Does your green thumb turn to stone when it comes to growing plants indoors? Don’t give up hope. Anyone can master indoor gardening by choosing the most suitable plants for the different microenvironments in the home, whether it’s a warm, humid room or a drafty low-light corner. And some indoor plants are tough enough to survive just about anywhere.

“The first step toward hosting houseplants is to find a space where they can reside. You need to fit plants into your existing living configuration,” says Tovah Martin, in her book The Indestructible Houseplant. Here are some of Martin’s suggestions, along with a few of our own, for easy-care houseplants appropriate for a variety of situations and lifestyles. You can find many of these tried-and-true plants at a local nursery, supermarket, or garden center. But if you want to try something more exotic, check out our list of mail-order houseplant resources.

Photo by: R Ann Kautzky / Alamy Stock Photo.

BASEBALL PLANT
(Euphorbia obesa)

Mature height: 6 inches

Reasons to love it: This prickle-free plant may look like a cactus, but it is actually a succulent with a smooth plaid-patterned skin and seams that resemble the stitching on a basebball. Although commonly grown outdoors, it will thrive in normal room temperatures and doesn’t mind being neglected.

Light and water requirements: Like most succulents, baseball plant requires bright light with about four hours of direct sunlight daily. Southern window exposures are optimal, but it’s also perfectly happy sitting in a west-facing window. Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings.

How often to fertilize: Rarely, if ever.

Green thumb tip: Like the sport, baseball plant has an off-season and benefits from a period of winter dormancy, during which you should water it sparingly. It also likes cooler indoor temperatures during the winter (as low 50º F). Rotate every few weeks so it won't lean towards the light.

Get more succulent care tips.

Photo by: Cal Cactus.

DWARF JADE PLANT
(Crassula ovata ‘Crosbys Compact’)

Mature height: 12 to 18 inches, or smaller when grown as a bonsai

Reasons to love it: This mini version of the popular South African succulent has the same tree-like form, making it an ideal bonsai plant for a sunny location. The fleshy green leaves have attractive red margins that become even more pronounced in cooler temperatures. Resilient and long-lived, it can survive for decades.

Light and water requirements: Jade plant needs plenty of sunlight -- at least a few hours a day. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, and water only sparingly during the winter months. Too much moisture can cause root and stem rot, so pot your plant in a fast-draining potting mix.

How often to fertilize: Occasionally with a diluted liquid fertilizer from spring through early fall. Do not fertilize in winter.

Green thumb tip: Jade plants are easy to propagate from leaf or stem cuttings in spring. Let the cuttings dry out for a few days to prevent them from oozing sap and then stick them into a good potting mix, preferably one for cacti and succulents.

Photo by: ileana_bt / Shutterstock.com.

QUEEN VICTORIA AGAVE
(Agave victoriae-reginae)

Mature height: Up to 10 inches

Reasons to love it: This miniature agave is one of the best choices for growing indoors. Its fleshy spine-tipped leaves, attractively edged in white, form a compact rosette resembling an artichoke. Because the leaves store water, Queen Victoria is the perfect houseplant for someone who travels or who often forgets to water. Slow-growing and long-lived, it will survive for years in the same pot.

Light and water requirements: Give bright light year-round from an east, west, or south window. In the summer, this plant enjoys a trip outdoors to a sunny patio. Water infrequently only when the soil is dry, no more than once a week.

How often to fertilize: Unnessesary, but if you want more robust growth you can fertilize with a slow release product once per year.

Green thumb tip: If the sun is coming in through your window from one direction, which is usually the case, rotate your agave every two weeks or so for tighter, more even growth, suggests Martin. This will help to preserve the beautiful rounded shape

Get more agave growing tips.

Photo by: Barbara Dudzinska / Shutterstock.com.

ZEBRA HAWORTHIA
(Haworthia attenuata ssp. attenuata)

Mature height: 3 to 5 inches

Reasons to love it: Ideal for narrow windowsills, this slow-growing succulent remains neat and compact. The pointed, tapering leaves resemble those of an Aloe vera but have white speckles covering the back in a zebra-stripe pattern. In summer, it bears long-lasting creamy white flowers on a long stem.

