Join Guest Contributor Dusty Hegge of Houseplant Academy as she walks us through her favorite 3 houseplants for beginners (and how not to kill them!) Whether you have a green thumb or not, she is here to help us all!
People often claim that succulents are the best houseplants for beginners. I beg to differ.
First of all, they can be a lot more difficult than people realize. They require a lot and lots of sunlight and very little water. They are ideal for people who live in sunny California and want little to do with their plants.
For a person looking to grow towards that “plant person” status, this isn’t the best plant, to begin with. I have a feeling since you’re reading this you want to grow! You want your walls covered in greenery and you want to actually care for your houseplants. You are ready to learn more, to grow well, but you may need a little help along the way.
These three houseplants are what I call the “training wheels” of houseplants. They require you to care for them in order for them to grow at their best potential yet they are very forgiving. If you become an overbearing plant parent and smother them with water or if you are neglectful and completely forget they are there they will live on for quite a while. Plus, they quickly show signs of improper care, making it a lot easier to learn as you go if you watch for those warning signs. These three houseplants are always the top three I suggest to beginner plant people looking to grow that houseplant green thumb! Soon enough your home will be filled with greenery!
1 | POTHOS (EPIPREMNUM AUREUM)
Pothos is always my very first suggestion. They are classic, gorgeous, and there are several varieties to fit every style type. They are also especially forgiving and perfect for the plant person who struggles most in watering. They can grow in water or in near drought! Next time you go to the zoo look around in the turtle tank, I guarantee you’ll see the long, stunning pothos vines everywhere! When they are kept as a houseplant it’s best to follow the “finger rule”. Silly name, I know. But it’s easy to remember! Simply stick your finger in the soil and if it’s dry to your second knuckle give it a good watering.
COMMON NAMES: Pothos, Devil’s Ivy
ORIGIN: Tropical Islands on the South Pacific
SUN: Low, medium, or high indirect sunlight.
In other words, don't place your pothos in the middle of the desert or in your coat closet and it will do just fine. They absorb the sun’s rays through the green on their leaves, so when pothos are placed in a less sunny location they will lose some of that variegation we all go crazy for. Don't worry though, if you put it back in a sunnier location that variegation will come right back in due time. In addition, though they prefer indirect sunlight a few hours of direct sunlight certainly won’t hurt your pothos! I would just be certain it isn’t direct sunlight from the setting sun which is much harsher.
WATER: Medium to high, check once to twice a week.
While pothos can handle drought, they don't prefer it. I have found for my pothos they thrive the best when I allow the soil to dry out a few inches down (remember that finger rule?) between waterings so that the soil is barely damp before I water again. Though my pothos gets watered about once every week or so that is not a hard fast rule and when your pothos gets watered depends on a variety of variables. So make sure you check it regularly and always touch the soil before you water.
All houseplants require less water less in the colder months, this is because your plant is getting less sun and therefore will need less water. Think of it this way, if you were sitting in the sun all day you'd drink more water than if you were sitting in the cold all day. Same with plants.
SOIL + POT: General potting mix in a terra-cotta pot.
Potting is a very crucial step to ensuring houseplant success! I suggest using terra-cotta for most houseplants (with the exception of ferns and other moisture-loving plants). Though your pothos likes to be a bit damp I would err on the side of too dry than too wet and terra-cotta helps to regulate that.
2 | HEARTLEAF PHILODENDRON (PHILODENDRON SCANDENS OXYCARDIUM)
Heartleaf philodendron are ideal for the plant person with lower levels of sunlight. Though they prefer a medium level of sunlight (around 5-7 hours) they will handle less like a champ! They grow long, lush and respond so very well to pruning. Plus, those rich, velvety green leaves get me every time.
COMMON NAMES: Heartleaf philodendron, Heartleaf
ORIGIN: South and Central America
SUNLIGHT: Medium, indirect sunlight.
Indirect sunlight is sunlight that has been filtered in some way. Sometimes this is through a curtain or simply by being pulled further away from the window. Think of it this way, if your houseplant had eyeballs direct sun would mean that it could see the great big ball of sun whereas indirect sunlight they could not. Most all houseplants are considered houseplants because they thrive in indirect sunlight and heartleaf philodendrons are no different!
WATER: Low, check weekly.
Heartleaf philodendron prefers to dry out about 2-3 inches down at least but they can handle drying out all the way between waterings very well. If you allow your heartleaf to dry out fully between waterings I suggest running a constant, slow stream of water on the soil until it drains out the bottom. Then allow all excess water to run out to avoid root rot. This method will only work if planted in a terra-cotta or other high drainage pot. Just like the pothos always remember to touch and feel the soil before you water!
