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Ask HN: Which plants can be planted indoors and easily maintained?
123 points by gymshoes 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

I'm a big fan of cacti. I've not managed to kill one (yet). Also anecdotally I found I was killing plants because I overwatered them. Turns out they don't need love as often as I (and I think a lot of people) thought. Apparently a good generic test is checking if the soil is damp - don't water if it is.

Anyway, just asked this question to the founder of a start-up I'm working with. She replied "Sansevierras thrive on neglect and low light calatheas are good" - if that helps? As an aside / plug if you're in the UK: https://bloomboxclub.com - she's set up HN10 which will give you 10% off all plants / plant subscriptions for the next few days and want some (more?!) greenery :-)

I'll second sansevierras (also called snake plant or mother in law's tongue). When I started working as a programmer I had one in my office in the back of a windowless office. It was amusing seeing how many people assumed it as a fake plant as they didn't a plant could live back there.

Zamioculcas (or ZZ Plants) are also another very hardy plant that do well in low light and can take a lot of abuse.

There is also Pothos, several types of ferns (Boston being the most aviable in my experience), Spathiphyllum (peace lilly), Dieffenbachia, Monstera, Spiderplant, Rubber plant, weeping fig, fiddle leaf fig. All of these are pretty common and should be relatively easy to find.

If you want some more interesting ones there are Calathea Triostar, Ficus Doescheri & Tradescantia Tricolor which all have a pinklish marbling, & Tradescantia pallida which is a deep purple.

Another thing about snake plants is that you can cut a few inches of a leaf off and plant it. Within 3-9 months or so it will sprout some new shoots.

Oh that's neat, I wish it were in the US as well as the UK. I'd subscribe!

Thanks! One day maybe! It's been an interesting ride - before I got involved I'd never really thought much about plants. I have a good few (alive!) ones dotted around now. Love it :-)

How do you search for sansevierras o your website? :)

Hey there, good question. As far as I know there's no search because the product range is limited! I've just pinged the question to them, apparently you're looking for "the snake plant". Which would be both of these :-) https://bloomboxclub.com/collections/shop/products/snake-pla... https://bloomboxclub.com/collections/shop/products/rough-and...

It's spelled "sansevieria", not "sansevierra"; and the "snake plant" (also called "mother-in-law's tongue", as your first listing does) is the common name for sansevieria trifasciata. It is a very good starter plant, easy to take care of (water once a week, not too much) and to propagate if you need to trim it (cut up a leaf into thin strips and put them in soil, wait for them to form roots and sprouts). It's also available pretty much everywhere including in grocery store plant sections. The website listing claims that the plant comes in a 17m pot, which is implausible. Probably 17cm was intended?

The latter link, sansevieria cylindrica, is a related plant which is commonly called "African Spear" and generally not called "snake plant". S. cylindrica are a little more rare to see and in my experience a little more temperamental about excessive water, but they do look great. Of course, the listing says "Species of Snake Plant May Vary", so then most people won't be getting a s. cylindrica anyway. Unless they meant "cultivars of sansevieria cylindrica may vary" -- a cultivar is the level below a species, analogous to breed in animals, in the same way that a Pom and a Chow Chow aren't two different species of dog.

Not trying to be a jerk here, but one presumes the unique selling point of an expensive plant subscription service is the curation -- in other words, the expertise and care of the team working on the product -- as much as the convenience.

Haha, sorry! I'll take the blame for the spelling. I should have googled. Have also passed on the 17m/cm typo. Good catch. A 17m pot would indeed be implausible.

As for the other one, I have no idea. The name comes from the grower apparently. I'm fairly certain you get pretty much what you see, although you may be right about the cultivar.

No worries at all - I'll pass on the corrections. And you're right. Both the founders are lovely, care very much about the product (and sourcing interesting and harder to find - in the UK especially - plants), and the mental and general health benefits of having a life full of plants. But the team and company is small and learning as they grow (if you pardon the pun!). Feedback is very important and appreciated.

Some plants need a lot of water. Basil does, for example. But succulents in particular don't want much.

Pothos is so easy to grow! I started with one last year after a move and have propagated it successfully 8 times... I'm currently trying to get coworkers to accept clippings so I don't have to throw away excess.

Snake plants are also easy to grow indoors.

When I was first looking around for indoor plants I found the NASA study [0] on house plants for air quality and went with the easiest to maintain of these.

To find how "easy to maintain" a plant is, just Google it and most sites that talk about care will let you know.

[0] https://www.greenism.com/nasas-guide-to-air-filtering-housep...

Peace lily is extremely easy to grow, we've had some in the house as long as I can remember. Nice to know they're great for air quality too.

