My Favorite Easy-Care Houseplants

easy care houseplants

Some people fondly reminisce about firsts like their first concert or first car, but for me, the memories of my first houseplants are loaded with much more nostalgia than my first set of wheels. I was a 21-year-old newlywed, mourning the loss of my beloved grandmother, who had left behind a slew of wonderfully cared for houseplants. My freshly widowed grandpa said I may as well take any houseplants that I liked, because they would surely die in his care. So my cousin and I split up the plants, and while she researched the care for her plants at the library, I took on my new responsibility with the typical flare of an overwhelmed full-time student, nanny, and aspiring housewife would. Who needs to take the time to research, when surely a daily watering would suffice? I never could quite remember to water those plants daily— thank God— because they somehow managed to survive a whole year in my first basement apartment!

Of course, now I know that daily waterings are exactly not what any houseplants want, but when my grandmother’s plants eventually died of neglect when I forgot to bring them off my patio during a cold snap, I felt like a massive failure. First, my grandmother died. I couldn’t stop that. But then I killed her houseplants! It took a while for me to sort out those emotional feelings of failure— the feelings that told me these plants were somehow a part of my grandmother’s legacy, and I hadn’t deserved them. (Thankfully she had a much more impactful legacy than philodendrons and dracenas!) But now that I’ve handled my grief and separated that from my grandmother’s dead plants, I still credit that experience ten years ago to why I decided to really overcome my lackadaisical plant-mothering efforts and create a home full of thriving plant life, just like Grams.

Houseplants can add the perfect finishing touch to any room, quite literally bringing life into a space! I’m so glad I didn’t give up on the idea of filling my home with plants. I don’t have quite as many crammed into our current home as I did our former home, mostly because I just have more space here to spread them out, but I have a few that have been with me for many years now, happily growing, taking on pruning, and growing thicker and longer each year. Many of you have asked about my houseplants, so I thought it would be helpful to you for me to share which plants I’ve had success with, and how I take care of them in my home.

1. Pothos aka “Devil’s Ivy”

Whenever people say they can’t keep a plant alive in their home, I always suggest trying devil’s ivy. It’s not picky about soil, nutrients, watering, or light. You can keep it pruned to prevent it from trailing, but if you want a trailing plant, this is your guy. It will get long pretty quickly, especially if you fertilize it and give it plenty of filtered light.

I maintain my devil’s ivy by watering it a bit once a week or less frequently and giving it medium amounts of filtered light— meaning they are not right next to a window and they do not receive direct light.  It’s better to underwater Pothos/Devil’s Ivy than to overwater them. How to tell if it’s happy with its water amount? Well, if one of them begins to look wilty, give it water and it will perk up in about a day.  If you overwater, the leaves will turn yellow and fall off. But that’s also what can happen if it doesn’t get enough light, so it may be confusing until you learn the plant. If it doesn’t get adequate light, the plant will thin out, but it will not die— unless, of course, it gets absolutely no light. They will live happily in dimly lit spaces, as long as there is some natural light. Just don’t expect them to remain full and thick in that kind of lighting condition.

If you have long tendrils hanging from your Pothos plant, and it has dropped much of its leaves, trim it back in the Spring and it will bounce back, giving you length again relatively quickly— and even more fullness, if you give it enough light. But the sparse tendrils don’t bother me, personally. I love to see their length, and love that you can guide the tendrils up walls and around furniture and cabinets. Just use little nails or something for it to rest on and it will keep climbing!

2. Dracena

The plant seen in a pot next to a Pothos above is called a Dracena. There are a few varieties of Dracenas, but this kind is my favorite because of the pom-pom effect created by the skinny stem/trunk and the burst of stringy leaves at the top.

