How to Pick the Perfect Houseplants

Everything you need to consider when chossing an indoor plant.

Kaylee Hammonds
Aspidistra elatior (Cast Iron Plant)
Matthew Ward/Getty Images

It’s commonly accepted that indoor plants can improve the air quality of your home or office. (NASA says so, so it must be true.) Additionally, they are supposed to make you more productive, healthier, and overall happier. Hey, we’ll take it. Turns out there are a bewildering array of options when it comes indoor plants, and they all depend on growing conditions, your level of dedication, and, of course, your aesthetic preference. I took a short, informal survey here at Southern Living HQ, and it became apparent fairly quickly that there are a few key questions to ask yourself before you hop down to the garden center for your next houseplant.

How much light do you really have? Consider how much light the plant you want needs in order to grow. Alternatively, consider how much light the space where you need to put a plant gets. For instance, if you’ve got a lovely, large window that gets a lot of light, you might want to consider one staff favorite: a fiddle leaf fig tree. (If you do decide to get one of those, pick up our November 2017 issue, as we tackle fiddle leaf fig care.) Alternatively, if you have a space that doesn’t get much light, consider something like a cast iron plant (aspidistra), a popular plant during Victorian times. Someone witty named it “cast iron” because these plants need little light, only irregular water, and are notoriously hard to kill. Which brings us to the next point, which is:

What's your dedication level? What is yours? We keep pretty busy around here, traveling, eating, shopping, and searching to bring the best of the South to your mailbox (or inbox) every month. To that end we, as a crew, prefer low-maintenance houseplants. (Though I suspect that our Grumpy Gardener may be the sole staff exception to this rule.) For sheer ease of care, both the plants mentioned above are winners, but also consider the glossy greatness of a ZZ plant. Its deep green leaves are attractive, impressive, and will still be alive if left under low light without water for up to four months. In other words, even the most scatterbrained or busiest of us can safely tote one of these guys home and expect positive results. ZZ plants can grow up to four feet tall, which brings us to the next question:

How much space do you have? Obviously, a tree like a fiddle leaf fig will require more room than something like a snake plant (often referred to as ‘mother-in-law’s tongue’), which will grow to be between eight and twelve inches tall. Snake plants are another dead-easy plant to grow that won’t mind if you neglect it a bit. For a bit of color in a smaller space, try nerve plants (fittonia). These petite beauties with their variegated foliage will remain small and are a great choice for the office or in a tight space. This houseplant will also do exceptionally well in a terrarium, as it enjoys moist (but not soggy!) soil. Which brings us to the next point:

How often must you feed? SL staffers as a bunch are pretty excited about their orchids. These usually like bright but indirect light, and enjoy moist, well-drained soil. These are another easy plant that packs a stylish wallop. Know what your plant needs–obviously not all plants are as foolproof as cast iron, ZZ, or snake plants. For instance, in the case of an orchid, it’s good to let it go a bit dry between waterings. If you poke a finger into the soil and it’s dry, give the plant some water, but if not, hands off! Overwatering is just as common as under-watering. Which brings us to the very last point, which is:

Questions. If you have ‘em, don’t be afraid to ask them. The people at the garden center are your friends! They are there to help you! Too shy? Check out our site and blog for years worth of Grumpy’s plant expertise. Prefer paper? Grab a copy of our SL Garden Book here.