Top 10 Pet Safe Indoor Plants for Cats and Dogs (that you can actually get in New Zealand)
From one plant lover and pet lover to another, it has to be said. You absolutely CAN have both and do not have to choose between having pets, and having plants. And yes, sadly, many indoor plants can be toxic. Some have nasty sap if a leaf gets broken. Many have crystals in the leaves and stems that can make curious mouths itch and swell, or give unpleasant sore tummies. Same as us humans, some pets react worse than others, which can mean the same plant causes no reaction for one pet, yet an emergency trip to the Vet for another.
Sure, it's true, most pets do leave plants alone. I've (unknowingly) had toxic plants and pets living in harmony for years with no issues. Or you can shift them up out of harm's way, or hang them (to be clear, we're talking about the plants here).
However if you're worried and want to be super safe, pick from these top 10 pet safe plants and there's no risk of 'curiosity killed the cat' turning from proverb to reality (not trying to panic you, just couldn't resist using that saying). All plants listed are available in New Zealand too (so no falling in love with something impossible to get here).
I've also included a quick care guide for each pet friendly plant, so you can check you can meet their needs at your place before spending any pennies. It's all very well getting a plant that won't harm your pets, but no good if turns out to be you that harms your plants instead ;)
Pet safe plant #1
Rattlesnake Plant (Calathea Lancifolia)
Whether you know it by its nickname or proper name, either way this pet safe plant sounds as impressive as it looks. These guys can get lovely and big over time - up to 60cms tall - and it's hard to choose what looks best: the rattlesnake-tail markings on top, or burgundy-ruby undersides of the leaves.
How to look after your Rattlesnake Plant
LIGHT & HUMIDITY
Rattlesnake Plants love bright, indirect light (no direct sun), and prefer their soil kept lightly moist. Native to Brazil, they love humidity which helps avoid the #1 complaint of dry tips and crispy leaf edges. A plant humidifier is worth getting for when the humidity drops (and you can keep an eye on humidity with a mini 2 in 1 hygrometer too).
TEMPERATURE & FOOD
Calathea Lancifolia also appreciate a bit of heat, ideally between 21 and 29 degrees. Best to fertilise lightly all year-round, but look for something formulated for indoor plants, ideally urea-free like Foliage Pro, as they can be more sensitive than some to excess minerals from tap water and fertiliser.
These guys don't like wet, soggy feet, so a moisture meter is great to have on hand if you're unsure what's going on down at root level, so you can double-check before you water (especially in winter when the exposed soil can dry quite fast due to heating, yet the soil at the bottom of the soil is still wet).
An ideal substrate for these guys is roughly 1/2 to 2/3 potting mix and 1/3 to 1/2 hydromix (a mix of perlite and vermiculite). When they get too big, you can propagate by dividing them at the base, and voila, new Rattlesnake. I make my own mix of regular indoor potting soil mixed with Egmont Hydromix.
Pet safe plant #2
As if you needed another reason to love these little cuties, it turns out Nana's favourite plant is also pet safe. I love these pretty plants and once you know how to care for an African Violet, they're really easy to look after - but should also come with a warning. You can't stop at just one! They come in a big variety of flower colours and shapes, some even have variegated leaves and flowers.
How to care for your African Violet
LIGHT & WATERING
AV's like moderate to bright, indirect light and soil kept between moist and dry. Definitely not a fan of overwatering. Best watered from the bottom, with room temperature water, giving them a good soak for about 15 minutes. Avoid getting water on the leaves. Wick watering is highly recommended for these beauties (these self watering pots are a great way to go).
Although AV's are light feeders, don't skip fertiliser altogether. They can be fast growers, and those masses of flowers need a lot of fuel. Go for a food made for flowering plants, like Dyna-Gro Bloom.
TEMPERATURE & HUMIDITY
African Violets are happy in similar conditions that we are comfortable in. Low to mid 20's is an ideal temperature range. They also like high humidity, around 70% to 80% (if your home is on the dry side, grab yourself a plant humidifier). Down as low as 50% to 60% humidity can be tolerated if other conditions are all good. If you don't know what's going on at your place, grab yourself one of those mini 2-in-1 temperature and humidity gauges.
Pet safe plant #3
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
They may have a creepy name, but they are anything but. These cheerful chaps are extremely easy care, low maintenance and pet safe. Even when neglected, the Spider Plant manages to look pretty damn good, but give them the right conditions and they can turn into a statement plant. A great choice if the kids want their own plant as they are super hardy, so more forgiving of neglect (but not of overwatering).
You can get them with green leaves, variegated striped green and white leaves, or even curly leaves (my favourite, like this babe below with her curly pups). They also put out wee Spiderettes, or pups. Miniature Spider Plants that grow attached to the mother plant, which you can trim off and plant up. Free plants!
