The easiest houseplants to grow indoors are the old-fashioned, pass-along plants that your parents or grandparents might have grown. These plants can grow for many years with just a little basic care. They need the right amount of light and they need the right amount of water.
Most easy-to-grow houseplants like to grow in bright but indirect sunlight, the kind of sunlight that can be found beside a window or in the middle or back of a sun-lit room. And most easy-to-grow houseplants need to be watered only once a week, and just enough to allow the water to filter through the potting soil and collect at the saucer.
There are plants that love to grow in moist soil but most prefer soils that are well drained because their roots need the air to breath.
Houseplants love to live in our homes because the temperatures that are warm enough for us are perfect temperatures for them as well.
The plants that we have adopted to be houseplants have developed leaves that can grow best with the amount of light they need by their niche in their home outdoors, either growing out in full sun, growing under the shade of other plants but still getting some sunlight, or those that thrive on the forest floor making due with the smallest amount of light.
Most of the easy to grow houseplants fit in the middle, living in bright but indirect light.
Knowing the plants makes it easy to know where they prefer to grow, but if you are not sure, keep an eye on their leaves to determine how much light they need. If the new growth on the plant grows longer between its leaves and leans towards the light, it usually means that the plant is not getting enough light.
Sometimes the newest leaves are much smaller which can also be a sign of too little light.
Too much light will often cause the plants leaves to develop yellow spots that turn to brown.
Watering plants can seem to be daunting, but the best rule of thumb is too little water is better than too much water. Watering plants can be determined by the size of the pot, the smaller the pot, the less water is needed and the larger the pot, more is needed. Water the plants and leave the water in the collecting saucer for 15-20 minutes, then remove the excess water. If the plants are small, the plant can be picked up and the water in the saucer dumped into the sink, but if the plant is too large to pick up, use a baster to suck up the water. Some plants are grown in a pot that is placed into a decorative pot. That prevents excess water from spilling over and destroying the flooring or carpet. It is a good idea to fill the bottom of the decorative pot a few inches with gravel or marbles so the plant is always above the water in the bottom of the pot and the roots can breathe.
If plants are left in their perfect place in the home, they should be turned a quarter turn each week when being watered to keep them from bending towards the sunlight. They only need a light amount of fertilizer added to their water once every 3-4 months starting in the spring.
Fertilizer is a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and should be in the amounts of 1-2-1. That amount of fertilizer will help keep the leaves, stems and roots healthy without forcing them to grow too large.
Plants are not only decorative in our homes, but they also help clean the air around us and, like all plants, turn carbon dioxide, combined with water into oxygen.
A few of the easiest plants that I have grown include Sansevieria, Heart leaf Philodendron, Weeping Fig or Ficus and various succulents. The Sansevieria is often called Mother-in-law’s tongue or Snake plant which has bold upright leaves 6-12 inches long and 2 inches wide, dark green in color with darker green horizontal stripes. These plants can thrive with bright indirect light or very little light. They also don’t need a lot of water and can be watered only once a month, their thick leaves holding onto water in between. The Heart leaf Philodendron is a vine that thrives in bright indirect light as well, but rather than growing in an upright bold fashion, the Philodendron likes to cascade over the edge of the pot. These vine plants can be trained to grow up on a trellis or allowed to flow and cascade on the floor. The bright green heart-shaped leaves are usually about 1-2 inches long, but if trained to grow upright, the leaves can grow up to 4 inches. To enable the vines to stay lush and full, prune the vines back to about a foot long.
That will cause them to branch out and continue to grow from the branches and the ends. The Weeping Fig or ficus can grow to become a tall tree, but can be kept in check by keeping the plant in a small pot, repotting them every 10 years to a pot about one inch larger. The plants are called “Weeping Figs” due to the graceful arching of the branches. The leaves are 1-2 inches long, dark green in color and when the leaf is pulled off, a drop of white latex is given off by the tree. They can thrive in full sun or bright indirect light. Like all trees, the inside branches usually drop off leaving only the healthy outer leaves to grow. It is always best to keep the Weeping fig away from cold drafts which often causes them to drop even more leaves. Succulents are plants that have thick leaves and love full sun but can thrive with bright indirect light as well. Some like the Jade plants grow upright while others can cascade over the edge of the pots. These plants do best with watering only once a month or a very light watering each week. They can be kept in the same container for many years without repotting. These are just a few of the easiest plants to grow, but there are so many more to choose from. So don’t be shy, take a stroll through a greenhouse and find ones that appeal to you!
(Editor’s Note: Ginny Rosenkranz is a commercial horticulture specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.)