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Grow Gorgeous Houseplants In Any Kind of Light

Grow Gorgeous Houseplants In Any Kind of Light

Whether you're a green-thumb pro or just learning to grow.

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Houseplants make nature available to everyone, whether you live in a house or an apartment—no backyard needed. Worried that your thumb will turn brown the moment anything botanical crosses the threshold? Truth is, there are houseplants for gardeners of every level of experience and ability, and for those living in spaces with any amount of light. If you tend to overwater, choose a fern. If benign neglect is more your mode, select a succulent. If flowers are a must, grow Medinilla. The trick lies in matching the right plant to your available light, finding a plant for your comfort level, and gardening in sync with your style. Give plants ample containers, don’t crowd the roots, provide the best organic potting soil, and supplement it with fish-emulsion fertilizer every three weeks between March 1 and Thanksgiving. Soon enough, you will be rolling in the green indoors.

Kokedama (Plants Wrapped in Moss)

Easy

Grow a philodendron as a hanging plant (this one is displayed as a kokedama, a moss ball suspended by monofilament). Allow it to cascade down a tall container, or tuck it into a terrarium—it is ultra-adaptable and can grow in low light. Cultivars like ‘Brasil’ have bright slashes of yellow variegation.
Tip | Philodendrons help remove indoor air pollutants.

 

Unlike some Dracaena that become lanky and lose lower leaves in low light, ‘Variegata’ remains dense even when it reaches its mature three feet in height. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
Tip | If yours becomes too tall, cut off the top—it will branch out at the bottom.

 

If you’ve failed with ferns due to lack of humidity, give the mother fern (Asplenium bulbiferum) a try. Not prone to leaf browning, it prefers indirect light and frequent watering.
Tip | Each frond holds a crowd of tiny plantlets that can be removed to share with friends.

Intermediate

All sorts of new spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are appearing at garden centers. Some have broad leaves; others have broad stripes or variegation running down the middle of each leaf, rather than hemming the edges.
Tip | Remove browning leaves and clip leaf tips. Spider plants are great filters for indoor air.

 

Whether you let it trail down or climb up, this lacy asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’) forms a green curtain in a low-light window. Keep the roots moist to prevent the leaves from yellowing.
Tip | Watch out for the thorns along the stems.

Advanced

Rex begonias, such as ‘Silver Lace,’ love a light soil with air flowing all around. Good air circulation prevents powdery mildew. Keep soil lightly moist.
Tip | Rex begonias prefer medium light and warm temperatures, especially in winter.

Less than 4 hours of sun

Low Light

If all you have is a north-facing window or a sill blocked by trees or buildings, you can still host a houseplant. Flowers may not be in the cards, but there are plenty of attractive photosynthesizing options available. Plus, the lower light means you will be watering less often. Position the houseplants closer to the panes. Select ones with silver or gold accents to brighten up a dark corner.

Easy

The snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, can take all sorts of abuse, ranging from near closet-like conditions to very dry atmospheres and stifling temperatures. Sizes range from a compact six inches to four feet tall.
Tip | Snake plants have substantial roots; don’t cramp them. And watch out for the sharp edges that earned the plant its common name.

 

With plenty of leaves wandering around, philodendrons have an impressive ability to absorb pollutants from indoor air, plus they boast riveting foliage. Choose a trailer such as ‘Brasil’ or an upright version like ‘Xanadu’ to complement your décor.
Tip | Clip away—trailing philodendrons love a haircut.

Intermediate

True, anybody can host a spider plant successfully—they are a cinch. But keeping this rangy creature from looking like a bad-hair day takes some effort. Remove any browning tips (they happen often) and black aerial roots. It’s forgiving if you forget to water. Chlorophytum comosum ‘Bonnie’ is a snappy, spiraling new spin on the tried-and-true variety. Spider plants also help filter out formaldehyde from indoor atmospheres.
Tip | If ‘Bonnie’ loses its curl, remove the straight sections, or root a replacement curly plant from a spider type.

 

Tolerant of truly low-light conditions, the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) needs frequent watering. Give it plenty of root room, warm temperatures, and reliable moisture.
Tip | ZZ will eventually become shrublike in size—it’s a good investment.

Advanced

Silver satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus ‘Argyraeus’) is more of a challenge than other pothos. Worth a little more care, it has alligatoresque markings on heart-shaped matte leaves. Grown well, it becomes a design statement when allowed to shower down. As with philodendrons, the foliage tends to grow sparse and lanky without frequent pruning. Keep its soil moist.
Tip | To create a full plant, clip off stems and root them in the container.

 

New anthurium cultivar ‘Jungle Queen’ is a shy bloomer, grown for its fascinating foliage rather than the typical flamingo flowers. Propagated from seed, the plant displays exciting diversity. “No two are alike,” says Costa Farms gardening expert Justin Hancock. With irregular cream or bronze mottling in each long, slightly puckered leaf, this anthurium likes high humidity, moist but not wet soil, and warm temperatures.
Tip | Give it humidity by keeping it in your bathroom.

