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Our Top 5 Houseplant Picks for Small Spaces

November 11, 2017

Real talk: Some of us may be lucky enough to live in spacious apartments with floor-to-ceiling, Southwest facing windows, with no other building obstructing the light levels. Most of us, however, have to work with what we have. That may be small windows, tight spaces, drafty windows, or light that is blocked by buildings or trees – not ideal conditions for most plants.

Having lived in apartments that featured all of these unfortunate qualities at some point, I’ve learned (often the hard way) which houseplants best tolerate apartment living.

Bear in mind that houseplants will always do best with the right amount of light and the correct levels and frequency of watering (not to mention soil and nutrients). However, if you are starting out, or your living conditions aren’t ideal, there’s no reason you should be deterred from starting your own indoor garden.

Without further ado, here are my top 5 houseplant recommendations for apartment living.

1) Pothos (Epipremnum aureum, also known as Devil’s Ivy): This hardy vine plant is a classic and is always at the top of the easiest plants to care for. Plus, you can find these plants at your corner bodega for anywhere between $10-25. This was my first houseplant purchase and it really helped to build my confidence in my ability to keep houseplants, given its ability to tolerate low light levels and erratic watering. These forgiving traits make the pothos a perfect starter plant for beginners and those with busy schedules.

Pothos is a long-growing vine plant, and typically grows about 6-10 feet in indoor containers (though it can grow longer given adequate growing conditions). They prefer bright, indirect light but can survive low light levels as mentioned. Pothos prefer to have their soil dry out between waterings as, like most plants, they will develop root rot if the soil remains too damp. When the plant begins to droop, you will know it’s time to hydrate – I typically water every 1-2 weeks. Before I water any of my plants, will always check the soil moisture first by simply sticking my finger or a chopstick an inch or two into the soil. Pro tip: prune regularly to prevent the pothos from growing leggy.

Above: A trailing variegated pothos

2) Snake Plant (Sansevieria): If you are wondering what plant can survive your basement-level, small-windowed apartment, then the snake plant is for you. This easy-care houseplant is adaptable to most conditions, including low light levels. The name comes from their stiff, upright leaves, which give the plant a striking, architectural look.

It is difficult to underwater this plant (though bear in mind it is possible), so this is a great option for those who are forgetful or who are looking for a low maintenance houseplant. Be sure to allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Snake plants grow fastest in bright conditions, but again, they aren’t super picky. My snake plants are positioned in areas of my apartment that I want a little green, but would be too far from the windows for the rest of my houseplant collection.

Above: A xerographica airplant and a snake plant in our exclusive handpainted planter

3) Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvate): Once I graduated from pothos and snake plants, I decided to decided to expand outside my comfort zone with a ponytail palm, purchased on impulse with no background research. Luckily for me, this also turned out to be a delightfully easy plant to care for.

The ponytail palm tree isn’t actually a palm (or a tree) but is in fact a succulent which stores water in its trunk. As a result, it’s fairly drought tolerant – it’s far easier to over water a ponytail palm than underwater it.

I’ve had my ponytail palm for several years now and I’ve found the key is to ensure that it has enough light. Because it is a succulent, it does require a good amount of light to thrive - bright, indirect light to full sun is best. I found that if I moved my ponytail palm too far from the window, the leaves began wilting and turning brown. As soon as I moved it to a spot with more light, it would perk right back up. Otherwise, I water it every couple of weeks using my Haws pint watering can and more or less forget about it.

The only caveat I would add is that my cat is obsessed with chewing on its leaves, so if you have a kitty, be sure to keep it out of reach. Luckily this plant is non-toxic to both cats and dogs so it’s not a health risk, but still, it can’t be great for either of them.

Above: Ponytail palm

4) Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica): Lately I have been falling in love with my rubber plant all over again. The rubber plant feels less trendy than some other houseplants, and it has a very understated, rich look to it. Basically, I think it’s a chic AF plant.

The rubber plant does best in bright light but it prefers indirect light – if it doesn’t get enough light, you’ll notice it growing tall and leggy rather than full and bushy. Unfortunately, I had mine positioned in a shadier corner for a while and I noticed this happening to mine. I moved it again to a brighter spot and it’s definitely starting to grow in fuller.

This houseplant prefers regular watering and while you want to allow the soil to dry out a bit between waterings so as to avoid overwatering, it’s not as drought tolerant as some other plants. I typically water mine once a week, but I always check the soil first – sometimes I have to water more frequently in the summer, and cut back in the winter. It’s also good idea to periodically wipe down the waxy leaves with a mister and damp cloth, as the leaves tend to collect dust and this can be harmful to the plant.

Above: Rubber Plant

5) Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum): Many of you will probably recognize it from your grandmother’s house. And if you do, we highly suggest asking for her plant’s offspring – spider plants are ridiculously easy to keep, and even easier to share with friends. In fact, the spider plant’s creepy name is inspired by the baby plants (or spiderettes) which dangle from the mother plant, resembling spiders on a web. These babies can be removed and shared with friends or family, allowing the plant to be passed down from generation to generation. I myself have a spider plant that originated from my great-grandmother’s plant, as well as one that came from the home of artist Lee Krasner (she was also the wife of fellow artist Jackson Pollack).

Spider plants can tolerate quite a bit of abuse, which is why they are rounding out our top picks for apartment plants. They do best with bright, indirect light but can tolerate lower levels of light. They need well draining soil and should dry out between waterings – I typically water mine once a week. Because of their long, trailing leaves, these plants look beautiful in hangers such as these.

Above: A spider plant offspring from our grandmother's plant (left) and a young spider plant offspring from Lee Krasner's plant (right)

There are so many other plants that I have grown to love, but these are my go-to recommendations for friends who are looking for a starter plant. Cacti and succulents always seem to be beginners' first choices since it is always assumed that they will underwater their plants, but I find that the high light requirements and sensitivity to overwatering for cacti and succulents make them tricky for newbies.

We'll post another recap of our favorite houseplants for those who have graduated from introductory houseplants and are ready for a bit more of a challenge. In the meantime, sound off on your favorites easy houseplants in the comments below!

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