Light and water requirements: Similar to the baseball plant.

How often to fertilize: Fertilize infrequently with a slow release product.

Green thumb tip: As far as care goes, a haworthia needs almost none, says Martin, and it rarely needs repotting. If you do decide to repot, move your plant into a container that’s only slightly larger and use a similar soil type.

Photo by: Zabavna / Shutterstock.com.

AFRICAN VIOLET
(Saintpaulia)

Mature height: Usually under 4 inches

Reasons to love it: Of all the flowering houseplants, African violets are one of the most reliable and versatile. Thousands of cultivars give you a choice of almost any flower color (except for orange and black) as well as single, double, and bicolored blooms. There are also mini and micro-mini varieties that won’t outgrow a 2-inch pot. And unlike many flowering plants, they are quite forgiving of neglect. “They can endure lack of humidity, lapses in watering, and low light, and still live to tell the tale,” says Martin.

Light and water requirements: Place in the bright light of an east or west window, avoiding direct sun exposure. Water your plant when the soil feels slightly dry to the touch, making sure to drain any excess water from the bottom so the roots don’t stay wet. Use room-temperature water and try not to get the velvety leaves wet, which can cause spotting.

How often to fertilize: Every couple of weeks during active growth, prefereably with a product specifically for African violets.

Bloom period: African violets will bloom repeatedly during spring and summer when given enough natural sunlight, with the blooms lasting up to a few weeks. But you can induce them to flower even during the winter with the use of artificial lighting and the right growing conditions.

Green thumb tip: If your African violet produces lots of leaves and few flowers, you may be overfertilizing and should switch to a fertilizier that’s lower in nitrogen. Also deadhead spent flowers and remove dying leaves as soon as possible to encourage new flower development.

Photo by: Moskwa / Shutterstock.com.

FLAMING KATY
(Kalanchoe blossfeldiana)

Mature height: Up to 12 inches

Reasons to love it: This popular succulent, often sold during the Christmas season, brightens the indoors with clusters of tiny flowers in perky shades of pink, red, orange, salmon, yellow, or purple. “There are double versions that look like clusters of rosebuds as well as singles that resemble little open-faced starbursts bundled together. And they never stop producing those color-packed clusters throughout the winter season,” says Martin.

Light and water requirements: To ensure repeat flowering, give flaming Katy bright light with a fews hours of direct sunlight daily. Water every week or so only when the soil feels dry.

How often to fertilize: Once or twice a year, in early spring or late autmun. Plants in bloom don't need fertilizing.

Bloom period: Flaming Katy can rebloom many times at any time of the year, with the flowers typically lasting for several weeks. To prolong the bloom period , move the plant to a cooler space away from bright sunlight.

Green thumb tip: To encourage reblooming, pinch off spent flowers and give the plant a rest period, with no fertilizing and minimal watering. After a month or so, new buds should begin to emerge.

Photo by: Nakornthai / Shutterstock.com.

LADY'S SLIPPER ORCHID
(Paphiopedilum)

Mature size: Leaves about 5 inches; flower spikes 12 to 18 inches

Reasons to love it: So named for its slipper-shaped pouch, this orchid will flourish in less light than most. “I know most orchids have the reputation for being prima donnas that require an emerald green thumb, but Paphiopedilum is an exception. Mine is less bother than your average goldfish,” says Martin. The flower colors range from soft pastels to rich burgundy tones, with the pouch often a contrasting color to the rest of the flower.

Bloom period: Six to eight weeks, typically from late autumn through winter.

Light and water requirements: Slipper orchids never go dormant, so you’ll need to water them regularly year-round. Keep the potting medium damp, but not soggy. Placing the pot on a shallow tray of pebbles filled with water will increase the humidity while ensuring good drainage. Most Paphiopedilums prefer low-light conditions, such as an east- or west-facing window shaded from direct sunlight to avoid leaf burn.

How often to fertilize: Weekly using a balanced orchid fertilizer.

Green thumb tip: When your slipper orchid has finished blooming, cut the spike down to the level of the leaves and continue watering and fertilizing. Within a year, a new spike will emerge to begin another blooming cycle. Get more tips for making orchids rebloom.

