Fittonia - Houseplants for Beginners
Houseplants

Houseplants for Beginners

Back when everyone used to put in their favorite books, quotes, and movies, on their Facebook profile, the About Me section on my page used to read, “I kill houseplants.” That’s it. It was so true that my sister and I used to joke about it. Somehow that changed, because today I counted 26 plants in our one bedroom apartment. I guess you could say I am starting to get the hang of how to care for houseplants. Based on my Facebook profile of 2010, it hasn’t always been that way, so I wanted to go over some ‘houseplants for beginners’ tips that helped me get started.

First of all, working as a florist has absolutely no carry-over in knowing how to care for plants. Many people assume that because I was a floral designer, one was the result of the other in my story. In reality, what “plant care” looks like as a florist is finding the best way to delay the decay of an already dead plant. Sorry to be the one to lift the veil on all those cut peonies and roses. People have a hard time wrapping their head around this because of the floral beauty that seems to surround florist life.

However, while working as a floral designer, we would very occasionally use a potted plant in our design, and I would save them from their dumpster demise at the end of the event. That is how I got started with houseplants in 2016. Dumpster plant rescue.

Philodendron plant - ideal houseplants for beginners
A happy philodendron in my kitchen. It doesn’t get any direct sunlight, but it has lots of new growth, a sign that it’s happy and thriving in it’s bright, indirect, morning light.

Where To Start – choosing your first plants

Everyone told me to start with succulents in the beginning, and so I did. I killed most of them over the years, but there are a few that have survived. I will not tell you to start with succulents. In part, I don’t like them as much, and additionally, I don’t think that most of us have enough sunlight in our homes to give them an environment to thrive in. More on that later though.

The plants that I would recommend for a beginner plant momma are:

  • Fittonia
  • Philodendron
  • Monstera (also in the philodendron family)
  • Pothos

These four plants require more care than say, a snake or zz plant (which most of you have likely heard of), so you will actually get some practice and learn how to tend to your plants’ needs! These plants are also relatively forgiving if you unintentionally neglect them.

Let’s Talk About Light

All plants need light in order to survive. Period. Without light, all plants will die. While some plants are touted as “no light plants” or “cubicle plants,” the fact of the matter is that these plants just take longer to die. If you are going to have plants in your home, they must get light! It doesn’t have to be hours and hours of sunbeams in a south-facing window (in fact, this may burn many plants!), but most will love you right back if you put them somewhere where they will have lots of bright, indirect light to soak in throughout the day.

While succulents are touted as “foolproof” and “beginner” plants, I have not had great success with them as houseplants since leaving hot, sunny, San Jose, California. My theory is that this is largely due to the high amount of light that they need in order to thrive. Although I do still have a few succulents indoors, mine have all done better outside, where they can get much more sunlight throughout the entire day, even if not direct.

Large monstera plant with sunbeams
My monstera is next to a north-facing window. It gets lots of direct morning light and bright, indirect light throughout the rest of the day.

Fun fact: Did you know that the reason monstera’s leaves split is to allow light to spill through to the leaves below? How amazing that they have a built in system to allow their lower leaves to continue to thrive! The more light your monstera receives, the more it will grow split leaves.

Don’t Overwater!

The only thing that may be more deadly to a plan than lack of light, is overwatering. When I say ‘overwatering,’ I am not talking about how much, but rather how often. Even while there are some plants that like moist soil more than others, NO PLANT likes to have it’s roots sitting in water! Soggy, mushy roots turn into root rot, which in the end, will quickly kill your plant.

The very best way to know when to water your plants is to stick your finger down into the soil to see if it is dried out. I know there are so many cute alliterations like, “Water Wednesday” or “Thirsty Thursdays,” pleeeaaassee do not water your plants on a schedule. Just like children, not all plants get hungry/thirsty at the same time every week!

Your plants will usually show signs that they are getting thirsty if you watch for them. Some, like the fittonia, are beyond dramatic and will keel over, only to perk back up in an hour after having had a drink. That said, it is so much better to underwater than overwater your plants.

Fittonia plant in patterned pot
My fittonia looking happy about an hour after getting watered. I soaked the soil until water was coming out of the drainage hole.

For the Love of Drainage

First of all, let’s give some huge props to all of the nurseries and boutiques that carry THE CUTEST planters and pots now! They have something for every personality and I am such a sucker for a beautiful pot for my plants! BUT…to follow up on the last point of soggy roots and overwatering, plants must have drainage to dry out and thrive. If you bought a plant that is in a nursery grow pot and it’s roots aren’t growing out of the holes in the bottom, no need to repot it. You can plop it right into one of those cute boutique pots that often don’t have a drainage hole. When you water your plant, simply pour out the excess water that drains into the decorative pot.

If your plant needs to be directly planted into a pot, make sure it has a drainage hole! I cannot tell you how important this it. Like…maybe the number one tip of houseplants for beginners. It really takes the guess work out of how much water to pour into your plant when watering. Instead, you can simply water it in the sink until water drains out of the bottom. You know the soil is fully saturated but also that your pot is not full of standing water.

Houseplants for beginners - pothos plant
Confession. This was the first “cute” pot I ever bought and it doesn’t have a drainage hole. I have to be very careful not to overwater my pothos so that the roots don’t rot, but I also need to make sure I am not depriving it of the amount of water it needs. I don’t recommend.

Love this macrame hanger! Great quality and very affordable.

Traits of My Recommended ‘Houseplants for Beginners’

So now you have some pointers to get you going and to help you thrive as a plant momma. Here is some quick, helpful info if you are considering starting with any of the plants that I have recommended.

Fittonia

This plant is drama all the way when it comes to water, but also practically un-killable. It’s like the kid who screams bloody murder on the playground to see who will react and then runs back to play on the slide. Fittonias like bright sunlight and a fair amount of water. They will definitely tell you if they feel thirsty and neglected by collapsing into a dramatic heap. Don’t let that scare you. They bounce back a couple of hours after watering. In addition this will teach you what it needs, helping you learn to care for your plants! Lastly, if fittonias don’t get enough light, they tend to get “leggy,” and bare, reaching for a light source.

Philodendron

This plant does relatively well in low light (although it thrives in bright light) and is not easily affected by being overwatered. If you have a heavy hand with a watering can, or no drainage hole (not recommended!) in your pot, this could be a good plant to start with.

Monstera

Who doesn’t love these beautiful split leaves? This plant loves bright light and warm temperatures. The more light it gets, the more split leaves it will grow. Monstera’s do ok if they are a little neglected on the watering, which makes them a great beginner plant. If you buy this plant as a baby, you will have to be patient before you see split leaves grow. (They split when they are formed, not after they unfurl.)

Pothos

I have heard pothos described as “the cubicle plant.” While it does ok with low light, you may not see much rewarding growth. Remember, all plants love light! This plant is relatively drought tolerant, making it ideal for beginners who aren’t great (yet!) about remembering to water. While they cascade beautifully, this plant actually prefers to climb, so take your pick.

SO. The key to success with houseplants for beginners is to remember that plants love bright light, they hate overwatering, and they need drainage to help their soil and roots stay healthy! Have fun on your road to plant motherhood!

If you are not a beginner with houseplants and you want more plant info, check out my post on Fiddle Leaf Fig Propagation!

Fiddle leaf fig propagation

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