Adding plants to your home décor improves air quality and adds a living design element. There are many plants to choose from—these are the most bulletproof
Chlorophytum, native to tropics around the globe, probably owes its popularity to its unique growth habit. The mother plant, a clump of curving leaves that resemble long, broad grass blades, sends out long stems with “baby” plants at their ends. Tiny white flowers appear at the ends of the 2-foot-long stems before miniature plants sprout. To best protect these offspring, grow Chlorophytum as a hanging plant.
Growing requirements: Chlorophytum prefers bright, reflected light, standard potting soil, and average house temps. Though it will tolerate the low humidity of most homes, it does benefit from frequent mistings. Let the soil dry out a bit between waterings. If you grow Chlorophytum in a hanging basket, rotate the basket a half-turn every week or so to produce even, well-spaced growth. Small plants at the ends of stems grow complete with roots, so you can snip them off and plant them.
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As its common name implies, cast-iron plant is strong—one of the sturdiest and most carefree of all houseplants, though somewhat slow-growing. Its tough leaves, glossy and dark green, 1 to 2½ feet long and 3 to 4 inches wide, arch elegantly; the leaves are pointed at the tips. Cast-iron plants aren’t always classed as houseplants. If you don’t see them among the houseplants at the nursery, look among outdoor shade-loving plants.
Growth requirements: Though very tolerant of a wide range of conditions, Aspidistra prefers high humidity, cool temps, and a standard, porous potting soil. It’s one of the best choices for low-light locations, but keep it away from direct sunlight. Keep it evenly moist; except in autumn and winter, and apply a complete fertilizer regularly. Allow it to dry out somewhat during the autumn and winter rest period. Large, smooth leaves attract dust in a hurry—keep them clean with a soft, damp cloth. Don’t use commercial leaf shine products. Brown or burned tips usually result from too much water or fertilizer, particularly during autumn and winter. This plant is remarkably free of pests and diseases, and is quite long-lived.
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Appreciated for their diversity and rare beauty, bromeliads make fantastic indoor plants. Native to the American tropics, this very large family includes the pineapple. Most bromeliads are stemless perennial plants, growing distinctive clusters or rosettes of long, pointed leaves, sometimes handsomely marked. Flowers vary, but most are dramatically showy and colorful, borne on some type of spike.
Growth requirements: If you choose to grow a potted bromeliad, be sure to use bromeliad-specific potting mix or make your own: combine three parts peat moss with one part perlite or vermiculite and one part bark chips. Be sure their “cups” are always filled with water—use distilled or rain water to prevent unsightly spots caused by hard water. Bromeliads prefer average to warm home temps. In general, bromeliads prefer light shade or filtered sunlight. Because they grow slowly, too much fertilizer can harm them. In spring and summer only, apply a water-soluble complete fertilizer, diluted to half strength, once a month, applying it directly to the soil—never in the cup.
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Though a few cactus are difficult to grow, the majority will thrive with only a modest amount of care; they tolerant some neglect.
Growth requirements: Almost all houseplant cactus need fast-draining soil to prevent rot. Each spring, check to see if your cactus needs repotting. Look through the drainhole to examine the roots—if they’ve begun to poke out, it’s time for a slightly larger container. Cactus need the most water during spring and summer, their period of active growth. When you water them, give them an ample drink—but let the soil dry out almost completely between watering. During autumn and winter, water only enough to prevent the soil from drying out completely. In winter, it’s also important to water early in the morning, so any surplus moisture will evaporate before nightfall. During the summer, most desert cactus will stay healthy no matter how hot it gets in your house. In most cactus will need a rest at cooler temps. Since strong light is essential for both growth and flowers, keep your cactus in the sunniest window in your house. During spring and summer, apply a liquid fertilizer, diluted from one-quarter to one-half strength, monthly.
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Dracaena marginata has smooth gray stems, slender and erect, eventually growing to 20 feet. Stems end in crowns of narrow, leathery leaves ½ inch wide and up to 2 feet long. Leaves are deep glossy green, edged in purplish red.
