As with everything in life, houseplants have come into and gone out of fashion many times over the years, although they are certainly having a ‘moment’ now. What we choose to grow in our homes has changed too, with varieties of plants being developed to make them less difficult or less toxic, for example.
At Hambrooks, we have refreshed our houseplant display in store to give you plenty to choose from. From Alocasias to Zamioculcus, we have at least one plant for every room in your house! Here is our general guide to choosing the right plant, looking after it once you’ve taken it home and our suggestions for characteristics you might appreciate.
As with most plants, we all tend to pick a houseplant based on what we think is attractive, rather than the growing conditions we can offer it. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t pick a plant you like but it will have a greater chance of surviving longer if you also think about where you’re going to put it when you get it home!
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
How much light will the plant get? Most houseplants prefer it bright but out of direct sunlight, as it can scorch their leaves. There are some that can stand direct sunlight for periods of the day as well as a few that can cope with much shadier spots. Think about whether your plant is destined for a windowsill or a shady corner and choose appropriately.
How moist is the room the plant will be in? If you’re thinking about something for the bathroom, for example, choose something that would grow in the wild in a damp atmosphere. Otherwise, most houseplants prefer a little humidity rather than too dry.
Do you want seasonal interest? Leaf colour, flower colour, berries/fruits and scent are all options so think about what your plant needs to bring to your room in each season. Bear in mind that flowers are only seasonal but, for most houseplants, their leaves bring colour and shape all year.
Finally, how much attention are you prepared to give it? If you enjoy regular watering, pruning or repotting, pick a plant that needs regular attention. However, if you’re busy, away a lot or just want to leave it to do its own thing, pick a low maintenance, slow-growing plant that will thrive on neglect!
Houseplants make great gifts, too. Lasting longer then fresh cut flowers and bringing colour all year around, they are very good value for money. Follow these links for more gift ideas for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Christmas.
Every species of houseplant – just like every outdoor plant – will have different care instructions so please do check the plant label for specific needs. However, the following are general rules of thumb that are a great start for most plants; it’s the rule of three don’ts!
Don’t over water. Very few houseplants enjoy sitting in water; their soil will become water-logged and may start to smell, and you risk the roots rotting. Most plants grow better with a good soaking, allowing the soil to become completely saturated, then drain away. Don’t give them their next soaking until a finger pushed gently into the soil comes out feeling dry or the pot starts to feel light. A light misting over their leaves occasionally will help keep them fresh and remove any dust. Over time, you will learn how much water your plant thrives on.
Don’t over feed. Houseplant food comes in such attractive little bottles that it’s tempting to add a few drops every time you water. However, you may be doing your plant more harm than good – and it’s certainly likely to need pruning or repotting sooner! Replenishing the compost in a pot once a year should usually provide enough nutrients to keep a plant happy. You should only need to consider additional feed at times of year when they are flowering or producing seeds.
Don’t over expose. As we’ve already mentioned, there aren’t many houseplants that will tolerate direct sunlight for long periods. Even if they would grow that way in the wild, the additional factors of indoor temperature and humidity combined with the limited growing space of their pot are likely to mean they won’t thank you for it. Plants that do like sunlight will be happier on a west or east facing windowsill, so they get some direct sunlight but not all day; others will prefer somewhere more shady.
Best for the bathroom
Alocasia amazonica ‘Polly’ is a lush but compact houseplant. It is sometimes known as the ‘African mask plant’ because of the striking white veins on its dramatic, dark leaves. It enjoys being in a warm, humid environment and bright but indirect light. Just be aware that it doesn’t like drastic drops in temperature: if it’s going to live on the bathroom windowsill, move it out of the draft when you open the window!
Best for winter colour
We don’t think you can beat indoor or florists’ cyclamen for a pop of seasonal colour and sometimes scent too. They should flower for at least six weeks over the autumn and winter, sometimes longer given the right cool conditions and just enough water. People often throw them away when they finish flowering but you can get them to reflower next autumn if you let them go dormant over the summer.
Best for year-round colour
We’d pick a Croton for its striking leaves, a colourful addition to any room all year round. We can see why they are sometimes called ‘Joseph’s Coat’ as the leaves can be splashed with many colours. They need plenty of bright, indirect light and a consistent temperature. They like humidity, too, so mist them once or twice a week. Be aware that they are toxic so best kept out of reach of children and pets, and wear gloves if you prune or repot it.
Best for air quality
Related to plants that grew when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Aloe vera are a simple but dramatic plant. Their plump, spiky leaves store water and help filter air borne toxins, making them a positive contributor to your indoor environment. (Their sap is also soothing on burns, if you’re prepared to chop off a leaf to try it!). They are pretty hardy indoors with the biggest risk being over-watering.
Best for low maintenance
There is a good reason the Aspidistra is known as the ‘cast iron plant’ – it can cope with almost anything you throw at it (or don’t throw at it!). The Victorians loved them as they seemed to cope with the smog of coal fires and gas lamps, as well as gloomy dark parlours. It also loves being pot-bound. Don’t let the compost dry out completely – or give it a good soak if you have – and wipe it’s leaves occasionally to keep them looking dark and shiny.