5 easy-to-grow houseplants for complete beginners

So you've been inspired by the green interiors trend and now you're on the look-out for your first houseplant purchase. You grab a luxurious-looking jungle grower, take it home and two weeks later, those gorgeous leaves are going brown.

Sound familiar? Whenever I chat to friends about houseplants, this is most people's sob-story describing why having plants just isn't for them. If this sounds like your houseplant backstory, the good news is there's still hope for your budding green fingers.

A number of houseplants have very specific needs and any beginner is going to struggle to keep them happy, unless they're blessed with a tonne of good luck. Instead, when adventuring into the green abyss of houseplant ownership for the first time, try sticking to these 5 easy-to-grow, beginner plants that you'll struggle to kill.


Crassula Ovata (Jade Plant, Money Tree)

The IKEA bookshelf of houseplants, Crassula Ovata is the plant that you'll find in abodes across the UK, largely ill-treated but sturdy and robust enough to put up with the abuses thrown at it. The thick, luxurious bottle-green leaves of the Jade plant identify it as a succulent - meaning it can withstand forgetful watering schedules. Architectural in its growth, jades can grow into small tree-like formations if you chose to prune them. But left alone, they'll easily grow bushy and tall with minimal help.


The basics for looking after a jade? Start it off on a good foot by planting it in a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom - this can be the plastic pot you planted it in. Try to remember to water your jade plant whenever the soil is completely dry (try sticking a finger in the plant pot - if your finger comes out dry, it's time for a water). Place it in a sunny window, if you can. If not, it can tolerate shadier pots but won't grow as successfully. Jades come in a number of varieties, including hobbit, variegated and dwarf versions - these can be harder to care for than the bog-standard money tree.

Chlorophystum Comosum (Spider Plant)

The pale green and yellow stems of the spider plant are one of the most instagrammable plants you'll find- and the good news is, this plant needs minimal attention. Grow it in a sunny spot, and try to keep the soil moist during the summer. As a plus, this plant is amazing at recycling polluted air, so will keep city flats freshly oxygenated for you.

Aloe Vera

Another popular succulent and yes, this is the plant you'll find in your aftersun care - you can even snap a leaf off and use the gel directly on a burn! Again, aloes need minimal watering (whenever the soil is completely dry) and only want partial sunlight. Aloes also pup really easily, meaning they grow baby aloes all around them, which you can remove from the mother plant and pot up separately - perfect for when you've found your green fingers growing.


Philodendrons

There are loads of different Philodendrons, but they all need roughly the same care, which amounts to not much. Although jungle plants, they don't like too much water - you should try to let their soil dry out between waterings, but water quite heavily when you do. They don't like bright sunlight so keep them in a partially-lit to shady corner. Their glossy green leaves are heavenly against a white wall, but try to remember to dust them to help the plant breathe.


Sanseveria, Mother-in-Law's Tongue

Another air-filtering hero, Sanseveria's will reduce pollutants in the air. They like full to partial sun and well draining soil (remember drainage holes!). This plant is really durable and likes to be on the dry side so don't worry about forgetful watering - just top it up now and again.

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Returning 'home' - Liverpool and Greenery

I haven't posted for a while. I'm sorry about that. A combination of faulty technology and a week long holiday in Liverpool has left me far away from my laptop and not thinking about this blog.

But here I am on the first of many grey September mornings, looking out of a sash window onto a green oasis, in Wavertree. I've come home.  My mouth is dry from one too many birthday cocktails last night and I need to get on with my day and find some breakfast. But I took a moment. Because the greenery caught my eye.



Liverpool is a strange city: loud when it wants to be, quiet at unexpected times. Fiercely proud but never afraid to laugh or cry, never arrogant. It runs on humour and strength, on northern grit and northern kindness. And above all, it's green. Green with trees and window boxes, rolling parks and single bushes shoved into paved front gardens. From every crevice and every pavement weeds spill out.

Scouse Succulents was started in a slug-infested, damp student house about 400 metres from where I am now. In between the stresses of university work, cultivating a little bit of Scouse greenery was what kept me sane in my last year of university.


Now I'm back, and everything is the same. The pride, the greenery, the quiet. Three plants line the window. One of them is a peace lily. Outside, the thick trees grow heavy with dark growth, the occasional autumnal leaf floating through the deep green.

Is elotation bad? Not unless you hate it. Sometimes it's just the plant helping itself.

It isn't quiet, but it is still. So very still. It feels like home. A calm that lets my shoulders drop and my lungs open. There's only 2 more days here. I want to stay longer.


Compost Questions - Which Soil is Best For Your Succulents?

Ugh, the soil question. The worst. Every time you meet another succulent grower you're inevitably asked "but what SOIL are you using?". And God forbid the urban garden beginner takes a peek online at what compost their cacti should be potted in. Sand, permilite, gravel, cacti special, basic potting, all rock, pure water. The possibilities are literally endless and each furious online gardener demands that their way is best, that their soil is supreme.

Coffee Arabica ( Not a succulent!) being potted up in just John Innes. This plant is a jungle dweller so doesn't need added drainage help.

I was bamboozled when I started and I'm still confused. My plants have been through three types of soil in the few years I've had them. Each time I've been less convinced and more worried about killing them. Is it holding too much water? Is it holding not enough? But now, I've had a revelation: it doesn't really matter that much. 

OK. It does matter, a bit. A haworthia planted into some peat isn't going to last long. But provided you've got some good drainage in your soil what the soil is isn't a huge problem.

Case in point? The British Cactus & Succulent Society (BCSS) suggests that for most varieties an equal mix of John Innes No.2 or No.3 and some grit is fine. John Innes! Normal compost! The mystery is solved! If you're too lazy to even bother mixing something up, cacti and succulent soil in a bag is also fine, according to the BCSS. Fine! It's that easy.

Crassula Ovata all potted up in the new mix

So today, I marched into a local garden centre, grabbed a bag of John Innes No. and some potting gravel and had an evening in the late sunshine repotting every plant I own in an equal mix of these two bags. So far, so good - they haven't died in the hour that I've done it.

Top tips for potting and repotting? Remember your drainage holes. There's no point potting a succulent or cacti (or really any plant) without them. Secondly, I recommend putting either a layer of the grit in the bottom of your pot, or find some bigger stones such as below and popping them in. This will improve drainage and prevent your soil from falling out the drainage holes when you water.



I think it's best to follow the experts when it comes to soil - if that's their advice, it's most likely the soundest you'll be able to find. Fingers crossed, anyway. Otherwise I'm facing throwing out a bin of succulents next week.