University of Maryland Extension

Selecting Houseplants

Pothos houseplant

Key Points

Selecting houseplants

• Appear to be free of insects and diseases;
• Have new flowers and leaf buds along with young growth; and
• Show healthy foliage.

Avoid houseplants which have

• Yellow or chlorotic leaves;
• Brown leaf margins;
• Wilted foliage;
• Numerous spots or blotches; or
• Spindly growth.

Houseplants that do well with low-light - north-facing window

  • Snake Plant (Sansevieria) also called “mother-in-law tongue”, is likely the toughest plant on the planet! It comes in two forms, the tall upright type with strap-like foliage of very tough leaves. A second type has a dwarf rosette form that is only a few inches tall. Both are available in either green leaves or leaves edged with yellow. Snake plants are very long-lived and will tolerate low light  better than any other house plant. They will also withstand prolonged periods of dryness, but will not tolerate overwatering. 
  • Philodendron Vine is the most well-known member of the philodendrons. It has attractive dark green, heart-shaped leaves on trailing stems. It prefers bright light but will tolerate low light, its growth becomes more spindly in lower light. This is a favorite plant in offices thriving under florescent lights. Regular pinching of the tips will encourage compact, fuller growth.
  • Pothos Vine (Scindapsis) is another vining plant related to the philodendron, also called devil’s ivy. It is a definite must for anyone wanting a vigorous attractive vine. The species aureus has attractive yellow or off-white variegation in the leaves. However, if kept in very low light the yellow fades out to green, but the plant continues to live on.
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) can be 2-3 feet tall floor plants or small 8-10 inch container plants often found in dish gardens. The leaves are attractive dark green and fairly glossy.  This is an excellent houseplant. It needs more water than most houseplants and if you let it go too long without water, it quickly wilts. There is no real harm in an occasional wilting, eventually you will know exactly when to water before it wilts. 
  • Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema) are very attractive plants with silver or light gray green markings in the foliage. They grow from a central growing point but old plants develop tall stems. These overgrown stems should be cut back to promote more compact growth. Aglaonemas do well in average light, and like the peace lily will quickly “tell” you when they need water by wilting. 
  • Draceana are larger houseplants, some reaching eight feet tall, most are well under four feet tall. All have attractive foliage either striped or patterned.  They prefer to be kept on the dry side and, although they thrive in bright light but not direct (sunlight), they are also very tolerant of lower light conditions.
  • Bromeliad are colorful plants that usually grow tree trunks and branches in the jungles. They used to be hard to buy and were expensive; they are now readily available at moderate prices.  Bromeliads are grown in pots with a bark mix or plenty of peat moss. Water them by pouring water into their foliar “cup” and into the growing medium. Bromeliads grow best in bright light, but not direct sunlight, but are amazingly tolerant of lower light for long periods of time.
  • ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) is an easy to care for houseplant and a good one for beginners. Water only after the soil has dried out. Has long, strappy stems and glossy green leaves

Houseplants that do well in medium light - east or west-facing window

  • African violets (Saintpaulia) are an old-fashioned favorite. They need bright, but not direct sunlight to bloom. Can bloom for long periods of time if you find the right spot for them.

  • Anthurium is a flowering plant with glossy, green leaves. The flower is called a spathe and comes in shades of pink, red, or white. 

  • Norfolk Island pine is a conifer that originated on Norfolk Island. It is commonly sold in November and December to be used a holiday decoration. Adapts to indoor growing conditions.
  • Calathea is grown specifically for its diverse and colorful patterned foliage. Watering requirements can be tricky. Prefers moist soil but not ‘wet’ or soggy soil. 
  • Ficus are widely grown as houseplants. Ficus benjamina (weeping fig) and Ficus elastica (rubber tree) are the two most popular ones. 

  • Maranta has oval, wide pale green leaves with dark green, red or brownish markings. Known to many as the prayer plant because the leaves fold up in the evening. An easy to care for plant.
  • Peperomia tolerates average home growing conditions. Leaves may be smooth or textured. A good choice for houseplant beginners. 
  • Pilea is a relatively new but very popular houseplant. An easy-to-care-for plant grown for its foliage. Produces babies which can be shared. Know as the friendship or Chinese money plant. 

  • Various orchids Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) is the most popular orchard for growing indoors in the average home. An eastern or a shaded southern or western exposure is satisfactory for blooms. 

Houseplants that do well in bright light - south-facing window

  • Cacti and succulents are very popular, easy to grow plants with many different species available. They have few pest and disease problems. Water less frequently in the winter months. Good drainage is important. Water should flow from container holes. Allow the soil to dry between waterings. 
  • Dwarf citrus

  • Croton needs bright light, including 2 or 3 hours of direct sunlight, to keep leaf coloration. Flowers are small and not showy.
  • Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) is a succulent with cheery, colorful flowers and fleshy leaves that can tolerate the dry air inside of winter homes. The blooms last for a long time but it is not easy to get them to rebloom. 

  • Monstera, especially M. deliciosa variegata (has white markings on the leaves) are very popular houseplants. Also known as the Swiss cheese plant because of the holes that develop in its large leaves. Can grow to be quite large. 

Transporting Houseplants

Move and transport your houseplants with care, especially in extreme temperatures, because they’re easily shocked by changes in light intensity and duration, and changes in air temperature. Hot summer or cold winter temperatures can damage plants very quickly.

Tips for transporting houseplants

• In the summer, avoid shutting a plant in the car, because the temperature can rise rapidly;
• Shade the plant from direct sun while it is in the car, as foliage can be damaged by the sun shining through the window;
• During winter months, wrap plants thoroughly with paper bags or newspapers before the short run to the car;
• Warm them with the heater in the front of the car; and
• Don’t transport a houseplant in the car’s trunk.

A plant may also suffer from shock when moved from one location in your home to another. To reduce shock, acclimate it by gradually changing the light levels it is exposed to and by making sure it’s not subjected to winds from open windows or doors. Also take care that the plant doesn’t experience dramatic changes in temperature.

Tips for moving plants within your own environment

  • When moving a plant outdoors in summer, gradually increase light intensities (sunlight exposure) by placing it in a shady spot and gradually moving it to where it will receive more sun. Reverse the process when the plant is brought indoors in fall. 
  • Place a newly purchased greenhouse plant first in a high-light area of your home; and later move it to a spot that meets its light requirements.

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