Houseplants: choosing the best

Discover the best houseplants to suit your office, home or indoor space.

Houseplants including Zamioculcas zamiifolia  in a living room

Quick facts

Our top 5 houseplants:

Best gift to give a friend: Spathiphyllum wallisii (peace lily)
Best easy care succulent Crassula ovata (jade plant or money tree)
Best ‘air-cleaning’ office plant Chlorophytum comosum (spider ivy or spider plant)
Best year round flowers Streptocarpus hybrids (Cape primrose)
Best winter colour Schlumbergera hybrids (Christmas cactus)

Introduction

With a wide range of houseplants to choose from, you can be spoilt for choice and end up choosing the wrong plant for the wrong place. The trick is to select for the location. This narrows down the selection and ensures whatever you choose will be happy and healthy.

Whether it be a bold structural statement or a delicate floral display there are house plants to suit all tastes. Houseplants have been part of our homes for centuries. The climates within our offices and houses give us the option of growing exotics plants, making places more interesting and pleasant to work or live in. There is also increasing evidence linking houseplants to purification of the air in buildings and mental wellbeing.

Practical considerations

Aspects of a home or office can vary just as much as aspects within a garden. Things to consider;

Amount of light

The light levels of the location are very important as is the type of light. Light situations refer to natural full sun light  (through windows, patio doors, skylights, etc., either direct or filtered). However full direct summer sun will cause discoloration and scorching, so during the summer months this would be the spot to avoid. Whereas in the winter that location would be a prime growing spot. Dark locations refer to shady places within the home (usually set back away from windows or with little effect light from overshadowed windows).

Domestic lighting does not provide the same light levels needed  for plant growth, grow lamps are needed to provide optimum growth, however these are expensive to buy and run and are not ideal lighting for around your home; natural light is by far the best for growing plant around the home.

Humidity

The humidity of the room needs to be considered. A bathroom or kitchen will often have high humidity levels whereas a living room with the central heating on will tend to have low humidity. Orchids tend to suffer in drier atmospheres, and few plants with thrive in very dry situations.

Temperature

Room temperature can vary from season to season and it is always worth measuring the temperate for the whole day with a thermometer. As it is just as important to know the day temperature as it is the night. Plants left in sun rooms over the winter can find night temperatures too cold and cause the plant to decline. Cold draughts can be just as damaging; hallways tending to be particularly draughty.

Locations which become too warm from direct sun or from a nearby radiator can cause a lot of leaf damage. So it can be necessary to move your plants around during the year to make the most of available light and temperature.

Indoor swimming pools

Indoor swimming pools often create difficult conditions for plants to withstand. The air temperature may be high and the atmosphere humid when the pool is in use. However, when the pool is idle the conditions can be cold and the atmosphere excessively humid. Levels of chorine in the atmosphere may vary considerably and this will greatly affect which plants will survive.

Few plants tolerate and survive widely fluctuating conditions and higher levels of chlorine. So before you begin buying plants for this location, consider if it is suitable;

  1. There must be plenty of light, natural or artificial. If it is artificial, this light must be on for most of the day and to get the best results the lights ideally need to be grow lights to supply the plants with adequate light to grow.
  2. There must be sufficient depth and volume of planting medium, either large pots or custom made beds.
  3. The temperature needs to be kept relatively constant at all times even when the pool is not in use; minimum 10C° (50°F).
  4. A degree of ventilation is required when using chlorine as a pool sanitizer, as this gas will affect the growth of some plants, or could kill others.

Top tips: avoid climbers that hang over the pool as they are often attacked by mealybug and will be difficult to treat.
Climbers will also drop leaves and flowers into the water, which in turn will clog up your filter and lead to extra maintenance and possible damage.

