Houseplants Made Easy

As temperatures drop and activity moves indoors, cultivate a happier home with plants. They add beauty and life to any space, and even boost your mood. 

Consider a 2008 study that followed patients who'd undergone appendectomies: Those with plants in their rooms had less anxiety and lower blood pressure than patients who had no greenery.

Keeping plants thriving in your care only takes the right amount of TLC. With the help of Barbara Pleasant, author of "The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual," we've identified the best varieties for every area of your home. Learn how to tend to them properly with our no-fuss guide. You'll become a green thumb in no time.

1. Heartleaf Philodendron (above left)
Philodendron scandens oxycardium

Best for: Elevated spots and ledges

Why: This plant's long stems and waxy green leaves cascade nicely over a domineering mantle or tall dining buffet, softening sharp edges. Use a formal container (think ceramic or terra-cotta) and pair with your favorite candlesticks.

How: This particular type of philodendron can handle lower light, so try a north- or east-facing window. The soil should dry out a bit between waterings, though never completely; check it every couple of days. It grows vigorously, but you can prune it to the size you desire.

2. Calamondin (above right)
Citrofortunella mitis

Best for: Light-filled corners

Why: If you have the space, try this miniature fruit tree in a sunny spot. Calamondins bear a small fruit almost year-round that tastes like a cross between a kumquat and a mandarin orange. You can swap them in for lemons in recipes.

How: Keep the soil lightly moist, particularly during spring and summer months. But take care not to overwater, warns Pleasant. Plentiful, direct sunlight throughout all seasons is the most important requirement.

3. Spider Plant (following page left)
Chlorophytum comosum

Best for: Hanging baskets

Why: The spider plant's long leaves arch outward from a central crown, alongside thin stems that develop plantlets (or new growth) at their tips -- which spill artfully over a basket's edges.

How: Keep the soil lightly moist in spring and summer; in winter, let the top inch of soil dry out before you water it again. These plants are sometimes sensitive to the fluoride in public water supplies, which can turn leaf tips brown. If that happens, simply snip off the discolored tips and switch to distilled water.



4. Chinese Evergreen (second from left)
Aglaonema commutatum

Best for: Tabletops and desks

Why: This eye-catching evergreen doesn't require a whole lot of light, which means you don't have to keep it in one fixed spot on a shelf or sill.

How: This plant likes regular watering to keep its soil lightly moist. Don't be afraid to experiment with different spots around the house, as aglaonema adjusts remarkably well to its surroundings.

5. Rabbit's Foot Fern (second from right)
Davallia fejeensis

Best for: Damper, cooler spots

Why: Pleasant recommends taking advantage of high humidity areas in your home with a fern such as davallia. Its common name refers to the furry rhizomes (stem-like roots) that peak out from below the ferns' fronds.

How: Temperatures in the mid-70s during the day are fine, and don't worry if your bathroom or basement thermometer falls 10 degrees in the evening; most ferns enjoy cooler nights, which mimic conditions outside. Water regularly, and don't let the soil dry out.

6. Mother-in-Law's Tongue (right)
Sansevieria trifasciata

Best for: High-traffic areas

Why: Sansevieria's stalwart, upright nature helps it withstand drafts -- and it won't flop in the path of passersby.

How: A relative of succulents, sansevieria can survive lapses in watering, though for optimal performance, keep the soil lightly moist. Indirect light will suffice -- no need for a bright window. Pleasant classifies this winner as "tough as nails" and suggests dusting the leaves now and again with a damp cloth so they glisten.

Rotate plants a quarter turn once a week so all sides get some natural light. South- and west-facing windows provide more light. Moderate- and low-light plants can handle east and north exposures.

Did You Know?
Houseplants are a relatively new phenomenon. It wasn't until window glass became readily available in the 19th century that the idea of growing greenery inside really took off.

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