With a little more than a month left in winter, and as Covid-19 restrictions continue to keep us at home, you may be looking for a way to brighten up your space. Houseplants are one solid way to spruce up any indoor space and at least create the illusion of being outdoors as we remain cooped up at home. Unsurprisingly, demand for indoor plants has boomed in recent months.
SKIP AHEAD Experts weigh in on indoor plant care
And, luckily, you don’t need a green thumb to grow your own indoor garden. Whether you live in a small apartment or large home, there’s a houseplant fit for you (and your home office). We consulted gardening experts to find the best indoor plants for various uses as well as some tips on how to get your green space going (and keeping it green, of course). Indoor plants are common across major retailers like Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart, Target and Amazon but you'll also find them at specialty online plant stores like Bloomscape, Floom, The Sill and Urbanstems.
Best indoor plants
Ready to jump-start your gardening hobby? Here what plant experts say are the best indoor plants, with tips on watering and light exposure.
1. Devil’s Ivy
Pothos, also called Devil’s Ivy, are everywhere: “From malls to doctors’ offices to your friend’s living room — it’ll tolerate just about any environment,” said Erin Marino, director of brand marketing at online plant retailer The Sill. This houseplant grows quickly, and does best in bright indirect light, but can tolerate low light. Gardeners only need to water the Pathos every one to two weeks. The popular climbing plant can grow up to eight feet when unpruned. They are also typically pest- and disease-free, so gardens won’t have to worry about them infecting other plants.
2. ZZ Plant
The ZZ plant is low-maintenance: It only needs medium or low indirect light and water every two to three weeks, making it one of the best indoor plants for beginners. “I love the lush vertical growth of the ZZ plant with its thick stems and waxy leaves,” said Marino. The plant has wide dark green leaves and can grow up to three feet tall.
These unique succulents are typically placed in a hanging planter, leading to a cascade of tiny leaves. String of Pearls requires bright indirect light and are best when placed near a window. The plant is sensitive to overwatering and only needs to be watered every one to two weeks. “It’s easy to care for, versatile and so different from foliage plants,” said Kate Dubow, president of Garden Media Group, which works with gardening and landscaping companies. When cared for correctly, the String of Pearls can even bloom small white flowers in the spring.
If you’re looking for a pop of color in your home office or apartment, this beautiful houseplant “blooms” indoors throughout the year, sporting waxy pink leaves. Each bloom can last up to eight weeks and only needs water every one to two weeks. These indoor plants thrive under bright indirect light or medium direct light.
Another popular option for indoor gardeners, these plants are easily adaptable to most environments and come in a wide variety of subtypes, each boasting different colors. This plant sports heart-shaped and vibrant green leaves and needs bright indirect light or low light. Gardeners only need to water Philodendrons every one to two weeks.
6. Snake Plant
If you don’t have an air purifier, the Snake plant may be the plant for you. This houseplant, displaying long, multi-colored fronds, can help purify indoor air by reducing some toxins like formaldehyde, xylene and toluene, Marino explained. “I love its upright, swordlike leaves, and this particular variety's vibrant yellow edges,” she said. Snake plants need a bit more light than others — preferably bright indirect light, but gardeners only need to water it every two to three weeks.
Indoor plants and Covid-19
“I think previously plants were considered only for plant lovers or home decor enthusiasts,” said The Sill's Marino. “But when the shelter-in-place mandates started and people were forced to spend most — if not all — of their time inside, they started to look for things to do and ways to enhance their home. Plants cover both.” Indeed, some studies have shown that indoor plants can provide added benefits, including lowered stress levels and elevated moods, and can also improve concentration and productivity — all apropos for anyone currently working from home.
“Yes, plants were growing in popularity before, but people now don’t have travel schedules, activities and other distractions,” noted Dubow. “Plants were all the distraction we needed to keep us sane, happy and healthy and will continue to grow for the near future.”
How to shop for the right indoor plant
First, the experts agree it's important to evaluate your space, including direct sunlight and humidity, which dictate plant growing conditions. Consider how much maintenance you want to put into your indoor garden — beginners may not want a high-maintenance plant right off the bat. Smaller plants are also typically easier to care for than larger ones, noted Dubow.
For most indoor plants, you’re going to want to find one that doesn’t need much light, advised Rosie Lerner, a horticulture specialist at Purdue University. If you aren’t sure how much light your space has, first figure out which directions your windows face, and if there’s anything outside that could block sunlight. See if the sun directly hits the plants — such as through a south-facing window — or indirectly, said Lerner.
Also think about how often you travel. Like pets, plants need caring for. Most can go a week or two without water, said Lerner, but if you travel for long stretches, you may want to consider a plant that thrives in dry conditions. And don’t forget about your actual pets — if you share a space with an animal that chews everything, you’ll want to make sure you’re buying non-toxic plants or keep them out of reach on a shelf or hanging planter, explained Marino.
While most indoor plants are relatively affordable, prices vary depending on variety, size, health, where it was grown and the general plant market (yes, it’s a thing). “Just like the pricing of vegetables or fruits at the grocery store fluctuates, plants’ prices can, too,” said Marino. “Usually the fluctuation is within a small range, unless the plant is considered ‘rare’ and has not yet been commercialized.”
Other indoor plant shopping considerations
Before you drive to your local plant store or buy up a garden online, experts offer a few additional plant-buying considerations:
Start with a small plant. The most cost-effective and successful way to grow your garden is to start with one plant and work your way up, said Christopher Grallert, president of Green City Growers, an urban farming and landscaping company. Starting small will help newbie gardens try something without overcommitting to care and space for their indoor garden, he said.
Buy smart. Dubow recommended buying from a reputable plant source, which will reduce the chance of bringing diseases or pests to your other plants. If possible, consider “quarantining” your new plant in a bathroom or porch for 14 days to make sure there are no pests, she said — once a foreign term, now you should know how to handle that.
Get a planter. Marino recommends finding a planter you love that will make your leafy friend feel more at home: “It gives you that little extra boost to care for your new plant.”
Prepare for post-greenhouse blues. “Plants that come from ideal conditions, like a greenhouse, might be shocked when they transition into a less perfect space so there may be a period of time when the plants are ‘sad,’" said Grallet. “But cared for properly and under the correct environmental conditions, they will come back from the edge.”
How to care for indoor plants
Specific houseplant care depends on the type of plant. Some are low-maintenance and only need water once a week (or less), while others require a specific level of humidity and frequent rotation to get the right amount of light. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind if you want to keep your plants healthy (and alive)
Under watering is better than overwatering
You may be tempted to water your plants on a strict schedule, but the best bet is to only water when needed, Marino said. Check the soil before you water, too. If it’s still moist, hold off. When you water your plant, use water at room temperature. Seasonal changes may alter your plant’s watering schedule. For example, most houseplants will need less water in the winter and more water in dry heat. “Plants are hardier than we think and can tolerate a bit of neglect. They might even appreciate it.” she said.
Feed your plant
Plants obtain both water and food through rich soil. Choose a pot fertilizer specifically made for houseplants, Dubow said. How often you should change the soil depends on the plant — some require it once a month, while others only need to be re-potted every season.
Keep the environment stable
Plants hate change. Most plants are comfortable with between 65 degrees to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, said Lerner. Fluctuations in temperature can “stress them out,” Marino added. Avoid placing your plants near vents, radiators and open windows.