Suitable plants

Plants for high light levels (e.g. a south facing window sill or a sunny conservatory reaching high temperature levels)

Small
Agave filifera AGM (thread agave)
Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’ AGM (variegated spider ivy), C. comosum ‘Vittatum’ AGM (spider ivy ‘Vittatum’)
Echeveria agavoides AGM (moulded wax), E. derebergii AGM (painted lady), E. harmsii AGM (red echeveria), E. secunda var. glauca (glaucous echeveria)
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (flaming Katy), K. tomentosa AGM (panda plant), K. delagoensis (mother of millions)
Nertera depressa (bead plant)
Pelargonium
Plectranthus oertendahlii AGM (Brazilian coleus)
Sedum sieboldii ‘Mediovariegatum’ AGM (October daphne ‘Mediovariegatum)
Sempervivum tectorum (common houseleek)
Solenostemon (coleus)
Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Quicksliver’ AGM (spiderwort ‘Quicksilver’), T. pallida ‘Purpurea’ AGM (purple spiderwort), T. zebrina AGM (silver inch plant)

Medium-large
Agave americana AGM (American aloe), Agave victoriae-reginae AGM (Queen Victoria century plant)
Beaucarnea recurvata AGM (elephant’s foot)
Bougainvillea
Citrus
Clivia miniata
AGM (natal lily)
Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum (croton)
Crassula ovata AGM (jade plant)
Dracaena fragrans (Deremensis Group) ‘Lemon Lime’(v) AGM (dragon plant ’Lemon Lime’), D. marginata ‘Tricolour’ (three-coloured Madagascar dragon tree)
Ensete ventricosum AGM (Abyssinian banana)
× Fatshedera lizei ‘Annemieke’
AGM (tree ivy ‘Annemieke’)
Ficus benjamina AGM (Benjamin tree)
Gardenia jasminoides AGM (Cape jasmine)
Gynura aurantiaca ‘Purple Passion’ AGM (velvet plant ‘Purple Passion’)
Hedera (ivy)
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (tropical hibiscus)
Hoya lanceolata subsp. bella AGM (beautiful wax plant), H. carnosa ‘Variegata’ AGM
Jasminum polyanthum AGM (many-flowered jasmine)
Justicia brandegeeana AGM (shrimp plant)
Kalanchoe beharensis AGM (feltbush), K. daigremontiana (Mexican hat plant)
Lantana camara (yellow sage)
Musa acuminata (Aaa Group) ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ AGM (banana)
Nerium oleander (oleander)
Persea americana (avocado)
Phoenix canariensis AGM (canary island date palm)
Plectranthus thyrsoideus (flowering bush coleus)
Sansevieria trifasciata (mother-in-law’s tongue)
Yucca aloifolia (Spanish bayonet), Y. elephantipes (spineless yucca)

 

Plants for shade (e.g. windowsills with low light levels north or north east facing and shaded conservatories)

Minimum winter night temperatures 10°C (50°F) should be maintained. Plants should be allowed to partially dry out between watering, especially in winter.

Small
Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’ AGM (variegated spider ivy), C. comosum ‘Vittatum’ (v) AGM (spider ivy ‘Vittatum’)
Cyperus albostriatus, C. involucratus AGM (umbrella plant) keep stood in 1cm of water at all times
Hedera helix ‘Duckfoot’ AGM (ivy ‘Duckfoot’)
Maranta leuconeura var kerchoveana AGM (prayer plants), M. leuconeura var erythroneura AGM (herringbone plant)
Peperomia obtusifolia AGM (baby rubber plant)
Plectranthus verticillatus (Swedish ivy), P. oertendahlii AGM
Saintpaulia (African violet)
Selaginella kraussiana AGM (needs humid conditions), S. martensii ‘Variegata’ (needs humid conditions)
Soleirolia soleirolii (mind-your-own-business) note: can become invasive if grown outdoors
Tradescantia fluminensis (small leaf spiderwort)

