House plant buying guide

House plant buying guide

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

Guide written by:

John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

82 guides

Whether you go for a flowering or non-flowering variety, a house plant will always be a welcome addition to the home or office. We've gathered together a selection of ten of the most popular house plants, all of which are decorative and easy to care for. Read on to find the right house plant for you!

Important features

  • Decorative effect
  • Sun exposure
  • Care needs
  • Toxicity
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How to choose a house plant


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There are two main factors to think about when picking a house plant:

  • 1) Decorative effect:
    • in terms of the shape of the plant or its silhouette.
    • in terms of its bloom: colour and shape of the flowers, and density and length of the bloom.

    2) Care needs:

    • how well the plant copes with life indoors;
    • whether the plant can cope with a bit of neglect (forgetting to water on occasion, etc.);
    • resistance to health issues; disease and pests (usually mealybugs or red spider mites).

    Begonias (rhizomatous)


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    Rhizomatous begonias are usually grown for their foliage and are fairly easy to grow unlike tuberous or wax varieties which are tricky to make bloom more than once indoors. That said, all begonias have similar care needs.

    • Botanical name: Begonia.
    • Decorative effect: decorative green foliage with splashes of pale greens or pink.
    • Height: 20 to 30 cm (trailing varieties); up to 1 metres (shrub-like varieties).
    • Bloom: discreet but attractive; white, pink, red, orange or yellow; from July to October.
    • Sun exposure: bright but indirect sun or semi-shade.
    • Temperature: 15 to 22°C.
    • Soil type: normal potting soil
    • Watering needs: 1 or 2 times a week (top few centimetres of the soil should be allowed to dry out between waterings).

    Spider plant


    Chlorophytum

    Originating from South Africa, Chlorophytum, or spider plants, have long arched leaves. These leaves produce runners which put out small plantlets called stolons which can be used to propagate your plant continuously.

    • Botanical name:Chlorophytum.
    • Decorative effect: can be placed in a hanging basket; long, arched leaves; green or green and white striped foliage. It also copes well in cool rooms in the wintertime.
    • Height: 15 to 35 cm.
    • Bloom: discreet, insignificant.
    • Exposure: bright sun, but will cope with less light; varieties with variegated leaves will require more light than those with solid green foliage.
    • Temperature: 10 to 22°C.
    • Soil type: normal potting soil.
    • Watering needs: 1 or 2 times a week in summer, every 10 days in winter.

    Dumb cane


    Dumb cane

    While it does require a humid atmosphere (or regular misting), dumb cane is fairly easy to care for. Be careful, however, as it is highly toxic – especially the sap. It is therefore not a great option if you have children or pets.

    • Botanical name: Dieffenbachia.
    • Decorative effect: very attractive, large variegated leaves.
    • Height: 50 cm to 1.2 metres, depending on variety.
    • Bloom: rare and discreet.
    • Sun exposure: bright light all year round; no direct sun except in winter.
    • Temperature: 16 to 23°C (minimum 15°C).
    • Soil type: fairly rich mixture of potting soil, compost and horn manure.
    • Watering needs: 2 times a week in summer, once a week in winter.

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    Haworthia


    Haworthia

    Endemic to southern Africa these succulents resemble aloe but do not feature spikes. Haworthia varies widely in appearance as it comes in many different varieties. Easy to grow, these fleshy little plants feature nested leaves flecked with rough white spots.

    • Botanical name: Haworthia.
    • Decorative effect: very attractive with fleshy leaves covered in white bumps.
    • Height : 5 to 20 cm.
    • Bloom: rare; may produce white tube-like or trumpet-shaped flowers at the end of a long stem; from March to October, depending on variety.
    • Sun exposure: bright light; indirect sun.
    • Temperature: 20 to 25°C (minimum 7°C).
    • Soil type: special grassy plant mix or a mixture of the following: 1/3 potting soil, 1/3 garden soil and 1/3 river sand; slightly alkaline (pH 7.5 approx.).
    • Watering needs: once a week, no watering over the winter.

    Kalanchoe


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    Originating from Madagascar, kalanchoe stands out with its dense bloom – but that's not all it has to offer. Even when it is not flowering, this plant produces attractive dark green serrated leaves. But be careful: these leaves are toxic if ingested.

    • Botanical name: Kalanchoe blossfeldiana.
    • Decorative effect: bright, plentiful and long-lasting bloom.
    • Height: 30 to 40 cm.
    • Bloom: red, white, yellow or pink; particularly in winter and spring.
    • Sun exposure: bright light, can handle direct sun in the morning and evening.
    • Temperature: 15 to 25°C (at most, 10°C to 30°C).
    • Soil type: 2/3 potting soil, 1/3 sand.
    • Watering needs: once a week while flowering, once every two weeks otherwise.

