Success with House Plants
I have an ever-growing collection of house plants and can’t imagine not having them around, but this wasn’t always the case. For a long time I didn’t really like them and when I did attempt to look after them – if I was given one as a gift – they didn’t thrive. Then I was asked to do a work project based on house plants and I ended up going from zero house plants to 12 in the space of a couple of days. That’s when my appreciation for indoor greenery really began.
Right plant, right place
For me the biggest change was discovering that some plants will do better than others in certain locations in the house and that this had a significant impact on how healthy they were. Once plants started to thrive I gained a bit more confidence and I really noticed how having a couple of plants dotted about the house made the place more homely. The holy grail of house plant locations are east or west-facing windowsills as these get a good amount of light but not the harsh and potentially leaf-scorching midday sun that a south-facing windowsill receives. A north-facing window can be ideal for those plants that are happier in more shady spots.
House plants generally come from tropical countries or, in the case of succulents, hot, arid places, so growing these plants in our centrally heated, low humidity homes is a challenge. Finding out where a plant is originally from helps you to provide the best conditions for it. Tropical plants tend to prefer filtered light or shade and often some humidity, whereas succulents can generally take more light and are happy with low levels of humidity.
The upright, stripy, reptilian-like blades of sansevieria have done really well for me and it’s proved to be really easy to look after. My dragon tree (Dracaena marginata) is nearly 5ft (1.5m) tall now and has grown nearly 2ft (60cm) since I bought it three years ago. I love the tropical feel it creates with its trunk-like stems and tufts of long leaves.
I have a couple of Chinese money plants (Pilea peperomiodes) that were given to me by a friend – little baby plants will often appear around the edge of the pot and these can be potted up to make new plants. It’s a bit fussier to look after – it likes bright light but direct sun can scorch the leaves, and it’s quite sensitive to the amount of water it gets – yellowing leaves all over the plant are sign that it’s being over or under watered.
It took a while for my begonia to settle in when I first bought it. Its dramatic leaves are really eye-catching but for the first few months these kept falling off the plant. After moving it to different locations I’ve eventually found a spot where it seems happy. It’s in a corner near a south-facing window, so it gets plenty of light but directly on to the leaves which means the foliage doesn’t scorch.
The intricate veined leaves of the fittonia and the phlebodium fern both love the humid conditions in my bathroom.
My favourite houseplants of all, though, are my phalaenopsis orchids, also known as moth orchids. I’m gradually building a bit of a collection and rather than ditching them after they’ve finished flowering I've nurtured them all so that they have bloomed again and again. Streptocarpus are another great flowering house plant that will also flower for months on end. I’ve found that both of seem to prefer an east-facing spot where the light isn’t too strong.
A sun-baked spot
My kitchen window is south-facing so the light and heat from late spring to early autumn are really intense. Most plants aren’t happy growing here but those that are able to cope are those that would normally grow in the desert or arid places such as echeveria, the furry-leaved Kalanchoe tomentosa or cacti.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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