Quick care guide for your Spider Plant
LIGHT, SOIL & FOOD
In the right conditions they grow happily indoors or outside. Reaching up to 2 feet tall inside. Outdoors they like part sun, part shade. Indoors they need more light, and can handle direct sun, so a bright windowsill is a great spot for your spidey. They prefer a balanced soil, about half potting mix, half free draining hydromix. They tend towards heavy feeders and love their food, so best to fertilise on the regular with a decent food like Plant Runner.
WATERING & TEMPERATURE
Lightly moist, but not soggy or wet, is the way to go with watering. If in doubt, they handle being too dry better than too wet. They can be prone to brown leaf tips when underwatered, or when the air gets too dry, so worth getting a plant humidifier if your place regularly drops below 50% humidity. They prefer a temperature range of 20 to 30 degrees. Not fans of drafts or the cold. You can easily keep an eye on both temperature and humidity with one of those cheap 2 in 1 thermometer and hygrometers
Pet safe plant #4
A super easy-care member of the succulent family, Haworthia come in such a variety you'd think think they couldn't possibly be related. Two of my favourite Haworthia are the stripey Zebra Plant or Haworthia Fasciata (above), and the cute little, rounded, see-through Window Haworthia or Haworthia Cooperi.
How to look after your Haworthia
Kept indoors, Haworthia like plenty of bright light. Either direct sun for the tougher, darker species (like the Zebra), or for Haworthia with more delicate leaves (like the translucent Haworthia Cooperi), bright but indirect light is best to avoid scorching their leaves.
WATERING & SOIL
When kept in direct light, give them a good couple of weeks between watering and let their soil dry out in-between (water less often when kept in lower or indirect light). In summer I water mine weekly as the ones in direct sun dry out really fast combined with summer daytime temperatures in Auckland. For their substrate, use something airy, chunky and free draining. My go to is two thirds succulent mix, with one third hydromix. Nothing too fine. Plenty of oxygen around the roots is what you want.
HUMIDITY & TEMPERATURE
These chaps tolerate dry air conditions well. No extra humidity or misting needed. As far as temperature, if you're happy, they're happy. Around 18 degrees to mid-20's is ideal but they'll tolerate warmer and colder if other conditions are good (beware over-watering in cooler temperatures).
Pet safe plant #5
You're in for a treat with this plant family. Peperomia are one of my absolute faves. They are incredibly easy care (well, most of them are - some exceptions listed below), and come in so many varieties that are ALL pet safe. Win win.
Some of my favourite low maintenance Peperomia are the freckley Peperomia Obtusifolia Variegata (above), highly variegated Peperomia Albo Marginata, fast growing Peperomia Scandens, and the glossy, round leaves of the Peperomia Polybotrya or 'Raindrop Peperomia' (below).
I'm also a sucker for the classic 'Baby Rubber Plant' - the OG Peperomia Obtusifolia in all her glossy, green, easy care cheerfulness (if you're worried about your plant parenting skills, start with this one).
My favourite not-as-easy-care Peperomia for the more green-thumbed, are the fabulous turtle-shell Peperomia Prostrata (below) or 'String of Turtles' and striped Watermelon Peperomia (also below).
Pet Safe String of Turtles (above) and Watermelon Peperomia (below).
How to look after your Peperomia
For all the easy care Peperomia, their care is similar to a succulent, but don't let them dry out as much. Best kept lightly moist and let the top 5cms or so soil dry in-between watering. They can store water in their thick leaves and stems, so best to underwater not overwater (if you have to choose). Overwatering can quickly lead to dreaded root rot with Peperomia, so if in doubt, double-check what's going on down at root level with a moisture meter before you water.
TEMPERATURE, SOIL & HUMIDITY
I've got mine in a free-draining mix of half potting soil and half perlite or hydromix, depending on what I have on hand. You could also go for full succulent mix. The easy care varieties enjoy the same conditions we do. A temperature range of around 18 to 24 degrees, and moderate humidity. A plant humidifier isn't a must for the easy care Peps, and nor is misting (different story for the fussier babes though!).
Keep in mind a few in the Peperomia family are higher maintenance and need care adjusted for their specific needs, so best to look up plant guides for those varieties, like the String of Turtles Ultimate Care Guide and Watermelon Peperomia. I find those two in particular struggle without higher humidity, so a plant humidifier is well worth it.
Pet safe plant #6
Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
Once you know what they are, you're going to spot these everywhere, from magazine shoots to your local mall. The Parlour Palm can get big (2 to 6 feet indoors), but are slow growers, making them popular for indoors. If you love the look of a Palm - but aren't sure how much of a green thumb you have - the Parlour Palm is an ideal Palm to start with for beginners.