Probably worth noting that what is easy to grow for one user might not be for another - we all live in different parts of the world. At first glance, Peace Lilies wouldn't do well in my cold, dark and rainy part of UK.

I stood one on the window of my bathroom, and left it there for a couple of years.

Never watered it at all, and it thrived despite the leaky window. I always assumed it would get water, via condensation/steam from my shower and that seeemed to be the case.

Good point!

My grandmother lives in London and she's had a peace lily growing indoors for over a decade. Give it a try or ask around :)

I'm also in the UK and have a peace lilly growing very successfully under my stairs, which gets very little light.

This is my favorite plant. It's really easy to propagate, just pull it out of the pot, split in two and repot in separate containers. It really tells you when it needs watering, so as long as you pay attention it is impossible to kill. Other plants, such as ivy seem to look healthy until suddenly one day I look and notice they are completely dead.

Word. I had one and always forgot to get people to water it when I went away from the office - it would be limp, sagged flat, conformed to the pot and table top. Water it and it bounces back within the day.

In retrospect it's probably some sort of "do people in your office care" test, does anyone water your plants when you're away.

For anyone with pets at home, please be aware that lilies are toxic to dogs and cats. Keep them away from your pets!


Personally I avoid flowering plants because they tended to be more demanding. I've tried to find plants that don't "require" a flower to look beautiful.

Pothos technically doesn’t even have to be planted. You can leave the cuttings in a vase of water for years and they’ll be perfectly happy. And I’ve seen a planted one bounce back after a month without water (though they thrive best being watered at least weekly).

The only thing it doesn’t like is light. Of course, as a plant, it needs some light to grow. But its threshold is ridiculously low. Even plenty of indirect light will cause it to grow small, sparse leaves instead of dense, broad ones. I recommend putting it in the darkest corner that exists in a room that has a window.

In my experience this is not totally the case. I have a patio that gets bright light for a few hours a day (it's surrounded by buildings and I'm rarely home during the day). The pothos I've put outside grow better (leaves are wider/longer and branches grow faster) than the ones I've kept in solely indirect light.

In an apartment that gets bright indirect light all day long, my pothos grows dense only if either it’s tucked in a corner far from the windows or I keep the shades closed. In direct sunlight it’ll even start growing leaves with larger white streaks instead of green or gold.

Obligatory reminder that the NASA Clean Air Study on indoor plants was not conducted under realistic home or office conditions, and follow-up studies have shown mixed results at best.

Adding a few plants to a room that's not hermetically sealed (let alone a huge open-concept office space) will not have any practical impact on air quality, be it oxygen levels or pollutant concentration. It'll make your space look good, though.

Further reading:



Pothos can be grown in water or in dry soil. Cuttings can be taken from a mother plant and rooted in water and kept in water as a houseplant.

That's an interesting link. I found it before when we had a very humid flat that got a lot of mould growing easily.

Don't throw the excess away! Chop it up and use it as mulch

That is a great point, thanks!

I'm a big fan of Spathiphyllum[0] a.k.a. Peace Lillies. They don't need much light and you practically cannot over-water them. When too thirsty, they start slouching and recover quickly after adding water.

They seem to be good for the air quality and here's some anecdotal evidence: I have a room in my flat that had a weird smell about it. My son was sleeping in that room and the smell became very pronounced soon after closing the door. We put a medium-sized Spathiphyllum into that room and the stink is much less noticeable, even at night. My wife was skeptical but now we have them in almost every room of the house.

[0]: https://www.thespruce.com/grow-peace-lilies-1902767

Spider plants are basically immortal. I’ve traveled with cuttings wedged in an empty toilet paper tube on the back of a motorcycle before and then forgot about them for a few days.. and then they grew fine.

I had a friend who grew her spider plants in a fishbowl of water for years, somehow. They're insanely tough little guys.

Oh yeah, i've had a cutting i've been meaning to plant for about 18 months now in a teacup.


It doesn’t need (or prefer) direct sunlight. It only needs water once a month.

The best part is it cost less than <$10 on Amazon.

I love mine.

Ah that drives me nuts. Its a super common house plant. Its tough as rocks though.

I have a few "Mother of Thousands" [0] which started out as a single plant that I was gifted but it grew so rapidly that I now have about 6 pots of them. They produce tiny little baby plants on the edges of each leaf which then drop off. They are also nigh on impossible to kill (I rarely water them). I used to plant all the tiny 'seedlings' but now throw them away as there are just way too many. Be aware though that they are toxic so maybe not a good mix with pets.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryophyllum_daigremontianum

Spider plants are one of my favourites, you can get them from pretty much any garden centre and they are easy to propagate/maintain. It's almost impossible to kill Mother-in-law's tongue. Dracaenas look great, too

Easier to read overview: Lifehacker https://lifehacker.com/this-graphic-shows-the-best-air-clean...

