Nancy Brachey

5 easy houseplants every novice can handle

The typical pothos has mostly green leaves with yellow or cream markings, which add distinction to an easy house plant.
The typical pothos has mostly green leaves with yellow or cream markings, which add distinction to an easy house plant. Observer file photo

With early darkness leaving little time for gardening outdoors after work, it is time to focus attention on indoor plants. This is a delightful subcategory of gardening that many people embrace all year. For others, the attraction begins with the short, dim days of autumn and into winter.

Houseplants, most of which are natives of tropical regions of the world, will flourish indoors given the right place and attention. Some are so amenable they will do well even if the place and attention are not exactly right. These are the good soldiers on the houseplant front, ones that add life and color to every room.

The plants that do especially well in the home tended to arise originally in places with light shade or filtered sunlight. These conditions can be replicated in a window that gets good light through the day. Some will even prosper in the interior of a room without direct sunlight.

But most will require watering at least once a week through the winter, when growth is slow, and more often as spring arrives and fresh stems and leaves begin to appear. These plants require less fertilizer in autumn and winter, while semi-dormant; liquid fertilizer applied at half-strength every couple of weeks should be fine. You can switch to full strength according to label directions once fresh growth starts.

Five kinds of houseplants are particularly well-suited to the novice or casual gardener who wants results but isn’t ready to tackle more demanding ones.

1. Pothos. This pretty plant is sometimes confused with the heart-leaf philodendron, but it has bigger leaves and is a brighter green than most philodendrons. The prettiest pothos plants have dashes of yellow variegation on the foliage, which makes for a more interesting plant. It takes normal, interior light, a warm temperature of 68 degrees and up, and it dislikes blasts of cold winter air when doors nearby get opened.

2. Arrowhead plant. The name describes the shape of the leaves, which come in a nice range of colors from white and light green to pink and red, an asset in complementing your décor. Probably no plant is easier to succeed with in low-to-moderate light with normal room temperatures and moist soil. You can even grow this in a clear vase of water, which gives a good show of the root development.

3. Parlor palm. The best palm tree for indoors, the parlor palm, sometimes sold as Bella, has been popular since the early days of houseplant hobbies in the 19th century. It requires moderate light, tolerates dry indoor air in winter (a genuine bonus) and will not love soggy soil. Let the soil dry out between watering, especially in the winter. Start with a small plant suited for a tabletop and let it grow to several feet, ready for a starring spot in the living room.

4. Chinese evergreen. This plant qualifies as easy and elegant. The foliage tends to be soft green with pretty markings of silver, cream or even pink and red. The leaves arch gracefully to a roundish shape, maturing at about 2 feet. This one deserves the best spot you’ve got with good light from a window, but not direct sun.

5. Grape ivy. This is a great, no-nonsense trailing plant for mantels, windowsills or shelves, with foliage that is dark green with an interesting shape, a reminder of grape leaves. It is very easy to grow with normal indoor light and with steady watering during the growing season, less in the winter.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I still haven’t gotten my tulips and daffodils planted. Is it too late?

A. Not at all. November is a great time to plant these bulbs, even though the afternoons seem shorter each day. Try to get them in the ground by Thanksgiving.

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