Quick care guide for your Parlour Palm
Also known as a Neanthe Bella or the Neanthe Palm, the Parlour Palm is native to dense rainforests. I love their feathery foliage and non-fussy ways. These guys are a good choice for lower light too, another reason they're popular in offices, bathrooms, schools and shopping malls.
Pot in a balanced soil mix, about two thirds potting mix to one third hydromix. Not too dense or heavy. You don't want to see water pooling on top, it should drain through easily.
LIGHT & TEMPERATURE
Best out of direct sun to protect their leaves. Medium indirect light is ideal. They can tolerate low light, but that doesn't mean no light! A temperature range of around 18 degrees to 26 degrees is ideal.
If your air inside is on the dry side, a plant humidifer is recommended, if not a must for these guys. Parlour Palms are more prone than most to brown leaf tips in dry air and prefer high humidity like their rainforest origins. I'd aim for above 50% (keep an eye on humidity at home using a hygrometer)
For watering Parlour Palms, aim for lightly moist. Underwatering is always safer than overwatering. Watering about weekly in summer, and around 3 weekly in winter is a good guide, but always check your the soil, as conditions will vary.
Parlour Palms should be fed to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Feed lightly but regularly in Spring, Summer and Autumn. An indoor plant food like Plant Runner or Dyna-Gro Foliage Pro would be my picks, fed half-strength every water.
Pet safe plant #7
Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis)
If you're trying to decide between buying a bunch of flowers, or a plant, as a gift for a pet loving friend, go for a Moth Orchid hands down. These beauties flower for ages, and with the right care, will flower again year after year.
You might be picturing the classic white flower seen so often in hotel lobbies and the movies, but their flowers they come in all sorts of breathtaking colours and patterns. In general, if you're happy, your Phalaenopsis will be too, but this pet safe plant does have a few unique care requirements different from a typical indoor house plant.
Quick care guide for your Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid)
LIGHT & TEMPERATURE
A spot where your Orchid gets moderate to bright, indirect light is ideal, but never direct sun. An acceptable temperature range is about 12 degrees to 29 degrees, even better if you can keep them above 16 degrees, although lower or higher can be tolerated short-term if other conditions are good. Cold draughts and being in the path of air conditioning (hot or cold) is best avoided, and so is being too cold, or too hot (especially if it's dry heat), for too long.
Watering's really important to get right for Moth Orchids. You ideally want the roots moist, but the leaves dry. Avoid water getting in the crown (where the leaves grow from at the base of the plant). Watering can be multiple times a week in summer, and about weekly in winter, but will depend on your conditions.
Phalaenopsis enjoy high humidity, so at the very least, sitting your Orchid on a pebble tray filled with water kept below pot level, or ideally getting a plant humidifer, is recommended. To check if your temperature and humidity are okay for your plants, get yourself a humidity and temperature gauge and aim to keep humidity above 50%, ideally higher during hot summer days, with a range of 55% to 75% being ideal.
Definitely do feed your Orchids. They tend to be light but frequent feeders. I recommend Dyna-Gro Grow when your Orchid's focused on foliage growth (stems and leaves), then moving to Dyna-Gro Bloom before buds form, right through to flowering finishing.
Pet safe plant #8
Birds Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)
Don't let the word Fern scare you. The pet safe Birds Nest Fern is one of the easier ferns to care for once you know what conditions they like. I love their bright green foliage and how their cheerful, wavy edged leaves start off all cute and curly. I wouldn't really call any fern a beginner's plant, but this guy comes close.
How to look after your Birds Nest Fern
Like many indoor plants, these hardy ferns like things warm, humid and bright. Not direct sunlight though, and not too hot. Medium to bright indirect light is ideal. I find mine tolerate lower light levels ok if other conditions are good, but get bigger, brighter leaves in medium light or brighter.
WATERING & SOIL
Like most ferns, the Birds Nest Fern likes to stay lightly moist, and is most definitely not a fan of wet feet, so a well draining substrate is ideal, no sitting in water or soggy wet soil. Wait to water when the top 5cm or so of soil is dry. Overwatering is worse than underwatering though, so if in doubt, wait a bit longer to water.
It's best to avoid watering the middle of your Fern (the 'nest' or crown where the leaves grow from the base), and instead water around the leaves onto the substrate directly so the crown stays dry.
Remember when it's colder, less frequent watering is needed, even thought the top may feel dry it could be wet down at root level. Don't be fooled in to overwatering. Get yourself a moisture meter so you can check at root level before you water.
Asplenium nidus likes things on the warm side, with a range of 15 to 26 degrees being ideal. They can handle cooler temperatures, but avoid their environment dropping below 10 degrees. Too hot isn't ideal either, but higher humidity helps them cope with hotter temperatures.
