NGA Articles: Houseplants 101

Houseplants 101

By: National Gardening Association Editors

It isn't necessary to turn your house into a tropical jungle to get the most from houseplants. In fact, just a few well-placed, well-grown houseplants can contribute a lived-in coziness to any room, whether it's filled with Victorian clutter or spare streamlined furnishings. The trick is, of course, to make sure the houseplants are "well grown." It helps to realize that most of what we call "house" plants originate from humid, tropical climates and that the climate inside most houses, particularly during the winter months, is more like that of an arid desert. But give the plants what they want in terms of light, water, humidity, fertilizer, and a good soil mix, and they'll perform like they were back in their native environment.


Once you select a houseplant you like, find out what its likes and dislikes are. Houseplants grown by large commercial growers are usually sold with fairly informative tags attached. The tag should provide such basic information as the amount of light the plant needs, how much water it requires, etc. If an informational tag is not included, ask a knowledgeable clerk or look up the plant's requirements in a book specifically about houseplants. Once you're armed with the information, finding just the place to make your houseplant thrive may still be a matter of trial-and-error. A few basic rules, however, apply.

Begin by taking an inventory of the light levels in your various rooms at different times of the day. The bathroom and kitchen may have relatively high levels of humidity (which houseplants like), but low levels of light. The picture window in your living room may be flooded with light in the morning, but the drapes will need to be open for it to benefit your houseplants. A spare bedroom may stay relatively dark and cool most of the time. Try different houseplants in different rooms. Any houseplant will respond to its new location in a week or so, letting you know whether or not it's happy. And be prepared for happy accidents: If your piggyback plant is happiest on top of the refrigerator (even though it doesn't seem to make any sense to you), by all means, leave it there.

When you're told that a houseplant needs "plenty of light," that doesn't mean direct sunlight. Very few are the houseplants that can tolerate direct sunlight (especially when intensified by a glass window). Shear curtains are excellent at diffusing direct sunlight, creating an excellent environment for houseplants that need "plenty of light."

Any houseplant that gets "leggy," like an asparagus fern that sends out seven-foot runners, is searching for more light. Conversely, a stunted houseplant, or one with burned, crisp leaves, is receiving too much light.

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