Oct. 28, 2013 at 7:42 PM ET
Want to brighten your life? Indoor plants can make your space more inviting, clean the air and even improve your mental health. Houseplant expert Anne Moore, author of Houseplants are Houseguests, has one simple rule: make your plants as comfortable in your home as they would be in their natural habitat. With help from Moore, we’ve identified 25 of the best houseplants for your aspiring green thumb.
Plant Jargon to Know
Plant experts have specific terms they use to identify the quality of light in a space — an important factor to consider when selecting the right plant for your home. Here are the three phrases you'll need to know:
The African violet, or saintpaulia, can flower throughout the year and fits neatly on a desk. To ensure it prospers, adhere to these four simple rules:
Tip:It’s easy to propagate a new plant by snipping a leaf cutting from an adult violet and placing it in dirt.
This succulent, known as the "healing plant" for its first-aid benefits, grows very easily. Since aloe thrives without needing much care, it's an ideal choice for busy or absent-minded plant lovers. In the winter, give your aloe good exposure to light and don’t water very often. Let the soil dry out completely before watering. Come summer, it can be set outside and left to its own devices.
Shopping Tip:Make sure to choose an aloe plant with no brown spots and plenty of thick, hearty leaves.
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Amazon Elephant Ear
Huge, arrow-shaped leaves, ridged edges and bright white veins give the elephant ear an air of the spectacular. Because it’s a truly tropical plant, it must be fooled into thinking it’s still in the jungle. Follow these five tips:
Tip: Keep your elephant ear moist but not wet. If the tips of the leaves curl up and turn brown, that’s a sign of over-watering.
The next time you make guacamole, take the avocado pit (often called the stone) and push the flat end into a six-inch pot of moist, multi-purpose soil. Leave the pointy end exposed.
Make sure to keep the plant at about 65° F until the first leaf shoots appear. Aftet that, it likes normal room temperatures with slightly cooler temperatures (60° F) in winter.
To encourage upward growth, pinch off new buds when they appear below the top leaves on the plant stalk. With proper care, in three years your Avocado will grow to an elegant, large-leaved houseplant about 3 feet tall.
This graceful houseplant became common about a hundred years ago, largely replacing the leafy sword fern of the Victorian era. The plant’s benefits go beyond the aesthetic: the Boston fern acts as a natural humidifier, absorbing common air pollutants and releasing water vapor.
The best way to care for your fern is to simulate its native tropical woodland. Hang it by an east or north-facing window as ferns like moderate indirect light. Water very often and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Mist fronds regularly and keep between 60° to 70° Fahrenheit.
Here are some warning signs that your plant is ailing and solutions:
• Yellowing fronds at the base: Your fern is probably too warm. Move it away from a radiator or other souce of heat.
• Yellowing fronds with no new growth: The air is too dry. Mist!
• Pale fronds with scorch marks. Too much sun! Protect ferns from midday sun in the summer.
This colorful group of jungle natives happen to love artificial light, making them perfect for the home or office. Most bromeliads bloom once a year if the climate is sufficiently warm and moist. Many varieties, such as the Amazonian zebra plant, pictured at left, and the neoregelia tricolor, second from right, have striking foliage all year round. Follow these tips for healthy plants:
• Make sure that your plant has good drainage and don't overwater it; bromeliads have tiny root systems and are easily drowned.
• Mist the leaves in the summer and water every one to two months from above, filling the vase-like structure in the center of the plant to simulate rainfall.
• Keep the soil moist but not wet.
Clivia pops with clusters of orange, red, or yellow blossoms in early spring. It loves cool temperatures. In winter, it is best to keep Clivia plants in unheated rooms with temperatures at about 40° to 50° Fahrenheit. For lots of beautiful flowers, Moore says that it “must be very pot-bound to bloom, so don’t repot until it is absolutely necessary or the pot cracks open.”
Feed it just enough to prevent wilting; this means moderate watering from spring to fall and less often in winter. To enjoy a full season of flowering, look for a plant with buds but no flowers yet. Clivias are fragile, so do not move them when in bud or in flower.