    Inch plant


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    Inch plants are something you probably saw around your grandparents' house. They feature lance-shaped leaves on trailing stems and look great on a shelf or on a window sill.

    • Botanical name: Tradescantia zebrina.
    • Decorative effect: variegated leaves in white, pink, yellow or purple.
    • Height : 30 cm; however trailing stems can measure up to 1 metre in length.
    • Bloom: small white flowers in the spring.
    • Sun exposure: bright light or semi-shade (although the foliage won't be as bright).
    • Temperature: 10 to 22°C.
    • Soil type: 2/3 ordinary green plant potting soil and 1/3 sand.
    • Watering needs: every 2 days in summer, once a week in winter.

    Poinsettia


    Poinsettia

    Known as 'Christmas stars', this shrub puts out very attractive flowers all through the festive season. Poinsettia will grow best if given at least 14 hours of total darkness through the autumn and a bright spot during the daytime.

    • Botanical name: Euphorbia pulcherrima.
    • Decorative effect: magnificent bloom in winter.
    • Height: 30 to 70 cm.
    • Bloom: bright red. Some varieties come in pastel shades: pink, cream or salmon; produces flowers from November to March.
    • Sun exposure: bright, indirect sun (bloom is less spectacular if the plant is kept in low light).
    • Temperature : 17 to 22°C.
    • Soil type: ordinary potting soil.
    • Watering needs: every three days while flowering (wait until soil dries out between waterings), once a week otherwise.

    Snake plant


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    Snake plants, or mother-in-law's tongue, are succulents that are able to cope with full sun or low light and can last weeks without water. More recent straight-leaved varieties offer a more unique look than the traditional flat-leaved Sansevieria.

    • Botanical name : Sansevieria.
    • Decorative effect: known to be practically indestructible, this plant can cope with the worst growing conditions making it ideal for those who are somewhat lacking in gardening skills; original and elegant foliage.
    • Height: 30 cm to 1 metre.
    • Bloom: only after several years; discreet but scented.
    • Sun exposure: medium to bright light.
    • Temperature : 18 to 27°C all year round (minimum 12°C).
    • Soil type: 2/3 potting soil, 1/3 sand.
    • Watering needs: once a week in summer, twice a month in winter.

    Peace lily


    Peace lily

    Despite its tropical origins, this plant has no problem growing indoors. Its large white flowers are very exotic-looking and while there won't be many, they will last for a long time.

    • Botanical name: Spathiphyllum.
    • Decorative effect: beautiful, elegant and original white flowers that will last all year in the right conditions; lovely dark green, shiny leaves.
    • Height: 50 cm to 1 metre.
    • Bloom: from May to October but possible all year long.
    • Sun exposure: semi-shade in winter; bright light but indirect sun in summer.
    • Temperature : 20 to 22°C in summer; 15 to 17°C in winter.
    • Soil type: ordinary potting soil or green plant mix.
    • Watering needs: 2 or 3 times a week in summer, once a week in winter.

    ZZ plant


    Zamioculcas

    Zamioculcas, otherwise known as the ZZ plant, has only gained popularity in recent years. Despite being slow to grow, this plant offers no end of benefits.

    • Botanical name: Zamioculcas zamiifolia..
    • Decorative effect: uniform palm-shaped leaves in a dark but bright green.
    • Height: 30 cm to 1 metre.
    • Bloom: rare and discreet, no matter the time of year.
    • Sun exposure: moderate to bright light; no direct sun.
    • Temperature : 15 to 25°C.
    • Soil type: potting soil for green plants.
    • Watering needs: once a week in summer and every two weeks in winter. Leave the soil to dry between waterings.

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    Guide written by:

    John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge, 82 guides

    John, Passionate gardener, Cambridge

    When I was young, I was already working in the family garden. Perhaps that is where my interest in plants and gardening came from. So, it was logical for me to study both plant biology and agronomy.   At the request of various publishers I have, over twenty-five years, written many books on the subject of plants and mushrooms (a subject that is close to my heart).They were mostly identification guides at first, but shortly after they were about gardening, thus renewing the first passion of my childhood.   I have also regularly collaborated with several magazines specializing in the field of gardening or more generally in nature. There is no gardener without a garden, I have cultivated mine in a small corner of Cambridge for the last thirty years and this is where I put into practice the methods of cultivation that will I advise you in as well.