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The Best Starter Houseplants & How to Care for Them

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Life-long plant whisperer Caroline Lange shares her love for houseplants—and which are easiest to care for.  

BK plants
Some of my plants at home in Brooklyn

Part of my affair with houseplants comes, I’m sure, from my mother, a landscape designer whose own houseplants trail their leafy arms along two thirds of the surfaces of the house I grew up in. She nurtures a wide range: herbs in neat pots, fuzzy African violets, amaryllis, Christmas cacti, philodendrons drippy with fat leaves. 

Just a few of mother's plants

My own collection began as a way to remedy the starkness of my college dorm rooms. Plants are mostly cheap, widely accessible, and very, very green—which is a refreshing contrast to dingy linoleum tiles, standard-issue pine dorm furniture, and college in New York. Plants are a happy reminder of the outside when your daily world is the intersection of the very gray Venn Diagram of college and New York. 

My plants are from all over—some gifts, but mostly collected one by one from IKEA, plant stores, street fairs, the farmers market, or even the grocery store. I’ve never spent more than $10 on one, and yet they’re the things that most make my home feel like home, whether in a dorm or in the apartment where I live now. Smaller plants fill up empty shelves and windowsills, while larger ones will make an empty corner lush. They also soften sharp corners, and make a space feel lived in and loved. All you need is a little bit of light.

More: These five no-kill houseplants are great for first-timers. 

dorm plants
Most of my plants crammed onto the one windowsill in my dorm room

Work on your green thumb with these inexpensive starter plants:

  • Succulents, aloe, and cacti: Keep them in a sunny spot and water them thoroughly—but only when the soil is completely dry, every week and a half or so.
  • Philodendrons: These only need partial sun (and are even happy in a room without a lot of light, like my current bedroom), and are very forgiving if you forget to water them for a while. But try to water weekly—they’ll perk right back up.  
  • Snake plants: Similarly forgiving, snake plants (also called mother-in-law’s tongue plant) only need a little water. Let them dry out between waterings and keep them in the sun.
  • Ferns: These like partial sun and a lot of moisture, so the bathroom is a good place for these guys if it has a window. Water often—at least once a week.
  • Spider plants: Spider plants grow quickly and very happily in partial or full sunlight, watered once a week. Like philodendrons, the plants will go limp when thirsty but will spring back with water.
  • Bamboo: It is nearly impossible to kill them. Happy in shade or sun, all they really need is a lot of water—keep their roots wet at all times. 

What houseplants have you had success with? How do you keep them happy? 

Photos by author

Tags: plants