A Landscape Designer Says These Are the Best Low-Maintenance Plants
There are options for inside and outside your home.
I have a confession: I love the look of plants, but I have absolutely no idea how to care for them. My husband is the much more dependable and dedicated plant parent in our household, but I wanted to learn more about finding the best (read: most durable and low-maintenance) plants that even those of us without a green thumb can keep alive.
So, I got into the weeds with Molly Wood of Molly Wood Garden Design in Costa Mesa, California. With her help, we narrowed it down to six plants (three indoor and three outdoor) that are beautiful, require minimal or infrequent watering, and don’t necessarily need sunlight.
The Best Indoor Plants for Your Home
“To me, what makes a good, low-maintenance interior plant are plants that do not need a lot of water or light,” Wood says. “And the biggest mistake people make with interior plants is overwatering. So, a good rule of thumb is to get a feel for the weight of the pot and pick it up. If it’s heavy, it’s waterlogged.”
On the plant itself, brown edges can also indicate that you’ve overwatered your plant, according to Wood. And on the opposite end, your plant might be feeling thirsty if its leaves look “a little floppy.”
Here are Wood’s top three picks for interior plants:
This plant is often referred to as the “mother-in-law’s tongue.” It’s what Wood categorizes as a vertical plant, and it has several varieties and ranges in color as well. Best of all, Wood calls it “bulletproof.”
“It’s still a little pedestrian,” she says. “I like to dress it up with a dramatic vessel. A cool pot, something handmade that’s really beautiful and unique and can really showcase the plant.”
Care tips: Most variations of the Sansevieria should be watered every four to six weeks, but it’s really dependent on the location. “If it’s in a bright, warm room, it’s going to dry out more quickly and you’re going to want to water it every so often,” Wood says. “But if it’s in the shade or a dark room, you’re definitely not going to want to water it any more than once every couple months.”
Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ Plant)
More commonly known as the Zanzibar Gem or ZZ, this plant is surprisingly independent and does not require much water or light.
Care tips: Wood says it’s all about the condition of your home. If you’re blasting the air conditioning or heater, for instance, that can drastically change the conditions for your plant. “I would say [water] about every six weeks,” she says. “But the other good thing about these plants is that they can recover from drying out.”
“That is kind of a groovy ’70s plant,” Wood says. “It cascades its leaves down, and sometimes it even grows too much, so it might need a haircut.”
Care tips: You will likely want to water this plant once a month, according to Wood, and don’t forget about the haircut. If it starts looking out of control on your shelves, consider trimming the leaves down a bit.
The Best Outdoor Plants for Your Home
When you head outside, Wood says it’s all about finding the right spot for particular plants. Some will need more sunlight, while others grow more comfortably in the shade or under filtered light.
“In the West, we overwater our gardens so much and I really, really try to encourage people to turn off their irrigation after the first rain,” she says. “Your sprinklers should be off from December to March—or at the very least, cut back in half. You’ll see your plants get healthier, because lots of diseases are caused by overwatering.”
In addition to overwatering, Wood has a pro tip on tending to plants that aren’t looking their best. “Cut it all the way back to the ground,” she says. “Don’t even look at it. It’s better to look at nothing than to look at something that is on death’s door.”
Here are her favorite easygoing outdoor plants:
Referred to as “Blue Waves” in the plant world, this one takes on a combination of grays and greens. Wood identifies it as a mounding plant, and one that serves a specific purpose in the garden.
“I like that it can hold a mounding ball shape, because then you can have other plants that just go wild and crazy in the yard,” she says. “It’s nice to have something to anchor the garden.”
Care tips: Blue Waves are succulents, which means they need two things: good sunlight and fast, well-draining soil. Wood also advises that you let it dry out between watering. “It’s seasonal,” she says. “When it’s hot, you might want to hit it once a week. When it’s cold and the growing season is down, water once every three to six weeks.”
Wood adds that because they’re succulents, these plants hold moisture in their leaves. So, if you notice that they get wrinkled or puckered (“Like your fingers do in the bathtub!”), they’re overdue for watering.
One option that works well in both sun and shade is the versatile Asparagus setaceus, or the common asparagus fern. Though a controversial selection in her shop—people love it or hate it—Wood says she’s a fan because it can take more moisture and is durable enough to go in the sun or shade, particularly in coastal areas.
Care tips: It’s possible for this plant’s fronds to die or “get crispy,” says Wood, so remember to simply cut it back. If you or a gardener are considering cutting down, make sure that you cut it down at the base and avoid removing the tips of the plant. In terms of watering, keep it evenly moist and don’t let it get too dry or too wet. “If it’s in the sun in the summertime, two to three times a week,” she says. “And if it’s in the shade, once a week.”
Nicknamed the saucer plant, this one has the appearance of both a succulent and a flower. “This is what I call a graphic, because it looks like a giant green rose or camellia,” Wood says. “The leaves spread nicely and it gets nice and big and green.”
Care tips: These prefer more shade than the others, and lose their luster when they’re in direct sunlight. Wood recommends watering them once a week and keeping them in a planter bed with filtered sunlight (think under a tree or anywhere with some shade).