The 12 best house plants and how to care for them - according to gardening pros
Some people have magic fingers when it comes to keeping houseplants alive, while others feel like they only have to look at a succulent, spider plant or orchid for it to wither and die.
Luckily, we’ve consulted the experts to find out exactly how often you should water some of the most popular houseplants and where to keep them in the house to help them flourish.
How to look after indoor house plants
Gardening editor Stephanie Donaldson explains everything you need to know about looking after your indoor plants, with advise from two houseplant experts whose displays both won silver-gilt at the 2022 Chelsea Flower Show.
Charlotte Durrant, director of The Aroid Attic and Mak Gilchrist, Founder and Creative Director of The Edible Bus Stop, share their top tips on keeping your houseplants thriving.
“Overwatering is one of the most common problems that brings our customers to us for help,” says Charlotte. “We recommend digging your finger into the soil to your first knuckle. If it feels dry give it some water, if it feels damp hold off a little longer!”
Another key issue is the position you have your plant in your home.
“If a plant isn’t thriving, consider whether it has enough or too much direct light,” says Mak. “Some plants may prefer summer positions that are different from their winter ones.”
Charlotte adds that you should try to mimic the lighting conditions the plant would usually have if it was growing in its natural environment. For example, “Monstera (Cheese Plants) live in the jungle and have dappled light so go bright but no direct sun. Cacti love the hot dessert so think lots of sun,” she says.
Remember to dust
One often overlooked aspect of caring for your indoor plants, is keeping them clean. A build up of dust can restrict its ability to photosynthesis.
“Clean leaves also aid the absorption of carbon dioxide and the subsequent release of oxygen. As a result, cleaning the leaves will improve the plants and your overall health,” says Mak.
Charlotte recommends using a damp microfibre cloth to gently remove dust from the leaves.
Prune where necessary
If your plants are becoming a little unruly, you may want to consider pruning them back, which can also stimulate growth.
“Pruning can help maintain a certain shape or to promote a dormant growth point to get going again,” says Charlotte. She suggests, “trimming back just before a node (the little line on the stem) to get a clean shape.”
However, if you’re trying to propagate (grow new plants from your existing one), “you want to take this node with you in order to get new growth, so you’d trim back to between two nodes on the plant,” she says.
Repot to promote growth
Repotting your plant can also help it thrive and grow.
“Ideally, this should be done around once a year (except for palms which don’t like to be repotted too often),” says Mak. “The general rule is to do this for late winter/spring maintenance. If a plant is root-bound and needs potting up a size, gently loosen the roots and repot in a pot a size up with fresh PEAT-FREE compost.”
Exactly how you should care for your plant will depend on the type of plant you have chosen. In our list below, we have provided experts tips and advice to caring for a variety of popular indoor houseplants.
Certain conditions, such as darker corners or plants in hanging pots, might require some additional thought before selecting.
Best indoor plants for low light
Typically, most plants will need varying degrees of natural light to grow healthily and flower. For some spaces (such as lower ground apartments or perhaps a back room without large windows) it won’t be possible to offer enough light for the majority of plants to prosper.
However, there are varieties which can thrive in low light settings and will reward you for a spot in an otherwise gloomy corner.
“Great plants for low light areas are Scindapsus pictus (Satin Pothos), Aspidistra elatior, Calatheas and Marantas,” says Charlotte.
Best indoor hanging plants
For those short on surface space, hanging plants can be a brilliant way to incorporate greenery into your home, without taking up precious room. They also look great in popular macrame hangers.
“If you want something a little more tropical looking to hang up go for any Hoya, Epiphyllum or Aeschynanthus (Lipstick Plant),” advises Charlotte.
The best house plants to grow
Here's our round up of the best indoor plants to grow at home, with expert tips and advice on how to help them thrive.
Smooth, fleshy succulent houseplants are a trendy decorative addition to any home.
Popular succulents are Living Stones or Lithops, which grow just a few centimetres above the soil surface and the Money Plant, Crassula ovata, which has smooth leaves and as it matures become tree-like with a trunk and branches.
“Easy succulents that always look great are Echeveria, there are so many varieties you can always find the perfect one,” says Charlotte. “If you want a bizarre but fun species of cactus we’d go for Tephrocactus geometricus.”
How to keep succulents alive: Succulents need plenty of light, but be careful not to let them get chilled or sunburned when growing them on the windowsill.
If your plant starts to “stretch”, getting tall and lanky with space between the leaves, you can be sure that it isn’t getting enough light. A south-facing window, or at least a half a day in an east-facing window is best and rotating the plant weekly will even up growth if they are bending toward the light.
