indoor plants

Relax, your plants will survive your holiday

Flights and accommodation are booked, the dog's off to a kennel and that long-anticipated break is all you can think of.

But wait, who is going to look after your beloved plants?

Except in hot weather, your outdoor garden can probably look after itself for a week or two, but potted plants are a different matter.

The ideal solution is to ask a green-thumbed friend or relative to swing by occasionally. But  failing that, a little planning may be required.

In hot weather you can use the old bathroom solution and group your pot plants together in the tub or shower and give them a good watering. You can put in the plug and leave a little water in the tub for them to soak up later.

This is a great option for Peace lilies, ferns and other thirsty plants, but don’t leave plants such as succulents sitting in water for too long.

Self-watering pots are another option, but it’s best to have the plants established in the pot well before your holiday so you can check they are thriving.

In cold weather it’s vital that the plants are not suddenly left to freeze if heating is turned off while you are away.




The A-Z of indoor plants

Aloe Vera: This is a handy plant to have around. It’s good at cleaning the air and the gel from its fleshy leaves can be used on burns. Needs plenty of light. Water well in summer, but ease off a little in cold weather.

Aluminium Plant (Pilea cadierei): Native to tropical parts of Asia, Aluminium Plant won’t last long in temperatures below 15C. Keep well-watered and avoid heating and air-con vents.

Agave attenuata: Sometimes called Fox Tail Agave, this fleshy succulent is often known just by its botanical name. One for the sun room or near a window, it can also be placed on a balcony or in the garden. Water well during hot weather, less in winter. Tolerates a range of temperatures, but protect from frost.

Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium Australasicum): Tougher than most other ferns, the Bird’s Nest makes a surprisingly good indoor plant. Likes indirect light. Water regularly in summer, then allow to dry out a little in winter. Try to water the potting mix rather than into the centre of the plant.

Blue Chalk Sticks (Senecio serpens): If you like blue-grey foliage and have a bright spot near a window, Blue Chalk Sticks could be for you. A succulent, Chalk sticks need bright light, but not too much water. Can be put outside, but not in frosty weather. Prefers a free-draining potting mix.

Boston Fern/Sword Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata): Boston Fern remains popular because it is tough, attractive and easy to care for. Looks good in a hanging basket and survives outdoors in most climates. Prefers medium light and moderate water.

Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior): A tough old-fashioned plant with deep green elliptical leaves. Tolerates low light, dust and inconsistent watering, making it a true survivor. Likes low to moderate light and thorough watering, especially in spring/summer, but allow soil to dry out a little between drinks. Water less in autumn/winter. 

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema sp): Easy to grow and tolerant of low light conditions (avoid direct sun), Chinese Evergreen needs humidity and frequent watering. Use free-draining potting mix.

Devil’s Ivy/Pothos (Epipremnum aureum): A houseplant classic, Devil’s Ivy will cope with most light conditions except hot direct sun. Aim for a spot in medium light if possible and water well in the hotter months without leaving the plant constantly saturated. Looks good in a hanging basket or a pot positioned on a shelf so its long stems can hang down. Stems that get too long can be trimmed off and put in a water-filled vase, where they will quickly sprout roots.

Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’: A low light specialist, this Dracaena is often used as a floor-standing plant in shopping centres and other commercial settings where its toughness and deep-green foliage are appreciated. Tolerates a range of light, but not direct sun. Water well, then let it dry out. Dislikes flouride, so water with bottled water if possible, or let tap water stand overnight in a covered jug before using.

Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata): One of the great survivor plants, the Dragon Tree adds a tropical feel to any room. It tolerates cold better than many plants and is forgiving if you sometimes forget to water. Medium light/moderate water. Allow the top few centimetres of soil to dry out before watering again.

Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia sp.): Keep moist during growing season, when it likes misting to boost humidity. Less water over winter in cool climates. Feed with liquid fertilizer, mostly in summer and spring, or use slow-release pellets. Toxic, so wear gloves when handling and keep away from children and pets.

Fatsia japonica: Glossy dark green palmate leaves are a feature of this tough indoor plant. Tolerates cold better than most houseplants. Likes low to medium light and plenty of water.

Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata): The houseplant star of the past few years, the Fiddle Leaf  has graced the pages of just about every home/design magazine. Likes medium light but keep away from direct sun. Over-watering kills many Fiddle Leafs, so let soil dry out between drinks and don’t water again until top few cm of potting soil is dry. Wipe its huge leaves occasionally with a damp cloth to remove dust.

Flamingo Flower (Anthurium andraeanum): Attractive plant from tropical South America with shiny dark green leaves and red, orange or yellow flowers. Likes bright light, but no direct sun. Keep soil evenly moist spring to autumn, slightly drier in winter.

Happy Plant/Corn Plant (Dracaena massangeana): With its yellow-striped mid-green leaves and long woody stems, Happy Plant is a distinctive indoor plant. Prefers filtered light indoors, or can live outdoors in the shade in warm climates. Keep potting soil moist in the warmer months.

