GardenSMART :: 5 Fantastic House Plants for First Timers
5 Fantastic House Plants for First Timers
By Justin Hancock, Costa Farms garden expert Photographs courtesy of Costa Farms
Start here if you want to start growing house plants successfully.
There are so many reasons to grow house plants: They’re stylish. They make us healthier. They’re inexpensive home décor items. But there are also some misperceptions, including that they’re a lot of work and that they die easily. So if you’re new to houseplants, or want to try again, start here.
You might not think a plant native to the jungles of southeast Asia would be so easy, but this tropical jewel is. Chinese evergreen is a slow grower that features fantastically patterned leaves that show off shades of green and silver. It thrives in low, medium, or bright light and doesn’t mind the low-humidity conditions found in many homes with forced-air heating. And when it comes to watering, Chinese evergreen doesn’t mind if you’re not consistent; it can survive a few weeks without water if necessary.
Tip: Fertilizing houseplants helps keep them lush and healthy, but the truth is that many will survive without fertilizer for a couple of years. If you do want to feed, the best times are spring and summer. Use any general-purpose houseplant fertilizer.
Hailing from hot, dry areas of Mexico, ponytail palm is actually a small, very-slow-growing tree that has a thick bonsai-like trunk topped by a festive cluster of grassy leaves. That trunk stores water, allowing ponytail palm to go a few weeks without water if necessary. Ponytail palm grows best in high light, but doesn’t mind low or medium light.
Tip: One way to gauge low light is by if there’s enough brightness for you to read a book or magazine most of the day without having to add supplemental lighting. If there’s not enough light for you to read by throughout the day, it’s best to supplement your plants with artificial light.
Sago palm is as much a stylish, easy-care houseplant as it is a piece of history because this plant is relatively unchanged since it grew in prehistoric times with the dinosaurs! If it’s survived millions of years, you can bet it’s easy to grow. Like ponytail palm, sago palm grows best in bright light, but doesn’t mind medium or low light. It doesn’t need a lot of water to get by; watering once a week or two is usually sufficient.
Tip: All houseplants will drop old leaves as they age. Don’t be alarmed if your plants develop a yellow leaf periodically. It’s more of a warning sign when you see several leaves start to yellow and drop at the same time.
An old-school houseplant that’s held up to the test of time, snake plant has a decidedly modern appearance and no-fuss nature. High-light, medium-light, and low-light are all just fine for snake plant, and it’s just as tolerant of irregular watering as it is what kind of light it’s in. Forget to water it for a few weeks or are travelling? No worries: Snake plant doesn’t mind.
Tip: Not all soil is equal. Houseplants don’t like garden soil. If you repot your plants, be sure the product you use is labeled potting mix or potting soil and has been designed for plants in pots.
Think ZZ plant looks like plastic? You might also think it grows like a plastic plant! Able to store water in its thick stems, ZZ plant doesn’t care if it’s a little dry. The plant takes the same attitude toward light; low, medium, or high are all good.
Tip: Though it might go against what you think, more houseplants die from too much water than not enough. If you’re unsure whether you should add a splash of water, probe the potting mix with your finger. If you detect moisture an inch or two down, there’s no need to water. Don’t want to get your finger dirty? Invest in an inexpensive moisture meter!