The care for Dracenas is pretty simply. They definitely don’t like soggy soil, so when I water them, I do it moderately, taking care not to completely drench the soil, but making sure the water is evenly spread across the soil. Choose a soil that will drain more easily than standard potting soil, but don’t just go right to the quickly-draining cactus blend that stores like Home Depot or Lowes sell. I recommend buying soil from a local nursery to get a blend that’s right for Dracenas, or you could try making your own mix after some quick research online.

This plant can do well in bright lighting environments, as long as that light is not direct for very long, or it will burn the leaves. The nice thing about Dracenas is that they also don’t mind somewhat lower light levels, though I wouldn’t put one in a super dark corner like I might try with a Pothos plant. They won’t grow as quickly in dimmer light, but they’ll live! Just don’t be surprised when you see some of the leaves drying out and falling off. That’s just the plant either thinning out to stay alive in lower light, or else it’s growing upward and dropping it lower leaves in the process.

3. Ficus Alii

Ficus trees come in many varieties, including fig trees and rubber trees, and can be notoriously difficult to take care of. I have killed a beautiful variegated rubber tree, and never attempted to care for a Ficus Benjamina or a Fiddle Leaf fig. But I did see this beautiful almost weepy looking ficus tree on Craigslist a couple of years ago and decided $30 was a steal— why not give it a try?

When I got this tree, it was very uneven, had a damaged trunk, and was dropping leaves like crazy. Ficus trees can go into shock when you move them to a new, less pleasing environment, and this ficus’s previous owner had it outside on his front porch to try to get some leaves back on it. He said it wasn’t getting much light in his home. Moving it from outside to inside my not-super-bright living room at our old house really freaked it out. So I tried everything I could to resuscitate my new ficus. I removed it from its old pot (it had never been repotted for several years with its previous owner) because it seemed pretty root bound, and chose a pot slightly larger than the old one. I had asked a local nursery about what kind of soil blend to use, and bought what they said they use for their ficus trees. So I repotted the plant with new soil, rinsing out the roots first, and carefully dispersing the soil around the long stringy roots of the tree.

After repotting, it was still dropping leaves, and I worried I had damaged it beyond repair. But it was also Fall, and these trees tend to thin out as daylight begins to wane. When Spring came around again, it began to grow lots of new leaves, and then when we moved to a new home with brighter light, it was even happier!

Now that I know it’s a happy tree, I decided to give it a pretty severe pruning this Spring to help it’s uneven shape fill in more evenly. I did research how to prune a tree to make the branches to grow in the desired direction, so I wasn’t blindly hacking away at the poor guy— don’t worry! The photo above is how it looks now. The photo at the beginning of this post is how it looks before I pruned it. Can’t wait to see how it looks in a year!

In conclusion, I think Ficus Alii’s are pretty simply to care for, as long as you meet these requirements: Use proper well-draining soil that also has lots of nutrients (not cactus potting soil), lots of bright indirect light, water only when the soil has completely dried out in the drop three inches or so, fertilize every other watering during growing season (Spring + Summer), and completely soak the plant when watering— but make sure the pot can drain completely. Don’t let the plant sit in drainage water. I use a grower’s pot elevated inside a larger pot, so the water drains out and sits in the larger pot without touching the grower’s pot. In our old home, I put the ficus in a pot with drainage holes, and elevated it on a wrought-iron stand, so when I watered, I could fit a shallow bowl under the wrought iron stand to collect the water that drained out.

4. Aloe Plant

A friend recently gifted me this aloe plant when I mentioned it would be handy to have one to treat “boo boos” and whatnot. (I’m always dealing with scrapes, cuts, and gashes on me as I’m renovating this house— not to mention the kids!) This plant has been pretty easy to take care of! I keep it in a moderately lit room, but in one of the lesser lit regions. Before watering, I let the soil dry out in the top two inches of the soil, and then give it a really thorough soak. I keep it in a grower’s pot that I set inside this larger pot, so when I water it, all of the excess water can drain out, then I dump out the excess water.

