3 of the Best Trader Joe’s Houseplants for Brown Thumbs — and 3 You Should Skip

published Feb 13, 2023
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Trader Joe’s is a golden child of the grocery store world, beloved for its cult-favorite snacks, frozen foods, and desserts. (There’s even a Trader Joe’s subreddit 168,000 members strong that’s dedicated to singing the store’s praises.) But my favorite part of Trader Joe’s is right at the front of the store: the plant section. If you’re a seasoned plant owner, you really can’t go wrong with almost anything the store carries. The plants that Trader Joe’s offers are typically trendy and very affordable. Their stock varies by season, but you can pretty much always count on a healthy and pretty houseplant find at any location. 

If you’re relatively new to houseplant parenting or just unsure on how to pick a good plant from the shelves of your local Trader Joe’s, I’m here to help! As a horticulture writer, book author, former nursery employee, and houseplant enthusiast, I’ve spent a lot of years tending to and learning about plants at every point in the neediness spectrum. Here are my picks for the best fool-proof, low-maintenance plants you can pick up at Trader Joe’s — and the ones that you should skip if you’re a beginner indoor gardener.

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Great Beginner Pick: Flowering Bulbs

The flowering bulbs at Trader Joe’s are one of the most sought-after products, particular during the winter and early spring. Not only are they a great addition to your own windowsill, but they make a great housewarming or host gift that’s easy to grab on the way to a get-together. 

These flowering bulbs are simply bulbs that have been forced to bloom in an indoor environment. Trader Joe’s typically stocks miniature and full-sized versions of paperwhites, amaryllis, daffodils, and hyacinths. They’re usually offered in either a plastic grower’s pot wrapped in paper or colorful foil, or as bulbs growing in a glass jar with water. 

You might find flowering bulbs a bit intimidating, but they’re basically fool-proof. Buying them off the shelf is half the work done for you. As long as you pick bulbs that have healthy-looking green growth and haven’t fully bloomed yet, you’ll see them thriving in your home for at least a month after purchase (if not longer). 

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Beginners Should Skip: Orchids

While most orchids, especially the commercially popular phalaenopsis, aren’t too difficult to care for, there is a bit of a learning curve that might frustrate total beginners. Most indoor potted plants require more or less the same indoor potting mix — that typical dark brown, almost black soil — but orchids require their own special mix that looks a lot like bark. They also require a more specialized watering routine, are particular about their homes’ humidity, and need a bit of babying to get them to re-flower once initial blooms are gone. (Many first-time orchid owners panic when their plant drops its withered blooms and toss the plant altogether.)

All of these elements are certainly achievable with a little research and diligence, but if you’re hoping for a hands-off, fail-safe plant, an orchid is not it. Wait to purchase this one until you’ve got a bit more dirt under your nails.

Great Beginner Pick: Philodendrons

Trader Joe’s almost always has vining varieties of philodendrons in stock, but sometimes they’ll also have more upright varieties like the Philodendron “Birkin.” Even better, the prices will seem like a steal.

The best part is that philodendrons are some of the easiest plants to care for in your home. They’re tolerant and forgiving and extremely versatile when it comes to using them in decor. 

Philodendrons will thrive in indirect to bright indirect light, and many can even survive for a while in low-light situations. Water your philodendron when it starts to dry out, usually every five to seven days, and it will be just fine. Make sure that you don’t water when the soil is still damp — that can cause root rot.

Most philodendrons make fantastic beginner plants, so there’s no reason not to grab one on your next Trader Joe’s run.

Beginners Should Skip: Maidenhair Ferns

Right now Trader Joe’s is offering a variety of maidenhair fern in the cutest ceramic container. It can be tempting to put one in your cart, but you might want to think twice.

Maidenhair ferns are notoriously finicky. They need a healthy amount of water, but not too much or they’ll get waterlogged and suffer — but you can’t let them dry out too much, either, or you’ll be dealing with crispy foliage. They also need a significant amount of light — but not too direct! And not too indirect!

Figuring out the needs and wants of a maidenhair can feel like a riddle with no right answer, even for experienced indoor gardeners. Definitely hold off on purchasing this one if you’re a newbie — you’re bound to get frustrated when it never seems happy, no matter what you do. But when you are ready to add higher-maintenance plants to your home, definitely get your maidenhair fern from Trader Joe’s. They’re affordable and generally healthy! 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Great Beginner Pick: Succulent gardens 

Succulent gardens have historically been a Trader Joe’s win for houseplant collectors. They’ve been offered in all kinds of fantastic containers like wine bottles, pumpkins, and cute pottery. These little gardens aren’t just adorable and affordable — they’re also low-maintenance, making them perfect picks for beginner plant parents.

Succulents need bright light and minimal watering, so if you’re a forgetful plant owner and have great light in your home, succulents are definitely for you. As with all houseplants, it’s important to not overwater. Overwatered succulents will quickly rot and disintegrate from the roots to the leaves. It’s especially true of succulent planters that have no drainage, so be mindful to only water when the soil is completely dry.

Credit: Esteban Cortez

Beginners Should Skip: Alocasia

Lately Trader Joe’s has been carrying popular alocasias like “Regal Shield,” “Frydek,” and “Metalhead.” Plant collectors have been coming from far and wide to grab a deal on these popular plants, which have been appearing at wildly low prices. (Classic TJ’s!)

While alocasias, also called elephant ears, might look great on the shelf at the store, they can quickly suffer if you don’t know how to care for them. These plants are incredibly temperature sensitive, as well as water-needy. Their leaves can also be particularly sensitive to light exposure; too much bright light will leave them sunburned. 

The alocasia can be hard to walk away from in a store — after all, who wouldn’t want to see those big, silky leaves in their home every day? But if you’re not ready to learn fast or aren’t ready for a plant that will keep you on your toes, it’s probably best to pass on this one for now.