Beginner gardeners have a wide array of choices for houseplants, flowers, and even fruits and vegetables. It’s always a good idea to assess your site before making any choices–is it sunny or shady? Do you have lots of space or just a bit?–and use that to guide your decisions. Putting the right plant in the right place will enable it to thrive.
This article is going to give you an introduction to some of the easiest plants a beginner can grow, as well as a few of the best tips for getting started, so that your green thumb can really blossom!
Best houseplants for beginners
This vining plant with its white, cream, or light green variegation is a great beginner plant for one reason: it is almost impossible to kill. So close to impossible, in fact, that another common name for pothos is devil’s ivy, as in it must have made a Faustian deal to preserve its life no matter what.
Pothos do very well in indoor conditions. They can handle low light, low humidity, and a skipped watering; they actually prefer for their soil to dry out rather than be moist.
With an occasional dose of fertilizer, a pothos will quickly begin trailing across your windowsill, table, or cascade down a shelf, filtering your air and giving you quite a lot of greenery for your small effort.
Small, delicate, slow-growing, and happy to be neglected, a haworthia is a worthy houseplant choice if your space is limited and your light is a bit low. Other succulents become leggy if they don’t receive strong sunlight, but a haworthia will do fine in moderate to low indirect light.
Because they grow slowly, you can also put a haworthia in a variety of novelty containers, such as teacups, mugs, small bowls, etc. Just be careful to water lightly and allow the soil to dry out in between, since these containers don’t have drainage holes.
There are also many different haworthia hybrids, each with a different look, so one plant can quickly grow into a fun and varied collection without taking up a lot of your space, time, or energy.
You’ve probably seen one of these before in the corner of a waiting room or at the far end of a hostess station in a restaurant. Also known as mother-in-law’s-tongue, the snake plant is native to Nigeria and has few needs aside from regular watering (source).
It does best in bright indirect light, but will also survive in a shadier spot. It doesn’t like extremes of heat or cold, but will be very happy in an average room temperature a few feet back from a window.
Much like a ficus, an indoor eucalyptus that receives lots of light, regular water, and some fertilizer, will grow into a bushy evergreen tree that brings a lot of the outside inside.
Three varieties of eucalyptus that make great houseplants are the silver dollar (E. cinerea) (silver dollar), the globe (E. globulus), and the cider gum (E. gunnii).
A eucalyptus also has many other uses, from its medicinal oils, fragrant leaves, and uses as foliage in a bouquet or crafting project. It is also a fairly unusual houseplant, making it a great conversation starter.
Best flowers for beginners
Scabiosa or Pincushion Flower
This perennial flower is tough, but with a delicate appearance, and blooms all summer on tall, wavy stems. We recommend it especially for color in hot, dry gardens or balconies.
Its common name of pincushion flower references the unique appearance of the center of the blooms, where the tips of its stamens rise above the fluffy petals like dressmaker’s pins. The flowers will rise on tall stems about eight inches above the central mound of lacy green foliage.
For best blooming, remove dead flowers at the base of their stem. This will signal the plant to send out more flowers.
Dianthus or Carnations
Also known as cottage pinks, perennial dianthus has slender, silver-blue foliage that offsets its pink, blush, red, or burgundy blooms. This old-fashioned perennial has a lot to offer the modern garden, thanks to its toughness and vibrant color.
Dianthus also have a pleasant, uniquely spicy scent, and make an excellent cut flower. They like full sun, well-draining soil, and an annual fertilization. Plus a little deadheading will increase their blooms!
This one is a perennial for shade, and is grown more for its stunning foliage rather than its small flowers, although you can find varieties whose flowers are scented.
Like the haworthia, hostas come in a huge variety of color and pattern variations, making them eminently collectable. Some types are simple green, others have a white band around the outside edge, and still others are dappled with light and dark shades of green in addition to white.
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They are understated, graceful plants in the landscape that don’t need much care aside from watering and the occasional pruning of older leaves.
When you close your eyes and think of a sunflower, you probably get an image of a big yellow flower with a dark brown center. And while a lot of sunflowers do look just like that, this easy-to-grow American native has a ton of different varieties with different looks:
- Elves Blend Dwarf Sunflower–tiny and cute!
- Goldy Honey Bear Sunflower–multi-branched for maximum fluffy blossoms
- Rouge Royale Sunflower–dramatic dark red color; no pollen
- Vanilla Ice Sunflower–pale yellow and multi-branched
Sunflower petals are just as edible as their seeds, adding bright color and a slightly bitter flavor to salads. For such a large, showy plant, they are genuinely undemanding, only needing sunlight and moderate water to grow into a large specimen with many blooms.
Nasturtiums, like sunflowers, have edible petals, but where sunflowers are a bit bitter, nasturtiums are spicy!
With their large seeds that are easy to plant and quick to grow, bright blooms, and unique sand dollar-shaped foliage, nasturtiums are a great addition to a flower garden, balcony container, or window box. They are also an excellent companion plant for tomatoes!
(Plus, check out this recipe from Botanical Interests for Nasturtium Pesto!)
Best Fruits and Vegetables for Beginners
These sweet red fruits are a favorite of gardeners everywhere because they ask so little and give so much in return. They also do well in a number of different planting locations, such as garden beds, containers, or window boxes.