Get it Now: Variegated Orange Clivia Miniata, $12.98 at Amazon.com
Crown of Thorns
Crown of thorns has long been a favorite houseplant because it bears abundant flowers without much attention. It will be happiest in a bright spot with indirect sunlight. Keep roots moist (but not wet) and let the surface soil dry out before watering again. With enough light, the 3-foot stems can bear tiny red flowers almost all year long. When shopping, look for a bushy, glossy plant with a symmetrical form.
Moore advises that “the thorns are sharp and if a stem oozes when cut, the milky latex can cause rashes and blisters.” If you have children, a wall-mounted pot is a good solution.
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Moore calls cyclamen “an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous plant, both in foliage and flowers.” While this plant can be finicky, its big, bright blooms pop up in the dead of winter, making a little extra effort truly worthwhile. “If a blossom is spent, just twist it off and it’ll keep on blooming," says Moore. Buy a plant that has at least some unopened buds to get a longer blooming period.
Even though it looks tropical, cyclamen prefer cool temperatures and indirect light. Moore keeps hers in the garage and recommends keeping it in an unheated breezeway or hallway. A north-facing windowsill that stays around 50° to 60° degrees Fahrenheit is also suitable.“It’s a heavy drinker,” says Moore, so keep the soil moist (but not wet) and check often.
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Cymbidium Sarah Jean or 'Ice Cascade'
This hearty plant dispels the idea that orchids are only for skilled gardeners. The cascading white flowers will generally bloom from December to February and will look best in a hanging pot.
• Your Ice Cascade will be happiest with 10 to 15 hours of light each day and a drop in night temperature.
• For optimal growth, place near window facing either south or west.
• Also key: keep the soil most but not wet, reduce watering in the wintertime, and mist the leaves occasionally.
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You can find this desert cactus (which is the product of grafting red and yellow topknots onto a chlorophyll-producing base) in your local supermarket as well as any garden store. Beloved for its bright burst of color and relatively low maintenance, this cactus will be happy on most windowsills and works well in mixed planters or dish gardens. Keep in the sun and mist occasionally. Repot each year when the cactus is young.
• Do not over water. Feel a few inches down in the soil or lift the pot to determine if it’s truly dry.
• When you do water, soak the roots to simulate a good desert rainfall.
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Boxwood is typically grown in topiary gardens at a slow pace, but it is a great way to add greenery indoors. Follow these rules for maintaining your Boxwood:
• Your boxwood needs partial to full sunlight exposure. Place it next to a glass door or in any sunny room.
• Put mulch on top of the soil to help retain moisture.
• Water it once a week or when the soil begins to feel dry.
• Prune the tree as necessary to maintain its shape.
• Feed your boxwood once a year with a high-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer.
Also called a "money tree" and thought to bring good luck, Moore recommends jade because of its longevity. “If well cared for, this plant can outlive you," she says. Water your jade with the “drench and drain” method, allowing the soil to dry out before completely soaking the root system again. Best of all, there’s no need to spend more on a large plant, the best thing about a jade is watching it grow huge and healthy under your care.
• Easily grow a separate plant by cutting off a stem below the node and planting it directly in moist soil..
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Phalaenopsis or the Moth Orchid loves cool temperatures and humidity. They are happiest when maintained at temperatures at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. According to Moore, “they require a distinct drop in temperature at night (20° Fahrenheit is ideal) to induce bloom.” Because they also need a lot of indirect sunlight, a window is the perfect place for your orchid. Follow these tips for beautiful blooms:
• Do not over water. Phalaenopsis don’t require watering very often — once every few weeks should be fine. Use tepid water and keep soil slightly moist and never wet.
• Orchids love humidity; mist leaves about once a week.
Interior designers love the ming aralia for its resemblance to a Japanese maple. The key to caring for this beautiful little tree is moisture and warmth. It needs bright, indirect light, so keep it in a room with plenty of natural light. The plant’s roots must be kept moist so water frequently from spring to autumn and less often in winter. Feel a few inches down into the soil to determine if your plant needs watering.
• To keep it thriving, mist the fern-like leaves often and keep your tree’s habitat no lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit in winter.
• If it’s unhappy, the ming aralia will let you know by dropping its leaves. Consult an expert at your local garden store to determine if your home and habits will work with the tree.