Medium-large
Aechmea fasciata AGM (silver vase plant)
Aglaonema ‘Sliver Queen’ AGM (Chinese evergreen sliver queen), A. crispum (painted drop tongue)
Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meryersii’ AGM (foxtail fern), A. setaceus ‘Pyramidalis’ AGM (fern asparagus ‘Pyramidalis’)
Aspidistra elatior AGM (common aspidistra)
Begonia rex cultivars, B. metallica AGM (metal-leaf begonia), B. masoniana AGM (iron cross begonia)
Bromeliads (e.g. Aechmea, Billbergia, Neoregelia)
Cissus antarctica AGM (kangaroo vine), C. rhombifolia AGM (grape ivy)
Cordyline fruticosa ‘Kiwi’
Dieffenbachia ‘Camille’ AGM (Dumb cane)
Epipremnum aureum AGM (Ceylon creeper)
× Fatshedera lizei AGM (tree ivy)
Ficus benjamina AGM (Benjamin tree), F. elastica (India rubber tree)
Hedera helix (ivy)
Lapageria rosea AGM (Chilean bellflower)
Monstera deliciosa AGM (Swiss cheese plant)
Peperomia obtusifolia AGM (American rubber plant)
Philodendron scandens AGM (heart-leaf)
Pilea cadierei AGM (aluminium plant)
Pteris cretica var. albolineata AGM (white-striped Cretan brake)
Sansevieria trifasciata (mother-in-law’s tongue)
Schefflera actinophylla AGM (queensland umbrella tree), S. arboricola ‘Gold Capella’ AGM (umbrella plant)
Syngonium podophyllum AGM (nephthytis)
Zamioculcas zamiifolia (fern arum)

 

Plants for low light levels and fluctuating, often extreme temperatures (e.g. a hallway or single glazed room that could be centrally heated by day, cold and draughty at night)

Chamaedorea elegans AGM (dwarf mountain palm)
Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum' (v) AGM (variegated spider ivy), C. comosum ‘Vittatum' (v) AGM (spider ivy ‘Vittatum’)
Epipremnum aureum AGM (Ceylon creeper)
× Fatshedera lizei AGM (tree ivy)
Ficus elastica (India rubber tree)
Soleirolia soleirolii (mind-your-own-business) note: can become invasive if grown outdoors
Philodendron scandens AGM (heart-leaf)
Sansevieria trifasciata (mother-in-law’s tongue)
Senecio macroglossus ‘Variegatus’ AGM (variegated natal ivy)
Syngonium podophyllum AGM (nephthytis)

 

Plants for bathrooms (where the temperature can be cool and often humid)

Climbing/trailing
Cissus antarctica AGM (kangaroo vine), C. rhombifolia AGM (grape ivy)
Epipremnum aureum AGM (Ceylon creeper)
Hedera helix (ivy)
Philodendron scandens AGM (heart-leaf)
Plectranthus verticillatus (Swedish ivy)
Syngonium podophyllum AGM (nephthytis)
Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Quicksliver' (v) AGM (spiderwort ‘Quicksilver’), T. zebrina AGM (silver inch plant)

Small
Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus' (v) (variegated slender sweet flag)
Adiantum capillus-veneris (maidenhair fern)
Carex morrowii ‘Fisher Form’
Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum' (v) AGM (variegated spider ivy), C. comosum ‘Vittatum' (v) AGM (spider ivy ‘Vittatum’)
Cyperus albostriatus, C. involucratus AGM (umbrella plant) keep stood in 1cm of water at all times
Pteris cretica AGM (Cretan brake)
Saxifraga stolonifera AGM (strawberry saxifrage)
Selaginella kraussiana AGM (krau’s clubmoss), S. martensii AGM (martens club moss), S. uncinata AGM (peacock moss)
Soleirolia soleirolii (mind-your-own-business) note: can become invasive if grown outdoors
Tillandsia cyanea AGM (pink quill)

Medium-large
Asplenium nidus AGM (birds nest fern)
× Fatshedera lizei AGM (tree ivy)
Ficus benjamina AGM (Benjamin tree)
Monstera deliciosa AGM (Swiss cheese plant)
Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Elegantissima’ AGM (sword fern ‘Elgantissima’)
Schefflera actinophylla AGM (queensland umbrella tree), S. arboricola ‘Gold Capella’ AGM (umbrella plant) 

 

Plants for growing in cold and bright conditions  but where minimum winter night temperature are kept above freezing (e.g. sun rooms, unheated conservatories and porches)

