If your Insta feed is anything like mine, it’s full of rooms bathed in perfect, clear, white light, with lush houseplants nestled onto perfectly disordered bookshelves or lined up on idyllic windowsills. The houseplant trend has been here for a while, and it seems to be here to stay. But houseplants do more than turn your home into a blogging dream come true.
For one thing, plants purify the air you breathe. If you live in a city like me, or find yourself in a climate where you can only keep the windows open for about eight weeks of the year, that air needs refreshing as much as you do.
Houseplants are also one of the best ways to turn a house into a home. They’re beautiful, they add visual interest, and they show your commitment to your house and your housemates. I think this is partly because they’re alive, and so they’re signs of your life, here, in this place.
Realistically, however, having houseplants can be a daunting prospect. For many of us, life is a patchwork of jobs, commitments, social activities, charity work, and family time. We dash around from pillar to post, leaving early and getting home late; most days keeping ourselves fed and watered is trouble enough. Which is why I’m happy to tell you that there are some plants that are trendy, affordable, and more or less unkillable (and by that I mean they are hardy enough to last a week without water and resilient enough to recover after an even longer drought).
My Maranta adds a tropical feel to my city life, and is my oldest plant-friend. Its beautiful painted leaves bow down in the morning and turn upwards at night—hence its charming nickname, “the prayer plant.”
I bought mine at Ikea (seriously, Ikea! Dirt cheap) when I moved to Washington D.C. two years ago. This plant has proven itself by recovering from life above a heating vent (not a variable I had to account for very often in my southern California hometown), surviving several three-week intervals of no water (despite promises from well-intentioned roommates), and making it through repotting without even a flinch. Repotting is as traumatic as it is necessary. As the part of the plant in plain sight grows, the roots need space to expand; otherwise, the plant won’t be able to sustain all that pretty new growth. Imagine if your circulatory or digestive systems couldn’t grow as you did. At the same time, repotting is less natural than normal physical growth; it’s kind of like changing the water for your pet fish: It must be done, but it’s always a risk. Plants, like fish, hate change—even necessary change—and often they don’t recover. But the Maranta is ever resilient.
02. African Violet
Right next to it is an African Violet, which was hardy enough to survive the cross-country car trip from California to D.C. almost two years ago. The African Violet’s fuzzy leaves give it a great visual texture, and its blooms last for a good while. Put it in a simple white or terracotta-colored pot and the color combo is ideal.
These do best in a sunny room but out of direct sunlight, as direct sun will fry their leaves. The plant pros call this “filtered” light.
Watering can be a bit challenging as overwatering is a surefire way to kill it, and underwatering is obviously a problem. To complicate matters, you should avoid getting the base of the plant or its leaves wet. I use a small-mouthed watering can to put water directly on the soil one to three times a week, and I’ve heard some people have success with self-watering pots (essentially, you add water to the dish under the pot until the plant stops soaking up the water, dump out that excess, and repeat the process a couple days later.)
The Philodendron is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. I have a couple of these babies, and one has grown from five little leaves into the most beautiful multi-branched long and trailing vine-creature I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Philodendrons come in a fairly wide variety of color combinations; some leaves are sort of green-and-white, some are more yellow, but the easiest to keep alive are the solid dark green ones. All they ask is to be repotted perhaps once a year. They’re also the gift that keeps on giving: If you cut off the end of one of the vine stems, you can easily propagate it by putting it in a cup of water, covering it gently in plastic wrap, and placing it on a sunny sill. In a week or two, that little branch will grow new roots, and you can plant it in a cute pot or jar.
Which brings me to another trailing favorite: the Pothos. Like the Philodendron, the Pothos comes in a wide variety of colors and shadings. These need very little light, so they’re ideal if you have a dark apartment. They burn up in direct sunlight (even if filtered through a window), so if you have a sunny abode keep these guys away from the windows and they’ll do better.
The Pothos is great if you have cute little jars you’re in love with but that don’t have holes in the bottom, because they’re one of the few plants out there that don’t need drainage to thrive! As long as you don’t overwater them, they’ll do fine just about anywhere. (By “don’t overwater,” I mean only water them once or twice a week, and don’t saturate the soil. A few seconds of water-pouring should be perfect.)
These guys are incredibly resilient. I moved one to the top of a bookshelf and forgot to water it for about three weeks. I only remembered it when I noticed that the leaves on the tendril hanging down next to me as I studied were beginning to curl and looked limp. I gave it a splash of water, and it had recovered within two hours. It’s very forgiving (and therefore not only a good plant-friend but also a good role model.)
05. Snake Plant
This last plant, the Snake Plant, is also very forgiving (although its nickname “mother-in-law’s tongue” might suggest otherwise.) This plant is like a succulent in certain ways: Its leaves have a “plasticky” feel, it’s kind of a desert plant, and it is equally trendy. But it is not a succulent, and is far less temperamental.
Give it a sunny window sill and water it once a week, and you’re good to go. Its long narrow leaves are stunning: They’re painted green and yellow or green and white, depending on the variety you get. These grow very slowly; mine has only put forth about four new leaves, and we’ve been together for two years.
Well, now you’ve met my nearest and dearest plant-friends. While you can certainly find them at any garden nursery, most of them should also be available at any hardware store (like Home Depot or Lowes) or even at your local grocery store. One parting thought: When you go plant shopping, you’ll likely want to buy all the things (I know I always do!), but try not to commit to more than one or two to start with. Once you establish a good relationship with that first one or two (in terms of lighting and watering), you can add to your brood with confidence and enjoy the ambiance and camaraderie that they’ll undoubtedly provide. Happy houseplanting!