Houseplants 101


Yes, it is winter. We gardeners especially are hungering for a touch of green. You can satisfy that hunger by adding a plant or two or three. Forget those faux plants made of plastic or fabric. Go for the real thing. Not only will you enjoy the living green of nature, houseplants are actually good for you.  Studies by NASA and a number of universities have shown indoor plants are very good at clearing air of harmful chemicals released from common substances like cigarette or cooking smoke, fabric cleaners, detergent, cleaning products and plastics.  

They can also improve your mental health. Their unique shapes and soothing colors lend beauty and tranquility to every room. You can use plants with any decorating style from minimalist to traditional to antique by choosing pots that complement your style. 

The good news is you don’t have to have the perfect setting or special knowledge. What is most important is to choose the right plant for your space. To help you choose, below is a list of common houseplants that are easy to grow. Match the plant to your room’s light and temperature conditions; then water and fertilize as needed. If you remember to wipe the leaves down occasionally and mist weekly in the winter, your thumb too will turn very green.

Peace Lily (Spathiphylum) is a plant that will bloom indoors and is an excellent air filter. Although it tolerates low light, filtered light in a window is great if it doesn’t get cold. Water when the soil is somewhat dry but don’t keep it soggy.

Chinese Evergreen (Alaonema) comes in a number of varieties, including a pink, yellow and green tricolor.  It is also tolerant of low light and only needs to be watered about once a week.  Keep its environment steady (no drafts or heat blasts) and it will reward you with intriguing leaves and occasional blooms.

Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) is a vining plant with heart-shaped leaves. It is one of the easiest plants to grow and is among the top ten air purifying plants. Golden pathos can thrive in conditions in which almost no other plant can grow, including darkness and a near-complete lack of water but does best near a brightly lit window and should be watered only when the soil is dry to the touch.

Dracaena is another tropical plant that comes in many varieties.  Most have leaves that are striped or bicolored with yellow, red, pink or white highlighting the green foliage.  All Dracaenas prefer a bright but not sunny location and to dry slightly between waterings.

English Ivy (Hedera), while a pest outside, makes a wonderful hanging basket indoors. This small-leaved ivy adds a whimsical grace as it spills over the pot’s edge and works its magic as an air purifier.

Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (Sanservieria) is almost impossible to kill. It has rigid, pointed leaves that grow straight up in green with white or yellow stripes or blotches.  It is slow growing, tolerating drought, poor light and infrequent fertilizing, although of course like all plants it appreciates a well-lit spot.

ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) is known as a “plant of steel” for being extremely hardy and even thriving on neglect. It has a rhizome water storage system so can go for weeks without watering and doesn’t need much light.

Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans) is small enough for a shelf or a table and doesn’t need a lot of light or constant watering like other palms. A bonus is that all those fronds make it very effective at filtering the air.

Prayer Plant (Maranta Leuconeura) is a great plant for a bathroom because it likes humidity. The gorgeous leaves flatten out in the daytime, then fold “in prayer” at night. No direct sunlight needed; water when the top of the soil is dry.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) does the job if you’re looking for a tall, upright plant as it can grow to 10 feet tall.  It has big, shiny green leaves and grows quite quickly. Best of all, studies show a mature rubber plant can remove several pounds of toxic air from your space every day.

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum) sounds creepy, but is so named because of its spider-like plants, or spiderettes, which dangle down from the mother plant like spiders on the web. They will grow nearly anywhere, but in good conditions (bright, but not direct light and liberal water) they arch their green and white leaves over the pot and send out their plantlets with tiny white flowers. You can easily pot these for more plants to share.

Now it’s time to choose that ones that best fit your environment. Get busy! Enjoy fresh air and nature in your home.