How to grow succulents: Grow them in gritty, free-draining compost and allow them to dry out completely between watering. Never let them stand in water - they won't like it!
“The easiest way to tell if a succulent needs watering is to feel its leaves, if they feel a little squishy and deflated it’s a sign that it needs a drink to firm back up,” says Charlotte.
One feed in spring, with a general houseplant fertiliser, usually suffices.
It’s easy to get hooked on cacti as their spiked, ridged, tall, squat and hairy forms are very collectable.
Bunny eared Opuntia cacti produces prickly pads and the Barrel Cactus with its bright yellow spines are perfect for growing on windowsills. Moon cactus are also popular and especially with children as they are fun and funky plants that have a small round top cactus, which can be red, orange of yellow, grafted on top of a taller green base specimen.
How to keep cacti alive: These undemanding plants will withstand most maltreatment except for heavy handed watering and feeding. They are happiest in a really sunny spot (well, it makes sense given their desert origins!)
How to grow cacti: Like succulents, cacti need very gritty and free-draining compost and they should be watered with tepid rainwater whenever the compost dries out fully from your last watering. When this happens water well again and don’t give any more until the compost has dried out once more. Just remember cacti only need sufficient water to prevent them from shrivelling.
Ferns come in a wide variety of forms and whilst not all ferns make good houseplants, the maidenhair, asparagus and sword ferns will grow in a cool, shady spot such as a bathroom or kitchen.
How to keep ferns alive: These ferns grow best in bright light, with some shading from midday sun. Poor light can be tolerated for short periods of time if topped up daily with artificial light. Plants will continue to grow all year round in ordinary room temperature but will cease at 10C. Below 10C it’s likely that the plant will die.
How to grow ferns: Keep the compost permanently moist by frequent watering using tepid rainwater. In hot, dry air mist those with thin leaves such as the ever-popular Boston fern occasionally to prevent the leaves turning brown and drying to a crisp.
Throughout the spring and summer, give all ferns a dilute liquid feed every fortnight.
Also known as pelargoniums, the best varieties of geranium to grow inside are those with scented leaves. Just brushing against them will release a delicious scent into your home. Favourites include the rose scented Pelargonium capitatum and lemon scented Pelargonium citronellum.
How to keep geraniums alive: Grow scented pelargoniums in a sunny position, but not a spot where they will be hit by the full force of the midday sun.
How to grow geraniums: Water moderately during the growing season from spring to summer, avoid the compost becoming too wet and provide good ventilation. Feed plants every 10-14 days with a high nitrogen fertiliser in spring. Pinch out the shoot tips in late winter to encourage bushy growth. Once flowers start to form, switch to a high potassium fertiliser such as tomato feed.
The popular spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’, like a cool, light position away from direct sunlight, otherwise their foliage will fade and weaken. The variety Lemon is a twist on the classic with zingy lemon-green foliage and Chlorophytum saundersiae Starlight has variegated grass-like foliage and small lily-like flowers.
How to keep spider plants alive: In spring and summer, while the plant is growing and producing plantlets, water freely, allowing the compost to almost dry out between watering. In winter reduce the amount of water, keeping the compost almost dry in low temperatures. Mist the foliage frequently to keep the leaves clean.
How to grow spider plants: Feed fortnightly from spring until late summer, using a half-strength liquid fertiliser. Without feeding, the tips of the leaves will quickly turn brown, marring the appearance of the plant.
There are a number of rubber plant available and favourite is ‘Decora’, which has oval, shiny green leaves, 30-38cm long and 15cm wide with a prominent midrib and pronounced point at their tip and pale pinkish-red sheaves that enfold the young developing leaves. Other popular varieties to watch out for are ‘Black Prince’, which has deep green, almost black leaves and ‘Variegata’ that has narrower, slightly drooping leaves, which are splashed yellow.
How to keep rubber plants alive: Normal room temperatures are suitable for rubber plants although they do prefer cool environments to dry and hot. They grow more quickly in good light to subdued light. Direct sun, for any length of time will cause the leaves to shrivel and fall.
How to grow rubber plants: Water the plant when the compost feels dry, allowing any excess water to drain away from the bottom of the pot. Plants will suffer from root rot if kept too moist during the winter so err on the side of caution. Feed plants throughout the growing season with a half-strength dose at every watering.
