A houseplant’s elegance combined with its ease of care is what we all desire. Here are some low-maintenance and rewarding foliage plants that anyone can grow.
Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron scandens ssp. oxycardium)
After narrowing down the choices for “Five Easy Houseplants and How to Grow Them”, I always end up going back to the winsome Heartleaf Philodendron as my first choice. You can’t help but love it, can you? As if they were green valentines, the heart-shaped leaves welcome you back. Low-maintenance, adorable, and easy to maintain.
In addition to being cute and satiny, the Heartleaf trails, so it’s attractive to beginners. You can start the vine around a window frame or some other support and then watch it grow!
It’s gratifying to discover how accommodating this specimen is. The worst that could happen is overkill under full sun at the hands of the uninitiated. Dehydration or drowning may result in death. Heartleaf should not be placed in the same window or light source as high-light plants like cacti and succulents. You don’t need full sunlight for it. Indoors, place it in filtered light or in the shade of a light-loving plant.
This heartleaf specimen lives in filtered sun on an upside-down box under the shade of a Purple Velvet plant (Guynura aurantiatica). Although it sits in my big southern-facing window, the Guynura protects it from getting burned. The Heartleaf must also move if I move the Guynura. It’s a bit too much for a philodendron to be exposed all day to the south through a glass window.
Heartleaf enjoys being misted and watered as needed. The finger test is the best. Put your finger into its soil. Is there moisture on your skin? Your finger clings to the soil? If you’re not sure yet, wait a few days before you water it. In contrast, if you wait too long (like when the soil is bone-dry), the leaves will curl and the satin sheen will disappear. You should give it water when it is thirsty, but not every day. Its roots need a little breathing room. When you get used to this philodendron, you will know at a glance whether it needs water or not.
Whenever the shower is on, my heartleaf appreciates the extra humid atmosphere from the shower stall, which it thrives on.
On top of that, every once in a while, I arrange several large pots of indoor plants together on the floor of the shower stall, draw the curtain, and let the shower spray a misty, lukewarm drink on them. (Some people let the water run for fifteen minutes or more.) Watch the water; don’t let it get too warm. After the shower, you can leave the plants in the closed stall for a few hours. They need all the humidity they can get. Exit the bathroom and bring them outside. The philodendrons can live in your bathroom if you have enough light and enough room! That moist environment will be very appreciated by them.
A stem cutting of the heartleaf plant can be propagated in a jar filled with water. When you cut, include a joint. Leaves of the cutting should be removed from below. Put in a small jar in medium light. You will soon see roots growing from the joints in the water jar. Remove the cuttings from the soil and plant them in a small pot. I mix orchid soil (with lots of little pieces of bark) with sphagnum peat and vermiculite. I hope your planter pot has drainage holes that allow water to flow from the bottom. Water well.
The Heartleaf Philodendron has now been reproduced! The beauty of stem cuttings is that you get more plants to share and to keep your specimens alive. Then, feed your Heartleaf about twice a month with any general all-purpose plant food at half the strength recommended, and you will have a thriving specimen for years to come.
Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
I rank Golden Pothos at number two on my list of easy houseplants because of its vining habit and light requirements similar to those of the Philodendron. Pothos is sometimes called a Philodendron, but that is not accurate. A native of the Solomon Islands, it is an Epipremnum.
The Golden Pothos has glossy leaves with yellow or white splashes that never cease to amaze me as they unfold. Some leaves on the same plant may be green while others may be an even split, half green and half yellow/white. There are also leaves on the same plant that are royally marbled. Every leaf has its own programming. A photo of the “Marble Queen” variety, marbled in white.
Like Philodendron, Pothos loves climbing. A mossy or woody support would be beneficial for this plant. It is available at home improvement stores and garden centers or can be fashioned at home using wire, wood, and moss. Alternatively, if adding a support for climbing plants is not an option, the plant is just as beautiful with its trailing vines that add drama to a balcony, stairway, or anywhere else you want some color. Whether it is in the office or at home, it will look just as good without the support. As long as those vines don’t obstruct anything, let them dangle. The Pothos thrives under fluorescent office lighting and will be a conversation piece.
Pothos can tolerate a bit more light than Philodendron, but its light requirements are similar. Place it away from direct sunlight, or it will get sunburned. Tropical houseplants are used to living under the canopy of trees found in rain forests, so direct light would be too much for them. The Pothos does well with fluorescent lighting. Put your Pothos in a source of that, whether ordinary fluorescent light tubes or special plant tubes.
