So you want to add a little green to your life indoors. Great idea! Houseplants brighten up just about any room in your home, and they’re literally a breath of fresh air!

Shamrocks

Match the plant to the right light levels – these shamrocks thrive on my kitchen’s windowsill.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Cactus

Don’t be fooled by cactus. The plants can actually be hard to care for!

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Sanseviera

If you’re just starting with houseplants, buy ones that survive almost anything, like Sansevieria.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

Bromeliads

Bromeliads are great easy-care, colorful plants.

Photo Credit: Sarah Landicho

But hold your horses…don’t just run out and grab the first plant you see. The area you’re “greening up” inside your home may be smaller than your back yard, but gardening indoors is a lot like gardening outside: The first rule of green thumb is to put the right plant in the right place.

The easiest way to do this is to figure out where you want to put a plant or two in your home, then observe those spots to see out how much light they get. Every home has naturally light areas (think near windows and under skylights) and naturally dark ones (think bathrooms and some bedrooms). Once you know how much light a particular spot gets, you can match it to the types of plants that’ll grow under those conditions.

The next step is to determine how big you want your plants to be. Are you looking for a large floor plant or something that’ll just sit on a windowsill? Then head out to the garden center or your local plant supplier and check out your options. You’ll find interior selections with low-, medium- and high-light requirements. Ignore the ones that won’t work for the particular space you’re looking to fill – no matter how pretty those other plants may be. (Remember, a pretty plant put under the wrong lighting conditions won’t stay so pretty for long.)

“OK, that all sounds fine and good,” you say, “but how am I supposed to know what a plant’s light requirements are?” Just look at the plant tag. All the important growing requirements should be listed there. But if the tag fell off or you can’t find the info you need, always ask someone for help. If you’re shopping at a good garden center, a knowledgeable staff member is sure to be able to answer your questions and help you make the best selection for your needs.

If you really want your first houseplants to thrive (as most people do), pick tough, easy-to-care-for plants to start with. So now you may be thinking, “A cactus! I’ll pick a cactus! They’re supposed to be easy!” Well, think again. It’s hard to replicate the conditions where cacti thrive, and many people have a tendency to overwater them. In fact, according to experts at Plants Inc. in Chicago, any plant that thrives in harsh areas will be tough to grow in your home. And one sure way to kill a burgeoning houseplant passion is to kill the first plant you buy.

So with that in mind, if you’re new to growing plants, stay away from the expensive ones. They’re usually expensive for a reason, Plants Inc. warns – as in, they’re difficult to care for. And the more you shell out, the more you have to lose.

Where should you get your plants? Well, wherever you can find a healthy selection, they say. Don’t rule out big box or grocery stores. If you’re already shopping there and something catches your eye, give it a try – especially with the known tough-to-kill plants like pothos or Sansevieria. And of course, garden centers are great if you really need direction, and they’ll probably have some plants you won’t see in the other stores.

Don’t forget to buy a nice pot for your plant, too. Try to get one with a drainage hole in the bottom so the roots don’t sit in too much water, which can cause problems. And be sure to place your container on a dish or clear-plastic tray (often sold alongside pots and plants) so excess water doesn’t damage whatever’s underneath the plant, like a nice wood floor or table.

And one final thought about watering: Don’t put your houseplants on a regular watering schedule for the entire year. Sure, it makes sense to schedule the task on a calendar so you don’t forget to water, but then you could end up overwatering – or even underwatering – your plants. The reason a schedule doesn’t work is that your home’s environment is constantly changing. In winter, for example, when the heat’s on, you might find that your plants’ soil dries out faster than it does during the humid, rainy springtime.

Instead, follow your plants’ lead. The best way to determine if they need water is to just feel the soil. Go ahead and stick that finger down in there! Is it dry? Add water. If it’s not, check again in a few days. That’s all there is to it. If you feel like you still have to schedule something on your trusty calendar, write down a reminder to check the soil so you don’t forget.

Good luck with your houseplant adventure – and have fun! Houseplants make a great addition to any home, office or dorm, and growing them is a great way to introduce yourself to the gardening world. Plus, it’s always nice to have something green and natural to look at any time of the year – especially in the dead of winter when your windows are shut up and you need that nice breath of fresh air!