Foolproof houseplants for beginners (including foliage and succulents)
Variegated Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa)
My 45-year-old prickly pear (Opuntia)
Houseplants are THE trend of the year, as the lines between indoors and outdoors are becoming ever more blurred.
Old 70s stalwarts like Ficus (rubber plant) and Monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese plant) have been reborn in new, exciting variegated varieties and there are plants for every skill level; from a fascinated child to the fussiest orchid grower.
Here are top tips for beginners to get the most out of houseplants:
- Pay attention to your room. Where will your plant live? If it's a south or west-facing windowsill with blazing sun and heat, opt for plants that will cope with the environment - cacti, succulents, Pelargoniums (geraniums). If it's a dull, cool corner with no sun, you're looking at dark-leaved foliage plants, such as ferns, Philodendrons, and the aforementioned rubber and Swiss cheese plants.
- Don't shock the life out of them. Buy plants on mild days in spring, summer or early autumn ideally. A severe change in temperature can be fatal - avoid market stalls and supermarkets where typically tropical-looking plants are kept in cold and draughty conditions. The classic example here is the Christmas Poinsettia sold on a market stall, transferred to a centrally-heated house… no wonder they don't survive.
- A plant is for life… houseplants exist in a totally false environment - they can't get up and water themselves! Whatever you buy, take advice on watering, feeding and the right levels or you may as well throw your cash down the toilet. The easiest way to feed is by using slow release pellets - push into the soil and feeding is done for six months.
- Size matters. Some plants can get seriously big under the right conditions (Monstera - clue's in the name, some Ficus, ivies). Check before you buy.
- Group your plants together. Not only do they look better and you won't forget to water them, they'll develop their own little microclimate which will benefit them. Of course, grow similar plants together.
- Don't kill them with kindness. Dribbling them with water every day encourages shallow rooting and even worse, letting them stand in excess water is a death sentence, as the roots will rot. Water thoroughly when the soil feels dry below the surface. Place them on the draining board to allow any excess to run away before placing back into waterproof pot covers.
- Don't forget about them in winter. Most plants stop growing, so reduce watering in autumn, as they won't need as much. Cacti and succulents need to be virtually bone dry or they will rot. Don't leave them on a windowsill on a cold night – the temperature difference between a centrally-heated room and behind your curtains will cause severe damage.
That's all there is to it - make your own jungle/desert/tropical paradise wherever you are!