Gardening Houseplants

7 Houseplants for Beginners

By Larry Hodgson

It’s your first experience with houseplants. So, you choose a flowering plant of extraordinary beauty and bring it home, proud of your choice … and it immediately begins to go downhill. It’s a double disappointment: loss of the plant and loss of your illusions, as your hope that you might have a green thumb are dashed.

But this disaster doesn’t conclusively prove that you’re not good with plants, as most flowering plants are difficult to keep alive and healthy, even for experts. So, why not get started with truly easy houseplants?

Here are 7 practically unkillable houseplants, all foliage plants, that are much better suited to your first plunge into art of growing plants indoors.

Dieffenbachia (Dieffenbachia): usually a very large plant with a thick stem that rises ever so slowly towards the ceiling. The long, broad leaves are mottled white or yellow. Any location protected from full sun is suitable. Water when the soil is dry. When the plant reaches the ceiling, cut off its top and try your first experience at taking cuttings.  

Corn Plant
Corn plant (Dracaena fragrans). Photo: depositphotos

Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans): Sometimes called dragon tree, this thick-stemmed plant produces long, lance-shaped leaves that first arch upwards and then downwards. And it does look like a corn plant (Zea mays), although there is no true relation between the two. It’s grown as a foliage plant, but mature specimens occasionally produce fragrant flowers. Any light situation—as long as there is some light!—is suitable. Just water it when it’s dry!

ZZ plant
ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia). Photo: depositphotos

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia): with its pinnate leaves of shiny dark green leaflets forming a flared rosette, it looks like a fern or a palm with thick petioles, even though it is more closely related to the philodendron. Give it at least a little light and water it only when the soil is dry to the touch.

Fiddle-leaf fig
Fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata). Photo: depositphotos

Fiddle-Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata): This plant hides an often gnarled woody stem that produces huge, glossy, violin-shaped leaves. Don’t be afraid to cut back this indoor tree before it hits the ceiling! Any lighting from intense to low is suitable. Water it when the soil is almost dry.

Heart Leaf Philodendron
Heart leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum oxycardium) Photo: depositphotos

Heart Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum oxycardium, syn. P. scandens oxycardium): it produces dark green, heart-shaped leaves on wandering stems. This philodendron adapts to all types of light except full sun and only needs an occasional but thorough watering when its soil is dry to the touch. The stems can be trained onto a trellis or obelisk or allowed to drip down from a hanging basket.

Jade plant
Jade plant (Crassula ovata). Photo: depositphotos

Jade plant or crassula (Crassula ovata): a bonsai-like succulent plant with swollen brown stems and thick, spoon-shaped leaves. It prefers full sun, but tolerates much less. Wait until the soil is completely dry before watering it.

Snake Plant
Snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata). Photo: depositphotos

Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata, now Dracaena trifasciata): also called mother-in-law’s tongue, it produces long, very upright, pointed leaves marbled in gray. They rise straight out of the ground, without a stem. It tolerates both full sun and deep shade. Water only when the soil is quite dry, as it’s a succulent (a plant adapted to arid conditions).

And there you go! Practice your budding horticultural talents on these tough plants until you’ve gotten the hang of growing plants indoors. Then you can try flowering plants, always much more delicate.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

13 comments on “7 Houseplants for Beginners

  1. A very good article. Congratulations

  2. Also related to place. I grew up in a tropical place where absentmindedly tossing a tomato on the ground can lead to beautiful plant growing and I wondered if I lost my touch.

    I live in a cold and dry place now, and thus, have stopped trying to grow herbs and veggies and moved on to sturdy low-light and low-water plants like pothos, fiddle-leaf & peperomia, and they are growing well.

  3. Judy Gobble

    Unless you have great indoor lighting the ZZ plant is a major disappointment to new plant parents. The plant gets leggy, floppy-looking nothing like they bought-Even though they are touted as low light plants. I always recommend plants like spider plant, varieties of pothos, Chinese evergreen and other cheap easy pass along plants.
    Ps. Pothos leaves ARE toxic for people and pets and shouldn’t be told so before purchasing

    • Most houseplants are toxic to pets and people. Spider plants are among the few that aren’t.

      • Well, I’d say it depends on what you consider toxic. There’s certainly a handful that can cause serious illness or death (Cycas revoluta, Gloriosa superba, Adenium obesum, some Euphorbia spp., etc), but the majority will at most cause you or your pet to throw up after eating it, or give you itchy hands for 30 minutes. The weedy climbing aroids get a bad rap for their spiky sap, but they really aren’t that dangerous. Virtually every home has at least one of those weedy aroids – if they posed any real threat to anyone, human or pet, surely there would be thousands of casualties daily.

      • I totally agree. People get so upset about poisonous plants, but hardly any poisonings ever occur.

  4. I don’t think Ficus lyrata belongs on this list, nor any other large-leaved Ficus. Like the other Ficus spp. grown as houseplants, they’re quick to drop leaves in suboptimal conditions (too little light, cold draughts, over- or underwatering, pests (like spider mites, mealybugs and even scale), and so forth), but because the leaves are so large the effect of five leaves falling off is rather dramatic as opposed to something like F. benjamina where you wouldn’t even know the leaves were there in the first place. On top of that, watering them irregularly causes leaf cells to explode, making the leaves look like they’re suffering from some kind of infection or infestation. Realistically, I would say F. benjamina is the easiest Ficus to grow indoors as it can take anything from full sun to deep shade, and any leaves shed by stress are quickly replaced. It’s also much more resilient against cold draughts and cold in general as well as over- or underwatering.

    If you can give it a lot of light, Ficus lyrata will be a wonderful, healthy and very fast-growing houseplant, but otherwise I don’t think it’s worth it.

  5. I’m always surprised to see Dieffenbachia on lists of “easy” houseplants. All parts of the plant can cause itching in sensitive people. The sap contains oxalate and is toxic for both pets and children. Not for nothing that it’s nicknamed “dumbcane” as any sap in the mouth can cause temporary numbness and difficulty speaking. Avoid using your kitchen shears to trim them!
    This plant also really hates to have its feet wet or even damp. If you keep its pot inside a decorative outer pot, even if there are drainage holes in both pots and no visible standing water, the Dieffenbachia will not do well if there’s no breathing room between the two pots. I learned the hard way, and my plant didn’t look so good with the yellow tips caused by excess root humidity.
    Dieffs are also highly susceptible to spider mites, a challenge for even experienced houseplant people. Best to either keep your Dieff isolated from other plants or be ready to go with multiple rounds of insecticidal soap and/or A. californicus mites.

  6. I have the “Walking Iris” as a house plant.
    Those are good plants, but most of my plant are outside plants.

  7. An introduction to gardening. Thank you ??

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