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How to Choose Houseplants

houseplants in pots

A houseplant is any plant that can be grown in an ordinary room. Houseplants can be hardy or tender but well-adapted to withstand average house conditions—dry atmosphere, warm and sometimes uneven temperatures, and often inadequate light.

The best spot for a houseplant is a room that gets sunlight, and the best position is nearest the window, but there are a few houseplants that can grow in low light.

Houseplants do best in a pot that is well-drained set in a saucer that permits excess water to seep from the pot into the saucer rather than lying about the roots of the plant. As moisture evaporates from the saucer it helps create a moist atmosphere that most plants need.

Watering houseplants
Watering houseplants

Houseplant Success

Here are four things houseplants need to grow and thrive:

  • Enough water. Houseplants usually need watering once a week. They need just enough water to wet the soil and seep a bit through the bottom drainage hole.
  • Enough light. Light is needed for plants to metabolize water and nutrients. Bright to medium light is what most houseplants need; this is sunlight that comes through a window to several feet into a room. Houseplants need 12 to 16 hours of light and 8 to 12 hours of dark each day.
  • Enough heat and humidity. The optimal temperature for most houseplants is 60 to 75°F (16 to 24°C) during the day and a temperature drop at night of 5 to 10°F (3 to 6°C)—lower temperatures and darkness at night allow houseplants to rest. Related to temperature is humidity. Houseplants are almost always tropical in origin; in addition to warmth, they want humid air—not dry air that flows from a heater or air-conditioning vent.
  • Enough nutrients. Houseplants need nutrients but not a lot. They especially need feeding during their active growing and flowering season. At three- or four-week intervals they should receive liquid food, a complete fertilizer meaning a near even dose of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium—10-10-10 for foliage plants, 10-15-10 for flowering plants.
Ficus pumila and Hedera helix
Ficus pumila and Hedera helix

How to Purchase a Houseplant

  • Decide where the plant will grow. Decide if you want a flowering plant or a foliage plant. If you need more than one plant make a list of the number of flowering and foliage plants needed. Determine the size plant needed for each spot.
  • Estimate the amount of light where the plant will grow. Is the spot bright, muted, or dark? Flowering plants require more light than foliage plants. If the spot for the plant is away from the window, you will need a plant that can tolerate low light.
  • Shop where houseplants are featured. Shop at a garden center or nursery that makes houseplants a specialty, where there is a wide selection, and where sale associates can offer advice.
  • Examine the plant carefully; does it look healthy? Is the color good? Does it have a pleasing shape? Is there new growth? Are the leaves free of damage and pests? Look over the selection of plants; if all of the plants look healthy that is a good sign they have been cared for. If some look wilted or stressed, exercise caution when you select your plant.
  • Is the plant potbound?  Are roots growing through the drainage hole or over the edge of the pot? Choose a plant that is not potbound.
  • Choose the size plant you want. If you need a large plant for the spot you have in mind, then select a large plant—and spend a little more money. Waiting for a plant to grow to the size you want can take months, even years.

Easy-to-Grow Houseplants

Common NameBotanical Name
AloeAloe spp.
Arrowhead vineSyngonium podophyllum
Artillery plantPicea microphylla
Asparagus fernAsparagus densiflorus
Bamboo palmChamaedorea erumpens
Cape primroseStreptocarpus
Chinese evergreenAglaonema commutatum
Devil’s ivyEpipremnum
DracenaDracaena spp.
English ivyHedera helix
FicusFicus spp.
Fishtail palmCaryota mitis
Hoya, was plantHoya spp.
Japanese araliaFatsia
Lady palmRhapis excelsa
Living-vase plantAechmea
Old-man cactusCephalocereus senilis
PeperomiaPeperomia spp.
PhilodendronPhilodendron spp.
Ponytail palmBeaucarnea recurvata
Snake plantSansevieria trifasciata
Swedish ivyPlectranthus australis
Sweet oliveOsmanthus fragrans
Umbrella plantSchefflera
Wandering JewTradescantia zebrina

Houseplants for Very Warm, Sunny Rooms

Common NameBotanical Name
Bromeliadsvaries
Cactusvaries
Crown-of-thornsEuphorbia milii
Grape ivyCissus
Hoya; wax plantHoya spp.
JadeCrassula argentea
KalanchoeKalanchoe
Nerve plantFittonia
Ponytail palmBeaucarnea

Houseplants for Cool, Sunny Rooms

Common NameBotanical Name
Artillery plantPicea microphylla
Asparagus fernAsparagus densiflorus
Cactusvaries
Christmas cactusSchlumbergera
CliviaClivia miniata
English ivyHedera helix
Swedish ivyPlectranthus australis

Houseplants for Cool, Moderate Light Rooms

Common NameBotanical Name
Cactusvaries
CitrusCitrus spp.
Japanese fatsiaFatsia
Spider plantChlorophytum
Umbrella plantSchefflera

Houseplants for Low-Light Rooms

Common NameBotanical Name
Cast-iron plantAspidistra
Chinese evergreenAglaonema
DracaenasDracaena spp.
Fishtail palmCaryota
Lady palmRhapis excelsa
PhilodendronPhilodendron spp.
Snake plantSansevieria

Houseplants for Steamy Bathrooms

Common NameBotanical Name
Cape primroseStreptocarpus
ColeusColeus spp.
CrotonCodiaeum
Fernsvaries
Flamingo flowerHypoestes
HibiscusHibiscus rosa-sinensis

Houseplants that Absorb Indoor Pollutants

Common NameBotanical Name
Bamboo palmChamaedorea
DracaenaDracaena spp.
English ivyHedera helix
Peace lilySpathiphyllum
PhilodendronPhilodendron spp.
PothosEpipremnum
Snake plantSansevieria
Spider plantChlorophytum

Houseplants Harmful to Kids and Pets

Common NameBotanical Name
CaladiumCaladium
CliviaClivia
CrotonCodiaeum
Crown-of-thornEuphorbia milii
Dumb caneDieffenbachia
English ivyHedera helix
FicusFicus spp.
Fishtail palmCaryota
Flamingo flowerHypoestes
Peace lilySpathiphyllum
PhilodendronPhilodendron
PothosEpipremnum
Swiss-cheese plantMonstera friedrichsthalii

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