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Picking the right houseplant

They bring joy to even the dullest day with tropical flowers and lush leaves, not to mention their health benefits of cleaning the air. But which are the best house plants? And which rooms do they grow best in?

Houseplants, just like people, can have quite different preferences when it comes to conditions. Just as some of us will be sat as close to the fire as we can, wrapped in blankets while our dearly beloved flings open windows, plants each have their own likes and dislikes. Knowing a bit about their preferences helps you get maximum result for minimum effort; as the old saying goes, right plant, right place.

Reliable plants for full sun

Aloe ‘Lizard Lips’
Hippeastrum ‘Samba’
Cycad

So you have a baking hot, south-facing windowsill, perhaps in a lounge or dining room. Or a nice sunny conservatory. Well, lucky you. These plants like it hot:

Cacti and succulents generally hail from desert habitats and enjoy hot, dry conditions.  Grow aloes (such as Aloe vera, Aloe ‘Lizard Lips’), echeverias, Panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa) – admire the textures, forms and patterns of these sun-lovers.

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) – normally sold as Christmas flowers, but don’t throw them away after they’ve flowered, with a little care they can live for years and give you many beautiful blooms in late winter and early spring.

Cycad (Cycas revoluta) – these palm-like plants are tough customers from a very ancient plant family. They tolerate harsh conditions, remaining green and lush looking. You can use them in outdoor displays during the summer months.

Cacti are really low maintenace and thrive in warm, dry rooms

Bright spots but not in sun all day

Moth orchid ‘Little Zebra’
Swiss cheese plant
Flamingo flower

East- or west-facing windowsills are ideal houseplant territory as they’ll have lots of light but plants won’t get baked by day-long sunlight. As a rule of thumb, west-facing windowsills are a bit warmer and better suited to plants that like stronger sunlight. Frosted glass in bathrooms helps diffuse light, making it less harsh. Here are some plants that should thrive in these conditions:

Anthurium (also known as tail or flamingo flower) – these totally tropical looking plants are actually quite difficult to kill. They can live a long time and reward your care with displays of waxy, lipstick-coloured blooms and smart, shiny leaves.

Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) – the quintessential 1970s houseplant: now firmly back in fashion. Give it room to spread its luxuriant dark green leaves – if you’re really nice to it you may get it to flower and produce edible fruits!

Ficus – various tropical relatives of the edible fig you can buy in the shops make superb foliage houseplants. Don’t worry if they drop a few leaves after you get them, sometimes they do this as they become accustomed to a new set of conditions. Ficus benjamina, or weeping fig, is perhaps the best known.

Orchids – moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) and Zygopetalum.

Shady corners

Boston fern
Golden pothos
Cast iron plant

Having a shady corner gives you an ideal opportunity to grow beautiful ferns and foliage plants. There needs to be a certain amount of light though: as a general rule, if there’s enough natural light for you to read a book by, then you can grow a houseplant. Lower light levels also mean that plants won’t dry out quite as quickly (although they will still need regular watering).

Boston fern (Nephrolepis exultata ‘Bostoniensis’) – an absolute classic with intricate leaves that look great in combination with other houseplants. Keep it moist at the roots and feed it occasionally in the summer for lots of lush growth.

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra) – this plant gets its name from the fact it’s super-tough. With smart, leathery leaves and tolerance of a wide range of conditions, aspidistras have been indoor favourites for more than a hundred years!

Golden pothos (Epipremnum aureum) – has heart-shaped leaves splashed with golden yellow. It’s an adaptable plant that can be grown as a creeping vine or in a hanging pot. They can get quite big if you let them, but are easily controlled.

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