Ready to start green-ing up your space? It’s tempting to browse images and garden stores and just pick the best-looking plant there. But if you don’t choose the right houseplants to grow in your space, you’ll be fighting a constant battle to keep them healthy.

Here are the most important things to consider when choosing a houseplant for your apartment. 

Understand Your Light Conditions

This is probably the single biggest factor in figuring out what plants will be happy in your apartment. You probably have a general sense of whether your apartment tends toward dark or bright and airy, but spending some time really considering the quality of light and where it comes from will help you make sure you find plants that are perfectly suited to your environment. 

Chances are you’ve actually got a lot of different “light ecosystems” in your apartment. Take some time to figure out what type of light you have and where: 

  1. Bright direct sunlight – think unobstructed, full sun. You’d want to put on sunscreen if you were hanging out here all day
  2. Moderate direct sunlight – direct but soft morning or evening light.  
  3. Partial sun – Sunlight that’s filtered through a tree, bush, or other object.
  4. Bright indirect light – diffuse light that’s bright enough to comfortably read in.
  5. Low light  – these areas don’t get even much diffuse light. You’d probably start to strain your eyes if you read in this level of light for more than a few minutes. 

Take stock of your windows

If you don’t already know, figure out exactly what direction your windows are facing. Large, south facing windows will get the most direct sunlight, while north facing windows generally get little to no direct sun. East and west facing windows will get a few hours of sun in the morning or evening. 

Don’t forget the time of day and season 

Areas that get direct sun in the morning or evening will get softer light that’s better for certain plants. Spots that get blasted with harsh afternoon sunlight are better for sun-loving plants like cactuses. 

Don’t forget that the light in your apartment will change completely with the seasons. That patch of sunlight that perfectly hits the spot you want to put your plant will be in a different place as the seasons change.

This shouldn’t be as big of a consideration when you’re starting out, but just keep in mind that if you’re buying a sun-loving plant, it might struggle through the winter if your light conditions change dramatically. 

Finally, think about how long those areas actually get light. You might have a perfect, large south-facing window, but realize that it only gets hit with an hour or two of direct light each day because of trees or buildings around it.

Consider artificial lights

There are plenty of plants that do great in low-light conditions, but what if you live in a basement with virtually no windows, or are surrounded by high rises that block most of the light? If you’re struggling with brightening up a very dim apartment, it’s worth considering investing in some lighting to keep your plants healthy and your space bright.

If you have a lamp that’s often on anyway, or a sun lamp that you use to keep up your vitamin D levels in the winter, consider placing a plant within its light sphere.

If that all sounds overwhelming, don’t worry! The main takeaway about light is to spend some time paying attention to it to make sure you choose the right houseplants for the light in your home.

Choose the Right Houseplants to Fit Your Space

Before you hit the buy button, get clear on where you want to put your plants, and how much space you actually have for your new green friends. Most plants will go on a windowsill or on the floor, so measure your floor space or width of your windowsill to make sure that the plant isn’t going to get in the way. It’s a bummer to buy a plant for your south-facing sunny window only to realize that your blinds don’t close with it sitting on the windowsill! 

I recommend starting off smaller than you think you need. Smaller plants are cheaper and easier to care for. They’re also easier to incorporate in your decorations and move around if you realize they aren’t thriving where you thought they would. Another plus: it’s much less devastating if you do end up dropping the ball and killing a small plant.

Plus, you’ll have the long-term benefit of seeing them grow up. It’s a pretty cool feeling to look at a 3’ tall snake plant and remember buying it when it was just a little 6” sprout. 

If you plan to put your plants on a balcony, can they survive there over winter? If not, think about where you will put them when you bring them inside, and how they will fare through the winter indoors. It’s devastating (and discouraging!) to invest in beautiful greenery for your balcony just to have it die off over the winter. 

Consider Humidity

This won’t be a huge concern for most people. Most low-maintenance, popular houseplants (yes, even orchids!) handle a range of humidity without any problem. Since humidity is something that’s fairly difficult to control, though, I recommend avoiding plants that thrive in the extreme opposite of your local conditions. 

For example, living in the extremely dry southwest, I’ve given up on ever growing high-humidity jungle plants like venus fly traps. Unless I invest in a humidifier or an indoor greenhouse setup, it’s a constant (and losing) battle. 

Finally, start small, and start slow. It’s super discouraging to invest in a beautiful indoor tree only to kill it within a month (been there). When you start out with a few small, low-maintenance house plants, you’ll learn a ton about what thrives in your apartment and how to care for a variety of different plants. Before you know it, you’ll be cultivating your own apartment jungle.