I used to think dust was the only thing I could grow on my windowsill. Houseplants were not my thing. So you might be wondering, after such an admission, why the heck you should trust me on this one. My answer is simple. I haven’t killed these guys. And that’s saying something. I’m not the most doting houseplant mom. Most of them get the third child treatment. You know, the kind where you temporarily ignore the saggy diaper and crusted snot smeared across his face long enough to down a cup of coffee, brush your teeth and attempt to look human. You care about their wellbeing but aren’t maniacal about it like you were with your firstborn. Lucky for us, most houseplants thrive on neglect. Children, not so much. But I’ve matured enough to know that a little attention to their health is worth the benefit of coexisting with them. Just to be clear, I’m referring to houseplants here. Unlike so many houseplants, I’ve managed to keep my children alive.
According to research conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago, houseplants can reduce the severity and spread of the flu virus in the home. Homes with humidity levels above 40% reap the most benefits. While some are better at it than others, most plants have the ability to release moisture into the air through transpiration. The process occurs when direct sunlight hits the plant and pulls moisture from it’s leaves into the environment. The bigger the plant, the more effective it is at humidifying a room.
Easy Houseplant Care
The following plants receive a weekly check for moisture. I simply put my finger an inch or two into the soil and determine if it’s dry. If not, I let it go another week. Otherwise it gets a good soaking until water runs out of the bottom. Let it drain and never allow it to sit in a saucer full of water. That’s a great way to kill most plants. During the winter when most plants are dormant, I withhold fertilizer. By March, they’re ready to grow and I use Espoma Organic Grow! liquid fertlizer once a month through September. Whatever fertilizer you choose, be sure to follow the application instructions.
Heart Leaf Philodendron
I’ve had a philodendron since I was in high school. Not this one. This is my second. The first one met it’s demise inside a moving truck when I forgot it in the cab and left it there overnight in the middle of January. Philodendrons are great low maintenance houseplants, ideal for low light accommodations near an east or north facing window.
During the winter, this little succulent thrives in the bright indirect light of my south facing kitchen window. Direct sun will cause the plant to discolor. While it requires a bit more watering in the summer, a once-a-month drink suffices in the cold months.
Thick fleshy leaves and stems store water so if you forget to water, no worries. Peperomia is a huge family of semi-succulent plants. They like medium to bright light and grow slowly. Some have beautiful variegated foliage with deep veining and interesting textures.
This one tends to be a bit more water and humidity loving. Notice the small humidity tray beneath the container. In other words, don’t let them completely dry out. The pilea family consists of about 600 species, varying from those with large lance-shaped leaves to others with moss-like foliage. They prefer bright indirect light and tend toward legginess. Pinch back the ends of new growth to encourage a compact plant.
Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant)
Waxy dark green leaves are the hallmark of the ZZ plant, by far the most death defying houseplant. If you kill this one, well that’s pretty impressive and an indicator that it may be time to explore other interests. Low light, drought, low humidity, bah. This one will even thrive beneath the artificial light of an office.
I received this begonia in August while attending the Garden Writers Association’s (now GardenComm) national conference. It spent the rest of the summer in the bright shade of my pergola and came indoors before the first frost. It’s currently happy in my west window and I love that it’s remained full and compact. Begonias like humidity with leaves that can become brittle without it. So he gets a humidity tray too and all is well.
Dracaena sanderiana (Lucky Bamboo)
I bought this lucky bamboo three years ago at Costco and it’s thrived on a ledge in my office with light from a north facing window. As with all of my houseplants, I water with rain water collected in barrels around the house. Bamboo tends to be very sensitive to chlorinated water. If tap water is your only option, leave it out for 24 hours so it can evaporate before watering your plants.
Sansevieria trifasciata (Snake Plant)
One of the most forgiving houseplants, Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue will tolerate low light but will grow faster in brighter accommodations. Be careful not to overwater this one. It prefers it on the dry side and as long as you give it a drink from time to time, he’ll be happy.
I’ve frequently referred to the University of Illinois Extension’s Houseplant reference for help in determining light levels and basic info on keeping houseplants alive. Also, Costa Farms is another excellent tool with fun ways to help you determine the perfect plant for your lifestyle.
What houseplants are you growing/killing? No judgment. Promise.