Photo by: Claudio Baldini / Dreamstime.com.

PEACE LILY
(Spathiphyllum)

Mature size: Up to 3 feet

Reasons to love it: Pure white spathes surrounding creamy white flower spikes rise like unfurled sails above glossy dark green leaves. There are many hybrids to choose from, including newer dwarf versions, such as 'Little Angel' and ‘Piccolino’. This is one the best plants for purifying the air in your home too, so it’s a good choice for bedroooms and offices. Just keep in mind that it’s highly toxic when consumed by pets, so keep it out of reach.

Bloom period: Midspring through late summer.

Light and water requirements: Give peace lilies bright light, but no direct sun, which can scorch the leaves. Eastern or western exposures are ideal. Keep the soil evenly moist, providing good drainage to prevent root rot.

How often to fertilize: Monthly from early spring through summer.

Green thumb tip: Peace lilies are tropical plants and love warmth and humidity. Avoid exposing them to room temperatures below 55º F, and provide a moist environment by misting them frequently or setting them on a tray of gravel and water.

Photo by: Burkhard Trautsch / Shutterstock.com.

CHINESE EVERGREEN
(Aglaonema)

Mature height: 2 to 3 feet

Reasons to love it: If you’re looking for a foolproof foliage plant to jazz up your décor, a Chinese evergreen is a must. Newer hybrid varieties feature captivating color variations, such as ‘Silver Queen’ (almost totally silver with slight tinges of green), ‘Crete’ (with a red streak down the middle), and ‘Sparkling Sarah’ (a combination of green, pink, and cream). Beyond their ornamental appeal, Chinese evergreens are also one of the best foliage plants for removing indoor air toxins.

Light and water requirements: This plant doesn’t like full sun and does fine in the dim light of an east or even north window. Plants with darker green leaves can tolerate less light, while variegated versions tend to prefer brighter exposures (but never direct sun). Keep the soil consistently moist, watering a bit less in the winter. Wilted leaves are a sign of underwatering, while overwatering may cause stem or root rot.

How often to fertilize: Monthly with a diluted liquid fertilizer from early spring through fall.

Green thumb tip: A native of the tropics, Chinese evergreen hates cold drafts and temperatures below 55° F. Locate your plant away from drafty doorways, windows, and air-conditioning vents. Indoor temperatures between 65º to 80º F are ideal.

Photo by: Karl Gercens / Millette Photomedia.

CURLY SPIDER PLANT
(Chlorophytum comosum ‘Bonnie’)

Mature height: 6 to 8 inches tall, with cascading runners

Reasons to love it: Take a standard variegated spider plant, give it a perm, and you have ‘Bonnie.’ It features the same bold white-striped leaves and runners bearing baby spider plants, but both the foliage and runners twist and twirl. Like all spider plants, it’s also a good indoor air purifier.

Light and water requirements: Water generously when the soil feels dry, and more sparingly in winter. Give it the bright light of an east or west window, but avoid exposure to direct sunlight.

How often to fertilize: Monthly during the active growing season (early spring to late autumn).

Green thumb tip: This is one of the easiest houseplants to propogate. Simply cut the baby spiders from their runners and place each one in a separate container of moist potting soil. In no time, they’ll develop new roots. You can also stick the plantlets in a glass of water for a week or so until the roots form and then pot them in fresh soil.

Photo by: JSOBHATIS16899 / Shutterstock.com.

POLKA DOT PLANT
(Hypoestes phyllostachya)

Mature height: 12 inches; less when kept pruned

Reasons to love it: This charming little foliage plant is sure to make you smile, instantly lifting your mood with its cheery pink speckles sprinkled over deep-green leaves. In addition to pink, cultivars sporting white or red dots are also widely available.

Light and water requirements: For the best color, grow polka dots in the bright light of an east or west window, avoiding direct sun. Keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy. Too little water will cause the leaves to wilt. Polka dots also love humidity, so misting them occasionally will keep them perky.

How often to fertilize: Every couple of weeks during the growing season with a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer.

