Moon cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii)

We help you choose which of Trader Joe’s very affordable houseplants are worth your window space

Heather Arndt Anderson  – July 10, 2019 | Updated August 6, 2019

As a longtime Trader Joe’s shopper, I know all too well that the store can be pretty hit or miss on some products. Their produce tends to be a bit peaked, for example, and their hot dog buns never seem quite soft enough, while their cheese and wine selections are bizarrely faultless. Their chocolate and chips are pretty good, yet their milk is always on the verge of spoiling. However, there’s one place where the grocery chain seems to consistently shine: the houseplant shelves. To aid in your selection, I’ve provided this helpful power ranking of the Trader Joe’s houseplants. 

Choosing a new plant baby can be hard, but there aren’t really any bad choices at Trader Joe’s. For starters, they’re very affordably priced—much more so than at trustafarian houseplant shops and those boutiques that specialize in “lifestyle terrariums” and “macramé power crystal onesies.” TJ’s selections come in at around $5-$10, or about the price of a bottle of cheap bubbly AND a couple of chocolate-covered wafer cookie bars. And considering how small many of Trader Joe’s outlets can be, they offer a surprisingly solid variety of plants. (Pro tip: the smaller ones conveniently fit in your car’s cup holder.) 

Here’s my *entirely opinion-based* power ranking of Trader Joe’s houseplants, from most trendy to most timeless:

Having a Major Moment: Foliage Varieties

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The selection of foliage houseplants at Trader Joe’s is abundant and rotates seasonally, so I’m lumping these together. However, there’s still a hierarchy, and these ones are the best:

  • Chinese money plant (Pilea peperomioides): This round little buddy (pictured above) is really having a moment. It used to be relatively rare—it’s only been grown commercially since the 2010s—and lately it’s been flying off the shelves at twee shops like Pistils in Portland and online houseplant store The Sill. Now you can grab one for a few bucks while you’re picking up a frozen Pizza 4 Formaggi.
  • Radiator plant (Peperomia rosso): This is another one that seems to be hot right now, but they never went out of style as far as I’m concerned. It looks great in a black pot.
  • Rubber plant (Ficus elastica ‘Variegata’): These are indestructible, look great, clean the air, and make a great housewarming gift. TJ’s even has a variegated one! 
  • Philodendron (Philodendron spp.): Last time I was at TJ’s, they had a couple very thick and thriving philos, including the dark-rosy ‘Imperial Red,’ for just $5.99. A steal!
  • Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Robusta’): Snake plants are bulletproof. They can grow in the darkest apartment with tons of neglect and still manage to scrape out a living. The only time I’ve ever killed one was when my cat began using the soil in the pot as a litter box.
  • Arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum ‘Berry Allusion’): Like the philodendron, this rosy-leaved arrowhead plant is great for training onto a mossy pole or hanging in a window.

Most of these foliage houseplants have similar care needs, so group several together to give your home a dramatic “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” effect. 

Instagram Darlings: Succulents

If you’ve been drooling over the underwater dreamscapes that succulents seem to instantly provide, TJ’s has plenty of options, and I put them squarely in the middle of this power ranking for the sheer breadth the grocery store carries. Trader Joe’s has several different species, each trendier than the last: they have good-sized aloe vera plants; panda plant and flapjacks (Kalanchoe tomentosa and K. luciae, respectively); jade plants (Crassula ovata); the glasslike beads of Cooper’s haworthia (Haworthia cooperi), and a surprisingly broad selection of Echeveria in a variety of sizes. Some come in eco pots made from recycled plastic, some come in wine bottles, and some come in ceramic planters. Best of all, you can do a little “proplifting” of any fallen leaves you see on the floor, and grow extra baby plants for free.

Photogenic and Classic: Cacti

Ok, can we all just agree that those bobble-headed moon cactus are completely ridiculous? They look like a cartoon, or like they come from one of those 25¢ plastic bubble machines. How are they even real?! (Grafting is how, but let’s not ruin this moment with science, m’kay?) With colors ranging from flare red to day-glo pink to fluorescent yellow to blaze orange, these cacti are the best mood therapy that $5.99 can buy. But if “psychedelic circus clown” isn’t really your aesthetic, don’t worry—Trader Joe’s sells normcore cacti, too, like the delightful little fairy castle cactus (Acanthocereus tetragonus; pictured below). Easy to nurture in a sunny window, and they dress up nicely with sparkly sand or crystals.

Timeless Beauties: Orchids

Yes, the orchids at Trader Joe’s do cost slightly more than the other plants (up to around $18), but it’s no exaggeration to say that they’re botanical powerhouses—not just covered in an impressive array of blooms, but more importantly, with thick, glossy leaves and healthy roots. I have a couple moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) that I picked up years ago, and they reliably bloom every year, for months at a time.  This one in particular started up in mid-January and didn’t quit until July. (In fact, as of mid-July, there are still two tenacious blossoms hanging on.) And don’t even get me started on the mini-Phals—they’re freakin’ adorable! I keep my moth orchids in a west-facing kitchen window, where they get some bright afternoon sun and their aerial roots get frequent splashes of warm water from the faucet. Phals are an ideal choice for newb orchid-growers or folks who can’t/don’t want to grow in a specialized setting. They might even inspire you to write a haiku. For more experienced growers (or those of you with your own DIY lifestyle terrarium), Trader Joe’s carries other orchids as well, like Dendrobium, Cattleya, Zygopetalum, Oncidium, and numerous hybrids (the word on Reddit’s r/orchids is that the plant buyer for Trader Joe’s loves the Zygonisia hybrid)

Pass on These Plants

Not trying to yuck your yum, but I think peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii— not even a lily) is a boring plant. There, I said it! Okay, yes, it’s good for purifying the air, but so are the infinitely more interesting Trader Joe’s houseplants, like rubber plant and snake plant. The same goes for ‘Janet Craig’ (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig Compacta’)—great for indoor air quality, but what a snoozefest in the looks department. 

Also, some of the botanical options sold near the houseplants are really better off as outdoor plants. Mini cyclamens (Cyclamen persicum), for example, don’t fare well as houseplants (homes tend to be too warm and dry), but you can feel free to treat them as a hardy perennial; plant them in a cool, shady spot in your yard, like under a rhododendron (Sunset Zones 2-9, 12-24).