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How to Choose the Perfect Houseplant

Having a Beautiful Indoor Plantscape is Not an Accident

Pam Myers, Windcliff Hollow, 2020

The introduction of live plants to your home’s decor is as purposeful as choosing the right table lamp, area rug, or accent table. Many times, people select a beautiful plant conveniently placed in a beautiful container, bring it home, and put it in just the right spot. It fills the intended space and that is when it begins to go wrong, at least for the plant.

Within the next few weeks, you end up with a beautiful planter full of soil which you will relegate to the cabinet under the kitchen sink. What went wrong? Why can’t you grow anything? I was healthy when you brought it home and you gave it plenty of water! Wrong lighting, wrong watering, wrong temperature. This guide is a basic plan to get you started to with a long-term relationship with live plants. The right plant for you is not always the same for everyone else. You have to take ownership of how much time you are able (or willing) to dedicate to your plants. This is not a negative aspect, but a very real and important question you must answer so you can choose the best plant for your lifestyle and home environment.


Although this section is referred to as sunlight, natural sun light is not the only type of lighting with which indoor plants are exposed. Next time you are at your favorite fix-it store, take a gander at the variety of lighting and bulbs available: Compact Fluorescent (CFL), Light-Emitting Diode (LED), incandescent, and Halogen. And, then you have to decide on the wattage (how much energy the lightbulb uses). The more wattage a light requires the more power it will consume to produce light. To emit a brighter light, the bulb will also need a higher wattage. For example, a 200-watt bulb will use more power than a 100-watt bulb, but it will also give off more light. However, LED lightbulbs are compatible with any fixture no matter what the wattage requirement is. Once you have sifted through this information, you need to become aware of the temperature the bulb might emit.

Lightbulbs are available in different colors which emit different temperatures: candlelight, warm white, neutral white, and daylight. Candlelight, being the coolest, gives off a dim glow, similar to candlelight. They are not typically used in large work areas and are better used to provide the soft ambience to the room, usually in a tab le or floor lamp. Daylight is the warmest and you can expect a crisp, bright light that is similar to daylight. This color temperature is perfect for task lighting, such as crafting, studying reading and outdoor and security lighting. Keep this in mind when you decide on where to place your plants.


Tap water can be your houseplant’s worst enemy. There are chemicals introduced into our tap water that is beneficial to humans. Fluoride for example strengthens your teeth and assists in tooth cavity prevention. You can also find trace amounts of chlorine and boron in this water source. Many houseplants are unable to tolerate these modern-day additives to their water.

Whether you capture rainwater or draw water for your watering can from your own faucet, your plant will thank you if you set it aside for overnight. Leave the container open so the trace chemicals can evaporate from the water supply and the temperature will acclimate to the room. Not only will you plant thank you for the purification process, it will be very happy with the temperature of the water, too.


Before you embark on your indoor plantscape project, you need to become aware of the toxicity levels of the plants you bring into your home, especially if you have children or pets that might consume parts of the plants. Sometimes blooms and petals, berries, leaves or stems might look enticing to a child or pet. For whatever reason, they might decide to ingest them. Also, if you are pruning or repotting plants, you may have sap or juices from blooms or trimmed stems and stalks on your hands or on the countertop. Should you rub your eyes or touch your nose or mouth, you could inadvertently ingest some of the plant’s toxins, too. There is a vast amount of information on this topic available on the web. One source where I always begin, although old-fashioned, is the Farmer’s Almanac: As wonderful as it is to have live plants as part of your decor, please take time to educate yourself on what you are bringing into your home.

How Much Light? Look around your living space and determine which room has low, medium, or high light for different times of day. Your placement of the plant should consider if and where the sun’s rays will enter the room. Remember that high light environments do not mean direct sunlight, and that exposure to direct sunlight will probably damage your interior house plant.

Which Planter?

Depending on the plant’s need for water, I will matter whether to water it from the top or allow the root system to drink from the bottom up. Choosing the appropriate container will greatly assist you in determining your maintenance routine. The right planter can do most of the work for you.

Standard Planter Instructions

Generally speaking, there are two types of standard planters: those with drainage holes, and those without. Within these two categories is an impressive range of sizes and styles from which to choose. Whether or not the planter has drainage holes and the size of the planted container both play a role in the quantity and frequency of water given to your plant.

Plants purchased in pots without a drainage hole should have been set up with a built-in drainage system. A stone layer of porous, absorbent material used to aerate the soil is placed beneath the soil to act as a reservoir for any excess water that flows through the soil. Bed careful not to pour too much water into these containers because there is no way for the extra water to escape. To water plants in this type of container, slowly pouring small amounts of water in bit by bit. Keep checking the soil until you have reached the desired moisture level in the soil.

For plants potted in standard planters with drainage, water the plant until the excess water begins to come out the bottom of the pot and into the catch tray. Give the soil a chance to absorb the water before you keep pouring. Don’t ask me how I know that if you pour in the water too fast, you can cause the catch tray to overflow on to your table or floor.

Self-Watering Container Instructions

When you first place your self-watering containers in the desired location, it will require a deep and thorough watering of the topsoil. This is so important is because the roots of the plants first need to grow into the soil so it will be able to drink from the pot’s reservoir. A really nice self-watering planter will have a gauge to indicate the water level in the water reservoir at bottom of the container. Follow the standard planter instructions for the first four weeks, then the reservoir is ready to be tested.

After four weeks of sitting in the desired location, you need to test the self-watering container for the correct water level. Fill the water reservoir until the red indicator reaches the MAX line. At this point, two things might happen. The indicator will go down over the first few days, which will mean the roots of the plant have grown down enough to reach the water source, and the container is ready for regular reservoir servicing. If, however, the indicator does not go down, you need to continue top watering for a few more weeks, until the red indicator goes down. Once the indicator goes down, it means the plant has finally started drinking from the reservoir.

Once the indicator goes down, do not refill the water reservoir immediately. Think about how you need to take a breath of air between gulps of water. Something similar happens to plants. Almost all plants need a drying out period between watering events. Always allow for the reservoir to empty all the way. Then, allow a few days for the soil to dry out and be sure to refill it until the indicator reaches the MAX line.

From here on out, you should NEVER topwater the plant. If you water from the top, you can drown your plant. In the self-watering planter, the top layer of soil will eventually become extremely dry and hard and may even pull away from the edges of the pot. Do not be alarmed if this occurs. This is simply because the plant is drinking directly from its roots in the water reservoir. You can always add fresh soil into the gaps between the plant and planter, so as to give the plant a nutrient boost.

When Should I Begin?

With any new adventure, the best advice I can offer is to just start. Look around your home and decide what light sources are available in each room. If you plan on a tabletop plant, don’t overlook the table lamp or nearby floor lamp. I have had succulents that live under a table lamp and have done beautifully. Remember that direct and high lighting are not the same thing. Direct light is sunlight and can be harmful to indoor houseplants.

Good luck with planning your plantscape. I know you will be able to elevate your at-home experience with the addition of your new plant babies!

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