tiny houseplants.

September 7, 2016

tiny houseplants | reading my tea leaves

A houseplant in a tiny apartment doesn’t have to be tiny in and of itself, but you might want it to be.

I wrote about houseplants a bit last summer. And I write a bit more about houseplants in my book. But here are a few more words of encouragement for getting plants to thrive in small spaces, and a few recommendations for tiny plants in particular that you might enjoy.

First: You should know that I killed our plecanthrus recently. No. I’ll rephrase: Our plecanthrus finished its tenure in this tiny apartment and on this green earth. As all living things, eventually, do. The little guy had been thriving for a good three years, but it really needed a bigger pot and I really didn’t want to give one to it. I tried to coax the plant back by trimming gangly bits. It lost its will to thrive. So goes life (and death) with houseplants.tiny houseplants | reading my tea leaves

Eventual demise aside, there are a few things to keep in mind when deciding to bring home a little something green: 

Identify what you like: Wander around a local plant shop or nursery and pay attention to what stands out to you. I love a plant with a nice blue-ish tint, but you might be someone who prefers a bright near-neon green. I often tend toward house plants with tiny leaves and curling tendrils, but you might prefer leaves that are large and spiky. Go with your gut.

Choose a spot for your plant to live: It’s tempting to think first about where a plant’s going to look nice in a house and second about whether it can survive there, but that’s a recipe for a short lifespan indeed. Most plants need at least some regular access to sunlight. The shelf in your windowless bathroom is not the spot for a houseplant to thrive, no matter how cute it would look there. Same thing goes for a pot. Trying to stuff a large plant into a tiny pot will leave you with a dead plant. Make sure the plant and pot that you choose have a future together. Then get prepared to either change pots as your plant grows, or to pass your plant baby along to someone else once it gets too bit for its home.

Develop a routine for proper care: Figure out the basic needs for your plant by asking the seller when you make your purchase or doing a cursory search online. Once you’ve figured out what kind of light and watering needs it requires, set up a little routine to make sure you’re meeting its basic needs. Plants aren’t puppies, but they do require some regular attention.

A few ideas for specifics:

String of Hearts (Ceropegia woodii)If you like a little trailing vine, this might be the plant for youThis is a plant that stays pretty small but also deals well with a bit of regular trimming to keep things under control. I’ve had mine in a small pot for going on three years and it’s still doing beautifully. It’s hearty and easy to care for and can survive without a tremendous amount of light.

Glauca Pilea (Pilea glauca ‘Aquamarine’): (Pictured!) Also called Pilea libanensis. This tiny-leafed pilea has silvery blue leaves along red stems. It’s also hearty and works in some climates as a ground cover and in tiny apartments as a not-too-big plant friend. I just welcomed this guy into our house to replace the plecanthrus (RIP), and I can’t wait to see how it grows.

String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus): If you have a little more light, String of Pearls can be a nice choice for a small space. (But I think we’ll all agree that String of Peas would be the better name.) It doesn’t require as much bright light as other succulents, which makes it a nice contender for apartment dwellers. Equally cute in a hanging planter or in a small pot, the peas pearls are interesting to look at and not too overwhelming in a small space. Like the String of Hearts, they’ll grow quite large if you allow it, but if the plant is getting too big, it’s easy to propagate a smaller plant and start over again in a smaller container.

Echeveria: If you have lots of light, it’s easy to find tiny succulents for sale in nurseries and to keep them hearty in small spaces. Succulents in the echeveria genus tend to be my favorite (there are tons of varieties ranging from grays and greens to pinks and purples!). They’re desert plants so they require very little water but really a great deal of sunlight. If you don’t have enough light, you’ll end up with a leggy, gangly succulent in a few weeks time, I promise. It’s not you, it’s the light.

What about you guys? Any favorite small houseplants out there?

