Posted on Jan 07, 2021 | by KK
Spending a lot of time at home lately? Now that it's winter, are you feeling a bit confined, and finding the air a bit stuffy? Do you need to breathe some life into your workspace, or encourage peace and relaxation in your living area?
One of the best ways to tackle those issues is to add some plants to your home. Bringing in a bit of green allows you to connect with nature, relieve stress, boost your mood, and even improve the air you breathe. It doesn't have to be difficult if you make the right choices--instead of a fussy, high-maintenance house guest, you can have a mellow, relatively self-sufficient friend for life.
Read on for our suggested list of easy care plants that will make you glad they were invited, and click here for general houseplant growing tips.
These two related plants are fairly interchangeable in the home, but there are some differences. When you see photos of houseplants trailing across shelves, floor to ceiling, it’s likely a heartleaf philodendron—these tend to grow faster in interior situations than their leafy cousins.
In the wild, pothos will be a larger plant with leaves 5 or 6 times bigger than you’ll ever see in your home—many folks may not recognize a full-grown specimen at first introduction. There are also many more varieties of philodendron you’ll find as popular houseplants with larger, somewhat less trailing habits, whereas pothos only differs in color and variegation.
Both pothos and heartleaf philo tolerate low light for extended periods, although color and variegation may be lost. Let dry slightly between waterings and always keep above 55 degrees. Either will make a terrific hanging basket that will look best if pruned to keep full and fat—just pinch back a few of the stems close to the center every now and then, and trim any long, leggy growth. The cuttings will grow easily in water.
The ever-reliable snake plant is one of the easiest and most adaptable houseplants you can own—a real tough cookie. It can be acclimated to low light or full sun and requires infrequent watering. The easiest way to kill one is to water it too much, so water it less then you think it needs and then skip one of those waterings and you’re on the right track. And I know some of you are just sure you don’t like them—their strong architectural lines may fight with less contemporary, more traditional interiors .
Perhaps examine some of the less typical varieties if you haven’t seen a snake plant in a while. My favorite is 'Bantel’s Sensation'-- tall narrow leaves with heavy vertical brushstrokes on a dark green background. It has a softer look that blends in very well with today’s interior neutral color schemes. 'Sayuri' has similar coloring with leaves 2 to 3 times as wide as Bantel’s.
'Moonlight' has even broader very pretty, solid silvery-light green leaves on a shorter plant generally more suited as a tabletop than a floor plant.
If you’re looking for an adorable small plant for the bathroom or another dimly lit spot, the birds nest Sansevieria can’t be beat, with short rosettes of thick pointed leaves in your choice of green/yellow/silver variegations. All snake plants grow in height very slowly, so be sure to get the size you need to start with.
By the way, they're also terrific accents in mixed containers. I've seen them summering outside, faring well with thirstier New Guinea impatiens. Did I mention it’s a tough, tough Next time you’re in southern Florida, look for some growing at the beach—heaven knows how they got there. They won’t look as pristine as the one in your living room, but they’re surviving just fine!
A peace lily is not actually a lily and doesn’t look a thing like a lily to me. I can’t explain that part of the name, but the “peace” comes from the white flower spathe that resembles a white flag of truce. Even without the flowers, the large glossy green leaves on this well-known plant make an attractive display. Best in medium to bright indirect light (full sun will burn the foliage); will tolerate low light but may not flower there.
The common type grows to about 3’ in the home, smaller varieties are usually more prolific bloomers and only grow 12-15” tall. There are variegated varieties in the marketplace—1-2’ growing ‘Domino,’ with green and white marbled leaves is the most readily available. All varieties prefer being pot bound, so no need to worry about repotting for a while.
The key to a peace lily is to NEVER LET IT WILT, but don’t keep it constantly wet. It sounds hard, but it really isn’t. It can and should dry out a bit between waterings, but NOT to the wilting point, which will cause leaves to yellow. It will survive a wilt or two to allow you to gauge the timing, but if that’s your regular watering routine trade this in for a snake plant and call it a day.
Long, thick leaves on a mounded plant create a lush, tropical look. Large plants have a lot of substance, and a grouping employing staggered height planters or plant stands nicely substitutes for a traditional tall floor plant to fill a lonely corner. So many colors and variegations are available—glossy green streaked & spotted with silver, white, cream, yellow, pink, or red. Foliage shape varies by variety also, some bearing very narrow and pointed leaves rather than the traditional large broad leaves.
In general, the plant will always be wider than tall. Aglaonema tolerates low light, but will grow best in medium to bright indirect, especially those with pink and red hues to keep the colors from fading. Let dry between waterings and avoid direct sun and cold. Even brief periods below 55 degrees can cause damage—dark, greasy spots will appear days to even more than a week after exposure. Ags are the perfect desk & office plant, performing well in bright fluorescent light.
This genus includes many common houseplants including the tall Madagascar dragon tree and corn plant, lucky bamboo (not a bamboo), and myriad other linearly variegated beauties. In general, they will do best in bright indirect light, but can tolerate medium, and even low light for a spell.
If you have fluoridated (city) water, you would be advised to use distilled or collected rain water as the fluoride will cause leaf and tip burn. As with most houseplants, the soil should be allowed to dry somewhat between waterings.
Madagascar dragon tree (D. marginata) has long, slim, horizontally ridged leafless stems, or canes, with a head of long, very narrow, pointed foliage. The stems are often twisted, braided, or growing with other unusual contortions and odd angles.
