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Easy Care Houseplants

Even when our yards are covered in snow, there’s more to winter gardening than browsing nursery and seed catalogs while dreaming of spring. Houseplants bring year-round color into our homes; they’re more economical than cut flowers; and they absorb pollutants, such as formaldehyde, helping to purify the air. Pick the right ones, and you don’t have to be a Martha Stewart type to grow them successfully. These grow-with-the-flow varieties will enhance your interior and handle neglect.    

Heart Ivy

(Philodenron scandens oxycardium) Named for its heart-shaped leaves, this climbing vine needs almost no care — in fact, absence may make the Heart Ivy grow faster. 

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Peace Lily

(Spathiphyllum) Though this flowering plant likes more water than some, it tells you clearly when it needs a drink — when its dark-green, sword-shaped leaves start to droop. The Peace Lily can live in almost any low-to-moderate-light location, but it will flower more frequently when placed near a west- or south-facing window. In spring, fertilize every other week; once the flowers die, cut them off at the stems to preserve the plant’s energy so it will send out new blooms.

Chinese Evergreen

(Aglaonema commutatum) You’ll often see this slow-growing beauty in malls and hotel lobbies because it needs little light to flourish. The Latin name Aglaonema means “queen of leaves,” and this plant has large, elliptical-shaped leaves with a silvery-gray or pale-green pattern. It occasionally blooms with pale-green flowers and berries. During winter months, it needs watering only once a week or even every other week. 

Snake Plant 

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(Sansevieria trifasciata) Also known as Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, this spiky vertical plant is practically indestructible and, once in a blue moon, it may send up a long stalk that blooms with small white or cream-colored flowers.

Dumb Cane 

(Dieffenbachia amoena) A lush tropical plant with large leaves speckled with a cream-colored pattern, this plant likes indirect sunlight and needs very little water. If you’re always forgetting to water, the Dumb Cane can handle it. Its name is due to its poisonous sap (a small amount would make the tongue numb or “dumb”), so it should be kept on a shelf or perch, away from cats and toddlers.  


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(Epipremnum aureum) This fast-growing variegated ivy is also called Golden Pothos or The Devil’s Vine because it’s almost impossible to kill.  

 Rubber Tree

(Ficus elastica) A plant that can reach ceiling height, this ficus prefers indirect light, so it works well in offices and rooms where it can sit away from the window. Needing minimal watering during the colder months and more during the warmer ones, the rubber tree can thrive in the same pot for years. If you do transplant, use a potting mix designed for cactus, as the rubber tree needs soil that drains well. 

Lacy-Tree Philodendron

(Philodendron bipinnatifidum or selloum) With its oversized shiny leaves, this plant makes a bold statement and looks especially at home with modern décor. It likes moderately bright light, an east- or west-facing window and drying out between waterings, so it’s very forgiving when you neglect it. Though you can get away without it, the Lacy-Tree likes a drop or two of liquid fertilizer mixed into water once a month.  


When to Water

It depends on the plant, the size of the pot, the season, and even what the pot’s made of (terra cotta absorbs moisture). But a quick way to tell when your plant may be thirsty is to stick your finger or a pencil about an inch into the potting mix. If it comes up clean, the soil is dry, and it’s time to water; if pieces of dirt are stuck to it, hold off on watering. Also, if you lift a potted plant and it feels very light, it’s ready for a drink. Still, less is more. The plants here can dry out for a bit and bounce back. 


Quick Pick-Me-Up 

Ever wonder why plants in the nursery greenhouse look so shiny and beautiful? It could be the great care they’re getting, but it’s also likely a trick of the trade; they may be treated with a “plant shine” spray every now and then. You can use the same product at home on plants that have smooth, relatively thick leaves, such as fiddle-leaf figs, jade plants, and scheffleras. One to try: Miracle-Gro Leaf Shine.

For more easy-care plants, check out 37 Houseplants Even You Can’t Kill, by Mary Kate Hogan.

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