longer vines with fewer leaves.

Allowing pothos to trail (rather than training them to grow up a moss pole) can also help to keep the leaves small.

Maidenhair fern

Yeah, I know. They’re a pain in the bum.

I THINK that I’ve cracked maidenhair ferns though. Mine is doing super well (after losing every frond but one to aphids) after I increased the light.

It’s in a south-facing window that’s pretty sheltered, so it’s pretty much the epitome of bright indirect light.

Maidenhair ferns definitely prefer more light than a lot of other ferns. If yours has died back, it may still produce new fiddleheads, so it’s worth persevering. They also like to be kept pretty moist so they’re a good one for overwaterers. Humidity is a must.

We have two maidenhair ferns in our terrarium and they’re a great option. They do grow pretty fast in there though, so we need to trim them back. I just chop the fronds off and hope for the best, and so far the fern hasn’t minded.

Air plant

Some air plants grow MASSIVE, so they’re not necessarily all small, however most of them grow very slowly.

Air plants are also pretty tricky to care for, and if you don’t get it right it’ll grow ever slower than normal (or, you know, die).

Air plants are also a great option if you want something to style out a bookcase or something, but don’t want the hassle of soil.

Lithops

To be honest, a of succulents that have the potential to be enormous will never reach their potential in our home. I’m sure lithops fall into this category.

Lithops are particularly compact, but most small succulents will stay small from a few years, especially if they’re not given quite enough light (and giving succulents enough light indoors is pretty difficult without super strong grow lights).

You could definitely keep a lithops alive in suboptimal light (though it would still need to be near a window) as long as you don’t overwater it. Too much water + too little light = mush.

String of pearls

Another one that you could 100% just trim (and propagate if you want) if it gets to long BUT they’re a pain to keep alive.

They need all the light, but water only at very specific times which they are not courteous enough to tell you about.

Yes, I killed mine, BUT it wasn’t my fault*. I got it cheap because it was overwatered to the point a mushroom was growing in it (mushrooms aren’t always a sign of overwatering, but if it’s been moist enough for a mushroom to grow, it’s too moist for an SOP).

*I have decided this, based on nothing.

String of hearts

The string of anything that I would consider easy to grow.

SOH is happy to be left to dry out, like, a lot. But they also can take a bit of overwatering.

They propagate super easily, and they hang in a thin string my nature, so even if they get very long, they’re not going to grow bushy on their own (though you can take cuttings and put them back in the pot and they should root easily. Again, if it gets too long, just trim it.

Bonsai

I don’t have any experience with Bonsai because they’re expensive and tricky, two properties I tend to stay well away from BUT I do have plans to invest in one in the future (after I’ve invested a bit of time learning how to look after one) because I think it’s such an interesting idea (though one I find a bit…cruel somehow).

Rhapidophora tetrasperma

So RT aren’t that small compared to some of the other plants I’ve suggested, but I’d like to give it an honourable mention because it looks *a bit* like a Monstera deliciosa (to the untrained eye, but I get the vibe) but is much, much smaller.

Monstera adansonii is also more compact than MD and easier to cut back. I mean, you can cut back MD, but as the leaves mature they get prettier (imo), and I couldn’t hack cutting off fenestrated leaves in favour of plain ones.

How do you keep house plants small?

There are a few ways to keep house plants small BUT remember that plants vary a lot (like all living things) and also, in the immortal words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, ‘life, uh, finds a way,’*

Some plants you can treat like crap and they dgaf. They grow and grow despite living in crappy light and being left to dry out for months on end.

This isn’t species-specific, it’s just…the way things are. Usually happens with plant you don’t like. So there is an element of luck here. Also, some plants want to grow big, and to stop them from doing so, you’ll have to be mean to them.

*That’s a Jurassic Park reference, kids.

Prune them

Get some (clean) scissors and cut off the bits you don’t like.

Plants WANT to grow. If you chop off a part of them, they’ll just keep pushing out more growth.

One thing to note is that if you prune a plant, there isn’t always a way to tell where the new growth will come from. I have a Rhapidophora tetrasperma that I took cuttings from three times, and each time it continued growing from the last node (the one furthest from the roots).

And then it decided it was going to grow from the first node, put out one leaf and then a new growth point appeared from the next node along.

I got excited thinking I had potentially three new growth points, but nope, it’s abandoned both the first and last node and is producing a long vine from node #3.

Why?

Who knows?

What can I plant in tiny pots?

If the reason you’re looking for tiny plants is that you have a tonne of tiny pots (I’ve been there), I have a word of caution.

Tiny pots dry out super freaking quickly.

Don’t put anything in them that can’t dry out completely UNLESS you’re very diligent about watering. I lost a baby Alocasia because it dried out too quickly – I was checking it EVERY DAY.

Strings of things are a great way to use up tiny pots, because you can take a single cutting and keep it for quite a while in a small pot. The roots systems of most strings is pretty shallow, so you won’t be forever repotting.

A shelf lined with a few single cuttings of string of hearts or pearls would look pretty cool, plus it wouldn’t matter if you let them dry out – they’re pretty forgiving of being underwatered.

Nowadays I use most of my tiny pots for germinating seeds for my vegetable garden, but I’ve also used them in the past for

  • Spider plant/ Pilea peperomioides pups
  • Hoya cuttings – these are also pretty slow-growing and are happy to dry out. Water when the leaves are wrinkled.
  • Snake plant propagations – just snip a leaf off the mother plant, cut a triangle out of the bottom so the leaf has two little points at the bottom and stick in some potting mix. A few, ahem, months later you *might* have some roots! Don’t give up on snake plant props too soon. They are slooooow.

If anyone has any other suggestions for plants that stay small, please leave them below. I understand the desire to buy all the plants all too well, and I get that not everyone wants to live in a rainforest.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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