Aloe plants prefer to be watered less frequently than most houseplants, similarly to succulents. I know people go on and on about how succulents are easy to care for, but that has not been my experience! I think it’s because I just didn’t get good sunlight in our old home, partially due to Ohio’s cloudy weather, but also because of my general lack of windows and heavily wooded yard. So far the aloe plant has been happy here in our house, though, and I’ve already used it to treat wounds. Love a plant that loves me back!

5. Wandering Jew

I killed a Wandering Jew the last time I had one— and I hate how alarming and violent that seems when I type that out… But these are beautiful trailing plants that are easily split and shared with friends or other rooms in your house. The leaves are smaller than devil’s ivy, and have a beautiful rich purple color on their backsides, though you can’t really see that in this photo. I decided to try this plant again in our new home, and I’m so glad I did!

So far, I’ve learned that these plants aren’t as happy to be left dry as Devil’s Ivy is. It will begin to drop leaves fast! So I keep the soil more moist than most of my other plants, though still allowing the water to drain. I don’t want to soak the soil and cause it to drown. I have also read not to pour all of the water onto the stem of the plant or it could rot.

You can prune back a Wandering Jew plant to keep it from trailing about, but the trailing is just so beautiful! I think it would look lovely hanging in a pot, but for now I have it resting in this footed pot on my table.

"split leaf philodendron" monstera

6. Monstera Deliciosa aka “Split-Leaf Philodendron”

These plants used to be difficult to find in Ohio, but now I’m finding them more places, like IKEA and even at flea markets. I’m so glad I finally got my hands on some, because they are such beautiful, sculptural plants. They seem pretty easy to care for, too!

I have had these plants for three years now, and they’ve never gotten too mad at me. I have noticed them cuing me about watering, similarly to how my Pothos/Devil’s Ivy does. They will begin to get droopy, but when I water them, they perk back up. I have heard they do not do well with overwatering, so I tend to be more hands-off with these guys. I also read somewhere that they don’t do as well with regular fertilization than most houseplants, so I usually only fertilize them every third watering during growing season.

They will develop weird little aerial roots, that basically look like brown nubs growing out from the green stems, which is the plant’s way to reach out to stabilize itself on something. They will grow up and up if you stake the plant properly, but I currently have mine in front of a window that they are beginning to climb. I try to rotate mine semi-regularly to keep them from growing out to one side too much. They’ll reach for the sun, which is pretty inspiring, if you ask me. Heh!

devil's ivy

Those are all of the plants I currently have in my home right now, and I feel like it’s just the right amount. I check their water levels about once a week and water the buddies that need it, while making mental notes of ones I should check back on in a couple of days.

Lucy even spent her savings on a succulent last weekend and is learning how to become a good plant mama too! It’s been fun to transition from worrying about your kids destroying your plants to watching them learn to care for them. If you have some kids in your home— don’t give up on plants! They’ll learn, and there’ll be messes along the way, but having a home willed with life is worth it.

4 Responses

  1. laura says:

    wandering jews are great for re-rooting easily (my oldest slammed into mine and broke half of it off; they typically make roots in about two weeks in water – and then i reuse that rooted water for other plants to root in), even if they have root rot. just snip at a good healthy site, remove some leaves and go.

    the monstera deliciousa and split-leaf philodendron are often confused for each other, but they are two different plants both from the aracea family. the best way to tell the difference is on the newest and biggest leaves. if the stem right at the leaf creates a ruffled effect, it’s a monstera deliciousa. these will often develop holes in the leaves as the plant gets bigger and matures. the split-leaf philodendron will not get the ruffles on the steam, nor will it get holes in the leaves – but the splits will get deeper and closer to the stem.

    if you’re ready to venture into more plants and have great, filtered light in your home (which it looks like you do!), my favorites are calatheas and peperomias.

  2. Carly L says:

    What do you use to fertilize?

  3. Adi says:

    I love love love house plants. I feel they totally wake up a room.