Plant Primer: Houseplants for Beginners

Houseplants for Beginners

After you own more than 10 plants, it’s likely that you’ll be labelled as a “plant person.” Which typically means that people will start asking you questions about plants. And because you are definitely a plant person now, you’ll jump at any opportunity to talk about plants. My favorite question to answer is what the best houseplants for beginners are.

I’m not going to call any of these plants “hard to kill.” Let’s not kid ourselves. There are a lot of elements outside of your control that could lead to an untimely plant death. Don’t let it get to you. I have personally killed many plants through negligence, disease, going on a vacation and leaving the responsibility to someone with a black thumb (Hi, Megan!), or simply buying a plant that was already dying unbeknownst to me.

Every apartment needs a shower plant


When considering your first plant purchase (or, let’s be real, purchases), you’ll want to evaluate the light sources in the places you’ll be putting your plants. But I’m not really an expert on this subject, so please refer to this extremely helpful article on determining your sunlight levels.


Do you have a pet and/or child that you don’t want to inadvertently kill? That’s the kind of responsible thinking you’ll need to take care of plants! I’ve added a note about whether the plant is safe for pets to my recommendations below. I’m assuming that most plants are not safe for small humans to eat…

Warning: Plants are a gateway to macrame.


After the basic considerations of light sources and water needs, you also need to consider your own commitment level. Making your apartment into an urban jungle might look pretty cool, but it also translates to about an hour or more of watering and checking your plants each week.

I’ve provided recommendations for two types of people: the forgetful and the obsessive. If you are neither type, then any of these will work for you. Happy plant parenting!

For the Neglectful

If you really like the idea of plants but know that you will never remember to water them, these might be the plants for you. The plants in this category are both not safe for pets, but you probably don’t own a cat or dog if you don’t really have time to water a plant.

You’ve probably seen either of these plants in a mall or office building. That should indicate to you that it can survive under even the harshest of fluorescent lights.

snake plants
Just a couple of snake plants
Snake Plant (Sansevieria)

Light: Indirect (Low to Bright)

Water: Allow soil to dry between waterings, typically every 2-3 weeks

Safe for Pets: No

ZZ plant
The ZZ plant – no relation to ZZ Top
ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

Light: Indirect (Low to Bright)

Water: Allow soil to dry between waterings, typically every 2-3 weeks

Safe for Pets: No

Confession: A few times, I didn’t water mine for more than a month. And it’s still alive.


For Helicopter (Plant) Parents

If you’ve ever looked intensely at a plant and whispered “Grow” under your breath, these might be the plants for you. In my experience, these plants will sprout new growth quite rapidly and are pretty forgiving about things like over- or under-watering.

Pothos and philodendron
Cover every surface with plants
Pothos or Philodendron

Light: Indirect (Low to Bright) Note: Higher light levels will help the plant develop variegation aka cool-looking leaves

Water: Allow soil to dry between waterings, typically once a week (Yellow leaves will be a sign that you are over-watering)

Safe for Pets: No

The pothos and philodendron are different plants, but follow the same rules. They are both great options if you want a vining plant. Even though these plants are toxic to pets, I still own many because they are easy to hang out of reach (unless my cat develops a very impressive vertical jump).

Christmas cactus
Christmas cactus
Christmas Cactus

Light: Indirect (Low to Bright) to Direct (Partial)

Water: Allow soil to dry between waterings, typically once a week; don’t let it dry out completely

Safe for Pets: Yes

Despite the name, these plants should not receive the same treatment as cacti. If you’re wondering about the Christmas part of the name, it comes from the time of year you can expect it to flower. And because they make great Christmas gifts*.

*This is not a fact, but I can attest that it is true. I expect more Christmas cacti as presents.

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