A Guide To Embracing Indoor Plants

A Guide To Embracing Indoor Plants

I believe passionately that everyone should own a house plant. Plants are an inexpensive way to add a large-scale, living sculpture to your house. They add warmth and greenery to even the coldest space, and the organic shapes contrast nicely with modern furniture and straight lines. If you're feeling sad taking down your Christmas tree, you get this!

Plants also imply a certain level of adulthood because they indicate you can keep something alive. Which is something we can all aspire to. 

I don't have a particularly strong green thumb, but I've kept several plants alive. If I can, you can. Combined with a beautiful, affordable planter, you are good to go. So here's how to get started with indoor plants:

Why You Need A House Plant

In case you're not convinced that a plant will make your house look exponentially better, here's a sampling of gorgeous spaces where the plant makes the room:

Sources from top left to right: Jasmine Dowling, Domino, Elle Decor, A Pair And A Spare, Studio McGee, Little Green Notebook, Cup of Jo, Pinterest, My Unfinished HomeCup of Jo

You'll notice that almost all of these plants are on the large side -- they make a bigger impact that way. You can assume in this post I'm referring to plants that are big enough to sit on the ground and hold their own -- tabletop plants like succulents are a topic for another day.

Planters and Pots

Here is my general philosophy about them: invest in the planter, not the actual plant. I strongly believe even a $20 dentist office plant from Home Depot can look glamorous and beautiful in the right pot. It's very easy to kill a huge $300 fiddle leaf fig tree, but you can't really kill a $300 pot.

That said, your pot doesn't have to be expensive to make a statement -- sometimes a basket, like #2 below, is the chicest option. Below are 20 options for beautiful pots and planters -- my personal favorites are #16, #17 and #18:

1. White Large Modernica Case Study Planter ($195), 2. Amazon Seagrass basket ($39), 3. Target ceramic and wood planter ($59), 4. Black Large Modernica Case Study Planter ($195), 5. Ikea Krusbar plant pot ($24), 6. West Elm Iris Planter and Stand ($189), 7. West Elm Brass Planter Large ($99), 8. CB2 Oscar matte black planter ($24), 9. Food 52 Medium Black Wire Plant Stand ($99), 10. Target Project 62 Round Woven Basket ($19), 11. Food 52 Radial Stoneware Planter ($55), 12. Terrain Medium Earthenware Jug ($58), 13. Terrain Large Hobnail Clay Pot ($48), 14. Black Target Planter, 15. Crate and Barrel Short Dundee Floor Planter ($74), 16. Urban Outfitters Noa 12" planter, 17. Anthropologie Aux Bois Planter Set ($148), 18. World Market Grey and Brass Planter ($44), 19. Terrain Habit Form Cylinder, 20. Food 52 Tall Stacked Porcelain Planter ($90)

Just make sure when you're shopping for a planter or pot that you double-check the dimensions before you purchase. Many websites will show a pot that looks large, but the dimensions indicate it's closer to a teacup. Anything in the 10 to 12 inch diameter probably works for a decent sized plant.

Also, make sure you have room for a plastic liner or saucer on the inside to catch the water unless you planter is entirely waterproof. 


Now that you have your gorgeous planter, it's time to find a plant If you're worried about killing it, you aren't alone. Every time I think about house plants I think of Jazmine Hughes' fantastic short story about her journey toward becoming a plant lady for the New York Times:

Last August, freshly broken up, I sobbed my way from my bathtub to the Q train to my favorite plant store in Chinatown, where, I’d pledged, I would find something to reinsert meaning into my life — or at the very least, my weekend. I chose a plum-colored rubber tree that came up to my armpit, handed over $50 and lugged it down Canal Street, dreaming of the years we would have together, this plant and I. Maybe it would greet me when I brought home my first newborn, I said to myself, or someday slide around in the back of a U-Haul, as I drove to a new city. The plant would bring new life into my apartment, which was, at the time, half-empty and thick with sorrow. It looked strong — it was heavy, in fact, and the walk to the train took longer than I remembered — and I would be strong, too, both in mind and upper body. Inspired, I named it Michelle Obama.