Select an ever-bearing type–the University of West Virginia Extension recommends Albions, San Andreas, and Seascape–and you’ll have fresh strawberries not just in June but through the whole summer. And once you’ve tasted a fresh, homegrown strawberry, you’ll never go back to the large but tasteless grocery store kind again.
Like lettuce, arugula is a fast-growing leafy green, but arugula has an even quicker window to harvest. Once you plant these seeds you can have a harvest in as soon as two weeks!
You can pick arugula as a baby green for a more mild taste, or let it grow into a larger head for spicier leaves.
You’ll grow your best arugula in spring and early summer, as the increased heat of late summer will cause this plant to bolt, or create flowers to set seed. However, even these flowers are edible, with a similarly spicy taste!
You’ve never truly had a green bean until you’ve had one fresh from the bush. And although the green varieties have long been the most popular, there are a plethora of colors to choose from, including the deep purple Royal Burgundy, the aptly-named yellow Gold Rush, or even a combination of all three!
Bush beans are easy to start from seed, and don’t need to be trellised. They quite like hot weather and do well in containers, making them a great addition to patio gardens or raised beds.
Colorful and healthful, these root vegetables are less finicky than carrots. And since they have a shallower root than carrots, you can grow them more easily in a pot or raised bed. They come in red and gold varieties, and even their greens are edible, with a flavor much like Swiss chard.
Beets also have some the largest seeds around, which makes them an excellent vegetable to plant with little kids just learning where food comes from.
It’s not sexy, but it sure is productive! Cabbage is a great fall crop in particular–plant a seed or a start in midsummer, and by the time winter rolls around you’ll have a whole head to harvest! You can also choose to pick off the leaves as the plant produces them, instead of waiting for the head to form.
In flavor cabbage leaves taste like a more mild kale. You can use them in coleslaw, salads, or garnishes, and some enterprising folks even dehydrate or bake them for a chip-like snack.
Napa cabbage has the most tender leaves of all and can even be used in place of lettuce; red cabbage is loaded with antioxidants and can add color and nutrition to your diet.
Zucchini and Summer Squash
Hyperproductive and very versatile in the kitchen, zucchini is often recommended as a beginner plant for these reasons. But if you want to mix it up a bit more you can go for other summer squash, which are almost as productive but bring different variety into your garden.
Yellow squash have a similar texture and flavor as zucchini, but you can get fun, warty crookneck types. And “flying saucer” or pattypan squash often have firmer flesh and a more buttery flavor than either zucchini or yellow squash, and come in yellow, white, or striped.
Cherry tomatoes generally grow and mature more rapidly than full-size tomatoes do, making them ideal for short growing seasons. They are also well-suited to small spaces since they can be trellised.
As a bonus, the variety available is almost endless! From black to yellow to classic red, there is a highly Instagrammable cherry tomato out there waiting for you.
Planting a Garden for Beginners: First Principles
- Start small and work your way up.
Don’t get in over your head! That leads to discouragement and an abandoned garden. Gardening is not impossibly difficult, but there is a learning curve. So make sure to start your garden as something you can easily handle, and scale up from there.
- Don’t be afraid to buy starts.
Especially if it is your first season with a garden, don’t feel bad if you struggle to start seeds. It’s super tricky, and even plant professionals don’t always get their seeds to germinate! Buying flower, vegetable, or houseplant starts is perfectly acceptable.
- Put the right plant in the right place.
A bush bean that gets too much shade will not produce a good harvest. A haworthia too close to a window and strong sunlight will get a literal sunburn. Be thoughtful and intentional about where you place your plants, and you’ll get a lot more out of them.
- Don’t bury your seedlings too deep.
This common mistake often ends in the stem rotting through before the seedling really has a chance to grow. Plant your seedlings so that the ground or soil they are going into is no higher than the soil they were started in.
This same principle is true of potting up houseplants, as well!
- Use organic fertilizers whenever possible.
This is especially important when fertilizing houseplants and vegetables, since one is literally in your living space and the other is someday going into your mouth. You don’t want the plant tissues to take up any harmful chemicals, which they could then release into your air or your body. Plus, with houseplants, excess fertilizer can build up in the confines of the pot and slowly poison the plant.
Organic fertilizers come from sources that are literally organic, as in once-living. This includes manure, compost, or bone meal. These substances take the plant longer to absorb, but they build soil structure, improve the movement of water and oxygen through the soil, and as naturally occurring substances they cause much less of a hazard in the environment than chemical fertilizers do (source).
- Keep an eye out for pests.
When it comes to aphids, hornworms, and other garden invaders, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Insects tend to replicate exponentially, so an infestation is difficult to reverse.
Inspect the undersides and central growing points of your houseplants, flowers, or vegetables regularly for any sneaky bugs, and don’t apply a pesticide of any kind until you have firmly identified what kind of bug it is. If possible, remove or kill the bugs mechanically using your hands or a tool before resorting to pesticide.
- Don’t overwater.
Roots need to absorb oxygen as well as H2O, but if the soil around them is too waterlogged, the air molecules can’t reach them. Instead of watering every day, water more deeply every two or three days, or even longer for some plants, so that the soil has a chance to dry out in between and the roots can take a breath.
These are just a few of the best plants that are great for beginners.
Growing one or several of these will help you develop the skills and gardening instincts to take on more advanced plants in the future! Remember to assess your site, start small, and be attentive to their needs. If you do, your plants will respond in kind!