Maybe it's not a greener thumb you need, but a change in attitude.
Growing plants inside our homes has been done for centuries. The desire to surround ourselves with plants in our very non-natural abodes is a testament to the connection we feel with nature. Even those who don't grow houseplants usually enjoy seeing them in other people's homes and places of business.
So why do some people shun them? If you ask a group of people why they don't have houseplants, the number one reason they'll give is that they kill them. Newsflash: Everyone kills houseplants.
It's true that no one enjoys seeing brown-tinged leaves or yellowing foliage sitting next to them while they’re watching TV, or eating dinner, or especially when they're entertaining guests. A sick or dying houseplant doesn't exactly give off positive vibes about itself or the person who is supposed to be taking care of it.
But all houseplants are not created equal. Some are quite forgiving, and there truly are plants that survive and even thrive in homes where they may not receive optimal care. Fortunately, those plants are readily available in garden centers.
A Different Point of View
It might not seem all that unusual to find plants living with people in homes where gardeners reside. After all, it's just an extension of what they do out in their gardens, and especially in northern latitudes, houseplants are a way to continue enjoying the growing process when the weather outside prevents it.
However, even some of the most active outdoor gardeners shy away from growing plants indoors for various reasons. Perhaps a change in attitude towards the whole houseplant idea is in order.
Consider this: Annual bedding plants are a booming business. Each year, millions of dollars are spent on them, with the spring months garnering the most sales. Petunias, begonias and the like fly out of the garden centers and into flowerbeds, where they'll brighten landscapes for five months, maybe six, weather permitting. And then what? Frost happens. Those lovely flowers that we enjoyed for what is always a too-short summer are reduced to mush. We may mourn the end of summer and fall, and maybe those annual plants, but even as we were putting them in the ground such a short time before, we knew they wouldn't last.
What if we started to view houseplants in a similar way? Most people think nothing of buying a bouquet of fresh flowers for the table when entertaining guests or for special occasions such as Valentine's Day, an anniversary or a birthday. For the same amount of money (and usually less), a beautiful houseplant can enhance the same space for a much longer period of time.
Take an orchid, for instance. Most orchid blooms last two or three months. They aren't particularly expensive, they're easily found in garden centers (and even grocery stores), and they often can last for years and rebloom.
Stop being so hard on yourself, and give yourself permission to kill a houseplant or two. Even if you only get six months out of a particular houseplant, that's six months of enjoyment. Most houseplants will live much longer, decades even, but if they don't, it's a low-cost excuse to try something new.
An Investment with Added Value
Live plants offer more than just aesthetic benefits to our environment. Not only do they look nice, studies have shown that we accomplish more and are happier doing it when live greens are in our midst.
It is a well-known fact that trees and plants provide us with fresh air to breathe by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen and they continue to do that when they're growing inside. In 1989, NASA conducted studies to see if plants could be used to improve the air quality in space, and they found that some plants are especially good at purifying it.
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.), snake plant (Sansevieria spp.), Philodendron spp. and English ivy (Hedera helix) are just a few of the common houseplants that are known to remove common toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde from the air. Using plants in this way helps avoid sick building syndrome, often found where air is recirculated rather than introducing fresh air through open windows.
Decorate Your Space
It's often the subtle things that add spark and give character to an interior design or a particular style. Throw pillows, a piece of art, or even a strategically placed stack of books can be just the thing that gives a room a finishing touch.
Using houseplants in the same way can change the mood of a specific design by virtue of its architectural form. Many succulents, which are relatively easy plants to care for, have unique forms that work with many different styles.
The containers that are chosen can also shift the vibe for the plants that are grown in them. Textures, colors, shapes, even groupings of several plants in similar containers, can add to the overall effect in a room, often being a focal point.
Tips for Success
Sometimes people sabotage their houseplant-growing efforts without intending to do so. All plants are not created equal, but growing plants inside your house isn't that much different than growing container plants outside. Good drainage is essential, and potting soils are designed to make this easier. Many of them have plant food added that will feed your plants for the first three to six months or so.
If your container doesn't have drainage holes in the bottom, you can always use your container of choice as a cachepot to hold the original plastic pot that does have drainage holes. When it comes time to water, just take the inner container holding the plant out and water it at the sink.
If frequency of watering seems to be an issue for you, remember that most houseplants are killed by overwatering. As a general rule, don't water until the first inch of soil is dry to the touch. When in doubt, it's usually best to err on the side of dryness and hold off a little while longer.
Light requirements may be a little more tricky, but there are plenty of plants available to fit your particular indoor situation. Plants don't necessarily need to be placed in front of a window to do well. Just as light conditions vary outdoors (full sun to full shade), they'll vary in your house too, so take note of that when you're choosing your houseplants.
10 Easy Houseplants
• Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
• Jade plant (Crassula ovata)
• Aloe spp.
• Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
• Dieffenbachia spp.
• Rubber tree (Ficus elastica)
• Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema spp.)
• Snake plant (Sansevieria spp.)
• Philodendron spp.
• Peace lily (Spathiphyllum cochlearispathum)
No one's perfect and it's pretty much guaranteed you will kill a plant or two, but it's also pretty much guaranteed that you'll have success. Just as you gain experience gardening outside over time, you'll learn how to keep your houseplants happy as well. Plants aren't like a piece of furniture designed to last forever, but many plants live long and happy lives in spite of their owners.
Most plants are somewhat forgiving of less-than-ideal conditions (some more than others), so with all the benefits of growing plants inside your home, it's time to give it a go, don't you think?
A sunny window is an opportunity to group several plants together to create an indoor garden. Plants love company, often growing better en masse due to a higher humidity level, which most plants love. These are kept in their individual containers.
This heavy wooden sphere has nooks and crannies that can hold soil and small plants. It's coated with polyurethane to protect it from rotting.
A ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) in a cachepot inside this vintage piece of luggage gives life and color to the arrangement on a bedroom dresser.
Are these copper containers (from H. Potter) the focal point, or the plants in them? Both, and notice the art piece that's been added to the mix, creating a lovely vignette in this window corner. When planting several plants together, be sure they have the same light and water requirements.
Placing a container with drainage holes inside a cachepot allows you to put plants in unlikely locations, such as this open drawer, which provides an opportunity for a little drama with ivy spilling out.
A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2015 print edition of State-by-State by State Gardening. Photography by Kylee Baumle.