So you want to be a plant parent? Instagram loves to show homes packed to the gills with complicated-looking plants, but what about houseplants for beginners? You know, the type of greenery that can bounce back after a few mistakes?
We called on three experts for guidance on how to navigate the nursery as a new plant parent: Agatha Isabel, founder of Planting for Progress and owner of Plant Ma Shop; Richard Pham, manager at Little Shop of Soil in Brooklyn; and Maryah Greene, plant stylist and consultant and founder of Greene Piece. Here’s what they told us about keeping plants alive, plus 23 suggestions for your first plant purchase.
What makes good houseplants for beginners?
Our experts all agreed: Being able to witness frequent growth from your plants is key for any beginner. In other words, you want to see that your effort is paying off—fast.
“I think anyone who’s a first-time plant parent is looking for a plant that is going to give them the satisfaction of seeing that they’re doing something well,” Greene says. What’s more, Pham suggests looking for dramatic, communicative plants that curl up their leaves, droop, and fan out when they need water and sunlight. “I love any display of body language from plants, because it’s your cue to care for it,” she says. “There’s no guesswork.” Surprisingly, not all plants make it obvious when they need care, which can make your job a little more difficult.
Beginners looking for plants should go for something that’s relatively hardy and can adapt to different environments and water types. Easy-care houseplants should tolerate a variety of light conditions, but it’s always ideal to analyze the light in your space before you head to the plant store.
How do you examine your light condition?
Knowing what kind of light your space has is of utmost importance when it comes to sustaining your indoor garden. The words “bright indirect light,” “direct light,” and “low light” are thrown around a lot in conversation—but what do they actually mean?
Direct light is ideal for cacti, plants with thicker foliage, and most succulents. “Whenever you see the ball of the sun, that means that you’re getting some hours of direct light,” Pham says. Direct light can be harsh for some plants and can result in discoloration and burning.
Bright indirect light is suitable for most houseplants. “If you look out your window and only see the sky—not the actual sun—that means you’re just getting bright indirect light,” Pham says. You can also do a shadow test, so if you stand in your room and see a soft haze around your shadow, that most likely means that it’s bright indirect light. If you see that hard shadow, that means you have a direct light. The softer the shadow, the less light you have in your room.
If you can see outside a window, but can’t see the sky, that’s low light. Some plants, like snake plants and ZZ plants have adapted to tolerate low light, but most plants will not thrive under low-light conditions because less light equals less energy, and thus less food.
How do you know when—and how much—to water your houseplants?
Once you get used to having a few green gals, you’ll learn to speak their language and know the signs of thirst. But until you reach that stage, it’s good to get your hands a bit dirty. Stick your finger in the soil to gauge the moisture level, or invest in a soil probe. (See our other plant-care product recommendations here.) When you decide to water your plants, check to see if your pot has a drainage hole. If it does, saturate the soil until water comes out of the hole. You can never give too much water at one time if your plant has drainage, Greene explains. If your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole, use as much water as the volume of the pot.
This houseplant guide is here to serve as a resource for you throughout your journey toward a green thumb. Each of the plants below comes recommended by the pros, with tips about keeping them happy. You’ll be an armchair plant expert in no time.
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