When it comes to purchasing plants, New Yorkers should probably follow Jazmine's lead and head to Chinatown (if you're a NYC plant genius, please leave suggestions in the comments). In San Francisco, I hit up Lowes, Home Depot, and Ikea. 

You can't beat the prices at a place like Lowe's or Home Depot where a large house plant is typically less than $40. What these stores lack in variety and customer service they make up for in their low prices that let you experiment fairly risk-free. Ikea also has a decent selection of live and fake plants that are worth considering -- they used to carry fiddle leaf fig bushes, which is where I got mine.

If you're a more confident gardener or have your heart set on a specific type of plant, you can head to a specialty plant nursery like Flora Grubb in San Francisco. Just know that the prices will be much higher, so make sure to bring a photo of your space or info about your light. Show the photo to the store associate and ask them for advice on caring for your plant.

Below are my plant recommendations that are hard to kill. They're not exotic by any means, but in the right pot they'll look lovely. I'm personally partial to the very dark green leaves of a rubber plant, or cacti -- this Architectural Digest story covers the best types of indoor cacti and how to keep them alive.

If you're worried about your plant looking like it belongs in a dentist office, I would steer clear of plants with variegated leaves (ie, different colors mixed together like in the snake plant below), although this isn't a hard and fast rule.

Just make sure to confirm the plant is specifically suited for indoors, that you have the basic light requirements, and have at it:

As part of my nice planter/cheap plant philosophy, you have to promise me you won't stress too much about keeping your plant alive. Google the plant's name and find out generally how much water and sun it needs, and do your best. If you fall short, it's a great opportunity to try a new one.

On Fiddle Leaf Figs

You might notice that none of the above plants are a fiddle leaf fig. The fiddle leaf fig became totally ubiquitous in interior design in the last few years, and by now they're pretty over-done. Pinterest is spilling over with photos of them. I'm not getting rid of mine any time soon, since they're popular for a reason. I'm sure the plant will remain a classic for many years to come. However, they're hard to keep alive and over-done at this point, so if you have the option to buy a different kind of plant, you should.

Faux Plants

But what if you have no natural light, a job that requires you to travel a lot, or cats/children who might eat a plant?

I know it's somewhat controversial (and not for everybody) but I would urge you to consider fake plants before giving up on the concept entirely. The benefits of faux are numerous -- no watering, no sunlight, no responsibility! 

The biggest challenge obviously is to find faux plants that look real -- easier said than done. I personally have purchased the World Market fiddle leaf fig tree (looks mostly real) and the Ikea oregano plant (looks very, very real). I saw the CB2 prickly pear cactus in a store and freaked out when I brushed into it, so I promise it looks real too.

If you're buying a plant online, make sure you can see customer reviews with photos first. Make sure the plant has a lot of positive reviews. Avoid any plant that looks overly shiny, too plastic-y, or isn't the right scale for its real counterpart. I've read that the "Nearly Natural" plant line sold on Amazon is pretty good -- and the thousands of positive reviews seem to confirm this (the palm tree below is part of that line).

If you decide to go faux, make sure to put the plant base in a pretty planter, per my above suggestionsm, and cover up the base of the plant with either moss (sold on Amazon here), or actual dirt so it's not clearly fake. 

Here are some faux plants that caught my eye:

1. Target snake plant ($39), 2. Amazon Nearly Natural Palm ($61), 3. World Market Fiddle Leaf Fig Plant ($129), 4. World Market Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree ($179), 5. Ikea Fejka Oregano plant ($11) 6. Hayneedle palm ($52), 7. Terrain fig tree ($198), 8. Pottery Barn cactus ($169), 9. Ikea Fejka potted plant ($7), 10. World Market Sansevieria plant ($119), 11. CB2 Prickly Pear Cactus ($89), 12. CB2 Large Aloe Plant ($149)

I'm sure I have readers with a true green thumb and indoor house plant experience -- if you have a plant you really love, please leave it in the comments!

Note: This post contains affiliate links so I may receive a commission if you like one of my recs!

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