These guys are big humidity fans, so if your place regularly drops under about 50 percent humidity, consider a plant humidifier. They do well in terrariums too. The key to a really big healthy Birds Nest Fern is warmth and high humidity, ideally around 20 degrees and above 50% humidity. Cold or low humidity can both stunt growth. If you have no idea how dry or humid your home is, grab yourself one of those cheap 2 in 1 humidity and temperature gauges.
Pet safe plant #9
Me and my first Calathea Orbifolia started off with a love hate relationship. Although I ended up learning what made him happy, then selling mine, now that I know what they love, I'm definitely planning to get one of these impressive pet safe chaps again, so I get to admire those glorious leaves. Wow.
Like most Calathea, the Orbifolia is not the easiest care pet safe plant on this list, but are something extra special that is worth considering, as they're not too hard to keep happy once you learn what they like. Not your best choice if you're a beginner though.
How to care for your Calathea Orbifolia
Think tropical jungle. Humidity is the key to your Orbifolia's happiness. Even if everything else is perfect, if humidity's too low, they can look miserable. The #1 complaint is dry, browning, crispy edges - and upping the humidity will have that sorted quick-smart. Maintain a minimum 50% humidity, ideally higher.
The only solution I found to make mine happy was running a plant humidifer nearby (misting and a pebble tray definitely couldn't offer enough for mine not to turn crispy). If anyone brags how easy care their Calathea are, they likely live in a naturally humid, tropical area. A dry home like many of us have is a disadvantage for sure. If you're unsure how humid your place is, even a cheap mini hygrometer will do the job to check both temperature and humidity are ok.
Being a forest floor plant, and with those huge orb-like leaves giving a lovely big surface for photosynthesis, they have adapted to moderate, indirect light. You definitely want to avoid direct sunlight on these leaves or may end up burning them. Being so big, those leaves are dust magnets too, so a regular heavy mist or wipe down is needed (and is so satisfying to do).
WATERING & TEMPERATURE
Calathea Orbifolia like it warm but not hot. Their happy place is between 18 and 24 degrees. Too hot can cause the leaves to curl, but higher humidity helps them better cope with higher temperatures in summer. Like temperature, your Calathea's preference for watering is moderate too. They need well draining soil, best kept kept moist, not too dry, not too wet or soggy. Higher humidity helps both substrate and those huge leaves to not dry out as fast too.
I find Calathea more sensitive to excess minerals in tap water and fertiliser than most. Best to feed lightly and often, and go for fish tank water or rain water if available. I'd halve the dose when feeding, feed every time you water, and pick a food with a low risk of fertiliser burn that's ideally urea free like Foliage Pro.
Pet safe plant #10
Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes)
Let's end on a high, with one of the easiest care pet safe plants on the list, and a favourite with kids everywhere too. The colour range in Polka Dot Plants is fantastic, from delicate shell pink, to high contrast crisp white on dark green, to dramatic hot pink, and even red. Very wow. Very hardy and easy care too once you know what they love. Really easy to propagate also.
How to care for your Polka Dot Plant
Grown indoors, these pretty plants love light. Bright, indirect light keeps their colours strong and stops their stems growing long and leggy. Too little light and they quickly become lanky and dull in colour. If the light's way too bright it can also cause colours to fade. A couple of feet away from a bright window in a warm room is ideal.
SOIL & WATERING
Polka Dot Plants like things moist. Aim to keep the soil evenly moist. Avoiding letting them fully dry out. These are often bought in small containers as baby house plants so prone to drying out very quickly in little pots. Best potted up a size if that's causing yours issues.
Moist air is heaven for Polka Dot Plants, who prefer it warm and humid. Aim for around the mid-20's in temperature, and above 50% humidity to keep yours happiest. You can use a pebble tray, or a plant humidifier, for a humidity boost. To check what's going on, a mini 2 in 1 hygrometer and thermometer are a cheap way to monitor temperature and humidity.
Being fast growers, Polka Dot Plants also tend to be heavy feeders. Feed every time you water, all year round, with an indoor plant food like Plant Runner or Foliage Pro. Being such fast growers, if other conditions aren't quite right, that fast growth can mean they become long and leggy, with more stem than foliage. To prevent that, pinch back to where growth was more bushy, and try a position with more light. They pop out new growth really fast, which should come through bushier. You can also pop those cut-off stems back in to soil as they tend to root really easily. Voila, new plant!
Which were your favourite pet safe plants?
There you have it. Not only a list of my top 10 pet safe indoor plants, but also how to care for them. With such a wide variety of pet friendly plants to pick from (all available in New Zealand too) - and everything from easy care for beginners, to plants suited to the more green-thumbed or experienced - I hope you found a few that not only caught your eye, but are a perfect match for your conditions at home, as well as your experience level.
See? There's no need to choose between pets and plants! You can definitely have both happily and safely live together.