It’s an exciting time to explore the world of houseplants. Every visit to a nursery seems to reveal new beauties never seen before. And selections not found locally can nearly always be found online. There is no excuse for being a jaded plant nut.
And it doesn’t matter if you are growing these in a house or have houseplants in your apartment, here are five that even beginning gardeners should succeed with and which will delight you year-round.
There are so many beautiful new selections of the old tried and true and nearly indestructible snake plant, Dracaena (formerly Sansevieria) trifasciata, that it is impossible to not be excited. ‘Whitney’ is a new favorite with its black-green center to the leaf, bordered with silver banded leaf edges. ‘Twisted Sister’ is an especially fun one with leaves that twist this way and that.
In addition to new introductions, there are old cultivars that were nearly impossible to find in the past such as ‘Craigii’ and ‘Robusta’, that are now available. All will thrive with almost any growing conditions you throw at them, full sun to bright indirect light, even fully artificial light. They will tolerate long periods without water and yet make use of water whenever it is supplied to them, even in winter. Some other less forgiving succulents must be dry when they are dormant and will quickly die if watered when they want to be dry. Not the snake plant. It’s easy to grow.
Crown of Thorns
Another easily grown succulent is the Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia milii. They will flower year-round given a sunny window and water when dry. Though Crown of Thorns will tolerate drought for months on end it will defoliate and stop blooming if kept that dry. Hands-down favorite is a variegated selection that is often sold either as Euphorbia milii ‘Variegated’ or as ‘Fireworks’. A wide, light yellow-cream margin to each leaf doubles the color impact of this plant. The yellow variegation and the bright red-pink flowers really set off each other like a gold setting for a ruby.
Clivia (Clivia miniata) is a close relative of amaryllis (Hippeastrum) but differs in being fully evergreen and having many smaller flowers instead of the 4 to 6 large flowers typical of amaryllis. Clivia also does not grow from a bulb. With good care, it should bloom once a year in late winter or early spring. Keeping it drier and a bit cooler during winter will promote blooming.
Year-round you will enjoy the substantial, dark-green foliage that is never floppy like amaryllis. Because it is nearly indestructible, it can become a family heirloom. I have been growing my grandfather’s clivias for over 40 years after his death in 1969. This is a plant for part sun or bright indirect light. It will burn in the hot sun. Water when dry. It will also tolerate extended periods without water.
The genus Philodendron is huge and diverse, with nearly 500 wild species and probably hundreds of manmade hybrids. They range from modest sized plants to giants. Many are climbing vines. “Philodendron” means tree lover. Quite a few are non-vining. Those grown as ornamentals are grown for their foliage and, as tropical rainforest plants, they are tolerant of lower light levels, though bright indirect light produces the best growth. They love water yet will also tolerate short term dry spells. Vining types are useful in hanging baskets or cascading from the top shelf on a bookcase. Alternatively, they can be trained up, perhaps to frame a window.
Philodendron gloriosum is a glorious thing with its large (2 foot wide or more) heart shaped leaves the dark green color of poblano peppers with white veins, all with a satiny luster. It is a slowly spreading terrestrial, not a rampant vine.
There are at least two philodendrons with the cultivar name ‘Lemon Lime’. The widely available one is the yellow leafed form of Philodendron hederaceum (syn. scandens); this being the ubiquitous yet delightful vining philodendron with heart shaped leaves. The less frequently encountered ‘Lemon Lime’ is a yellow foliaged selection of Philodendron cordatum. This one is not a vine but will make a plant about 12 inches tall by 18 to 24 inches wide. Both “lemon lime” philodendrons are clear lemon yellow, as bright as sunshine.
There is something so life affirming about the color green, especially during the bleak gray days of winter when we spend more time indoors separated from the “real” world. Few plants do green better than the peace lily, Spathiphyllum, with leaves a lustrous dark green. It will thrive with bright indirect light and though it will wilt dramatically when it gets too dry, it will forgive you once you soak it. My Spathiphyllum has put up with me through thick and thin for more than 40 years. Peace lilies are available in a wide range of sizes, from tabletop to 4-foot wide floor models. Select the appropriate size for your growing environment.
Little did I realize that I would end up writing about some of my “wouldn’t be without” favorite houseplants, ones which I never tire of looking at, and have stuck with me for so many years. Perhaps they will be ones that work for you.
Featured image: “Fireworks” Euphorbia milii / Douglas Ruhren.
Douglas Ruhren is the gardens manager at the JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University in Raleigh, NC.