Adding beauty + health to your environment

Celebrity gardening enthusiasts include everyone from Prince Charles to Snoop Dogg, and Martha Stewart to Julia Roberts, so it seems as it’s a pursuit most anyone can enjoy. However, most people work and have limited time to devote to gardening, so small-scale gardening, particularly indoors, continues to enjoy its surge in popularity.

This is partially due to inspiration found on social media sites, including Instagram and Pinterest. Many social media trends are gone as quickly as they begin, but gardening remains popular. That may be because, in addition to being attractive, houseplants – both indoor and outdoor – improve overall health and well-being.

Scientists have long held that people find the presence of plants comforting and soothing. They also sharpen attention spans, may help you recover from illness more quickly, improve indoor air quality, boost productivity and improve your outlook.

While many of these plants also work outdoors, these are the 10 best houseplants, with tips to care for them and others, according to Dawn Hart, owner of Ace Garden Center, on St. Simons Island.

• Sanseveira–No need to spritz this one - it prefers a drier environment with the most common “houseplant parent” mistake being overwatering. While this plant can thrive both in low light to direct morning sun, the lower the light, the less moisture needed. Bright filtered light is optimum. This plant has a sculptural angular growth habit and is great for narrow spaces where one might want an accent plant. Watering needs for this easy maintenance choice are every 10-14 days during the growing season and about once a month during the fall and winter. These plants are considered among the best for interior air purification.

• Monstera–a really popular houseplant for its tropical look and loose form. It needs at least 5 hours of bright indirect light, with the unusual variegated varieties needing a little more. If an upright look is desired, monstera can be trained to grow up a moss pole, otherwise it can take on a more horizontal growth pattern. Monsteras should be fertilized once a month during spring and summer during their growing period, but not at all in fall or winter. Normal watering for this tropical is every 7-14 days.

• ZZ (Zamia Zamiifolia)–Should have been called the “easy plant.” Low water requirements and not fussy about light (except no direct) . This plant likes to go its own way and usually towards the light source. Water well when you water, but allow it to dry out completely in between. Usually every 14-21 days is adequate. This plant pairs beautifully in a container planting with orchids as its arching tropical shiny dark green foliage provides a lovely contrast.

• Ficus Lyrata–A favorite of interior decorators, this tall leafy growing plant is a great accent in a room where a tropical plant that soars over furniture placement is needed. The Lyrata requires bright, filtered light for optimal growth and while it prefers to be on the moist side, it does not take well to sitting in water, so this plant would not work well for a pot with no drainage. Watering when the top inch of the soil is dry would be a good practice. Also commonly called “fiddle-leaf fig,” the Lyrata is particularly sensitive and will drop its leaves with temperature extremes and drafts. This plant is considered fast growing, will get to 10 feet tall and should be rotated for even light distribution. Fertilize once a month throughout the growing season. The large leaves can accumulate household dust, so every so often wipe the leaves off with a damp cloth. If your fiddle-leaf branches get too errant … you can prune off the top of the main stem for a bushier growth habit.

• White Bird of Paradise–This tropical houseplant looks like and is sometimes called a wild banana. It’s clumping stalks and large upswept palmate foliage add tropical flair to any room. If in enough bright light, they will bloom after a few years and their white showy flowers look like a bird in flight, hence the name. Fast growing, the White Bird can grow up to about 8 feet inside. The soil in this plant should not be allowed to dry out completely (let it dry to a moist level) but take caution to avoid overwatering. A general guide is every 7-14 days.

• Bromiliad– One of the longest lasting indoor flowering plants, the “flowers” are actually called bracts and can often last for several months. Used as a great potted plant for a coffee table, dining table or console, the Bromeliad needs bright diffused light and high humidity. While the plant prefers to be moist, they should not sit soggy so adequate drainage is very important. Many bromeliads also have a cup in the center and benefit from taking in water that way, however be sure to flush it regularly to prevent rot from stagnation. The brighter the light, the more intense the flower color will remain. Bromiliads require little fertilizing and should never be fertilized in the central cup.

• Birds Nest Fern– This sculptural plant thrives in medium to bright light and only needs water every 7-14 days. Avoid watering in the center of the plant. Watering in the side of the pot or in its saucer is best. Not considered a fast grower, typically the foliage or fronds on this plant grow to about 2 feet long at maturity but some varieties have been known to grow as tall as 5 feet! The birds nest fern has great air filtration properties. While the foliage does not take kindly to being handled, the leaf form will vary from straight to curly edged and even in a fish tail shape. This is a great coffee table feature plant and is effective in a mixed container with other greenery.

