University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall/Winter News Article

 
EASY HOUSEPLANTS

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
           
If you're like me and don't have time to fuss with houseplants, or are beginning and don't know where to begin, or just feel you have a brown thumb, there are some easy houseplants you might give a try.
           
No matter which you grow, the key is to not overwater.  If in doubt, don't water. I like to "train" my plants (leafy ones such as peace lily) to be dry to the point of starting to wilt before  watering.  Other tips for success: keep from drafty areas, keep from touching cold windows, keep low light plants from direct sun, and don't move from one extreme to the other without a transition period of several weeks (such as low light indoors to a full sun window).
           
Other than proper watering, and keeping plants warm (above 50 degrees F, preferably above 60 degrees for most), proper light is perhaps most important.  You either can choose plants to fit your light levels, or move plants to various light conditions.  Low light plants do well in the interior of homes, or by a north-facing window.  Medium light plants like bright, indirect light as a foot or two from west- or south-facing windows or under a lamp fixture.  High light plants really need to be near (but not touching) west- or south-facing windows, or in a sunroom.
           
One of the most traditional plants for low light is the wide-leaved, leathery-leaved cast iron plant (Aspidistra)-- appropriately named as it is tough as nails.  It grows about 2 feet high and tolerates cool.  There is a dwarf form you may find, also one called 'Milky Way' with white spots against the dark green leaves.
           
As tough as the cast iron plant, amazing plants that adapt to low light or full sun (but not quickly or at the same time), are the snake plants (Sansevieria).  These have very tough, thick leaves, usually upright from the base to 2 or 3 feet tall.  They can be green, green with gold edges, or squat with wide green leaves.  I have one in the corner of a bathroom, getting little light except from the overhead fixture, lasting for years with almost no water-- just the ambient humidity.
           
Another of the all-time favorite low-light houseplants is the rubber plant (Ficus elastica).  This plant can get quite large with time, and has large, thick glossy leaves.  Some selections have green leaves, others are reddish. It too can adapt amazingly to full sun over time.
           
One of the more popular low-light and easy houseplants is the Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema), about one to two feet high.  The long, somewhat narrow leaves from the base are variously variegated, depending on cultivar, from green with some white to mostly white. 
           
For a low light vine you might consider the Devil's ivy (Epipremnum), also known as pothos from a former name.  There is a green form, but more commonly found are the variegated ones with either white or gold in leaves.  Variegated cultivars need high light to retain this coloring, or they may turn mostly green.  It is usually seen in hanging baskets, but can be trained to grow over and around objects such as shelving and windows.
           
Philodendrons are one of those indoor plants that do well in lower light, even though they grow more vigorously and denser in medium light.  There are many forms, either with upright self-supporting stalks or vining types.  The philodendron vines don't really climb, rather they hang from baskets or are supported to posts.  The heart-leaf philodendron, with relatively small heart-shaped leaves, is one of the more commonly found. 
           
One of my favorites for medium light (although it adapts to low light) is the peace lily (Spathiphyllum).  The leaves on long stems reach about two feet, and another benefit is the unique and occasional white flowers on long stalks.  There are several selections of this you may find, including one with white streaks in the leaves.   I use peace lily as my indicator plant for watering.  Once it starts wilting I know it's time to water all my plants!  I've been amazed how far it can wilt and still recover upon watering.
           
A popular and easy flowering houseplant many have is the African violet.  Keys to success with this plant are to not get water on the leaves, water with lukewarm water and not let the pots sit in water (plants don't like to be waterlogged), and to give correct light.  African violets love bright, indirect light-- not direct sunlight.  They grow well under grow lights, but need at least 8 hours a night of darkness to bloom. 
           
Some other commonly listed and seen easy houseplants for medium light may have some issues, such as ornamental figs (Ficus) getting some insects and dropping lower leaves if any changes in culture or climate.  Schefflera also drops lower leaves with sudden changes, and easily gets pests. The dumb cane (Dieffenbachia) and Norfolk Island Pine are common, but over a few years often drop lower leaves getting leggy.  Some of the palms can be easy, but watch closely for spider mites.  Spider plant (Chlorophytum) is common in hanging baskets, and easy to grow, but will get brown leaf tips in low humidity. 
           
Some high light plants include aloe (the sap is good for burns), cactus, and ponytail palm.  A key to success with all these is to let them go dry between waterings.
           

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