Green thumb tip: Because they thrive in humid environments, polka dots are great additions to terraiums, especially when used in contrast with plain foliage plants. If they get too tall and gangly, you can pinch back the stems to make your plants bushier.

Photo by: Del Boy / Shutterstock.com.

ESCARGOT REX BEGONIA
(Begonia ‘Escargot’)

Mature height: 6 to 12 inches

Reasons to love it: ‘Escargot’ is just one of many rhizomatous begonias adorned with exotic leaf patterns, in this case a snail-like spiral in luminous bands of pewter and chocolate. It also produces small pink flowers, but you won’t really care. The rich, velvety leaves are the true show stealers.

Light and water requirements: Grow in bright, indirect light, avoiding direct sun exposure. Keep the soil evenly moist, but never let it become soggy or else the rhizomes will rot. Rex begonias also crave a humid living environment, which you can achieve by running a humidifier or placing potted plants on a tray of wet pebbles. Don’t mist the leaves, which can cause spotting.

How often to fertilize: Every two weeks from spring through fall with a balanced liquid fertilizer. Stop in the winter, when the plants become dormant.

Green thumb tip: Begonias sometimes drop their leaves when they go dormant in the winter. If this happens, remove the withered growth and water only sparingly until new leaves emerge. Sudden temperature changes may also cause leaf drop. Keep temperatures moderate (above 60° F) even during winter.

Photo by: Floradania.

WATERMELON PEPEROMIA
(Peperomia argyreia)

Mature height: 6 to 8 inches

Reasons to love it: Looking like a potful of mini watermelons atop red stems, this green-and-silver striped peperomia begs to be noticed. A nearly foolproof houseplant for beginners, it rarely needs repotting and doesn’t mind a bit of neglect.

Light and water requirements: Place in a bright room with an east or west exposure, out of direct sunlight. Water moderately, allowing the soil to dry to the touch before rewatering. Be careful not to overwater, which can cause root rot.

How often to fertilize: Every two weeks from early spring through late summer with a diluted liquid fertilizer.

Green thumb tip: Most peperomias have small root systems, so they can go without repotting for several years. When you do repot, which is best done in spring, move your plant to a container that’s only slightly larger.

Photo by: Sasitorn Chaimanon / Shutterstock.com.

AIR PLANTS
(Tillandsia)

Mature height: Varies, depending on the variety

Reasons to love it: A genus of the bromeliad family, air plants free you from the constraint of pots, soil, and regular watering and fertilizing. Instead of putting down roots, they have scaly leaves that trap moisture in the air and can even absorb nutrients from airborne dust. This gives you the freedom to display them on pieces of driftwood or even mount them to walls.

For care requirements, growing tips, and a look at various tillandsia species, see Amazing Air Plants.

Photo by: Sai Tha / Shutterstock.com.

SNAKE PLANT
(Sansevieria trifasciata)

Mature height: 6 to 20 inches, depending on the variety

Reasons to love it: Also known as mother-in-law’s tongue because of its sharply pointed leaves, this hardy houseplant plant is almost impossible to kill, persevering through dim lighting, wide temperature fluctuations, and lapses in watering. The upright, deeply variegated foliage makes a bold architectural statement, which has made this plant a mainstay of contemporary interior designs.

Light and water requirements: Snake plant prefers medium light, but will tolerate just about anything except direct sun exposure. Because sansevierias have water-storing rhizomes, it’s almost impossible to underwater them. The biggest problem is overwatering, one of the few ways to kill a snake plant. Allow the top inch of the soil to dry completely between waterings and make sure your pot has good drainage.

How often to fertilize: Not necessary, but an occasional dose of all-purpose houseplant food during the spring and summer will ensure more vigorous growth.

Green thumb tip: Snake plant grows slowly, but the thick rhizomes can eventually muscle through a flimsy container. To prevent breakage, put it in a pot that’s sturdy and crack-proof.

Learn more about growing sansevierias, indoors or out.

