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3 Questions For Picking The Perfect Houseplant (AKA One You Won’t Kill)

This post originally published on Aug 3, 202o.

Houseplants are a  simple, budget-friendly way to bring nature indoors and add some greenery to your space, especially now that we’re all spending more time at home. A spontaneous plant purchase might even seem harmless — that is, until three weeks later when your plant’s leaves turn yellow, and its vivacity slowly fades

Suddenly, you’re caught up in a houseplant-triage melodrama, racking your brain about the whens, hows, and whys that led to your beloved plant’s decline. In reality, the plant you brought home was never suited to your lifestyle.

Being aware of how much care you’re willing to give your plant — and the nuances of its future environment (i.e. your home) — are the first steps to keeping your houseplant alive and thriving.  Here are some questions to ask yourself so you pick the right plant for your lifestyle.  

1. How much time do I want to commit?

Different plants require different levels of care. Some plants require a weekly routine, while others might need a 2-3 month break from your nurturing hands. 

If you don’t have a lot of time…

If you’re busy with work, have other responsibilities competing for your attention, or simply want a fuss-free plant, your best option is a drought-resistant species.

With adequate light, drought-resistant plants can survive an extended time without a replenished water source. These plants usually have fleshy leaves or stems that act as a built-in reservoir for water. Since these plants can sustain their moisture longer, they demand less of your time, and there’s less risk of underwatering. 

Plants to consider: Cactus, succulents, Snake plant, ZZ plant


If you have a consistent amount of time…

If you welcome the idea of adopting a regular care routine for your indoor plant, you might be open to plants that are a bit more high-maintenance, compared to cacti. Your local nursery or big-box hardware store is a great place to start your search for a tropical plant.

Don’t let the word “tropical” scare you off. Many plants that are considered common, like wax plants and “Devil’s Ivy” (i.e. pothos), are endemic to (meaning they come from) tropical areas. If your home has other elements that are key to their survival — like indirect sunlight and moderate-to-high humidity — a tropical species might be the right plant for you. 

These plants generally don’t prefer to sit in overly moist soil but also don’t thrive when soil is bone dry for a prolonged period. As a doting caretaker, these preferences encourage you to observe your plant’s needs and develop a care routine that’ll make you and your houseplant happy.

Plants to consider: Fiddle-leaf fig, Prayer plant, Swiss cheese plant, Pothos, other Philodendron 

2. Where do I want to put this plant?

You might’ve noticed, above, that light is an essential factor in either scenario. If you didn’t catch that, that’s OK! It’s so important, I’ll cover it here.

Light is crucial to a plant because it’s the energy that plants use to photosynthesize (a process that lets plants create their own food). With this in mind, think about the space you want your plant to live.

If it’s going in a windowless room …

You might want to keep a plant in a dark corridor of your home, in your office cubicle, or in the basement. If the room you had in mind doesn’t have windows or a doorway for sunlight to enter, you’ll likely set yourself (and your plant) up to fail.

However, growing an indoor plant in a space without windows isn’t impossible — you’ll just need to make a few modifications. For example, in a dim hallway or basement, installing a full-spectrum grow light in the space can create an energy source for your plants. Commercial office buildings often have fluorescent lights that might be enough to keep low-light tolerant plants alive.

Plants to consider: Pothos, ZZ plant, Snake plant; if grow lights aren’t an option — opt for an artificial plant or other decor.

If you can place it next to a window…

Having a window in the room that lets sunlight into your plant’s space is essential, but you also want to be aware of the light intensity coming through your windows. Some plants can handle all-day, direct sunlight from a southern window while others are more sensitive to intense light, preferring indirect, gentle sunlight from an eastern window.

Use a compass (your smartphone likely has an app for this) to find the true direction of your room’s window. If you find that your window faces south, high-light plants like cacti and succulents might be a good addition to your space. Another option is installing a sheer curtain to diffuse the intense light so a moderate-light plant can enjoy the space, too.

Plants to consider: 

  • Northern window – Chinese evergreen, Peace lily, pothos
  • Eastern window – Prayer plant, fiddle-leaf fig, peperomia plant
  • Western window – Bird of Paradise, Aloe, Croton
  • Southern window – Cacti and succulents

3. Is this plant pet-friendly?

A major lifestyle consideration before bringing a plant home is whether you have pets in your home. Like known human foods that are toxic to dogs (e.g. chocolate), some plants are considered toxic to pets. 

A curious cat or dog that ingests leaves or other parts of toxic plants may risk gastrointestinal issues or worse. For example, Sago palm is known to cause health-related concerns in pets, like vomiting, liver damage, or death.

Before heading to the checkout line with your plant, research whether the plant is toxic to your pet. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a list of some known toxic plants for dogs, cats, and horses.

Pet-safe plants to consider: Spider plant, Calathea, Boston fern, Burro’s tail, wax plant

Jennifer is an L.A.-based writer and editor who covers topics like travel rewards, personal finance, and lifestyle. She’s been featured on Business Insider, Forbes, Nerdwallet and U.S. News. When she’s not writing, you can find her caring for her collection of more than 100 houseplants or sipping on her fifth coffee of the day. 

Image via Pexels

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