Growing requirements: Dracaena prefers bright, indirect light; it will tolerate dimmer light, but growth slows as a result. The plant grows well with standard indoor potting soil and average house temps and humidity. Keep soil moist (like a squeezed-out sponge) but not soggy; fertilize regularly during spring and summer with a complete fertilizer. During autumn and winter, water less frequently and stop fertilizing. To keep Dracaena in good health and looking its best, regularly wipe leaves off with a damp cloth or move your plant to a location where it can be given a gentle shower. Avoid commercial leaf shine product. If your plant develops brown tips, simply cut them off with a pair of scissors, making sure the trimmed leaves still have a natural shape. Dracaena will tolerate a pot-bound condition for long periods and is rarely bothered by pests or diseases.
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These easy-to-grow evergreens are similar to their relative, Philodendron—and like Philodendron, they’re also climbers. Stems put forth leathery heart-shaped leaves, 2 to 4 inches long, of bright green splashed with yellow. You can train Epipremnum to climb long distances, or plant it in a hanging basket to dangle.
Growing conditions: Epipremnum requires only a standard indoor potting soil, bright, filtered light (as through a sheer curtain), and typical household temps and humidity. Allow potting soil to dry out slightly between waterings. During winter, let the top 1 to 2 inches of the soil dry out. Except in winter, apply a complete fertilizer regularly. Keep leaves clean by regularly wiping with a damp cloth, but don’t use commercial leaf shine product. Pinch growing tips to prevent leggy growth. If stems become bare, cut them back halfway. Pests rarely bother Epipremnum.
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Ficus elastica is one of the most foolproof of all indoor plants. Thick, glossy, and leathery, its dark green leaves are 8 to 12 inches long, 4 to 6 inches wide. New leaves unfold from rosy pink sheaths that soon wither and drop. Where conditions permit, the rubber plant can reach ceiling height.
Growing requirements: Ficus elastica tolerates less light than most other plants of its size, but is happiest in bright, reflected light. It needs average room temps. Except in autumn and winter, apply a complete fertilizer regularly. Provide a standard indoor potting soil, keeping it moist (like a squeezed-out sponge), but not soggy. Mist during warm months, and in winter if the indoor air is warm and dry. In winter, let the soil dry out slightly between waterings; overwatering (or allowing water to collect in a saucer or cachepot) commonly leads to leaf drop. (Unwitting owners may increase water, thinking loss of leaves is a symptom of drought.) Ficus elastica is generally pest-free.
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The evergreen vines and shrubs that make up the large Philodendron group are perennially popular. They’re easy to care for, and people love their attractive, glossy leaves. Philodendron selloum, an arborescent type, grows large, deeply cut leaves to 3 feet long. The leaves grow from a sturdy, self-supporting trunk.
Growing conditions: Philodendrons need only basic care. All types want standard indoor potting soil with good drainage and average to warm house temps. Keep the soil continuously moist (like a squeezed-out sponge), but not soggy. Philodendron thrives in bright, reflected or filtered light (as through a sheer curtain); keep out of direct sun. Throughout the year, apply a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength.
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A fast-growing, perennial vine, Tradescantia grows wild in Central and South America. Since most types tend to trail, they look graceful in hanging baskets. Leaves are small, oblong, and pointed. This popular plant is practically indestructible. Even if it does falter, you can easily root pieces of the stems in water; then pot them in fresh potting soil and start all over again.
Growing conditions: Tradescantia thrives in a standard indoor potting soil. From spring through autumn, keep the soil moist (like a squeezed-out sponge), but not soggy. During winter, allow the top ½ inch of the soil to dry out between waterings. Except in winter, apply a complete fertilizer regularly. Place Tradescantia where it will receive bright filtered or reflected light. Tradescantia is content between 60° and 75°. Keep plants attractively bushy by frequently pinching off growing tips.
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This tropical perennial plant is well loved for its upright, glossy foliage that is vaguely reminiscent of cycad fronds. Leaves emerge from a swollen base. It’s incredibly slow growing.
Growing requirements: Zamioculcas thrives in standard indoor potting soil. Let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. Place Zamioculcas where it will receive bright filtered or reflected light. Avoid direct sunlight as it can scorch leaves. It’s happy in average home temperatures.