Photo by: Garden World Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

CAST IRON PLANT
(Aspidistra elatior)

Mature height: 15 to 24 inches

Reasons to love it: Aptly named for its tough-as-nails constitution, the cast iron plant is almost impervious to neglect. Its elegant pointed leaves rise directly from the base, forming a fountain of green. Variegated forms, such as ‘Milky Way’ with white-speckled leaves and ‘Variegata’ with creamy white stripes, are particularly ornamental.

Light and water requirements: This shade-loving plant is ideal for dimly lit corners and rooms with northern exposures, but it will also do fine in filtered light from an east or west window. Water moderately during spring and summer to keep the soil evenly moist, and less frequently in winter. Allow the soil to dry between waterings.

How often to fertilize: Once a month during the growing season (from spring through autumn), but your plant won’t suffer much if you forget.

Green thumb tip: Aspidistra is extremely slow growing and can take years to reach its full height. You’re better off buying a plant just the size you like rather than waiting for it to have a growth spurt. Repot only when necessary, every four years or so.

Photo by: WeiShen / Shutterstock.com.

POTHOS
(Epipremnum aureum)

Mature height: Trailing stems can grow to 6 feet or more if left to wander

Reasons to love it: I’ve been growing a pothos on top of a dusty bookcase in a chilly, dark basement for years and it never complains. Not only can this plant abide low light conditions and cool temperatures, the heart-shaped leaves are often marbled or streaked with yellow, white, silver, or chartreuse, depending on the variety. It’s also one of the best houseplants for getting rid of indoor air toxins, including carbon monoxide and formaldehyde.

Light and water requirements: You’ll get the best color variegation and most vigorous growth by giving pothos bright sunlight, but your plant will still flourish in a more dimly lit room. Avoid direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves. Keep the soil moderately moist, but avoid waterlogging.

How often to fertilize: Monthly from spring through late fall.

Green thumb tip: This trailing plant is best displayed in a hanging basket or in a pot on a high shelf or plinth. But if you prefer to keep the foliage compact and bushy, simply prune it back to a leaf node. You can easily root the cuttings in moist potting soil.

Photo by: Olga Miltsova / Shutterstock.com.

BIRD’S NEST FERN
(Asplenium nidus)

Mature height: Up to 2 feet when grown indoors

Reasons to love it: The broad, undivided fronds and vase-like form of this tropical fern make it a stunning center piece for a table or plant stand. New fronds uncurl from a rosette of tight spirals at the center of the plant, so the shape remains elegant and upright. Despite its origin, this fern is very tolerant of a home environment as long as you keep it away from direct sun and drafts.

Light and water requirements: Grow in filtered bright light, such as an east-facing window. Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy, watering around the edge of the rosette so water doesn’t pool in the center and cause rot. If the fronds turn yellow, you’re probably overwatering.

How often to fertilize: Every 2 to 4 weeks during the growing season (typically April through September) with a diluted houseplant fertilizer to encourage new growth. Stop fertilizing during the fall and winter.

Green thumb tip: Bird’s nest fern doesn’t require jungle-like heat and humidity levels to thrive, but it fares best indoors when the humidity is moderate and temperatures are around 70º F, making it an ideal plant for a steamy bathroom. In dry rooms, make the air around your plant more humid by running a humidifier or standing the pot in a saucer or tray of wet pebbles, adding more water as it evaporates.

Learn more about indoor and outdoor ferns.

Photo by: Alisha Arif / Alamy Stock Photo.

PARLOR PALM
(Chamaedorea elegans)

Mature height: 2 to 4 feet

Reasons to love it: Few plants bring more tropical flair to the indoors than a palm. This compact shade-loving variety needs little exposure to natural light, making it a popular choice for dimly lit foyers and offices. In typical palm fashion, it forms a leafy canopy on arching fronds rising elegantly from the base. When given enough light, it may also reward you with clusters of small yellow flowers in the spring.

Light and water requirements: Grow parlor palm in low to moderately bright light, giving it a bit of filtered sunlight in the morning or late afternoon. Keep the soil evenly moist, but avoid overwatering. Provide good drainage, and wait until the surface of the soil has dried out before watering again. In dry environments, mist the foliage regularly to increase humidity.

How often to fertilize: Monthly in spring and summer, stopping fertilization in winter.

