Start small and grow big is the secret to success for houseplant beginners

Alice Vincent
Small houseplants for sale in Botany, Hackney, east London - Clara Molden

When it comes to growing things, size matters. No less so than in the home, where the scale of a houseplant makes a huge difference. But it's worth resisting the temptation to go for the largest plant you can accommodate or afford, and instead grow from a smaller, younger specimen - the rewards could be more plentiful than you might imagine. 

As the Economist and the BBC noticed this week, millennials love houseplants as much as avocado toast and swiping right. This, to those of us who have been gradually filling our homes with greenery for years, isn’t exactly news - although it’s nice to see it noticed nonetheless. What has been interesting to witness during the rise of the houseplant, however, is how tastes among new houseplant adopters have grown along with our confidence.

Back in 2012, succulents and cacti led the fray - usually crammed into drainage-free concrete pots.  Gradually, we developed a fondness for fronds and foliage, with Boston, asparagus and maidenhair ferns lending a softer touch to interiors. Philodendrons and Epipremnums such as devil’s ivy stepped in as hanging plants became fashionable, and by the time that Monstera deliciosa shed its Seventies moniker of “Swiss Cheese Plant” , we were well on the way to planting full-blown trees (usually Ficus lyrata - or fiddle leaf fig to the internet - or the more tolerant Ficus elastica ) in our homes.

Bigger plants have lots of benefits for beginners. They’ll put up with more mistreatment than less-established plants and make an undeniable impact in the corner of a room, while a collection of little cacti can become cluttery dust-magnets. But with a medium-sized Ficus lyrata attracting a price tag of anywhere between £35 and £155, these more imposing plants make entry-level gardening an unnecessarily expensive hobby.

Instead, houseplant fans shouldn’t be afraid to start small. My first houseplant was a money tree cutting, which now stands a happy 20cm tall. It’s cost me nothing but patience - something I had in short supply until I began gardening, whereupon it became the most valuable attribute I possess. Growing little plants - whether from cuttings or, a personal favourite, by snapping up the reduced ones in need of some TLC from a variety of shops - will save you money, certainly, but it will also teach you the essential skills of gardening: perseverance, a keen eye and curiosity.

The best fast-growing houseplants for beginners

The plants that grow swiftly, and well, also tend to be easy to look after. My main successes have been with a rhipsalis so vigorous in growth it’s known as The Claw (goodness knows what would happen if I actually fed it and repotted it as often as it should be), a devil’s ivy that has spawned a dozen cuttings that have rooted in two weeks and a zonal pelargonium that threatens to take over my kitchen windowsill. They all started off in 9cm pots and have survived a house move.

Less abundant, but no less valued, is a Pilea peperomioides offshoot that was kindly posted to me by fellow Telegraph gardening columnist Jack Wallington last summer. While these Chinese money plants are now easily found in London’s ever-growing supply of plant shops, that is only recently the case, and those familiar with the plant’s history - recognised by Kew only in the Eighties after being frenetically propagated domestically for decades - know that it feels a lot better to receive a cutting as tradition dictates.

Others to try are the rapidly growing trailing plant Tradescantia zebrina , otherwise somewhat dubiously known as the Wandering Jew, which is a great propagator for beginners, and the spider plant, or Chlorophytum comosum, another Seventies favourite that is a proven pass-it-on-plant. A straw poll among my Instagram followers had three people respond in as many minutes with tales of their prolific spider plants growing rapidly and making plant babies to boot.

And if you're really after a junglier vibe, Monstera deliciosa do grow very swiftly from smaller plants. Cuttings might be harder to come by, so just plump for a younger plant.

If you’re the first among your friends to get into houseplants, then you might not necessarily have to take a financial hit to get started with these speedy growers. House Plant Swap is an ingenious website that links up users with cuttings to trade for free. I’ve also noticed an uptick in cuttings swaps happening in London, at least, and recently enjoyed trading propagated plants with members of Instagram’s plant community. All of which are far more satisfying than dropping cash on ready-to-go stunners.

The best fast-growing houseplants for beginners