Growing Indoor Plants
There’s really no such thing as an indoor plant, there are just certain species and varieties that can survive indoors.
House plants create harmony by breaking down the barriers between the inside and the outside world and can create stunning visual statements in every style of home.
An easy way to bring any space to life is to use striking pots, large tropical leaves, beautiful flowers and plants with architectural shapes.
With such a wide choice of species you can grow indoors, there is the option to group interesting containers creatively or display plants individually to great effect.
Keep plants everywhere, from the kitchen and bathroom to living spaces, the bedroom or a hallway.
The only thing limiting you is the available light and temperature, so choose a plant to suit the conditions.
The healthy choice
Keeping house plants is more than just a decorating choice. Research has long shown that just a few plants in 200mm pots can significantly reduce indoor pollution.
Initially it was thought the leaves absorbed airborne contaminants, but it was found that microbes in the potting mix are the vital agents.
They munch on volatile organic compounds, which are found in household items like furniture, computers, new carpets and paint.
The symbiotic relationship between the mix and plants creates a bio-filter effect, so the more greenery you have indoors, the cleaner the air.
Other studies have found that in addition to reducing pollution, plants grown in the home have a range of psychological and aesthetic benefits, helping to create a more harmonious environment.
Feeding house plants
Plants in containers rely on us to keep them healthy. They need to be fed regularly when they are actively producing new growth, generally from spring to autumn.
Slow-release fertilisers are best, and the easiest feeding method is to apply a six-month controlled-release plant food in spring.
Help your plants thrive
The most common problem affecting indoor plants is overwatering. The amount of water a plant requires varies with the species, as well as the light, humidity and temperature.
WATER needs are also linked to the growth cycle. A plant requires more during its active growth period in spring and summer, but less in winter.
To check if a plant needs watering, poke your finger into the top 10mm of potting mix to see if it’s dry.
LIGHT is important for plant health. Too much light is indicated by faded leaf colour, and wilting or scorched foliage. A plant not getting enough light loses leaves it can’t support and the plant leans towards the light.
AIR POLLUTION from gas may cause flowering plants to lose their buds and leaves to yellow and drop.
If the leaves are dusty, it’s hard for a plant to absorb carbon dioxide. Take it outside on a warm day and lightly hose it, or sponge the leaves regularly.
TIP Check the light and water levels on the label before buying a plant.
Creating a good atmosphere
Many indoor plants originate from rainforests and prefer high humidity, but heaters inside the house can dry the air. Temperature is another key factor, as it interacts with air, humidity and light to affect plant metabolism directly.
HUMIDITY LEVELS can be increased with regular misting and by placing pebbles in a saucer filled with water, then sitting the pot on top. As the water evaporates, it produces moisture in the surrounding air.
Grouping plants is also helpful, as the evaporation from the soil together with moisture lost from the foliage creates a damp microclimate around the plants.
TIP Low humidity makes foliage lose its lustre and leaf tips turn brown.
TEMPERATURE spikes and drops, and sudden changes in air movement, can send plants into shock. So take care in winter with plants kept near windows.
Most indoor plants adapt naturally to normal home temperatures, but prefer it if the mercury drops at night. This gives them a break from the rapid rate of transpiration during the day, when temperatures are higher and water loss is greater.
Also consider seasonal temperature changes. A plant may thrive on a windowsill in summer, but the same position may be too cold during winter.
Give them an annual holiday outdoors in a shaded spot, as long as it’s not during winter.
Select a variety
Among the toughest of pot plants, peace lilies won’t die if you forget to water them. Drooping leaves will indicate they need watering. They will also tolerate air-conditioning.
LIGHT Low to medium light, no sun.
Peace lilies won’t die if you forget to water them. Image: Thinkstock
Ideal for bathrooms, the long fronds of this fern make it perfect for hanging baskets or plant stands. Position it out of draughts, keep the soil moist and spray-mist the leaves in dry weather.
LIGHT Bright, no sun.
Ideal for bathrooms, the long fronds of this fern make it perfect for hanging baskets or plant stands. Image: Thinkstock
Cast iron plant
The common name of the easy-care aspidistra, cast iron plant, says it all. This hardy plant with broad dark-green, strap-like leaves is well suited to a busy household.
LIGHT Low to medium.
This hardy plant with broad dark-green, strap-like leaves is well suited to a busy household. Image: Getty Images
The dramatic shape and striking, strappy leaves of dracaena make it very popular as a house plant. Don’t position it near windows in cold areas or it may drop its leaves.
LIGHT Medium to high.
The dramatic shape and striking, strappy leaves of dracaena make it very popular as a house plant. Image: Dracaena
Also known as the eternity plant, zanzibar gem grows from 600 to 900mm high. It displays dark-green, shiny succulent-like foliage and stores water in its rhizome.
LIGHT Low to high.
Also known as the eternity plant, zanzibar gem grows from 600 to 900mm high. Image: Thinkstock
There are many varieties for indoors, such as the fiddle-leaf fig, weeping fig and the rubber tree. Keep the mix moist in summer, but water during winter if the soil looks dry.
LIGHT Bright but not direct sunlight.
There are many varieties for indoors, such as the fiddle-leaf fig, weeping fig and the rubber tree. Image: Thinkstock
Despite being commonly known as the ponytail palm, this plant is not a palm. It features strap-like leaves that sprout from a bulbous trunk, where water is stored.
Despite being commonly known as the ponytail palm, this plant is not a palm. Image: Getty Images
A tough climbing plant with aerial roots, devil’s ivy will trail without a host to climb on. Keep moist during summer but, in winter, let the mix just about dry out before watering.
LIGHT Medium to bright.
A tough climbing plant with aerial roots, devil’s ivy will trail without a host to climb on. Image: Thinkstock
This tough-as-old-boots plant has stiff dark-green marbled leaves, some edged with gold or silver. Don’t let it sit in water, and give it less to drink in winter in unheated rooms.
LIGHT Low to high.
This tough-as-old-boots plant has stiff dark-green marbled leaves, some edged with gold or silver. Image: Thinkstock
Treating common ailments
House plants can suffer from various conditions that affect the foliage and stems. Here are common problems to look for and how you can treat them.
PROBLEM Browning on the leaf tips and margins of cordylines, yuccas, dracaenas, ferns or palms.
SOLUTION Use filtered or distilled water on the plants.
To treat browning use filtered or distilled water on the plants
PROBLEM Yellow and blotched leaves on dracaenas and cordylines.
SOLUTION Boiling the water and allowing it to cool before watering the plant will help to remove chlorine.
To treat yellow and blotched leaves, boil water an cool before watering plant. Image: Alamy
PROBLEM Raised bumps on either the leaves or stems.
SOLUTION Scrape off the small infestations with your fingernail or spray with Hortico White Oil.
To treat raised bumps on leaves or stems, scrape off with your fingernail or spray with Hortico White Oil
PROBLEM Downy white patches on the leaves and stems.
CAUSE Mealy bug.
SOLUTION Spray the plant with Yates Pest Oil.
To eradicate downy white patches on leaves, spray plants with Yates Pest Oil. Image: Getty Images