Green thumb tip: Typically the only pruning a parlor palm needs is the removal of lower fronds that naturally turn brown and wither over time. Never trim back the healthy green fronds because that will stop growth completely. If you do prune, remove the entire frond or stem.

Photo by: Sergey Clocikov / Shutterstock.com.

RUBBER PLANT
(Ficus elastica)

Mature height: Up to 10 feet

Reasons to love it: This lush houseplant provides floor-to-ceiling greenery, creating a dramatic focal point in a foyer, office, or bedroom corner. It’s also one of the most effective plants for purifying indoor air. 'Decora', one of the most common varieties, has glossy, dark-green leaves with an ivory midrib that grow up to a foot long. But for more pizzazz, try newer adaptations such as ‘Tricolor’, which has green leaves with splotches of pink and cream, and ‘Doescheri', featuring cream and gray variegated leaves with pink ribs.

Light and water requirements: Rubber plants grow best at average room temperatures in the bright indirect sunlight of an east or west window. Keep the soil evenly moist, watering when it becomes slightly dry to the touch. If the air is dry, mist the leaves on occasion or wipe them with a damp cloth.

How often to fertilize: Every two weeks during active growth in spring through fall; monthly in winter.

Green thumb tip: When you buy a rubber plant, it will typically be less than 2 feet tall but can eventually threaten to outgrow a room. If the height gets out of hand, shorten your plant by pruning off the top at the central stem. This will encourage the growth of side branches and make your plant look fuller. Keeping your plant in a smaller pot will also curb its growth.

Photo by: Garden World Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo.

ZZ PLANT
(Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Mature height: 2 to 3 feet

Reasons to love it: If you want a great looking plant without any stress, turn to the ZZ plant, says Martin, who calls it the ultimate indestructible houseplant. “ZZ plant requires a generous footprint, but it also makes a statement from afar. Tall but slender, it’s a nice vertical feature to play against your sofa and horizontal coffee tables.”

Light and water requirements: ZZ plant prefers the bright, indirect sunlight from an east- or west-facing window, but will also be happy growing under artificial lighting. It stores water in thick rhizomes and semi-succulent stems so you may only need to water it every couple of weeks, when the top of the soil feels dry. Overwatering can do more damage than underwatering, so don’t allow the soil to get soggy.

How often to fertilize: Every three months or so; they don’t have a big appetite.

Green thumb tip: The waxy, dark green leaves of the ZZ plant are naturally shiny and require little effort to maintain their gleaming good looks. Simply dust them off occasionally with a damp cloth. Leaf shine sprays aren’t necessary and some products could damage the foliage. Keep in mind that the leaves and all parts of the ZZ plant are toxic, so keep it away from children and pets.

ONLINE RESOURCES FOR HOUSEPLANTS
Almost Eden
Groovy Plants Ranch (specializes in succulents and air plants)
Logees Plants for Home & Garden
Pernell Gerver
The Sill
The Violet Barn (a good source for African violet hybrids)
White Flower Farm
Cal Cactus (specializes in rare and exotic cacti and succulents)

RELATED READING:


Houseplants 101
How to Design a Window Garden

Free Weekly NewsletterSign up for weekly gardening inspiration and design tips

Join thousands of design-conscious readers for exclusive offers, gardening inspiration and innovative design solutions for enjoying outdoor spaces.

* Required Fields
We will never sell or distribute your email to any other parties or organizations.

More about the newsletter

Come on a journey with us! Explore amazing gardens, view beautiful plants, and gain insights from the world’s best designers. Click on the issue to preview its contents.

Spring 2018 - Issue 202Spring 2018 - Issue 202
Follow Us Garden Design Magazine Facebook Garden Design Magazine Twitter Garden Design Magazine Google Plus Garden Design Magazine Pinterest Garden Design Magazine Instagram Garden Design Magazine Youtube

Not Ready to Commit to a Subscription?

Try an issue of Garden Design magazine for free (we know you’ll love it)! Just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling.

With our free single-issue trial order, we will send you a copy of the Autumn 2015 issue of Garden Design. Offer only available in the United States, and one per household.

Get your free issue!