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It IS easy being green
It IS easy being green
Neil Patrick Harris

The Ultimate Guide to Indoor Plants

These expert-recommended plants will spruce up your home... no matter your experience level

April 21, 2023 2:05 am

It can be hard to know where to begin creating the perfect plant setup for your home. That’s why I chatted with Annette Gutierrez, co-owner of specialty plant store Potted in Los Angeles. Specifically, we talked about plants for 3 different situations: low-light (around 10-15 feet away from a window), medium-light (around 5 feet from said window) and bright-light (right up against the glass). Words from the wise: Annette says that direct, bright light is bad for many houseplants, but that “most every houseplant does great in bright, indirect light — that is what houseplants want,” she explains. “All these other scenarios are just what they’ll tolerate.” With that in mind, here’s a plant primer that’ll make your sanctuary even more sensational. Annette gives 2 plant recommendations for each type of lighting: one plant for those with Kermit-colored thumbs (i.e., those who know what they’re doing), another for beginners who may (wrongly!) believe their opposable digits to be black. -NPH


a fernwood snake plant on a shelf
The Fernwood snake plant = a beginner plant parent’s buddy
Annette Gutierrez

Black Thumb: Fernwood Snake Plant

The snake plant, also called sansevieria, has lots of varieties…so you shouldn’t say to yourself, “Oh, that’s a common plant everyone has.” There are gray ones, and black ones, and ones that have little yellow twisting lines in them. The Fernwood is this really delicate variety that looks like it has little swords coming up from it. I have one in my bathroom, and another in my laundry room. Both are places that don’t have a lot of light, but Fernwoods are fantastic because they can get bigger and bigger even with little light. The one thing about them is that people think they’re indestructible — they’re not. You will love them to death very quickly by overwatering them. (Look for drooping, yellowing leaves with brown tips if this happens.)

ZZ plant on a shelf
You can’t spell “pizzazz” without “ZZ”
Annette Gutierrez

Green Thumb: ZZ Plant 

The ZZ plant — named as such since the full Latin name is Zamioculcas zamiifolia — isn’t quite as common as the snake plant. One variety is the Zenzi, which is super tight and compact, and kind of looks like a corkscrew. It’s also much more rare, and is not an easy find. It’s not necessarily a difficult plant — it’s just one for someone who’s probably more of a plant connoisseur. There’s also a fabulous black one called Raven, with neon green leaves that then turn black. 


a neon pothos on a shelf
Add a pop of color with a neon pothos
Annette Gutierrez

Black Thumb: Neon Pothos

Pothos are awesome. Again, sometimes people say, “I’ve seen that plant too much” — but they’re so cool and versatile. And they’re so easy to propagate (in other words, growing a new plant from an existing plant). Just cut it off, put it in water, let it root and give it to a friend. The neon pothos is even cooler, because it’s just this lovely, bright green color.

Keep this baby in the light, and it stays in the pink
Annette Gutierrez

Green Thumb: Lady Valentine Chinese Evergreen

This variety of Chinese evergreen can go in lower light…but then that lovely pink starts to go away. It wouldn’t die — but it wouldn’t be this really beautiful plant. That’s why I classify it as a little more on the difficult side, because it’s a balancing act. The green varieties tend to be bulletproof — the pink valentines tend to be hybrids, and you have to give it just the right amount of light so that it stays pink, and doesn’t revert back to green. I have one right now that’s half-reverted. It kind of looks like Two-Face from Batman!


a pencil cactus on a shelf
Plop a pencil cactus on your countertop
Annette Gutierrez

Black Thumb: Pencil Cactus

Also called “sticks on fire,” the pencil cactus can be a huge tree, but as houseplants, they’re much smaller. They look like these crazy, weird fingers — they can take direct sun, and they need bright light. Just be careful, though, because if you break them, it can release a white latex that can be poisonous, sort of like a poinsettia. I wouldn’t recommend a pencil cactus if you have little kids, but it can be an easy plant to care for if it’s getting enough light. 

a maranta in a pot on a shelf
Prayers up: The Maranta’s magical leaves rise at night
Annette Gutierrez

Green Thumb: Lemon Lime Maranta

Some call it the prayer plant, because at night, the leaves close up, and they look like they’re praying. It’s stunning beyond belief. But it’s a finicky plant: usually, it’s a humidity issue, and it often wants more humidity than you’re willing to give it. My last one was struggling, but I moved it into my bathroom for a bit, where it can get more humidity — and it’s really started to come back. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right balance. Maranta isn’t the easiest plant to care for, but, oh my gosh, it is gorgeous. I also compare it to lava, because as it grows, it spreads in this really beautiful way, just like lava does.

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