NASA PDF - Interior landscape plants for Indoor air pollution abatement: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/199300...

Bamboo and cactus are two easy choices. I keep a pair next to my bedroom window. It's amazing how much impact having a few plants in your house can have.

Sometimes I'll bring my bamboo buddy over to the desk and talk to it while doing rubber duck debugging [0]. I'd invite the cactus as well, but it's a bit too prickly. ;)

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubber_duck_debugging

You can plant a terrarium bottle garden. No maintenance needed. There are bottle gardens that haven't been opened for 40 years. It will develop some algae though, and it does look rather wild. Aquarium plans and ferns are suitable contenders. I have a Progestemon erectus plant in a jar, Hemianthus callitrichoides mixed with Eleocharis pusilla in a rectangular plastic box, Micranthemum 'Monte Carlo' in another box and in an open bowl filled 1/2 with aquasoil that we keep on the bathroom window and mist regularly. There are also more beautiful plants such as Bucephalandra or Cryptocoryne but I've only planted them submersed. Bucephalandra will attach to and grow on driftwood and rocks.


With bottle gardens as with tissue culture, your worst enemy is mold.

I grow a lot of plants indoors, and the limiting factor is almost always light levels. If your space for growing has a large west or south facing window, you're in great shape! You will be able to grow most plants.

However, East or North facing windows will be able to grow low light plants, or need full spectrum (5000k) lighting.

Easy bright light plants include succulents, pony tail palms, avocados, bananas, and most herbs.

Plants that tolerate or thrive in low light are pothos, spider plants, parlor palms, the bromeliads, snake plants, and english ivy.

Of these, I suggest a spider plant, they're very hardy, nearly impossible to kill, and even don't mind being a little root bound.

Succulents require more patience, but are also fairly easy. Be sure to not overwater, and make sure they have enough drainage! Some indoor gardeners grow theirs in a mix of gravel and pine bark, in order to completely drain, and just fertilize every watering.

The most important thing is don't try orchids at first. Finicky things.

To answer your question correctly, we'd need to know what's your climate like. But, if you didn't give us that information, I'd of course recommend you a cactus like everyone else.

But if you live in an island like me, Devil's ivy aka Money Plant is my choice. Scientific name: Epipremnum aureum.


It's an excellent plant that you'll quickly fall in love with, while requiring very little maintenance. In asian culture, this plant is considered to bring good luck, prosperity and money. Hence the name.

I recommend it not for those reasons, but from a purely plant owner experience point of view. You can control its direction as it can creep. Mine goes around my 27" monitor so it's really a beautiful sight to see.

Depends on your goal, but I got a little succulent plant for Christmas that I've been keeping at my desk at work. I have almost no previous experience with plants, but I water it once a week and it has done pretty well for almost a year now. I gave it a name and it has been a nice little joy in my life.

This is what I used to help cure my black thumb:

Cricket chirp when your plant needs water.


This may not be the answer you are looking for, but any plant will grow if you have a good light source and the right amount of water and nutrients. Add a grow light and some vermiculite to the soil and you can grow just about 90% of the plants available at your local gardening store.

Ok, from a brief look into this before (I am in no way an expert) I think you would need to define what you see as a problem with indoor plants. Is it lack of light?

As a quick and not too detailed answer, take a look at the typical plants you see around offices - dracaena is one that comes to mind. I think it handles relatively low light and has the benefit of reducing mould particles in the atmosphere. Ficus is another one that I have had indoors and is really difficult to kill, though mine is outdoors now.

(As for easily maintained, I have had some dracaena before and they are pretty easy, but in both ended up getting some sort of disease after a couple of years).

Air plants are fun and pretty easy - just dunk them in water every so often.

I have a Christmas cactus that is nice. I break off the long pieces and stick them back in the pot and they keep growing. I did this with my aloe plant too.

And I have a cactus or succulent that I know of as a Hot Dog plant, though google wasn’t recognizing that name. It might be a variety of Rhipsalis.

Also I was given a basket of indoor foliage plants and I replanted them into individual pots. Most of them are still growing strong! Looking at a garden center or a florist’s for a basket like that could give you a nice variety of easy-to-grow foliage that would make a good start.

Fiddle Leaf Fig plants are a great choice.


I've had success with spider plants and "Wandering Jew" plants by growing them in water for a while, and then adding soil at some point, and watering every 3-4 days or when the soil gets dry.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorophytum_comosum https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradescantia_pallida

I have a few orchids inside my place. Most are Phalaenopsis, and one vanilla orchid. After talking with one orchid grower, they told me the key thing when taking care of orchids are:

* Do not overwater them (no standing water on the base of the planter). Keep the media moist.