Like Philodendrons, Pothos can also be propagated by stem cuttings. If you do this in the winter, one thing to watch for is rot. If Pothos cuttings sit in water on a cold windowsill, they seem more likely to rot than Philodendrons. An ordinary table lamp might be the best place to start a jar of cuttings or a newly-potted young pothos.
With regular feeding, you’ll have a dramatic, easy-to-grow plant for a long time.
Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Snake Plants, or mother-in-law’s tongues, are another easy and pretty plant to grow. This plant is practically indestructible, so it should be ranked #1. The best plant for someone with no experience with plants who wants to fill in a lonely spot in the house or office. You can tell them it’s a no-fuss, impossible-to-kill plant. However, that doesn’t mean they never need to water or light it.
Snake plants are low-light plants that benefit from occasional exposure to bright light by making them move from their low-light spot (such as in a north or east window) to a brighter place (such as a west window) for a day or two. Like the previous two plants, full sun is too much for it.
Snake plants have flourished despite being in all kinds of unfavorable conditions. It is easy to grow snake plants because they are survivors. This plant has a very large margin of error. Snake plants have only ever died because the owners didn’t water them, and that’s the only time I’ve seen one die.
Be sure that the pot has excellent drainage when watering the snake plant. The snake will not stay dry all the time if I grow these plants in plastic pots rather than clay pots. Fertilizer should be used sparingly. You will be proud of your snake plant if you keep the light on the low side (but don’t leave it completely dark).
It is easiest to propagate snake plants by dividing the spears that grow up from the roots, making sure that each piece has a root attached. Snake plants are not recommended for beginners. Let them start by being proud of keeping their first plant alive and thriving.
Wandering Jew (Tradescantia zebrina)
There are no easier plants to take care of and love than those already mentioned. You don’t really need to help the Wandering Jew at all. (Well, almost.) As a houseplant, it only needs soil, and it will take off like a rocket. If you provide a little water at the right time and some gentle light (not too much or too little) from a window, you will be pinching, trimming, propagating, and giving away Wandering Jew cuttings for decades to come.
Wandering Jew comes in many colors, which is great. Once you’re tired of one variety, you can try trading with friends (try Dave’s Garden!) or shopping for another one. To go along with my purple-striped tradescantia that lived outdoors this past season, I purchased a striped variety. In the shade of a mimosa tree, it grew as a hanging plant. After a few pieces fell out of the pot, it even began growing directly in the ground beneath the mimosa! This purple Wandering Jew needs to be brought back inside now.
In some ways, Wandering Jew looks like Commelinas, which grow aggressively and flower similarly. Commelinas can be invasive outdoors. As houseplants, they are perfectly manageable indoors, limited only by the indoor environment.
Wandering Jew can be used in your office or home as a trailing accent similar to the Philodendron and the Pothos. Trimming and pinching will be needed to encourage bushier growth, but the tradescantia’s form and color will be well worth the effort. When paired with green plants, purple is breathtaking.
Wandering Jew cuttings are something I keep going all the time. This can easily be accomplished in the same manner as with the Philodendron and Pothos. Almost immediately, you will see roots. Especially as Christmas approaches, it is fun to make plants from existing plants. The gift of a living thing is a wonderful gift to give. With its slivery leaves, Wandering Jew goes well with Christmas. It’s important to keep in mind that while some people would appreciate a live plant, others would find it a burden, so give wisely.
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
It is a tried and true easy plant for beginners and non-beginners alike. During the 80s, I first noticed this plant and thought it looked like an interesting clump of grass with funny things growing out of it. My gardening friend pointed out the stalks emerging from her spider plant and the baby plant on each one when she gave me a closer look. As she generously clipped a few ripe “babies,” she instructed me to place them on top of a pot of soil. We are fast friends, spider plants and me.
Often referred to as spider plants, spider plants produce lily-like flowers along with the stalks and the babies.
Prune a baby or two from the stick where the juvenile plant meets the “stick” to propagate the spider plant. Put the cut baby on top of moist potting soil. It may be necessary to anchor the babies with something shaped like an upside-down “U”, gently pressed on top of the plant to keep it in contact with the soil. The twist-tie can be bent, or a paper clip can be straightened and cut to fit. In a pinch, a bobby pin will do. An emergency anchor can be made by stretching a bobby pin into a wide “V” shape.
There are many varieties of spider plants. From the green variety, I gravitated towards the variegated types, particularly enjoying the reverse variegated spider.
There is one special need that landed spiders at the number five spot, and that is salt build-up in the soil. Whenever possible, feed sparingly and water well so that salts can drain away. It is better to have a slightly dry spider on your hands than an overly wet one, I think. You will not have any problems if your spider lives in well-draining soil in a well-draining pot.