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  • Reply Mary Kate September 7, 2016 at 10:36 am

    Ooh I love the Glauca Pilea (even though the name sounds like some kind of eye disease). Our apartment has east and north light in the living room with some south light in the bedroom, but buildings in the way mean that there’s only one window that gets light all the time so all our plants are crowded into this one corner most of the time. So far I have aloe, a spider plant (which is great because it’s hearty and grows its own babies in case you want more) and some viney thing my friend gave me. I have managed to keep them all alive!

    I do have a tiny deck now which gets some light from the east and west in the morning and afternoon, and am trying to figure out what I can get that can be left out there all year. Not really room for a full-on pine tree, so suggestions are welcome for plants that can thrive in winter!

  • Reply Lauren September 7, 2016 at 10:50 am

    I love, love string of hearts! For me, in our small apartment, I have tried to choose plants that I find pretty but that are also known for helping filter the air and remove toxins. I have had good luck with snake plants, spider plants, and heart-leafed philodendrons, especially when putting them up high and letting them trail down. Plus I love the look of a tiny philo cutting propigating in a small vase or bottle–a great way to add a little extra green to a small shelf or windowsill!

  • Reply Norma September 7, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Hoya carnosa – wax plant. Super easy and so rich looking!

  • Reply jenn September 7, 2016 at 11:24 am

    philodendrons are taking over our tiny space! although I think they are all near their death… they keep producing tinier and tinier leaves. they all stemmed from 1 single plant I had my freshman year of college (over 10 years ago). they are good though because you can trim them to be as small or large as you want. my husband tells me I have to keep the vines short or else it reminds him too much of a cheap Chinese restaurant 😛

  • Reply Jessie September 7, 2016 at 11:24 am

    I’m a disaster when it comes to keeping plants alive. My greatest success was a boston fern in my bathroom, survived over a year (even during a 2 week vacation when I forgot to tell our cat sitter to water it…whoops). I love anything with a lot of texture and volume. We’re pretty limited in options though, it’s alarming how many houseplants are toxic to pets!

  • Reply Lindsey heringer September 7, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    I love succulents of all kinds. I’m also a fan of snake plants and pothos because they are both very hearty and do well in little light. I love that string of pearls plant. I’ve never seen one of those!

  • Reply Molly September 7, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    I’m a loyal peace lily owner. I have several (some have been with me since college!) and I love the greenery and freshness they add to my space. I recently sprung for a bird of paradise (not tiny) which I ADORE. It has officially taken over my living room but it looks so majestic.

  • Reply Ina Feeney September 7, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Yes yes yes to the string of hearts! I am propagating mine because I love them so much! I also love ZZ plants, the snow bush (sometimes referred to as the Hawaiian snow bush), and the moon cactus! All easy to maintain with filtered light. I’m wondering how to keep fruit flies away. Am I giving my plants too much love, aka overwatering? Love your writing and essence, Erin!

  • Reply Akino September 7, 2016 at 10:47 pm

    I love little plants but I really suck eat keeping them alive, so this post is so helpful! I actually got a little cactus recently and I love it! I’ve kept it alive for a few months now and I’m so proud, haha 🙂

  • Reply Jodi September 8, 2016 at 6:35 am

    I’ve always loved keeping green plants in my home. I love the texture and calmness that they bring to a space, and in the middle of winter it’s nice to have something *living* to remind you of the other side. =)
    With each move we’ve made (California–> New Jersey, then New Jersey–> Sweden), we’ve had to give away all of our plants. I’ve always felt sad handing off these little creatures that I’ve tended for years. I’d repot them every spring, take them into the shower every now and then to get the dust off their leaves, and propagate them regularly for friends.
    Now we have young kids, so tending the plants is merely a passing thought. My youngest, who is almost two, likes to help me water them. Does Faye help you care for yours?

  • Reply Amy September 8, 2016 at 10:18 am

    I adore house plants. Succulents are so simple to keep alive, I just spritz mine once a week. I have belly-button succulents (Peperomia), hens & chicks, zebra cactus (Haworthia), and purple echeveria. With the exception of the zebra cactus, they all respond well to being cut back, and I usually transplant the cuttings & give them to friends as gifts.