* When the root turned white, give them water until they turned back to green (apparently they also photosynthesize).

I also have big gardenia in my kitchen and small gardenia propagated from the big gardenia that I put on my work desk.

Grape ivy will tolerate no end of neglect except heavy overwatering or sub 5 deg C. Good for getting lots of foliage, wiithout support it'll trail, or climb with a couple of sticks in the pot. Also very easy to take cuttings from, and will come back from near death neglect.


Cherry tomatoes (because they're smaller and lighter they don't require much support), chili peppers, maybe strawberries (mine ended up getting aphids though).

I've written a bit about this back when I played with indoor gardening: https://sdfjkl.org/blog/starting-hydroponics/

For obvious reasons I was only interested in food plants :)

Chlorophytum comosum (spider plants) are good air-filtering houseplants that are also easy to take starts of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorophytum_comosum

Houseplant: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houseplant

Devils Ivy.

Leave it in water for years, or plant it and forget to water it for weeks.

It can grow quite long, so cut it, stick the cut-end back in the water and it will root and keep going.

Dracena are attractive and easy to care for. Water them twice a month and feed them a couple of times a year.

They are a good indoor plant for beginners and they come in a lot of striking colors that you can mix and match in the same pot.


There's a lot of things already suggested so I don't have a ton to add, but I didn't see green onions anywhere. You can grow them from the roots you cut off of the ones from the store. They'll grow in just a cup of water if you really want. Though they start to get kinda flavourless and mushy after a while that way.

Ficus Benjamina, Aglaonema. I have both for two decades now, it last 1 week without water. No pests. Huge. Leafy.

Ficus seem to be pretty difficult to kill (mine is still alive after close to 10 years). Pretty sure it has gone a fair bit longer than a week without water.

My wife received an orchid as a gift. I know nothing about gardening, but I've managed to keep it alive and growing for about 6 months. Just water it when the soil feels dry and re-pot it every other year is about the extent of the care instructions a DDG search turned up.

This depends on how much light you have, what you mean by "easy", and what country you live in.

My personal opinion is that HN isn't a good forum for the question, especially when it's been written about on countless websites for specific locations/conditions.

Here is the list of house/indoor plants which promote cognitive function in order of ease of maintenance:

Areca Plam (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens AKA Dypsis lutescens) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dypsis_lutescens

Mother-in-law's Tongue/Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sansevieria_trifasciata

Money Plant (Epipremnum aureum) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epipremnum_aureum

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nephrolepis_exaltata

Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spathiphyllum

Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerbera_jamesonii

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlorophytum_comosum

English Ivy (Hedera helix) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedera_helix

Take the list of plants to your local plant nursery to see how many of them they have in stock. Buying them already established is much cheaper/easier than growing them from seed/cuttings.

According to Allen et Al 2015 (see link below), having pure/fresh air in your working environment significantly improves cognitive function. i.e. having indoor plants makes you smarter!

> Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments ~ https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/27662232/4892924...

> Conclusion: Office workers had significantly improved cognitive function scores when working in Green and Green+ environments compared with scores obtained when working in a Conventional environment.

> We’ve been researching this for: “home” https://github.com/dwyl/home/issues/8

Relevant YouTube videos on this topic:




A version controlled repo for a physical habitat. You're building the B&B from Cory Doctorow's Walkaway :)

@noio yes, indeed there are similarities with Walkaway https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkaway_(Doctorow_novel)

We will avoid the war. ;-)

I have a fig tree and a blueberry bush growing indoors with a 65w lamp and 70F constant temperature.

The fig tree is dying and the blueberry bush is fruiting :)

Kind of the opposite of what I wanted though lol :(

I'm growing Genovese basil on my windowsill. I water it irregularly, yet it grows quite well. I'm hoping to do a nice pesto from it, but the smell alone is very nice.

In the Northeast, I would recommend boxwoods, I have 4 and they are super low maintenance.

I have a large variety of rose bushes, but they require a ton of work.

I'd like to add coffee, baby rubber trees, dwarf umbrella, earthstars (or any bromelaid, for that matter), and dracenas.

Cane palm doesn't need much care or attention if you're looking for something more tropical.

Pathos, jades, and other succulents are pretty easy. I water them once a week and repot once a year.

Do mushrooms count? They don't need any light at all. Shittake just need some wet oak.

I'm growing a Pineapple, and my SO is growing a Japanese Black Pine ! :)

    Blue Dream
    Green Crack
    Dutch Treat

Peppermint willl survive multiple weeks of neglect and abuse.

Yucca cane.


Succulents are easiest. Things like peace lillies are also classic. Anything you could get from a supermarket is probably fine.

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