House plants are an inexpensive way to brighten up your home. They can also help create a sense of calm and wellbeing, potentially improving your mood and reducing your stress.
If you're new to house plants, then you may not be sure about which ones to choose or how to get started. Or perhaps you just don’t have a great track record of looking after them? If so, here are some of the basics.
How to choose house plants
Many of us just choose a house plant we like, bring it home and enjoy it. Part of the great thing about house plants is that this can often work, at least for a while, as there are some house plants that are really tough and will survive with little, to no care. These include the so-called ‘cast iron’ plant and ‘spider’ plants.
But even the most durable plants will benefit from a little care. That includes putting them in the right spot. So, it’s best to take just a bit of time to think through what sort of plants would work best where.
First, consider what light is available and where. If you have a bright, sunny windowsill, then you might choose to make it a home for cactus or ‘succulent’ (the name for a large group of plants that generally have thick, fleshy leaves that hold a lot of water).
For somewhere with less light, then a fern or palm might work, for example.
Other considerations could include whether you have a pet, as some plants can be poisonous to them. For instance, the golden pothos is toxic to cats and dogs. So it’s best do your research online - or ask in the garden centre - before buying.
Also, it will be obvious to some, but if you’re buying a pot separately, then choose one that matches the size of your plant. If the pot is too big then the plant won’t be able to absorb appropriate nutrients from the soil, and the soil will hold a lot of water, which can lead to root rot and other problems.
Tips on caring for houseplants
While house plants tend to be fairly low maintenance, a little bit of love and attention goes a long way. Even a cactus left neglected in the wrong place will eventually wilt and die.
Here are some simple ways to take care of your house plants:
Keep them somewhere they’ll be happy
Of course every plant has specific needs, some plants will thrive on a sunny windowsill, while others prefer a cool shady spot. So, try to match them with their ideal setting, and of course avoid putting plants near a radiator, as the heat will dry them out.
Water them, but not too much
Follow the instructions on the label for your individual plant, but as a general rule most houseplants do best in slightly moist compost, but not wet. Push your finger into the compost to feel whether it is damp (but not soggy) below the surface. If you’re not sure, then wilting leaves and brown edges on leaves are among signs that your plant needs watering.
Dusting a plant may sound strange, but dust can stop leaves from taking as much air and sunlight as they need. A damp cloth should do the job. It can also help to pop them outside if there’s a light shower but only if it’s not too heavy as that will over saturate your plant.
Removing dead or dying leaves and branches will keep your plants looking more attractive and allow fresh new growth. As a rule of thumb, prune house plants in early spring.
A regular feed will keep your plants healthy. Flowering plants benefit from a weekly dose of liquid feed. Plants like cacti will survive without being fed, but they should grow better if you feed them.
Five easy to grow houseplants to try:
The RHS, experts on gardening, suggest five easy-to-grow houseplants:
- Dracaena marginata (v) AGM (Madagascar dragon tree)
- Ficus elastica (India rubber tree, rubber plant)
- Hedera helix (English ivy, common ivy)
- Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’ (Boston fern)
- Sansevieria trifasciata (mother-in-law’s tongue)
Also, it’s great to explore your social media networks, such as Instagram or Pinterest, as they are a great source of house plant inspiration. Among the most popular plants that are regularly showcased are cacti and monstera, which are both easy to look after.
Finally, next time you want to liven up your cooking, why not swap dry herbs for potted fresh plants? The likes of basil, mint and rosemary make your kitchen look good and they’re tasty too. Just remember to keep them somewhere sunny and water them regularly.