Mary Mary Quite Contrary - Indoor Plant Palooza!
May 10, 2010 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Recommend some house plants!

Alright folks, I'm about to move into a new place in the city, and I'm giddy with decorating power. I'm debating between two flats at the moment, but both are 1 bedrooms with a nice amount of space, top floor, corner units. One faces SE and will get pretty hot and warm in the summer, but gets sun all day long. The other faces SW and sees a nice, moderate amount of sun throughout the day, especially in the morning. What I am looking for is a myriad of suggestions for various house plants, small indoor trees, flowering plants, etc... what do you have in your place? Why do you like it? If I've never owned plants before, how likely is it that I'll be convicted of horticide?

I'd like a nice variety, and green throughout my place. If you had infinite money (hah!) and expansive sunny rooms, what would your (indoor, potted) garden grow?
posted by thatbrunette to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Pothos is sort of a boring suggestion, but it's almost impossible to kill (neither my mother, a veteran plant killer, nor I, a neglectful college student, have managed it) and with minimal time and care, it can fill a space with green no problem.
posted by MadamM at 8:55 PM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: There was a TED talk, "How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air", about three plants that together would greatly improve indoor air quality: Areca Palm, Mother-in-law’s Tongue, and Money Plant.
posted by blue grama at 8:58 PM on May 10, 2010 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I just got a 'mother-in-law’s tongue' from my houseplant-expert mother. She assured me it was unkillable. 'Unkillable' is pretty important when it comes to houseplants unless you want to turn into the houseplant-expert sort. I also have nice things to say (attractive, low-maintenance) about scheffleras and peace lilies.
posted by kmennie at 9:04 PM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: Jade is pretty and turns into a sort of tree with weird thick leaves (actually it's a succelent ie cactus family but grows bark). It will like the sunny window, but won't like to be over-watered.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:07 PM on May 10, 2010

If you want a bigger plant/small tree, I have a Norfolk Pine that's done really well in indirect light. The branches are nice and soft and we use it as a Christmas tree every year. I accidentally put it near a heating vent which made some branches fall off, but other than that it's been quite hearty (this is a college student speaking).
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 9:23 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I didn't kill every plant that I touch I'd grow my own herbs for cooking and teas. Chamomile, lavender, mint, basil, thyme, oregano, that kind of thing.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:27 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Go to a garden center and ask for things that are hard to kill...
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:32 PM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: I'm not great with plants, but I've had a lemon geranium for several years that loves both direct summer sunshine and the more oblique rays we get in wintertime. This isn't a heavily flowering plant but has lots of beautifully scalloped scented leaves.

You didn't mention whether you have pets: if so, do make sure the plants you choose are not toxic. Lilies, for example, are poisonous to cats.
posted by zadcat at 9:35 PM on May 10, 2010

Also, consider whether you want plants that just sit happily in a pot, or would like something viny that will climb up shelves or around windows. A basic philodendron will grow and grow, and is not called a Greek restaurant plant for nothing, as it's also known to freshen the air.
posted by zadcat at 9:37 PM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: Buy a book on houseplants! I recommend this one but there are many good ones.

With SE or SW light you can keep many, many plants. The sun loving ones can be right by the window, and the shade-lovers can be across the room.

Get to know the care requirements of the plants that pique your interest and try them out. Buy smaller plants at first before you buy a giant one so you can get used to caring for them. Since you've never had plants before, be patient. If one dies, don't despair; next time you'll know more and do better. If you can, head to an independent retailer as opposed to a big box store. Their employees know WAY more about plants, keep MUCH better care of their inventory, and their plants are FAR less likely to have pests. (disclosure: I am one of those employees.)

Being a plant lover is the best! It is sheer magic to watch a new leaf unfold, or realize one is about to bloom.
posted by missmary6 at 10:18 PM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: The following will do well indoors, and give you some food:
Peppers (jalapeno, habanero)
Thai basil, herbs generally
Cherry tomatoes
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:34 PM on May 10, 2010

Best answer: I have had a cyclamen for the last five years that I've nick-named The Phoenix Plant. Every summer, I have to go out of town and leave it on its own for about a month. Every year, I come back to find it sprouting bright green out of the ruins of its dead leaves. At this point I'm pretty sure killing it would require a Greek god bent on vengeance, because it just keeps rising from the ashes of my lesser failings.
posted by colfax at 11:13 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are fantastic suggestions! I'm utterly enchanted with those miniature orange trees. How perfect! Hopefully I can find one that will be shipped in the US.