Moore loves this plant for its easy care and exceedingly appropriate name. “The leaves are sharp, pointed and have a cutting edge," she says. "The plant is tough, almost impossible to kill, which means that if you get tired of having it around, you should just throw it out.” That said, the mother-in-law’s tongue is an easy green solution for nearly any room. It can grow several feet tall and likes some bright, indirect light, but can withstand shade.
• In the winter, water it every one to two months and in summer more often, allowing soil to dry out slightly between watering.
Thought to be good luck, the peace lily will be happiest out of direct sunlight and in a warm room. Peace Lily plants are proven to improve air quality by absorbing common pollutants such as Benzene as well as toxins emitted from synthetic carpeting and plastics.
• Keep the roots moist but not wet (a lily requires less water in winter) and mist the leaves frequently.
• Peace Lilies bloom in mid-winter, so buy them then!
• Repot your plant every spring.
Get it Now: Peace Lily, $5.19 at amazon.com
They come in all shapes and sizes, but philodendrons share a few common characteristics. “They want to be watered and fed moderately,” says Moore. You can either place them in a terrarium, as shown, or give them something to climb on (they will wrap around an entire room on a beam or a wire) to show off their shapely leaves.
• Keep in a room with average warmth, a minimum of 55 Fahrenheit in winter, and with indirect sunlight.
• In the winter, keep the soil just a touch moist. During spring, summer and fall, mist the leaves and water regularly and thoroughly.
• Every few years, transfer to a larger pot at springtime.
Polka Dot Plant
The adorable and easy-to-care-for polka dot plant is a great companion for your other small indoor plants. Some direct sun will enhance its color, so place your plants near a window and let them sit outside in bright sun from time to time. The polka dot likes average warmth, moist (but not wet) soil and moist air. Mist the leaves often and repot your plant every spring.
• Buy several plants at once to bunch together for more abundant pink foliage.
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Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
Moore advises that these herbs can get through the winter “well watered in pots on a sunny windowsill, but put them outdoors in the spring for best growth.” Depending on where you live, your herbs may be able to spend the winter outdoors. (Sage is especially hardy.) To find out, consult your local garden center. The elements of successful herb planting:
• Buy seedlings instead of trying to sprout your own plants.
• Plenty of sunlight.
• Keep them in separate pots. Some herbs, especially mint, will take over.
• Keep soil most but not wet. Buy seedlings instead of growing herbs from seeds.
Get it Now: Indoor Culinary Herb Garden Starter Kit, $32.95 at amazon.com
An all-time favorite houseplant, Moore loves the spider plant for “its blatant urge to reproduce itself -- [it] sends out offspring faster than you can propagate them.” The spider plant is also a good air freshener. Unlike chemical air fresheners, which actually add chemicals to the air, the spider plant absorbs common air pollutants such as formaldehyde and xylene to naturally detoxify your home.
• Using distilled water may help reduce the incidence of brown tips on the long leaves.
• Buy a plant that has plenty of green foliage and no brown under leaves.
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As legendary houseplant expert D.G. Hessayon quips, succulents “can withstand a great deal of neglect and mismanagement.” As such, they are perfect for an inexperienced horticulturalist. Put them near a window to make sure they get enough sunlight. Other than that, succulents don’t need much attention.
• Water thoroughly only when soil begins to dry out; this will be once every one to two months in winter.
Though it’s not a cactus at all, this tiny succulent’s common name derives from its plump green leaves adorned with spiraling white ridges. This is a great starter plant because it’s hard to kill. Average room temperatures from spring to fall are fine for this cactus, which needs bright, indirect sun. In winter, a south-facing window is ideal. Once the whole pot is truly dry, then water the soil thoroughly.
• Buy several of these and a grafted cactus and place them in a small terrarium to brighten your desk.
Moore recommends this plant for its dramatic foliage and beautiful fall flowers. However, to avoid leaf drop, the zebra does require some attention. With the right care, it will add drama to your home all year round, grow three to four feet and flower every fall. Follow these tips to help it flourish:
• Feed the zebra plant regularly and never allow soil to dry out.
• Mist leaves frequently.
• Keep the plant warm in winter — never below 55° Fahrenheit.
• Repot it every spring.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.