Yucca elephantipes is an exotic and easy-going houseplant that will grow equally in a sunbaked, centrally heated room and cool, semi-shaded spot. Also available as a variegated form, they are specially grown from sections of trunk which, when planted, grow roots and leaves. Look for plants that have several trunks potted together in one pot for a strong shape that will make an impressive display in a spacious room.
How to keep yucca plants alive: Yucca needs good light, but no direct sunlight as it can damage the leaves. Wipe the leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust but do not use leaf shine. Water thoroughly during the growing season but then allow the compost to dry out considerably before applying more. Feed every two weeks from spring to autumn.
How to grow yucca plants: As you might be able to tell from looking at them, these houseplants can be top-heavy, so ensure they’re planted in a soil-based compost so that they don’t tip over when dry!
Where ventilation is poor the air we breathe becomes stale and stagnant. Air conditioning might resolve the problem but growing plants such as the peace lily, which mimic the way that nature cleans the earth’s atmosphere, is a good way to purify and revitalise the air.
This lush tropical foliage plant produces beautiful white sail-like flowers on stiff, erect stalks. The variety Mauna Loa grows to 90cm making it an imposing floor plant for a semi-shaded spot in a warm room. Other varieties available in the UK are Sweet Rocco, which grows to 30cm tall and Sweet Sebastiano that towers to 120cm.
How to keep a peace lily alive: Most peace lilies die from over-watering, so only water when the compost feels dry to the touch.
How to plant a peace lily: Peace lilies need good light to encourage the white flowers to bloom, but don't place it in direct sunlight.
An easy plant for the first-time orchid grower, the moth orchid can be bought in bloom any time throughout the winter and spring. Those with white flowers are popular and also the pink varieties Happy Rose and Ravello plus unusual Polka Dots, which has glowing white petals irregularly splotched with reddish purple.
These exotic beauties should not be seen as a luxury but as an essential and especially for offices where they will remove the potentially dangerous fumes emitted by equipment like computers, printers and the like and in doing so improve the air in your personal work station.
How to keep moth orchids alive: Allow the compost to almost dry out between watering and mist often but avoid getting water on the blooms as they easily mark.
How to plant moth orchids: Give it pride of place in a lightly shaded spot with a temperature around 21C. After flowering, cut the stalk just below the knobbly joint that produced the first flower.
The Jade plant, Crassula arborescens, or Money plant is a decorative foliage plant, which when small can be used to add height to succulent bowl garden and as they mature to make a feature plant on a table in a sunny window. Available too as Silver Jade and Golden Jade, which appears to have golden edged leaves.
How to keep a money plant alive: Water liberally during the active growing season but always allow the top half the compost to dry out before giving more. From spring to early autumn, feed well-established plants every two weeks with tomato fertiliser.
How to plant a money plant: Jade plants grow best in a sunny windowsill and benefit from the summer spent in the garden, the fresh air and sun, toughening up the stems and improving leaf colour. Keep the plants cool in winter – a temperature of 10C is ideal.
Re-pot when the roots are pushing through the drainage holes of the pot. Use loam-based compost to which coarse sand or perlite is added for improved drainage.
On trend now is the snake plant Sansevieria trifasciata Laurentii, which has tall and stiff fleshy leaves that are grey-green with paler stripes and yellow edges. In fact, the entire Sansevieria clan has become very collectable.
The variety Space-saving Sansevieria bacularis Mikado has slim spear-like foliage whilst Moonshine has broad, stiffly upright leaves of this structural houseplant are a soft silvery-green, and they also infused with faint horizontal bands. Sansevieria zeylanica has strong, broad, sword-like grey-green leaves that are cross-banded with a darker green, which gives rise to its other popular name, ‘the snake plant’.
How to keep snake plants alive: Easy-care, you can ignore them for up to a month before they sulk and need watering!
They are great for keeping your home healthy as the leaves filter and purify air as well as help to regulate humidity.
How to plant a snake plant: Find the plants a spot in good light, but away from direct sunlight, to keep the leaf colours bright and beautiful.
Aloe vera – sometimes called the first aid plant because you can break off a portion of leaf to treat minor burns – is an evergreen succulent with fleshy leaves and thick serrated edges grows from a stemless rosette.
There are many different types of Aloe available including a variegated form and the much admired variety Aloe rauhii Snowflake, which produces beautiful rosettes of green spotted leaves that are more white than green.
How to keep aloe vera alive: Keep soil damp but not wet and cut down on watering in winter. Feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser 2-3 times during the growing season.
How to plant aloe vera: Aloe should be grown out of direct sunlight but in a bright position, ideally somewhere like the kitchen.
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