I’ve found growing plants in my home has inspired many of my friends to want to follow suit. Many admit that they would love to have plants in their house, but they fear they have a black thumb. “I can’t even grow cacti,” one friend confessed. As you can imagine, the number-one question I get asked is, “What plants won’t I kill?”
Plants are living creatures. If you don’t give them some level of soil, water and sun — and a little boost of nutrients from time to time — chances are they won’t survive. It just so happens, however, that some plants are more resilient than others, making them far easier to care for. These are my top recommendations of plants that are best for beginners.
1. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema commutatum)
Chinese evergreen is an attractive variegated foliage plant that grows well in low to medium light. I first got my Aglaonema for my bathroom so I could add some green to the last room in my house that was lacking foliage. The soil should be evenly moist, but can survive bouts of dryness. It’s important to note that the plant has a sap that is an irritant, so it’s best to keep away from curious pets and children.
2. Snake Plants (Sansevieria sp.)
Snake plants are a tough, leathery succulent with sword-shape leaves that are either edged with yellow or mottled with gray spots and squiggles. They grow best in bright light, but can tolerate low-light conditions. Although I’m not a fan of the snake plant aesthetic, it is an incredibly resilient plant. I encourage anyone who feels as if they have a “black thumb” to try growing this one.
3. Zeezee plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
I first came across the Zeezee plant after asking my local horticulturist for a recommendation of a plant that can grow under my kitchen sink to hide the pipes from view. She naturally suggested the Snake plant, but I asked her for an alternative and this was the winner. The Zeezee plant has fleshy, glossy leaves that look like wax. Like the Snake plant, it grows best in bright light, but will tolerate low light. If you're someone who forgets to water plants, the Zeezee also prefers dry soil. Since bringing this plant into my home, a friend who travels frequently also bought one, and both of us have great growth on our plants.
4. Dumbcane (Dieffenbachia sp.)
I purchased Dumbcane to hide the pipes of my bathroom sink and have been very pleased with its growth, since it's shrubby and shoots out multiple stems. Mine grows in low light, away from a North-facing window. It thrives in low to medium light. It derives it’s name because it contains raphides, which can cause stinging and burning sensations in the mouth and throat, so be sure to wash your hands if you have to cut the plant, and also be mindful around pets and children.
5. Schefflera (Schefflera sp.)
My mother has a Schefflera that's been growing for more than thirty years. This bushy, treelike plant with glossy, umbrella-like leaves enjoys bright light and is a strong grower. Five years ago I bought a Schefflera on the side of the street, which clearly had been compromised. I nursed it back to health, and that’s when I realized how resilient these plants could be, particularly if you give them enough light and water.
6. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Spider plants are fun plants to grow because they have a neat growing structure that makes them easy to propagate. Healthy plants often create stolons with plantlets at the ends, which give the plant a “spidery” look. You can grow the plants in hanging baskets or in pots. I have at least six of these in my house — they grow in everything from indirect light to bright light.
7. Radiator Plant (Peperomia sp.)
Peperomias are small houseplants that are good in low or medium light, although I have one growing directly in a north-facing window. There are lots of Peperomia plants to choose from. I have one that has waxy, round leaves, and I keep it covered with a glass case and rarely water it because the condensation that forms in the enclosed container surprisingly seems to provide enough moisture for the plant.
8. Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
This is an incredible plant for beginners because as the name may indicate, this plant is virtually indestructible. It's extremely tolerant of low-light conditions and irregular watering. The only thing this hardy plant doesn’t seem to tolerate is direct sun, which bodes well for those of us who may not have big windows.
Summer Rayne Oakes is a green entrepreneur, working across fashion, beauty, food, and wellness. After graduating cum laude from Cornell University with degrees in environmental science and nntomology, Oakes began to bridge her interest in ecological systems to industries that affect our everyday life—from what we wear to what we eat. She is a holistic nutritionist and launched SugarDetox.Me, a website offering guided Sugar Detox Programs, and wrote her first cookbook in March 2017. She most recently launched Homestead Brooklyn, Plant One On Me, and the Houseplant Masterclass—a website, YouTube series, and online audiovisual course respectively to help reconnect people to nature through the beauty of plants and gardening. She is passionate about helping people find healthier everyday choices—from what they wear to what they eat to how they live in their indoor environment. You may see her in Brooklyn hanging out at her local community garden with her pet chicken, Kippee, or tending to her own copious indoor jungle of 1,100 plants.