Text and photos (unless otherwise credited) by Lina Rodriguez.
Lina has been gardening and keeping houseplants for over ten years. She has worked with organizations promoting community gardens, taught small-space gardening, and on other food justice initiatives.
Back in April, I wrote an article about why succulents may not be the best houseplants for beginners. I wrote that “succulents are easy, low-maintenance houseplants if you have the perfect conditions for them. But a lot of people don’t.”
So what is the best houseplant for beginners? The answer to that question is obviously subjective. What works for one person may not work for someone else, because there are so many factors at play (light, temperature, humidity, your personal plant-care style, just to name a few). That said, in my 10 years of keeping houseplants, I’ve learned that there are certain traits that make particular plants a good choice for most people, regardless of your environment or habits.
Before we get into my plant-y ruminations, let’s just cut to the chase: the houseplant I always recommend to beginners is Philodendron hederaceum (heartleaf philodendron).
What makes a plant great for beginners?
Through my own experience and some very informal polling of folks in my local plant club, here are the traits that beginners should look for:
- Forgiving (adapts to a variety of conditions)
- Easy to find
- Grows quickly
- Bonus: Easy to propagate
Forgiving (adapts to a variety of conditions)
The No. 1 reason I recommend heartleaf philodendron to beginners is because it is extremely forgiving and thrives in a variety of conditions. This plant will grow in bright light or low light, in warmer or cooler temperatures. It doesn’t need humidity, but doesn’t mind it. It’s happy if you keep the soil moist or if you let it dry out between waterings. It will even tell you when it needs water! The leaves will droop a bit, but give it a drink and it perks right up. Simply put, you probably won’t kill a heartleaf philodendron while you learn the ins and outs of caring for houseplants.
Easy to find
A good plant for beginners should be easy to find in-person, ideally in big-box stores. You can find any plant online, but shipping can be expensive and there are inherent risks to shipping plants sealed in a dark box. I personally have purchased many plants online, but it’s not something I recommend to beginners. Heartleaf philodendron are generally easy to find at big-box and grocery stores, as well as nurseries with houseplant sections.
Houseplant beginners should expect to kill a few plants — trial and error is how we learn! But it’s a good reason to start out with cheaper plants that won’t be devastating to lose or replace. Heartleaf philodendron are very affordable. I live in a large metro area, and I regularly see them in big-box stores for less than $10 for a 6-inch pot or around $20 for a huge, overflowing 10-inch hanging basket.
I recommend that beginners start out with fast-growing plants for two reasons:
1. It’s satisfying! Seeing your plant grow is a great confidence boost and makes you feel like you can do this whole house plant thing.
2. Plants that grow faster are more resilient because they’re less dependent on any particular part of the plant. Say you forget to water and some of your plant’s leaves turn brown and fall off. A fast-growing plant will replace those leaves quickly, so a few dead leaves won’t matter much to the overall health of the plant. But a slow-growing plant may suffer because it will be dependent on fewer leaves for a longer amount of time.
Bonus: easy to propagate
Propagating is a fancy word for making new plants, and heartleaf philodendron is extremely easy to propagate. I call this a bonus trait because not everyone is interested in propagating. Also, I recommend that beginners get the hang of caring for a plant before you start cutting it up to make new plants. That said, propagation is a really fun part of keeping houseplants and heartleaf philodendron is a great plant to learn on because it roots really quickly.
Heartleaf philodendron propagate easily using stem cuttings. In an attempt to stay focused, I’m not going to get into that here, but a quick Google search will yield many helpful tutorials.
What about pothos?
The only plant the Almighty Internet recommends to beginners as often as succulents is pothos. Also known as devil’s ivy, the scientific name is Epipremnum aureum. I think pothos is a great choice for beginners! Pothos checks every box on my “what-makes-a-plant-great” list above and it also comes in several varieties.
So why do I recommend heartleaf philodendron over pothos? Simple – I like them better! In my experience, philos grow faster and I personally just think they’re prettier.
Quick note: a lot of people use the name “philodendron” when referring to pothos (I grew up thinking my mom’s pothos was a philodendron), but they are different plants. You can tell the difference by looking for two distinctions:
- Leaf shape: heartleaf philodendron have a very noticeable dip in the leaf where it connects with the petiole (the small stem that attaches a leaf to the main stem). This dip gives the leaf its “heart” shape (thus the name). Pothos don’t have that dip in the leaf.
- Leaf sheath: When a vining philodendron puts out a new leaf, you will see a piece of plant material hanging off where the petiole meets the stem. This is the leaf sheath, which protects new growth. Once the leaf emerges, the sheath dries up and falls off. Pothos don’t develop leaf sheaths, so it’s an easy way to tell them apart.
While the regular, dark green heartleaf philodendron is my No. 1 recommendation for beginners, there are actually several varieties of this plant, P. hederaceum. They’re all pretty easy to care for, but I don’t generally recommend other varieties to beginners because they don’t check every box on my list — specifically, other varieties can be difficult to find and/or expensive.
These are the most common varieties:
Philodendron hederaceum ‘Lemon’ has bright, almost neon yellow-green leaves. The ‘Lemon’ and ‘Brasil’ (below) varieties are great for beginners. I only recommend the plain, dark green variety to beginners because ‘Lemon’ and ‘Brasil’ may be harder to find (although I have seen both in big-box stores) and a few dollars more expensive.
Philodendron hederaceum ‘Brasil’ has yellow and sometimes light green stripes or patches on the leaves. The ‘Brasil’ and ‘Lemon’ (above) varieties are great for beginners. I only recommend the plain, dark green variety to beginners because ‘Brasil’ and ‘Lemon’ may be harder to find (although I have seen both in big-box stores) and a few dollars more expensive.
Philodendron hederaceum ‘Micans’ is my personal favorite variety of vining philodendron. It has velvety leaves that are bronze when they first emerge, hardening off to a deep green. It’s not my top recommendation for beginners because they are more expensive than the green variety, harder to find (almost never in big-box stores), and velvety leaves can be finicky if water gets on them.
- Flowers-Kimmerle, N. (2020, December 17). Popular houseplants: Is it philodendron or pothos? University of Illinois Extension. https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/ilriverhort/2020-12-17-popular-houseplants-it-philodendron-or-pothos
- Russ, K., Pertuit, A., & Smith, B.H. (2016, January 15). Philodendron. Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/philodendron-pothos-monstera/
- Philodendron Philodendron. Lady Bug Blog. UConn
Home & Garden Education Center. http://www.ladybug.uconn.edu/FactSheets/philodendron—-.php
- Smith, Barbara H. (2020). January 2020 Week 2 Garden Photos. Clemson Cooperative Education Home & Garden Information Center.