4 to 6 hours of sun

Medium Light

Have an unobstructed east- or west-facing window? You can enjoy the best of both worlds with flashy foliage plants plus some truly impressive bloomers. Rotating the plants will distribute the light evenly from all angles. Watch out when low light suddenly streams in during spring and autumn—it might be necessary to pull the plants away from the light source until they acclimate. Water regularly—with good light, these plants get thirsty. (To test whether your plant needs watering, stick your finger about an inch into the soil. If it’s dry, water.)

Easy

Related to the ultra-easy English ivy, Fatsia japonica doesn’t require a whole lot of interaction. At maturity, it may produce lacy white flowers, but it’s a slow-growing specimen. The foliage is its main attraction. Water sparingly in winter.
Tip | Don’t be afraid to prune it back; this will lead to a lusher, fuller plant.

 

For all its exotic beauty, asparagus fern (Asparagus retrofractus) is surprisingly easy to host. In fact, the roots tend to grow so vigorously that containers can burst. Hold the line by root-pruning. To prevent foliar browning and shedding, water the plant regularly and keep humidity levels high.
Tip | The stems can be thorny on these fern lookalikes, so be careful.

 

When you want a plant that looks like a miniature tree, Ming aralia (Polyscias fruticosa) is for you. Although it can get lanky, a few deft swipes with pruners will make it sprout from the base. Keep the soil moderately moist.
Tip | This is the ideal candidate for a quick, easy bonsai.

Intermediate

Beyond those incredibly textural, colorful, and unusually shaped leaves, rhizomatous begonias, such as ‘Palomar Prince,’ send up spires of small midwinter flowers. Give them warm temperatures (above 65 degrees at night) and water sparingly.
Tip | Begonia roots grow outward rather than down—choose a shallow container.

 

One look at Medinilla magnifica and who wouldn’t assume it would be finicky? Amazingly, this beautiful tropical plant is easy to cultivate. Warm temperatures are preferred (not below 65 degrees at night), as well as plenty of water. The dangling clusters begin with soft-pink bracts that become lovely flowers.
Tip | More light equals more flowers. The blossoms are followed by inedible purple berries.

Advanced

The leaves of Stromanthe sanguinea ‘Triostar’ brighten up in indirect sun all year. It prefers high humidity and temperatures above 65 degrees, but the trick to preventing leaf-edge browning is keeping its soil slightly damp.
Tip | If the leaves fold during the day, that’s a sign the plant is very thirsty.

 

Ficus benjamina ‘Reginald’ is a spin on the office-building standby, with yellow-green leaves among darker foliage. Its superabundance of leaves has proven effective in reducing indoor-air pollution.
Tip | A dry atmosphere combined with dry soil will cause the leaves to drop, so water regularly.

More than 6 hours of sun

Bright Light

With a sunny south-facing window, you can enjoy a full panoply of plants. Not only are flowers an option, but citrus fruits and ultra-architectural cacti and succulents can be yours as well. For most flowering plants, more sun means more water. Cacti and succulents are exceptions—they prefer drier conditions. It’s always wise to acclimate a plant slowly to very bright light, moving it gradually closer to the window.

Easy

Big on impact but not high-maintenance, agaves range in size from very compact to large (varieties such as Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’). These architectural plants can tolerate dry soil.
Tip | Most agaves are heavily barbed, so keep them away from young children and pets.

 

The zebra plant (Haworthia attenuata) is the epitome of easy: Forget about it for weeks and it will still be chugging along. It prefers bright light (though even that is negotiable) and dislikes constantly wet growing conditions. Give it a snug container, and water once every two weeks.
Tip | Don’t expect acrobatics—it is ultra-slow-growing.

 

Echeveria ‘Black Prince,’ like all members of the stonecrop family, is a snap to grow. In late autumn and winter, red flowers may emerge if ‘Black Prince’ is given a bright south-facing window. Water it sparingly, and give it well-drained potting soil.
Tip | When echeverias become leggy, break off a rosette with a short stem; root it in soil for a new start.

 

With cascades of tiny elliptical green leaves, a string of bananas (Senecio radicans) will become a conversation piece. It’s slow-growing, so start with a mature plant. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Tip | It’s poisonous when eaten, so keep it out of reach of pets and children.

Intermediate

Among the most prolific plants, kalanchoe ‘Mother of Thousands’ makes propagation a snap. Simply snap off a rosette to give away to friends. Although it loves bright light, that’s not a deal-breaker. Overwatering, however, can be a killer. tip Kalanchoes are toxic to dogs and cats.

 

If you are a notorious neglecter, Cereus uruguayanus is a safe bet. In fact, if you water too frequently, the stems will rot. Give this column cactus as much sun as you can muster in your window, turn it often, and watch it slowly bolt upward.
Tip | Rotate the plant to keep it from leaning.

Advanced

Not only is calamondin orange (x Citrofortunella microcarpa) compact, but this citrus hybrid produces fragrant flowers followed by a bountiful crop of fruit. Give it warm temperatures and a generous container with organic potting soil that’s kept moist but not soggy.
Tip | Fertilize throughout the year.

 

Whether you favor Mammillaria, Opuntia, or Oreocereus, all cacti thrive under similar growing conditions. Give them full, bright light, water them every two weeks at most in winter, and cramp their roots in a tight container with heavily drained potting soil (by adding plenty of sand).
Tip | Don’t grow on a window that is opened and shut often, to avoid being pricked.

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