House plants can transform our homes, providing lush greenery and purifying the air. However some house plants can be difficult to grow, while others are much easier, being better at tolerating fluctuating temperatures, low light, a lack of water and general neglect.
How to care for house plants
All house plants will do better if looked after occasionally. Keep a spray bottle handy to mist house plants when you pass by. Feed weekly with a liquid house plant feed while they’re in active growth, usually from March to October, then reduce feeding and watering in winter. Keep a close eye out for pests, particularly aphids, mealybugs and scale insects – if your plant is ailing, one of these could be to blame.
More on growing house plants:
Browse our pick of the easiest house plants to grow, below.
Cast iron plant
The cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior, really does have a cast-iron constitution – it was a Victorian favourite as it could withstand the fumes from coal fires and gas lamps, as well as gloomy conditions. It’s perfect for bringing a touch of elegance to a shady corner.
Spider plants look brilliant in a hanging planter, which allows the leaves, and often plantlets, to spill over the edge, providing a lovely cascade of foliage. Like the cast iron plant, spider plants will grow in a variety of light levels, but direct sun should be avoided. If you don’t like variegated plants, try a variety like ‘Lemon’.
Grown in a bright spot out of direct sunlight, Tradescantia zebrina, or inch plant, is very easy to grow and will reward you with striking, hanging foliage in shades of purple, silver and green. It looks great in a hanging container or on a shelf.
The parlour palm, Chamaedorea elegans, enjoys growing in a bright spot, with no direct sunlight. The feathery foliage is great for providing contrast with other, more solid-leaved house plants. It loves a good misting with a spray bottle.
Swiss cheese plant
The Swiss cheese plant, Monstera deliciosa, has large, glossy, dramatic leaves that become deeply cut and perforated as they grow. It is perfect if you have a large space to fill. It enjoys a bright spot, out of direct sunlight. The bigger it gets, the bigger and better the leaves become. If water drips from the leaves, as if the plant is ‘crying’, you have overwatered it.
Dracaenas such as Dracaena marginata have an explosion of foliage at the top of their slim trunk. They are easy, rewarding house plants to grow and can last for many years, getting taller and taller. Grow them in a bright spot out of direct sunlight and keep a spray bottle handy so you can regularly mist them, which helps prevent leaf drop.
Snake plant / Mother-in-law’s tongue
There are lots of snake plants (sansevieria) to grow as house plants, including Sansevieria masoniana, which has mottled blue-green leaves, and Sansevieria bacularis, which has deep green, almost tubular foliage, and Sansevieria trifasciata, which has yellow edges to its sword-like leaves. It’s best grown in bright light but will tolerate shadier conditions. It’s tolerant of underwatering.
Keeping your house plants free of dust
Dust can gradually build up on plants’ foliage, especially those with large leaves, such as Swiss cheese plants. This can stop the plant photosynthesising properly and can give the leaves a dull appearance.
Every month or so it’s a good idea to shower your your plants in the bath or shower with tepid (not cold) water, which will give them a really good clean. Either stand them under a shower, or water using a watering can with a fine rose attachment. Alternatively, stand your plants outside during a rain shower in summer.
Dust can also build up on the leaves of cacti. Take a few minutes to remove it using an artist’s paintbrush.
Mistakes to avoid when growing houseplants
- Overwatering: This is the number one cause of houseplant death. Avoid this by letting the top few centimetres of compost dry out before watering again, and be sure to let any excess water drain away completely
- Underwatering: if the compost has become too dry, it’ll need a really good soaking to fully hydrate it again. Plunge the pot into a bowl or bucket of water until the compost is evenly moist. Get saucers for all your plant pots so that you can water them easily in situ
- Growing in a pot with no drainage holes: Only use pots with holes for drainage. Otherwise you risk waterlogging the soil and rotting the plant’s roots, which is very tricky to remedy
- Growing in too much shade: Even shade-loving houseplants need decent light levels. Research your plant and find out about its natural habitat, then try to replicate it in your home
- Growing in too much sun: Most houseplants cannot cope with lots of direct sunlight. A spot in bright light, out of direct sun, is best for most houseplants. Cacti, succulents and carnivorous plants are the exception to this rule
- Growing next to a radiator: This can quickly lead to parched soil and dry air which can turn plants’ leaf tips brown. Temperature fluctuations can stress plants, too. Grow your plants in a spot with a more constant temperature. Likewise, don’t grow plants next to an air conditioning unit. Plants such as ficus are particularly vulnerable to fluctuations.