Just call us Sima aunty, because we found your plant mates for this life and the next
They’re flexible enough to meet all your needs
So, you’ve decided to become an urban gardener. I get it, I had that rush of Pinterest inspiration where I dropped a couple of thousands at a nursery as well. I came back to my shoebox apartment with potted houseplants in each hand, followed by a helpful watchman struggling to carry the rest of my purchases.
I used houseplants as a lazy person’s version of interior decor. They were also going to serve as my sasta air purifiers. Plants can make great decor accents on a budget, power up your vastu and help you breathe easier (though this is contested).
A week into the house’s transformation into the Garden of Eden, a wrecking ball tore its way through in the form of root rot, plant mites and my sick cat who kept puking green.
I overestimated my green thumb, didn’t research enough and ended up with a graveyard of ferns and foliage.
After doing my research, I’ve realised that finding the right houseplants can be like swiping left and right on a dating app. It’s a risky game that also has great payoffs.
Allow me to unleash my inner Sima Aunty and play plant matchmaker for you.
Whether you’re looking for low-maintenance options, air purifiers or non-toxic plants you can have around your pets, I’ve got you covered.
The best houseplants for all your needs
Houseplants that could help you breathe easier
It’s no wonder that Areca palms are some of the most common houseplants you’ll spot. NASA’s 1989 study of air purifying plants dubbed this as the class topper when it comes to getting the job done. Besides that, they’re easy to care for, come in a variety in sizes and don’t need a lot of sun. Keep the soil moist by watering it every two-three days and the leaves won’t get those pesky brown tips.
Formaldehyde and benzene are the two pollutants Areca can tackle.
As long as you keep the soil of a rubber plant a little moist, it’ll be happy and thrive. Keep it away from strong direct sunlight which can end up burning the leaves. What draws people to the rubber plant is the claim that it can clear up formaldehyde, one of the primary indoor air pollutants emitted largely from things like paint and wood polish.
Some studies say that ZZ plant can clear up toxic chemicals created by car fumes. It’s in NASA’s list of houseplants that can help clean up indoor air quality as well. It’s quite a self-sufficient houseplant, requiring watering every 10-12 days — just remember to keep it out of direct sunlight.
Non-toxic houseplants that are safe for your two-legged and four-legged babies
Also known as elephant’s foot, these plants love a daily blast of sunlight. Their long tendrils will be your pets new favourite plaything. You’re going to have to be careful and not over-water these plants that prefer a drier soil.
Spider plants are quite the multitaskers. They’re easy to maintain, even for those that have black thumbs. They can help improve indoor air quality and are totally pet-friendly.
They’re super resilient, so can handle your pet’s curious snacking on their leaves every once in a while.
We wish money grew on trees but we’ll make do with this. Also known as the ‘Good Luck Tree’, this plant has been a traditional Chinese symbol of good luck and fortune. Bonus, it’s a non-toxic and hardy plant that can endure havoc caused by pets and babies running around.
Low-maintenance houseplants that’ll survive even if you briefly forget they exist
The greatest house warming gift ever created, the lucky bamboo plant, despite its name, is not bamboo at all. It has a prominent role in Feng Shui and is everyone’s favourite living room accessory.
It can grow well in water without you having to care much for it. Keep it out of direct sunlight and it’ll be around for a long time.
A beginner’s best friend when it comes to urban gardening — also bitingly known as Mother-in-Law’s tongue. It takes a special kind of plant murderer to take down these tough perennials.
It’ll live its best life in sun and shade both. So you can forget about it for long periods of time and it’ll still be around like a loyal friend despite its devious name.
Song of India
This is a great plant for those living in more humid states. Its yellow and green leaves are a lovely addition to your indoor aesthetic. It doesn’t need a lot of water and requires medium to high natural light.
Plop it close to a window and watch it flourish. You can let it grow tall and dense or keep it pruned to a more manageable size. You’ll have time to decide considering they grow pretty slowly.
Healing plants to add to your urban garden
Holy basil AKA Tulsi
This lovely fragrant is considered sacred according to Hinduism. It’s sacred to us because all the different types of tulsi plants are easy to grow — they just need regular watering to keep soil moist and lots of light.
The medicinal benefits of tulsi have been studied for years. It’s been attributed with antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic and antioxidant properties.
Every mother’s favourite succulent, aloe vera is easy to grow, doesn’t need a lot of water and is hard to kill.
Snap off a leaf, harvest the multipurpose jelly goodness inside. Soothe sunburn and rash, pop it into your beauty DIY or just eat it. It’s believed to help with digestive disorders like acidity, constipation and gas build-up.
Neem holds a special place among medicinal herbs. Pretty much every part of the tree from its leaves to the bark and stem are used for their anti-fungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. You can grow your very own from seeds and cuttings indoors.
Neem loves a hot climate and plenty of sunlight and can grow several feet high into lush trees. It can survive the harshest of climates, but give it a treat every now and then with some organic fertilisers like fish emulsion.
Challenging to your green thumb but worth the effort
A big blooming Boston fern looks fantastic hanging in a little pot from the ceiling in your room. They may be pet-friendly but they aren’t always human-friendly and can die when ignored.
They’re finicky ferns that need humidity and moisture and light but not too much direct sunlight otherwise the leaves burn. It’s like having a tantrumy child but after their fit is over, they eventually adapt.
There are multiple kinds of orchids, but they’re all rightly known as the divas of the plant world. These are best left to the pros.
They can be very fragile. They love a good morning sun but then want shade for the rest of the day. They need proper attention to track possible changes in the colour of their leaves (which means your plant is not getting enough light.) They have to be kept at just the right room temperature and require weekly watering. You need to develop your attention span for this needy beauty.
Under the right conditions, your cheese plant will mature into a big lush plant with lovely deep green leaves and even grow fruit.
It likes light and warm temperatures but, if it gets too much light, it can stop growing new leaves. Their leaves need to be cleaned and washed every week or so.
As with any relationship, your leafy friends also need space, attention and a gentle word or two. Some days may be more frusrating than others when you spot them revolting despite all the TLC in the world, but in the words of Sima aunty the OG, you need to learnt to adjust.