My first indoor plant – Part 1: Considerations when choosing a plant

Indoor plants are a great low-cost hobby anyone can enjoy. Before you purchase a plant, consider where your plant will live, how to select a healthy plant and its water requirements.

A wide variety of indoor plants to choose from in a local retailer
A wide variety of indoor plants to choose from in a local retailer. Photo by W. Garrett Owen, MSU.

Do you need a new hobby but have a hard time with commitment? Indoor plants are a great way to scratch your horticultural itch without a large investment in time or money. Bringing nature indoors can be therapeutic and a great way to decorate your home. Easy-to-care-for plant options abound, while more unique options are available for experienced indoor gardeners. You’ll find everything from the tiny Living Stones (Lithops sp.) to gargantuan philodendrons (Philodendron sp.). So where should the budding indoor plant enthusiast start?

Right plant, right location

When selecting plants for the indoor garden, select the right plant for the right location. Think of your indoor garden just as you would an outdoor garden. Selecting the right indoor plants for the right location is essential. Before rushing out and purchasing your plants, consider where you will place them. Is the location drafty or cold? Temperature extremes from nearby vents can stress plants and cause damage. Excessive light can burn leaves causing damage, while low light conditions can cause plants to be spindly and weak. Some plants prefer humid conditions and may do better in your bathroom. Take note of these environmental conditions as well as the amount of space in the location.

Plant selection may also be affected by the presence of children or pets that could come into contact with your plants or their sap. Rubber tree plant (Ficus elastica) sap, for example, can irritate the skin or cause stomach irritability if eaten. Incorporating this plant into your home may be undesirable if you have small children or pets that like to chew on plants.

Avoid diseased or unhealthy plants

Inspect your new plant pals thoroughly before bringing them home. Avoid diseased or unhealthy plants. Check the roots of the plant while gently removing it from its pot. Generally, roots should be whiteish and firm, not mushy. Look for the presence of insects or signs of insect damage. Some insects may be extremely small and can easily hide underneath leaves and in small crevices.

Avoid plants with excessive amounts of dead leaves and brown tissue. Fight the urge to purchase plants with an unhealthy appearance from the discount rack as they are sometimes discounted due to poor health. This may be due to pests or diseases, which could damage other plants already in your home. Always quarantine your new plants for at least two weeks to reduce the risk of contaminating your current plants.

How much should I water my plant?

Budding plant enthusiasts often ask how often their new plants should be watered. The answer is a somewhat helpful, “It depends.” Watering plants on a schedule can lead to overwatering and result in problems like root rot. Underwatering can result in weak plants and decline. For example, Lithops should only be watered when the media is completely dry. Potting media moisture can be checked either by lifting the pot and checking its weight or inserting a finger into the potting media. Moist potting media will be cool to the touch.

Do not try to overwater your plants so that you can water them less frequently. This will not work and you will instead end up with rotting roots and a collapsing or dead plant. Each plant should be watered as needed and not simply when convenient.

Pick out your plant

Now that you’ve thought about where your plant will live and learned how to select healthy plants, it's time to pick out some plants! Read “My first indoor plant – Part 2” to learn more about some popular options for your first indoor plant.


For additional questions about indoor plants, Ask an Expert or call the Michigan State University Extension toll-free Lawn and Garden Hotline at 1-888-678-3464.

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