University of Maryland Extension

Selecting Houseplants

Pothos houseplant

When shopping for a new house plant, remember that your first task is to select a plant that can best withstand the particular conditions inside your home. You’ll have better success if the plant you choose can adapt to your indoor conditions, rather than to try and alter the environment to suit the plants. A plant that merely tolerates its surroundings may do reasonably well, but probably will never thrive. Pay particular attention to the plant’s light requirement especially for flowering houseplants. Make sure that the plant is healthy by checking the undersides of the foliage and the axils of leaves for signs of insects or disease.

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;
• Spots or blotches; or
• Spindly growth.

Houseplants that do well with low-light

  • Snake Plant (Sansevieria)

Snake plants or 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, and a second type is 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 they will not tolerate over watering, 

  •  Philodendron Vine

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 the florescent lights. Regular pinching of the tips will encourage a more compact, fuller growth.

  •  Pothos Vine  (Scindapsis)

Another vining plant related to the philodendron, also called devil’s ivy, 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)

Peace lilies are 2-3 feet tall floor plants. 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.  There is also a much smaller form (8-10 inches) often used in florist dish gardens.

  •  Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)

These 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.  Again, establish a watering program that prevents excessive wilting.

  •  Draceana 

Dracaenas 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 thrive in bright light, but not direct (sunlight) they are also very tolerant of lower light conditions.

  •  Bromeliad 

Bromeliads 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.

Moving 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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