• Aglaonema–Commonly known as Chinese Evergreen, this shiny-leaved plant thrives in a wide range of light conditions with more accelerated growth in bright light. The broad leaves present in many patterns and colors and rarely have problems. Aglaonemas are moderate water users needing a deep watering every 1-2 weeks – just don’t allow the plant to sit in water, which can cause root rot. Some varieties, such as the Maria, can handle a low light situation, even fluorescent lighting in an office. The Red Siam variety, which consists of red, pink and green leaves can add a pleasing burst of color. Tip: pruning the new growth on this plant will have keep it bushy and fertilizing should be once a month with a good all-purpose houseplant fertilizer during the spring and summer.

• Orchids–A classic flowering plant, this plant gets a bad rap in terms of being too delicate or hard to take care of. At the same time, it can be a great gift for someone who may be afraid to indulge themselves! A wonderful accent plant for any indoor surface, orchid flowers are considered monosymmetrical in that both sides of the flower mirror each other. Watering once a week is usually sufficient but orchids do need to be allowed to dry slightly between waterings. Regular fertilization is important and repotting in fresh orchid mix is usually recommended when your orchid stops blooming. While there are many different orchid varieties, the Phalenopsis variety usually blooms the longest.

•Calathea–Calatheas belong to the Maranta family. The most popular variety up until a few years ago was known as the Prayer Plant as the foliage folded up at night. Now, varieties are characterized by striking oblong and rotund foliage in a vast array of colors. The interesting stripes and veining qualities of the plant lend to variety names such as rattlesnake, peacock and zebra. Sometimes a bit fussy about their growing conditions, Calatheas thrive best in filtered light and rotating regularly will help it get the even light it needs - the sometimes folding leaves are light-induced. Calatheas thrive on humidity and the soil should be regularly watered to keep it barely moist but not soggy. Spring and summer fertilizing at lower strength is recommended. Avoid placing this plant where it is likely to get a cold draft.

General houseplant care

• Houseplants should be potted in a potting medium that drains well and in pots with holes for drainage that can sit in a saucer for floor or carpet protection. If potting directly in a pot with no drainage, put rocks in the bottom so the roots won’t sit consistently wet.

• Houseplants need consistent watering and for the most part prefer to dry between waterings. If water is still standing in the saucer a day after watering, be sure to drain it off – the plant has absorbed all that it needs. One thing to remember is, the more dirt mass or the darker the location,the slower it will be to dry out so smaller pots and those in brighter light will require watering more often.

• Creating humidity. Most houseplants thrive on it. Get a kitchen trigger sprayer and spritz the foliage on your houseplants often.

• Common symptoms that indicate your houseplant needs attention include: brown and crispy leaf tips – under-watered or salt build-up from over-fertilization; yellow or brown blotched leaves and black stems – overwatered.

• Bugs – scale, mealybug or spider mite usually “hop on” plants when they are under stress or weakened, which can result from inconsistent watering or improper light.

• Leaf drop – can be the result of too much or not enough water or a sudden change in temperature, as would be associated with being too close to an air vent.

• Even light – Rotate plants about once a month to promote growth on all sides.

• Toxicity – As some houseplants can have toxic properties if ingested, be sure to check before purchasing if you have pets or young children.

• Fertilize once a month making sure to follow label directions for indoor plants

• While sometimes difficult to do with larger floor plants, avoid placing your houseplants in close proximity to an air vent.

Containers are also an important part of taking care of plants in and around the house.

Hart says that several materials are popular, but probably the standout is ceramic.

“It comes in a variety of shapes, styles, patters and colors,” she said.

Rattan baskets, ever-popular in their natural tans and browns, are also available in a range of hues and can provide a great pop of both color and texture to almost any living space.

Other favored materials include embossed, or stamped, tin, and marble resin. Looking for planters with “legs” also provides visual interest, particularly in a grouping with other containers.

Terra cotta, Hart said, is not recommended for indoor containers because it sweats and floor protection must be used.

“There is a benefit to plants being kept in the pots they come in,” Hart said, adding that you can then insert the nursery pot into the planter in which a saucer has also been placed. This eliminates drainage problems, allows the plant to have a healthy environment and encourages best watering practices.