How to select the right plants for your home
Our love of green, of stem, leaf, and flower, leads us to search out plants that can thrive indoors. But we tend to push the envelope to see if they can survive near a southern window or under the canopy of a darkened room. Care and handling of these tender companions is as individual as each species.
With an endless variety of flowers and foliage, selecting a plant that will define a room and become an object of desire in your home takes some thought and an open mind. If you lean toward the exotic and rare, flowering plants may be your desire. Gardenia, amaryllis, bromeliad, anthurium, hibiscus, mandevilla, and Madagascar jasmine (a climbing vine with fragrant, white flowers), delight the senses with their lush foliage and strangely beautiful flowers.
Caring for these beauties, says Julie Frankenfield, indoor plant manager at Bristol’s Garden Center in Victor, requires some patience. “If you’re bringing tropicals like hibiscus or gardenia indoors, find a high-light area in your home such as a southern exposure. These are full-sun plants that require water every other day when outside. Indoors, use a finger to test the soil. When dry, thoroughly water until water streams out of the pot. Draining water through the pot also helps remove fertilizer and salts that build up in soil.”
Indoor plants, she adds, need the rhythm of a day and night cycle to bloom. Amaryllis is a good example. “After an amaryllis blooms, water lightly for a month or two so the leaves regenerate. Then stop watering and place the bulb in a dry, dark place to rest. The bulb blooms again after some time in the dark, once it’s awakened by watering.”
Succulents and cacti bring an otherworldly quality to any room. The soft tissue, odd shapes, and textures of succulents like the cascading donkey’s tail (otherwise known as burro’s tail sedum), Christmas cactus, pig’s ear, elkhorn, panda plant, and jade bring the exotic home.
Many succulents and some cacti flower in bright, almost fluorescent colors. Varieties of jade—ripple jade with its curly leaves and Crassula argentea, a variety with bright green foliage, call attention to themselves in any room. The experts say don’t overwater. Keep succulents and cacti in a dry place and give them lots of sun.
For those with simple taste, hard-to-kill English ivy stands out as a warrior among many. Paula Stecher, plant specialist at Grossman’s Garden Center in Penfield, loves ivy—English or Swedish—for its staying power. “English ivy trails and curls up on itself. You can shape it. And ivies are so easy to care for. They can be trained to follow a topiary form, the line of a mantel, even a bookshelf,” Stecher says.
Other hearty greens like philodendron, with its veined leaf pattern, or the fan-like glossy green foliage of the peace lily, are reminders of how full and lush greenery can be. Mixing ferns from the silvery green staghorn fern or blue green blue star fern to the chartreuse fox tail fern create a vivid display when clustered together.
Small trees such as a weeping fig (ficus) tree, popular for its shiny leaf and braided trunk; lemon cypress for its feathered, wispy fullness; a money tree with a large dark green leaf that hangs like money from its branches; or softer pines such as Norfolk island pine, challenge our very sense of place. Can full-sized trees survive indoors? Yes, but most need bright, filtered light and drying out between watering.
Charlie Lytle, florist and plant specialist at Grossman’s, says while a small pine or cypress will last indoors, don’t be surprised if your ficus, when moved or brought in from being outdoors on a deck or patio in summer months, loses up to a third of its leaves. “These trees are sensitive to changes in light and humidity.”
Lytle likes the colorful foliage of a narrow or broad leaf croton and broad leaf philodendron in orange, yellow, and soft green with its hearty leaf and slender stems. He’s also a fan of succulents in decorative pots. “As fall approaches, they adjust to being inside your home without much effort after summering on a deck or patio.”
While he recommends educating yourself on any tree or plant you’re growing indoors, Lytle says avoiding a particular variety of plant in your home is not what tending to plants is about. He suggests a few simple guidelines to ensure long lives for your plants.
“Plants need food and water just like we do. If you’re fertilizing, buy a balanced slow-release indoor fertilizer. Don’t overwater. Try steady moisture instead. Winters can be dry, and plants don’t thrive in low humidity. Try misting plants in winter or run a humidifier in your home. Get to know your plants. Do some homework. Make a study of it.”
Can your home become a nature lab? Yes. Force bulbs, introduce new varieties, encourage trees to hold their leaves, create an environment where plants want to grow and flower. Try something rare and exquisite. With love and care, these tender beings will find a way to survive—even thrive—indoors.
Donna De Palma is a freelance writer based in Rochester.