Add a splash of color to your home or office with showy houseplants-those with gorgeous foliage, stunning blooms, and dramatic shapes. Despite what many gardeners believe, you don't need a greenhouse to grow any number of striking plants indoors. Given the right spot, many indoor plants are as easy to care for as their outdoor counterparts.
If the air in your home or office is dry, you can increase the humidity by grouping plants near one another, running a small humidifier nearby, or placing plants on a tray of pebbles filled with water so that the water level is just below the bottom of the pots. Here are a few outstanding easy-to-grow plants to try indoors this season:
Photo by Malcolm Manners
Cattleyas (Cattleya spp., above) are some of the showiest orchids that beginners can grow easily. Most have pink, white, orange, or yellow blooms that can last a couple of weeks and may be fragrant. Typically, the blooms are ruffled.
These orchids are epiphytic---which means they don't need soil to grow---so they can be mounted on bark or wood and hung on a wall. Make sure you grow them in an orchid mix; regular potting soil doesn't provide enough air for the roots. For best results, allow the orchid mix to dry out a bit between waterings in both hot and cool weather. Watering may be necessary once or twice a week. Give orchids lots of humidity and plenty of bright, but not direct light. Fertilize with a well-diluted (one-fourth recommended rate) fertilizer in spring and summer.
Photo by Rusty Clark
Florists often use flamingo lilies (Anthurium spp.) in tropical flower arrangements because of their long-lasting, bright red or pink flowers. If given enough light, flamingo lilies will bloom all year---perfect for gardeners who want constant indoor color. Even if the plants don't get enough light to bloom all the time, they still have attractive foliage with shiny, dark-green, heart- or arrow-shaped leaves. Keep flamingo lilies away from children and pets.
Site these plants in a bright spot to ensure blooms. Allow the potting mix to dry slightly between waterings. To produce more blooms, fertilize with a flowering-houseplant fertilizer in spring and summer. Give them plenty of humidity all year.
Photo by Samantha Forsberg
Flowering maples (Abutilon spp., above) sometimes confuse new gardeners. Contrary to their name, they are not related to maples-instead, they're kin to hollyhocks and other mallows. The plants bear small, hibiscus-like blooms in shades of red, white, pink, orange, yellow, and even blue. Many selections will bloom on and off all year if given enough light. The pretty maple-like leaves are usually dark green, but there are some fantastic variegated cultivars, such as A. pictum ‘Thompsonii'.
Place flowering maples in a bright spot to encourage the plants to bloom. Allow the potting mix to dry slightly between waterings. The plants usually don't need as much water in winter months. In spring and summer, fertilize with a flowering-houseplant fertilizer. Trim the plants back from time to time to keep them from getting too shrubby or leggy.
Photo by Kurt Stuber
Though the giant elephant's ears (Alocasia spp.,, above) that many gardeners grow outdoors are too large to be suitable houseplants, several of the smaller species are spectacular indoors. Many of these elephant's ears, including A. sanderiana, have dark green, nearly black leaves highlighted with bright silver veins. Because of their lovely foliage, the plants are showy in all seasons and definitely attract attention. One note: Keep these plants away from children and pets---if ingested, the leaves can cause irritation and swelling of the mouth and throat.
Grow elephant's ears in a moderately bright spot, and allow the potting mix to dry slightly between waterings. The plants generally require less water in winter. In spring and summer, fertilize with a houseplant fertilizer. Give them plenty of humidity all year to keep the leaves looking healthy.
Passionflowers (above) offer loads of blooms and many have delightful foliage that's almost as interesting as the fascinating flowers. One of the most free-flowering species is P. nephrodes. It has hairy green leaves and delicate pink flowers that bear a subtle fragrance. Like many other blooming houseplants, it will produce blooms all year if it receives enough light. A few other species such as yellow-blooming P. citrina and pink P. sanguinolenta are also free-flowering enough to bloom all year indoors.
Passionflowers need a bright or moderately bright spot in order to bloom well. Allow the potting mix to dry slightly between waterings. Fertilize with a flowering-houseplant fertilizer in spring and summer months. Give them plenty of humidity all year to keep the leaves looking healthy. Prune the vines periodically to keep them from growing too long and lanky. The clippings you prune off make great cuttings.
Persian shields (Strobilanthes dyerianus, above) are overlooked as houseplants, but shouldn't be. These shrubs, native to areas of southeastern Asia, have wonderful, toothed dark-green leaves painted with tones of silver, pink, and purple. The undersides of the leaves are dark burgundy. Given the right conditions, they'll put out small spikes of blue flowers. The flowers take a backseat to the dramatic foliage. The plant pairs well with a green-leafed plant.
Persian shields like a relatively bright spot; in too dim a spot, they'll get leggy. Allow the potting mix to dry between waterings. Provide good humidity to keep the leaves from browning on the tips and edges. It may be necessary to prune them back from time to time to keep them from looking too shrubby or lanky.