Jade Plant (Crassula ovata): Jade Plant is a tough succulent that can cope with most conditions outdoors, but needs reasonable light to thrive as an indoor plant. Lower stems can be trimmed off to create a bonsai tree effect. Moderate water in summer, but not too much in winter.

Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana): One of the most popular indoor plants in the world, the Kentia Palm is as easy to look after as it is elegant. A native of Australia's Lord Howe Island, Kentias like bright indirect light. Keep soil moist spring to autumn, drier in winter.

Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa): An ideal houseplant in cooler climates, Lady Palm can be grown outdoors in the tropics. Features distinctive fan-shaped foliage. Prefers moderate indirect light indoors and moderate watering.

Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana): This popular desk plant will grow in water or soil. Likes bright light but not direct sun. Keep well-watered if growing in potting soil and change the water now and then if growing in water.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum sp):  Can be tricky to grow, but is a joy to behold when you get it right. Likes humidity, so a steamy bathroom without direct sun can be an ideal location. Keep moist but not wet.

Monstera/Fruit Salad Plant/Swiss Cheese Plant: An indoor favorite in the 1970s, Monstera deliciosa is big again in the houseplant world. Tough and easy to look after, it likes good drainage, medium light and moderate water, except in winter when it needs less. 

Moth Orchid: Beautiful long-lasting blooms make Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis) one of the world's most popular indoor plants and a popular alternative to cut flowers. They are treated by some people as a plant to be thrown away once flowers are finished, which is a pity because the foliage is attractive and plants will sometimes bloom again. They like humidity and moderate water. Keep out of direct sun.

Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans): Sometimes mistaken for a fern because of its foliage, Parlor Palm is slow-growing, so larger plants tend to be expensive. While it looks like a multi-stemmed plant, Parlor Palm is usually presented as a group of individual plants. Likes medium filtered light and low to moderate water.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum species): The popular Peace Lily comes in many varieties these days. A great plant for low to medium light conditions, Spaths like plenty of water. Plants that become badly dehydrated can be soaked overnight in a container of water.

Philodendron: This genus of hundreds of species includes some popular indoor plants, many of them climbers with heart-shaped leaves. Monstera deliciosa (Swiss cheese/Fruit salad plant) is sometimes confusingly known known as Split-leaf Philodendron, so it pays to check you are buying the right plant. Philodendrons are rainforest plants which like humidity and hate temperatures below 15C.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica): The long-popular Rubber Plant is bigger and better than ever, thanks in part to new red, lime, and variegated variants. Prefers filtered medium to high light indoors and moderate water. Wipe leaves down with a damp cloth occasionally to remove dust.

Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata): Actually a succulent and not a palm, it likes bright, filtered light. Because it stores water in its bulbous trunk, the Ponytail needs only low to moderate water.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata 'Laurentii' and other variants): Likes a bright position but will cope with most indoor and outdoor conditions, except frost and hot summer sun. Does best in a succulent potting mix. Moderate water.

Spider/Ribbon Plant (Chlorophytum comosum): A new "curly" variant has helped the good old Spider Plant remain a popular choice in both the indoor and outdoor world. Bright to moderate light, moderate water.

String of Dolphins/Dolphin Necklace (Senecio peregrinus): This unusual Senecio hybrid has cute dolphin-shaped leaves. Can be grown in a pot or hanging basket. Like the String of Pearls, it likes bright light but will tolerate part shade. Moderate water in spring/summer, less in winter.

String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus): A succulent that looks great trailing from a pot or hanging basket, the String of Pearls likes bright light and moderate to low water. Allow to dry out a little in winter.

Syngonium podophyllum: Sometimes known as White Butterfly or Arrowhead Plant, it can be used in a pot or hanging basket. Does best in medium to bright light. Keep soil moist but not always wet in warmer months, drier in winter.

Tradescantia zebrina (Spiderwort) An attract light green and purple plant suited to a hanging basket or display pot. Likes a bright position indoors, but partial shade is best when grown outside. Has weed potential in warmer climates, so take care when using it as a garden plant. When used indoors, water when potting soil begins to dry out. Pinching out stem tips helps keep plant compact.

Umbrella Tree (Schefflera and Tupidanthus species):  Newer forms keep their shape well as indoor plants. Likes a bright spot out of direct sun. Pot can be placed on a saucer of wet pebbles to increase humidity, or mist occasionally.  Allow the top few centimeters of potting soil to dry out between watering, and avoid cold drafts and blasts of hot air from heaters.

Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula): While not the easiest plants to care for, Venus Fly Traps are among the most fascinating species you can own. Known for their ability to feed on livings insects (don’t feed them dead ones unless you know what you are doing), these plants don’t need fertilizer. What they do need is water, and lots of it. They can sit in a saucer of water for a few days at a time over summer, or place on a moist sponge. Leaves drop during winter dormancy, when they need less water, but regrow in spring. Pinch off flower stems as they appear. Fly Traps need plenty of light, but don’t let them burn in hot summer sun.

Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina): This “mini tree” needs just the right position indoors or it may begin to shed leaves. Find a spot with good light, but not direct sun, and ensure temperature doesn’t fall below 15C. Avoid hot or cold drafts. Water freely in hot weather, much less in winter (use lukewarm water in cold weather). Mist to boost humidity in dry conditions.

White Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai): With attractive wide leaves reminiscent of a banana plant, this tough Strelitzia helps create a tropical feel indoors. Can grow into a large plant outdoors in the tropics, but remains manageable in a pot indoors. Bright light/moderate water.

Yucca elephantipes: These hardy yuccas are falling out of favor because of the risk of injury from their stiff, pointy leaves. Plants grown out of direct sun tend to have softer leaves. Bright light/moderate water.

ZZ Plant/Zanzibar Gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia): This low-maintenance plant is legendary for its toughness. Needs little water, and doesn't like too much direct light. It's sometimes mistaken for a plastic plant because of its glossy leaves. 

* Plant list updated March 15, 2019


Devil’s Ivy looks good in a hanging basket. Picture:

Devil’s Ivy looks good in a hanging basket. Picture:

Easy office plants: 10 tips for greening up your workplace on a budget

By Gary McGregor

So you've read all about the benefits of having plants in the office and now it's time to do something about it.

Greening up your office doesn't have to be difficult, time-consuming or expensive. Simply buy a few plants and look after them yourself.

And before you shout "but I'm a plant killer" while waving your black thumbs at me, check out PlanterGarden's 10 tips for office plant care. 

1. Get tough plants. Thirsty ferns will go to plant heaven fast if you often forget to water, but cast iron plant, dragon trees, yuccas and kentia palms are beautiful and hard to kill.

2. Provide the right pot or planter. Succulents don't need self-watering pots, but they can be good for peace lilies and ferns. Complicated watering systems, such as those used with some green walls, will eventually need maintenance, so opt for simplicity.

3. Find the right position. Maidenhair ferns don't belong in north-facing windows and snake plants, while tolerant of most conditions, can't live in the dark. 

4. Appoint a "designated waterer". I've seen office plants rot and die because two people were watering them, both thinking it was their job.

5. Put your plants on a diet. Moderate doses of slow-release indoor plant food (read the instructions) are all that's required.

6. Moth orchids and peace lilies bloom for months and are a great alternative to cut flowers. With a little basic care they may even flower again next year.

7. Give your plant babies a holiday. Sick plants may simply need a few weeks outdoors in warm weather (check light requirements) to soak up a little extra sunlight, but don't  leave indoor plants in hot summer sun. A shady spot that gets a little morning sun is often best.

8. All living things die eventually. Replacing a plant that's enhanced your quality of life for years is better than not having plants at all.

9. Safety first. Wear gloves if you have to trim plants and don't eat the foliage, no matter how much you've had to drink at the office Christmas party.

10. Ask Google. There's plenty of good plant care information online and it's usually obvious which info sites know their stuff.

And don't forget to smile. Air quality, mood and productivity are all better with some nice plants around.

Easy vertical gardens: All in all it's just a simple trick on the wall

Green walls (those created using plants, not just green paint) are all the rage, and with good reason.

These innovative vertical gardens create a calming, natural ambience without taking up valuable floor space in your home or office.

The downside is that they can be expensive, fiddly to set up and hard to maintain.

But there is a simple alternative.

Grouping some favourite plants together on a plant stand or bench is any easy way to create an indoor garden.

Two or three shelves, one above the other, can help replicate the green wall effect and it’s easy to move your pot plants around to achieve the look you are after.

To achieve the maximum wall coverage, put tall plants on the floor and vines such as Devil’s Ivy (Pothos) up higher, letting the stems hang down,

Grouping plants together helps create humidity around them, which is crucial for many tropical plants, while colourful orchids look even better framed by the leaves of deep green foliage plants such as the hardy Cast Iron Plant.

Succulents and other sun-loving plants should go on the brightest side of your “mini-jungle” to get the light they need while shading delicate species such as ferns.

Succulents (Snake Plant, Jade Plant etc) don’t like humidity, but will cope in medium to bright light indoors as long as they are not overwatered. You may need to water your Peace Lily deeply once a week (depending on conditions), but giving Snake Plant (or even a Fiddle Leaf Fig) that much water will probably rot its roots.

To avoid messy leaks, make sure your pots have deep saucers or opt for sealed cover pots.

Check plant labels to determine the appropriate light and water requirements for your plants and arrange the collection accordingly.

Follow these few simple rules and you will be enjoying your indoor rainforest for years to come.

Orchids look even more spectacular surrounded by Maidenhair and other lush plants.     Picture: Gary McGregor, PlanterGarden

Orchids look even more spectacular surrounded by Maidenhair and other lush plants.     Picture: Gary McGregor, PlanterGarden