Cacti/succulents
Aeonium arboreum ‘Atropurpureum’ AGM (dark purple houseleek tree), A. haworthii AGM (pinwheel), A. tabuliforme AGM (flat topped aeonium), A. undulatum (saucer plant)
Agave parryi AGM, A. utahensis AGM (Utah aloe)
Aloe humilis (spider aloe), A. variegata AGM (variegated candelabra aloe), A. vera AGM (Barbados aloe)
Cereus uruguayanus
Opuntia cantabrigiensis, O. compressa, O. fragilis (brittle cactus), O. polycantha
Sempervivum arachnoideum AGM (cobweb houseleek), S. calcareum, S. ciliosum AGM (Tenerife houseleek), S. tectorum AGM (common houseleek)

Climbing/trailing
Ampelopsis brevipedunculata ‘Elegans' (v) (ampelopsis ‘Elegans’)
Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum' (v) AGM (variegated spider ivy), C. comosum ‘Vittatum' (v) AGM (spider ivy ‘Vittatum’)
Cissus antarctica AGM (kangaroo vine)
× Fatshedera lizei  AGM (tree ivy)
Hedera helix (ivy)
Jasminum mesnyi AGM (primrose jasmine), J. polyanthum AGM (many-flowered jasmine)
Saxifraga stolonifera AGM (strawberry saxifrage)
Tolmiea menziesii AGM (pickaback plant)
Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Quicksliver’ AGM (spiderwort ‘Quicksilver’), T. zebrina AGM (silver inch plant)

Shrubs and perennials
Araucaria heterophylla AGM (Norfolk Island pine)
Aspidistra elatior AGM (common aspidistra)
Aucuba japonica (spotted laurel)
Buxus sempervirens (common box)
Campanula isophylla AGM (falling stars)
Euonymus japonicus (evergreen spindle)
Fatsia japonica AGM (Japanese aralia)
Grevillea robusta AGM (silky oak)
Pelargonium
Schefflera actinophylla AGM (Queensland umbrella tree)
Soleirolia soleirolii (mind-your-own-business) note: can become invasive if grown outdoors
Trachycarpus fortunei AGM (Chinese windmill palm)

Ferns
Adiantum hispidulum (rough maidenhair fern), A. raddianum AGM (delta maidenhair fern)
Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meryersii’ AGM (foxtail fern), A. densiflorus Sprengeri Group AGM (emerald feather), A. falcatus
Asplenium bulbiferum Forst.f. (hen and chicken fern), A. nidus AGM (bird’s nest fern), A. scolopendrium AGM (hart’s tongue fern)
Cyrtomium falcatum AGM (Japanese holly fern)
Nephrolepis exaltata AGM (sword fern)
Pteris cretica AGM (Cretan brake), P. tremula (Australian brake)

 

Plants for growing near or around indoor swimming pools

Minimum temperature 10°C (50°F)
Citrus × aurantium (Seville orange), C. × limon (lemon), C. sinensis (orange)
Clivia miniata AGM (natal lily)
Cordyline australis AGM (cabbage palm), C. fruticosa
Fatsia japonica AGM (Japanese aralia)
Philodendron scandens AGM (heart-leaf)
Schefflera arboricola AGM (umbrella plant)
Strelitzia reginae AGM (bird of paradise), S. nicolai (bird of paradise)
Yucca aloifolia (Spanish bayonet), Y. elephantipes AGM (spineless yucca)

Warm steamy conditions 25-32°C (80-90°F)
Ctenanthe lubbersiana AGM (bamburanta), C. oppenheimiana
Maranta leuconeura var kerchoveana AGM (prayer plants), M. leuconeura var erythroneura AGM (herringbone plant)
Phalaenopsis (moth orchid)
Philodendron scandens AGM (heart-leaf)

Periods without heat but above freezing
Camellia japonica (many named culltivars), C. × williamsii (many named cultivars)
Clivia miniata AGM (natal lily)
Crinum × powellii AGM (swap lily)
Pseudosasa japonica AGM (arrow bamboo)
Pleioblastus viridistriatus AGM (kamuro-zasa)
Fargesia nitida (Chinese fountain bamboo)

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