Cacti and succulents

Must-have houseplants

Discover houseplants that will bring the wow factor to your home.

Houseplants are firmly back in fashion. Whereas a few years ago, you might have been able to pick up a peace lily or dragon tree in your local garden centre, there is now a wonderful variety of houseplants available, not only in garden centres but specialist shops and websites and even supermarkets.

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The key to success with houseplants is to give them the right spot – just as you would in the garden. Many houseplants hail originally from rainforests, so will not take kindly to sitting on a sunny windowsill. Succulents and cacti, on the other hand, generally thrive in sunny conditions. Discover some houseplants for sunny spots.

Choose the right plant for the right spot in your home, and move them around if they don’t look happy. Most houseplants like bright but indirect light – a few feet from a window is ideal. No houseplant will be happy next to a radiator, open fire or air conditioning unit.

The right care is also important. Many houseplants are killed by overwatering and do not enjoy sitting in wet compost. As a rule of thumb, water only when the top 1-2cm of compost is dry. Feed regularly (around once a month) with a specialist houseplant feed during the growing season, from spring to autumn. Many houseplants cease growing in the winter months, so need less feeding and watering at this time.

Here are some of the best houseplants to grow.

There is now a wonderful variety of houseplants available, not only in garden centres but specialist shops and websites and even supermarkets.

Fiddle-leaf fig

Ficus lyrata is a pricey plant that can be a little fickle – it has a habit of dropping its leaves if it’s not happy. This could be due to dry air, under- or overwatering, under- or over feeding, or sudden changes in temperature. Once you have found the right place for it – a bright spot, out of direct sun, in a warm room – leave it there, as it doesn’t like being moved. Wipe the leaves to keep them free of dust.

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Swiss cheese plant

A 1970s favourite, Monstera deliciosa is making a comeback. Give it plenty of space, in a bright or lightly shaded spot. Look out for unusual variegated varieties or those with holes within the leaves – Monstera obliqua. Wipe the leaves to keep them glossy and free of dust.

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Rosary vine

Ceropegia woodii has trailing, heart-shaped leaves that are purple on the undersides and marbled grey and green above. It looks great on a shelf or in a hanging planter. It likes plenty of bright light and not too much water – let the compost dry out before watering again.

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Purple shamrock

Oxalis triangularis has purple leaves and pale pink, nodding flowers. It is a bulb and dies back in winter. It likes some humidity so is a good choice for a bathroom.

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Succulents and cacti

Succulents and cacti are extremely popular and it’s easy to see why – they come in range of shapes, sizes and colours and are low maintenance. Most will grow on a sunny windowsill. Let the compost dry out between watering in summer. Find out how to make a succulent and cacti terrarium.

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Wax plant

Hoya carnosa is a climbing plant with pretty flowers that are especially scented during the evening. It needs to be grown up a mossy pole or trellis, in plenty of bright light. Each flower stalk can produce flowers for many years, so don’t remove them – let the old blooms fall off naturally. Hoya bella is more compact and grows well in a hanging basket.

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Air plants

Air plants don’t need compost – in nature, they take moisture from the air. They do need watering, however – either by regular misting, or by plunging in a bowl of water for around 30 minutes, allowing to drain well. A humid room, such as kitchen or bathroom, is ideal.

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Staghorn fern

The staghorn fern, Platycerium bifurcatum, grows like an air plant – it takes moisture from the air through their roots and fronds. It’s a showstopping plant for the home and can be grown in compost or without – they are often sold on mounts. They like a humid environment, so mist regularly. The Elkhorn is larger and can be cared for in the same way.

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Friendship plant

A charming plant, Pilea peperomiodes has leaves that look like miniature lily pads. It’s known as the friendship plant as it’s easy to propagate. This is just as well as it’s hard to find in the shops – look online or ask a friend for a cutting. It likes a bright spot and a humid environment so a kitchen or bathroom is ideal. Rotate the plant so that it keeps its naturally rounded shape and doesn’t lean towards the light.

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Crown of thorns

Euphorbia milii is a pretty plant with fleshy leaves that seems to flower almost non-stop, given plenty of bright light. The flowers are actually coloured bracts that last for several weeks. It has fleshy leaves and stems, so doesn’t need too much watering. Wear gloves when handling – the plant has sharp thorns and also an irritant sap.

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Philodendron

This large-leaved houseplant has unusual foliage and will bring a jungly look to your home. Mist the leaves regularly with water to increase humidity and wipe the leaves occasionally to keep them looking shiny. Give it plenty of space.

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More houseplants to look out for

  • Prayer plant (Maranta) – grown for its large leaves with beautiful markings. It likes humidity and are especially suited to bathrooms or terrariums. Don’t be alarmed if its leaves curl up at night – this is natural.
  • Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansieviera) – a doddle to grow, and virtually indestructible. It can hope with a range of light levels but its foliage may revert to all-green in a shady spot. Don’t water it too much. Wipe the leaves occasionally to keep them shiny.
  • ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) – an attractive, upright plant that is very easy to grow. It hails from Africa, so keep it in a warm room. It is tolerant of neglect and doesn’t mind being under watered. Wipe the leaves to keep them looking shiny.
  • African milk bush (Euphorbia trigona) – a striking plant that looks like a huge cactus. Beware of its sharp thorns. Hailing from Africa, it doesn’t need much water and will tolerate some direct sunshine.
  • Boston fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) – the lush, arching fronds of Boston fern, look great on a pedestal or in hanging planter. It loves humidity so stand on a tray or moist pebbles, or give it a spot in your bathroom. Keep the compost moist but not soggy.