Oh, and will definitely watch that Ted Talk. Haven't marked any best answers yet, because I'm eager to see what suggestions tomorrow might bring, but these are GREAT so far!
posted by thatbrunette at 12:37 AM on May 11, 2010

As for being unkillable . . . the plants that have been able to survive my brown thumb are aloe, spider plants and oxalis. I'm convinced they'd weather a nuclear war.
posted by wjm at 2:04 AM on May 11, 2010

I've had a potted ficus (not sure which sort exactly - I bought it from Ikea) since I started university, and it's been pretty much indestructible, surviving multiple 'droughts' when I forgot it or left for holidays. If it hasn't been watered in a long time, some/most of the leaves yellow and drop off, but it seems to perk up again when it gets some more water.
Miniature orange trees do sound awesome. My gran used to grow Seville orange trees by her dining room window, and she seemed to mostly ignore them. And you can make marmalade with the fruit!
Bulbs like hyacinth and amaryllis are awesome for cheering you up at the end of winter, but are pretty boring the rest of the year. If you have somewhere to hide away the pots of 'hibernating' bulbs the rest of the time they would be nice though.
posted by pocketfluff at 3:32 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: I've been a hard core gardener for 30 years so you would think that I would have a green thumb indoors, right? Wrong. Peace lilies, corn plants, wandering jews, etc. (the usual houseplants) always look bedraggled and unhealthy. However over the years I've found that for me these plants work well:

Rosary vine
Aloe vera
Desert Rose
and others require little water and stay healthy looking even without regular maintainence. Plus they come in surprisingly odd and wonderful forms.

Especially Phalaenopsis, the butterfly orchid. These days you can buy them at places like Trader Joe's for less than $20.00. They really are very easy to grow and they will stay in bloom for 2 months or so.

Citrus trees.
I've never tried growing miniature orange trees but I do have a lemon tree that someone gave me as a seedling 7 years ago. It always looks healthy and I simply trim it back to a manageable size every 6 months. It still hasn't blossomed but lemons started from seed can take up to 15 years to bloom.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:26 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: Umbrella plant (Schefflera arboricola (syn. Heptapleurum arboricolum) is a flowering plant in the family Araliaceae, native to Taiwan. It also goes by the common name "Dwarf Umbrella Tree.") I've had one for about 16 years now. Every once in a while I cut off a branch, stick it in water, and it roots, and then I have a new plant.

We have a couple of ficus's (spelling of the plural?) that are also ten-plus years old.
posted by Savannah at 6:22 AM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: I like plants that pay you back for all the hard work.

You could set up a hydroponic system and grow your own lettuce/spinach.

We grow basil in our garden and we always plant one in a pot so we can move it in before the frost. They look good, smell good, and taste good.

I've had Meyer Lemon trees indoors. They do ok, but we always moved them outdoors in the summer and then something would kill it. My south window is actually a door, so I can't put a plant right in front of it. You might have better luck. There are lots of US sources - start with and go from there. I find it funny that the websites all show pictures of tiny little plants covered with dozens of fruits, but the text says not to expect too much. That was our experience too - we got a few buds that turned into fruits, but never ripened.
posted by CathyG at 6:35 AM on May 11, 2010

Aloe vera is easy to keep thriving indoors, and it's handy to have around to treat sunburns and other mild burns.
posted by little e at 7:30 AM on May 11, 2010

Schefflera (aka umbrella plant) and peperomia--really hard to kill, and also pretty. The schefflera will grow like crazy, like, into a tall tree thing, if you let it. I also like rubber (ficus elastica), but keep animals away from it. Aloe vera is super easy to care for in a hot sunny environment and looks awesome, but is super bad news for cats, so...

And personally, I love herbs. Beats spending a fortune on damn little bunches at the market every week, they're pretty, varied in appearance, don't take up tons of room, and smell great. Generally they need a hot, sunny environment, and it sounds like that's something you've got so. Avoid overwatering them and don't put them anywhere near the AC/heating vent, obvy. Basil, oregano, sage, thyme, tarragon, parsley,
posted by ifjuly at 12:09 PM on May 11, 2010

Best answer: And if you get herbs, I recommend getting some of that fishy-smelling herb fertilizer stuff that comes in a bottle. You mix a little into your watering can every 4 weeks or so. I find it helps.
posted by ifjuly at 12:11 PM on May 11, 2010

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