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I'm not an expert on plants, but would like to add some plant life to my apartment. I'm looking for good choices that:

  • don't require direct sunlight
  • require minimal watering
  • survive for at least a few months at a time
  • have low risk of attracting pests

Bonus points for "interesting to look at". Cacti seem low maintenance and resilient, yes? What other choices are there that I might consider?

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You also should consider the toxicity of the plants if you have pets or small children. – jennyfofenny Jul 13 '11 at 15:38

10 Answers 10

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Many houseplants can withstand low light intensity. You can google "houseplant". Some of them can clean the air too, according to a research done by NASA. I have a copy of that research in google doc here.

Here is a shortlist of houseplants:

Hedera helix   English ivy
Chlorophytum comosum   spider plant
Epipiremnum aureum   golden pothos
Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa'    peace lily
Aglaonema modestum   Chinese evergreen
Chamaedorea sefritzii   bamboo or reed palm
Sansevieria trifasciata    snake plant
Philodendron scandens `oxycardium'   heartleaf philodendron
Philodendron selloum   selloum philodendron
Philodendron domesticum    elephant ear philodendron
Dracaena marginata   red-edged dracaena
Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana'   cornstalk dracaena
Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig'   Janet Craig dracaena
Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii'   Warneck dracaena
Ficus benjamina  weeping fig 

I recommend Snake Plant, Golden Pothos and Spider Plant myself. Golden Pothos is very hard to kill because they are pretty good at different environment. You can also plant Golden Pothos in water within a glass container which is beautiful. Among all of them, snake plant require minimum attention. You can water once a month.

On the other hand, cacti require good sunlight and prefer hot, dry environment. In low light environment they don't look very good.

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To add to that list, I've had good experience with the Madagascar Dragontree. It's an interesting plant in that its leaves will fall off and where they connected to the trunk becomes the bark. They're a mid-level/diffused light plant that works well indoors and as long as you keep the soil moist, they should be happy. It is a mild toxin to dogs (my large dog would just throw up after eating it), though, so that is something to consider in general if you have pets. – Shauna Jul 11 '11 at 18:06

We've had a Christmas Cactus (A.K.A. Holiday Cactus) in our bathroom window for over ten years now, with very little watering. I have a picture of the same young plant (in bloom) from the 90's.

Christmas Cactus with bloomed flowers

The name of the plant comes from the bright flowers that bloom during Christmas. It's remarkably unlike traditional cacti and from a distance it doesn't look like one.

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Regarding low maintenance, one of the things to bear in mind is choice of compost: in my experience, a peat-based compost dries out much more quickly than a soil-based one (however much moisture-retaining additive the first contains); this involves more frequent watering which, if you have a number of indoor plants, can be fairly time-consuming. Sooner or later, if you have a busy schedule and fail to water your plants often enough, the tip of their leaves will turn brown and curl up or wilt; instead of contributing to the amenity of your apartment, they will detract from it; so, if you buy quite a few plants, and are very busy, a soil-based compost would be a better choice.

Of the plants already suggested, the one that will withstand the most neglect - a real ironclad - is almost certainly the Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum). I've had one for over twenty years and I can vouch for its tolerant nature!

enter image description here enter image description here Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you opt for a palm (another ironclad that I've had for many years), given that you live in an apartment, height will be an important consideration. Indoor palms do well in low and filtered light. There is some useful information on the different varieties here.

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As well as cacti, I'd look more generally at succulents. When I was a kid, I loved growing lithops (living stones) just because they were so visually interesting. And, they positively reward neglect, as over-watering will cause too many leaves to form, which spoils their camouflage.

I also had a number of different forms of crassula, whose geometrical leaf patterns I loved (I always found a certain beauty in nature's expression of math!).

Finally, if the spines on cacti might make them unsuitable in places, how about something like euphorbia obesa? Suitably bizarre to look at and, again, nicely drought tolerant.

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Dieffenbachia species tend to make good house plants. They don't need much water or sunlight and tend to be really hardy indoors. A brand name of one of our Dieffenbachia is "indoorstructable"!

enter image description here

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I wouldn't get one of these if you have cats that like to eat plants. – lemontwist Feb 4 '13 at 1:12

I have a Jade plant sitting near an East window that I've had for years. I only water when its very dry and it takes care of itself. It started as a table plant and now sits on the floor and is roughly 4 feet wide and tall. A great plant that requires very little care.

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Most ferns and ivies work well indoors. We use these mainly in our vertical gardens when planting them indoors. Pothos is a great plant for indoors as well.

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I've had a really hard time with ferns. I think they're too high maintenance for me. – lemontwist Feb 4 '13 at 1:14

Aspidistra elatior, commonly called the Cast-Iron Plant; this plant lives up to its name!

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Thank you Niall C.! I appreciate the restructuring! Non-Americans speak and write English better than Americans! I had a friend from South Africa teach me a lot about our language...and I am a little rusty! – stormy Jun 1 '14 at 18:11

I have a beautiful rubber tree that's been living indoors with indirect sunlight for a while, and just can't stop thriving. It's a peaceful and oxygen-adding addition to an apartment.

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I've had good luck with hoya plants. They have a variety of leaf shapes and colors and require little water. They need good light but not direct sun.

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