Corn plant, or what is known in the industry as “Mass Cane” (short for the cultivar name ‘Massangeana’) bears wider, sturdier canes topped with broader yellow and green striped leaves 2 feet in length.
Dracaena is often grown with several canes of various heights in one pot. This creates an interesting specimen with heads of foliage at staggered heights, the taller ones making excellent tall floor plants. Tabletop and low floor plants are created by using only the growing tips, for a fatter, bushier appearance. In my experience, the cane-grown plants prefer to dry out more; beware, as rotten canes will usually not be noticeable until it’s too late.
The popular lucky bamboo is not a bamboo, but a small dracaena variety that can be grown directly in an inch or so of water. They are often braided or woven into decorative designs.
My favorite dracaena include ‘Rikki’ with narrow lime green leaves edged in dark green, ‘Whitney,’ dark green with feathery white striping, and ‘White Aspen’, white leaves with a broad central stripe of deep green. Always popular are ‘Lemon Lime’ with stripes of green, chartreuse and white, and ‘Limelight’ in solid electric chartreuse.
Tillandsias, or air plants, aren’t everyone’s first choice for a beautiful houseplant—they’re clumps of spiky leaves, sometimes grey, sometimes green, and perhaps not very impressive at first glance. But they’re tremendously popular since they require no soil, no planting, and just a water dunk once a week. Bright indirect light is preferred—green ones can generally tolerate a bit less light and bit more water than the grey.
Plant purveyors have come up with all sorts of ways to showcase tillandisas—in variously shaped seashells, on driftwood, hanging from colored copper wire, and glued to a grapevine wreath are just a few examples. At the trade shows folks wait their turn to take selfies wearing the tillandsia wig, although I doubt that’s something you need at home.
They do look charming under a small cloche, in a glass orb, or popping out of a small contemporary styled vase if coastal décor is not your thing. There’s almost nothing you can’t do with them--just don’t let them dry out completely or leave them too damp for too long (the closed terrarium not a good spot).
Yes, it’s common, but if you want a simple fast-growing plant, this is the one. And who couldn’t love a plant that provides you with babies, babies, and more babies? From an attractive clump of yellow and green variegated, narrow arching leaves, long yellow stems will spring. Small white flowers will be followed by round green seedheads, and later miniature plants will form along these stems.
The plant can eventually take on massive proportions, filling out a hanging basket in a hurry, especially when summering outside in the shade or semi-shade. Try it in your shade containers, mixed with New Guinea impatiens, coleus, or ferns. Being less cold-sensitive than other houseplants, it will last long into the fall outside.
If it appears a bit unkempt at times, you can always cut off the long stems at the base and pot up the babies. To fill out a thin plant, you can bring the babies back into the pot and plant, leaving the stem attached until it roots in. Once there’s resistance to a gentle tug, you can remove the stem at both attachment points.
Give it medium to bright indirect light, let it dry somewhat between waterings, and it will reward you with more and more little friends.
Neanthe Bella Palm:
Not a head-high floor plant, but a miniature version perfect for tabletop decorating. Like a fuller, shorter version of its relative the Bamboo Palm (one of the best full-size palms for indoors), it exudes that tropical beach vacation vibe that you just need sometimes. After many years, a Neanthe Bella may reach a height of 3 to 4 feet, but is in no hurry to get there.
Best sited in bright, indirect light, but will tolerate medium or even low for a time if you’re rotating plants throughout the home. Inadequate light will result in a leggy habit. Let it dry out a bit between waterings. Fertilizing once a month during spring and summer will be beneficial.
All palms are subject to spider mites, so make sure the plant is clean before you buy—look for stippled leaves and webbing, or even pin point sized yellow or red creatures moving slowly under the leaves if it’s heavily infested. And then don’t buy that one, or any other plants nearby. Dry conditions encourage spider mites so regular misting can help, or for a small plant run the foliage (not the pot and soil) under the faucet once a week.
Not as well-known as it deserves, this is a fabulous, easy to grow plant. Fleshy rounded glossy leaves line succulent, slightly arched stems that emerge from underground rhizomes resembling potatoes. Those “potatoes” are the secret of its easy care, storing water and decreasing its dependence on you. Grow in low, medium or bright indirect light, and allow to dry between waterings.
ZZ only grows to about 2 feet tall, but stems may become floppy if overfertilized, especially in low light. Few named cultivars exist at this point, but notable is ‘Raven’ for its dramatic dark black foliage that provides a sophisticated accent in any room.
There are more types of asparagus fern than the ones you’re used to using in your shady containers. All share a genus with the well-known vegetable, exhibiting similar feathery foliage, and none are actually ferns.
Two lesser-known varieties make a great, less-fussy fern impostors for indoors, ‘Plumosa’ and Ming fern. Hailing from arid regions of South Africa, they require less exacting water regimens than true ferns, rendering them more forgiving of the occasional mistake.
‘Plumosa’ has soft and airy bright green foliage, while Ming fern bears its fluffy needle-like leaves in tufts along the stem, hence the other common name “pom-pom fern.” Both display a more upright habit than traditional asparagus fern, and prefer medium to bright indirect light. Additionally, they make graceful fairly long-lasting accents to cut flower arrangements.
If you plant asparagus fern in a pricey pot, be sure to keep an eye on the roots. They form many small tubers and a dense root system that may be impossible to remove without breaking the pot if you wait too long. Or, it may break it for you!
Click here for general houseplant growing tips!