SOIL + POT: General potting soil in a terra-cotta pot.
LIke pothos, I suggest choosing a terra-cotta pot because it best mimics being planted in the earth and helps to regulate the moisture levels of the soil preventing root rot.
For the soil, I simply use a general potting mix and any brand will do. If you can select one with a slow release fertilizer already in it than all the better! If you do then be sure to not add additional fertilizer until 4-6 months after you repot it. This is true of all houseplants.
3 | PEPEROMIA (PEPEROMIA OBTUSIFOLIA)
Peperomia, or pepper face, are best for the forgetful plant person. They are considered semi-succulents and as such, they store the majority of their water in their leaves making for shallow roots and a small requirement for water. This in mind they prefer to dry out fully between waterings and don’t much appreciate being drenched in water. If you are a traveler or just have a hard time remembering to water this is your dream plant to learn how to grow your houseplant skills on!
COMMON NAMES: American Rubber Plant, Baby Rubber Plant, Pepper Face
SUNLIGHT: Medium, indirect sunlight.
Pepper face prefers indirect sunlight but can tolerate direct sunlight for a few hours or so. Watch carefully if they receive direct sunlight because their leaves can scorch easily leaving unsightly brown spots on their leaves. I have found it’s they are very durable and do especially well with 2-3 hours of direct sunlight. I would, however, advise against direct evening sunlight as it is much harsher than the morning sun.
Peperomia will do especially well under your regular old fluorescent bulbs making them ideal for offices or bathrooms with less sunlight. This isn't a replacement for sunlight but it will certainly help boost a less brightly lit space!
WATER: Low, check weekly.
Pepper Face are considered semi-succulents meaning they hold water in their leaves rather than in their roots. This means they need less frequent watering and prefer to dry out all or most of the way before they get watered again.
In the Fall and Winter reduce the amount you water. I let mine dry about 3-5 inches and water more deeply in between.
SOIL + POT: 1/2 Cactus + 1/2 General potting mix in a shallow, terra-cotta pot.
Peperomia like to dry out fully in between watering, I always suggest potting in a terra-cotta pot so those precious roots don't hold too much moisture. If you have another planter you absolutely love and would rather use be certain it has excellent drainage and monitor the moisture levels closely.
No matter the pot you select be sure it's a small or shallow one. Peperomia have very shallow root systems, like all succulents, and therefore it could be detrimental to your plant if you select a pot too big. If you select a pot too big the bottom portion of the soil will remain wet for much longer than the top portion of the soil where the roots are. This will quickly lead to fungus, root rot or other pests. Because peperomia have such shallow roots I suggest going only one size up when they are ready to be repotted. Peperomia grow best when they are in tight spaces, but not root bound so they don’t need to be repotted very often.
For the soil, peperomia aren't very picky. My suggestion is to do a combination of succulent/cacti mix and general potting soil. Though, to be truthful, using all general potting soil will be just fine. If you choose this method then keep an extra eye on the moisture level of the soil.
Soil can be a complicated topic! A lot of people have a LOT of opinions about it! When in doubt choose a general, regular old potting soil and never select garden soil for houseplants.
All three of these plants are from tropical regions and though they can grow on just fine without additional humidity they will truly thrive if you add a little. The humidity levels within our homes is basically zero. To increase humidity I suggest placing a diffuser or humidifier nearby. You can also keep them in your bathroom provided they receive enough sunlight in there. I don’t suggest taking them in and out of your bathroom (or any other plant for that matter). Though these three plants are not very temperamental, most houseplants don’t handle having to adjust to new humidity levels, sunlight exposure, and temperatures that frequently. If you do choose to increase humidity take careful watch on the moisture levels of the soil and be certain it is getting good air circulation.
All three of these plants can grow leggy and look a bit funny if not pruned regularly, especially if they are in less than ideal sunlight. I suggest pruning your plant once to twice a year, or just as desired to achieve a specific shape. Pruning will increase new growth and make for a fuller, happier houseplant!
Run to your nearest local nursery and select your favorite beginner houseplant from this list and start growing with confidence!
Your new houseplant will tell you if something about it’s care needs to be adjusted. I suggest watching it closely and establishing a weekly routine to help you learn what is normal plant behavior and what is a warning sign telling you that something about its care may need to be changed. Keep in mind that a weekly houseplant routine doesn’t necessarily mean you are watering your houseplant every week, especially a peperomia, always feel the soil to decide whether it needs water or not!I have created a free Houseplant Warning Signs Guide for you to help you to distinguish between what is normal plant behavior and what are the warning signs. Plus, it’s super pretty! You can download it here: https://houseplantacademy.com/