The Beauty And Benefit Of Houseplants

by Tina Mast // January - February - March 2018

Who cares if it’s cold outside? We’ve got “The Great Indoors” to enjoy this winter! You can make your home feel comfy and cozy in so many ways during the frigid season, but my favorite is surrounding myself with houseplants. These green beauties bring color and life to the home, providing a soothing and relaxing atmosphere. Research shows that houseplants reduce psychological stress, increase job satisfaction in office workers, improve mood states, and enhance cognitive health. More research shows they can actually clean the air by removing industrial chemicals such as those that are off-gassed by furniture and carpeting. These are incredible benefits for both health and well-being, especially considering the comparatively low cost.

Some people avoid houseplants because they don’t think they have enough light. This can be solved by getting one of those new-fangled mini LED plant lights. You can find them online and hopefully soon at garden centers near you. Many of them clip-on to the edges of desks or shelves and greatly enhance a plant’s ability to thrive. They are especially handy for the trendy succulents and cacti that are popular now and prefer very bright light. 

Others claim that, no matter what, they kill all their houseplants. 99% of the time this is a watering problem, and most of the time it is an overwatering problem. If you’re one of these people, get yourself a moisture meter and skip all the worry and wonder. A quick dip into the soil will tell you if it’s time to water. Problem solved! 

The other most common issue I hear about is damage to furniture. This mishap can easily be avoided. Put the plant inside another pot that does not have drainage holes. About 30 minutes after watering, dump the excess water out. Or water the plants in a sink or bathtub and return them to their saucers after they have drained. Perhaps keep your plants on a humidity tray. This can be any tray or deep saucer that is watertight. It should be about two inches deep. Fill the tray with one inch of pebbles, decorative glass rocks, or similar, and set the plant pots on that. When you water, the water will go down into the pebbles with the added benefit of providing welcome humidity to the plants as it evaporates. You can also buy pre-formed plastic humidity trays that have plastic ridges for the pot to sit on while the water runs down into the channels below. 

Want a houseplant that you would have a hard time killing, even if you tried? Then try one of the following plants. Even folks who claim to have black thumbs will enjoy these easy-care, easy-going tropicals. Read on for a basic houseplant care section for tips on keeping them happy. For a list of pet-safe houseplants, check out the “Fairy Gardens/Houseplants/Tropicals” page on our website.

Light Requirements 

Use these guidelines when picking plants for various light situations.
– Low light: Interior parts of rooms, especially north- and east-facing rooms, or areas such as hallways. No direct sun.
– Medium light: North- or east-facing window areas or interiors of south-facing rooms. Minimal direct sun.
– Bright light: Areas near west and south windows that may have some direct sun.
– High light/direct sun: Much direct sun from a south-facing window or sunroom or greenhouse.

10 Tough Houseplants

Arrowhead Plant: Arrowhead-shaped leaves in green, light bronze, or bronzy-pink. Prefers low to medium light. Water when soil feels dry. 
Calathea spp.: Striking foliage of green, white, pink, and burgundy. Place in medium to bright light. Can tolerate low light as well. Keep evenly moist in spring and summer, but let it dry between waterings in fall and winter. 
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema spp.): Pretty silver foliage with darker green central veins and margins. Tolerates low light and low humidity, even rooms with no windows. Provide regular water and feed monthly during spring and summer.
Corn Plant (Dracaena): Low-light, low maintenance, and low moisture requirements make this houseplant a no-brainer. Green or variegated leaves grouped along one or two central trunks, reminiscent of the habit of real corn plants. Narrowness makes it ideal for corners and tight spots.
Dumbcane: A bright, cheery plant with leaves variegated in green and gold or green and silver. Needs medium to high light. Water when soil feels dry. Not safe around pets. 
Peace Lily: Glossy, dark green leaves with white calla-like blooms. Place in low to medium light. Keep soil evenly moist. Mist occasionally.
Heartleaf Philodendron: A low maintenance plant if I ever saw one. Prefers low to medium light. Water when the soil feels dry. Lush leaves are chartreuse green or variegated. Most types trail and    make great hanging plants or can be trained up a wooden stake.
Pothos: Heart-shaped leaves splashed with white or yellow and a trailing habit. Best in medium light. Great as a hanging plant.
Snake Plant: A toughie that can be found happily growing in situations that have other plants crying for their mommies. Upright, sword-shaped leaves in dark green, silver, and green, or dark green with a gold margin. Prefers low to medium light. Water no more than once a month.
ZZ Plant: Glossy, green leaves arranged neatly in rows up vertical stems result in a handsome plant. Prefers bright, indirect light. Water when soil is turning dry, about once every two to three weeks. Does not like consistently wet soil.

Caring for Houseplants

– Place plants according to light preferences: low, medium, or high.
– Always use good quality potting soils that allow air and water to easily penetrate.
– Do not feed in winter. During spring and summer, use a fertilizer designed for houseplants. 
– Don’t let pots sit in saucers of standing water. Drain the saucers about 30 minutes after watering. 
– Most home environments, particularly in winter, do not provide adequate humidity. Mist plants regularly or place on humidity trays as previously described.
– Keep plants from drafty areas such as near doors or heating vents.
– If plants get dusty, give them an occasional washing. Hold them over the bathtub and gently sprinkle the foliage, take them outside and sprinkle with the garden hose, or wipe the leaves with damp paper towels. 
– Try to catch pest infestations early. Most insect problems can be treated with horticultural oil or with insecticidal soap.

Tina Mast

Communications director at Homewood Nursery in Raleigh.