    I started a lemon tree from seed this year, and I love it. It was super easy to start (used organic lemon seeds) and after 6 months I have about 4″ high sprouts with lots of dark green leaves. He likes sunlight and sits in my south-facing window. Eventually, he’ll outgrow his tiny pot and I will have to find someone to adopt him!

  • Reply nina September 8, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    We’re pretty high up with no close neighbours (due to the height) so I’ll say hanging plants! I have some sort of trailing large-leaved vine – bought cheaply down at the super some years ago, and now propagated into ten different pots, dispersed around our four windows. Great alternative for curtains. We also have a hanging fern in a sligthly darker corner. Saves you from having to have counterspace for plants, and allows for much more and bigger plants. Also, there’s no need to go buy hanging pot holders, just practice your macrame skills and use the ones you’ve got.

  • Reply Moran September 9, 2016 at 7:56 am

    I love the plants mentioned (in the post and in the comments), and am adding Lithops to the list – they basically look like little alien animals, so cute. Plus, they grow very slowly. I have a wax plant, that is trying to take over the kitchen – perhaps a sunny window gives it motivation – and a Peperomia obtusifolia which I love, due to its leaves’ lovely shape.

  • Reply Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog September 9, 2016 at 9:15 am

    I love African violets. They’re easy to care for and they have flowers, so all around win (if you like flowers, I mean). There are a ton of varieties, so don’t just go pick them up at the hardware store. Those are boring. Order online or go to a specialist.

  • Reply Christine September 9, 2016 at 11:15 am

    I loved this post! I only have one tiny window in my room, and the whole table in front of it is crowded with my plants! I tend to try and propagate things I find; jade leaves are easy and once I found a bit of ‘wandering jew’ had broken off in a pub and I took it home and it has absolutely taken off. My geraniums struggle with the minimal light but I’m moving soon and hope to spread them out over an entire flat with lots of light!

    I have a string of hearts happily spilling down the corner of my wardrobe, but I’ve tried to propagate it and it never seems to take off. I believe you are simply supposed to lay the “pearl” back onto the soil and it should take root, but do you have any other tips?

  • Reply Connie September 9, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    I, too, want to keep many of my houseplants small because I cannot lift an eight-inch pot to the tops of the kitchen cabinets easily. I’ve successfully divided snake plant (Sanseveria trifasciata), Chinese evergreen (Aglanema commutatum), and pothos. As long as you reduce both the top foliage and the roots, many plants are willing to be divided.

    It’s likely that your plecanthrus was rootbound and would have survived being divided and put back into the same pot. Give what won’t fit into your pot to someone else if you don’t want a second plant.

  • Reply Amy Roberts September 10, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Such a good post! I’m slowly adding one little houseplant at a time to our tiny apartment and I’m always looking for more ideas for my next one. It’s important to note though that after a quick Google search I found that, while it looks like Echeveria is a-ok, both String of Hearts and String of Pearls are toxic to cats, and I couldn’t find a lot of info on toxicity of Glauca Pilea. Shoot! I was looking forward to finding me a String of Hearts but I’ve got to look out for my fur-babies! Thanks for the suggestions though, I might have to get me a succulent! If I do I’ll mention it on my blog http://www.meanderblog.com and link back to you!

  • Reply Lucy Rose September 12, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    I bought a ginger root to put in my tea, but it began to sprout! So I have put it into my empty bonsai pot to see what would happen. It has been growing small bulbs and roots. I am very excited to see what is next for my little guy.

  • Reply Nina Paul November 17, 2021 at 2:56 am

    I like to keep some plants on my nightstand. I think these plants will be perfect for that.

  • Reply Alice Barnard August 19, 2022 at 8:17 pm

    Mistletoe cactus
    Rhipsalis spp.
    I have had one for over 35 years.
    So easy and flowers tiny yellow flowers in April.

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