Easy-care house plants.
Growing plants indoors is a bit like raising pet fish. While a collection of exotic tropical specimens can be a real challenge to care for, almost anyone can keep a bowl of goldfish alive indefinitely. Here, then, are the goldfish of the indoor plant world--10 house plants that Sunset's garden staff, professional growers, and interior plantscapers have found to be easy to grow and forgiving, should you miss a watering. Of course, the more attentive you are to their basic needs, the more rewarding they'll be to have around.
The plants we list should be given a generous container filled with a rich, all-purpose potting soil that provides good drainage. Water often enough to keep the soil evenly moist. Feed monthly with a complete houseplant fertilizer, following label instructions. Clip off dead foliage. Every couple of months, set the plant in the shower and spray the foliage with tepid water to wash off dust. Repot plants with fresh soil every two or three years, unless noted.
Plants that tolerate low light are usually happiest near an east- or north-facing window Those that prefer bright light do well in dappled sunlight but not direct sun.
Four that take low light
Aglaonema. One of the best plants for poorly lit spaces, the Chinese evergreen bears dark green leaves 1 1/2 feet long and 5 inches wide, in clumps 2 to 3 feet tall. For variegated leaves, choose A. 'Silver King' or A. 'Silver Queen' with silver markings; A. 'Emerald Star' has gold splashes.
Aspidistra elatior. As its common name implies, cast-iron plant is a real toughie and very drought-tolerant. Bearing glossy dark green leaves, 1 to 21/2 feet long and 3 to 4 inches wide, cast-iron plant may eventually reach 3 feet tall. Plants with white- or gold-variegated leaves are available.
Rhapis excelsa. The lady palm grows slowly to a height of 5 to 12 feet, bearing clumps of fanlike fronds up to 14 inches wide. It tolerates moderate to low light. Even 3- to 4-foot-tall specimens can be rather expensive.
Spathiphyllum. One of the few plants that blooms reliably indoors, It bears long-stemmed white flowers resembling calla lilies or anthuriums. Glossy deep green oval or elliptical leaves grow up to 18 inches long and 5 inches wide. Among named varieties, look for S. 'Mauna Loa' (3 1/2 feet tall), S. 'Sensation' (2 1/2 feet), and a new hybrid, S. 'Domino' (2 1/2 feet), with white-streaked leaves.
Six that like bright light
Calatbea majestica 'Roseolineata'. Prayer plant's leaves curl up at night, like hands folded in prayer. Up to 9 inches long and 5 inches wide, the leaves have pale pink stripes on glossy dark green leaves with purple undersides. The plant reaches 28 inches tall.
Shiny dark green leaves, 8 inches long and 2 inches wide, resemble the top of a pineapple. The species reaches 6 feet or taller; the dwarf form D. d. 'Janet Craig Compacta' grows to only 20 inches.
Prized for its sculptural form, this plant's erect stems eventually reach 12 feet tall. Spiky leaves, up to 2 feet long and 1/2 inch wide, are glossy green with purplish red margins; rainbow dracaena (D. m. 'Tricolor') has a gold stripe.
'Emerald Gem'. Relatively new to the market, this compact plant bears dark green heart-shaped leaves that are 4 to 5 inches wide. Give it dappled sunlight and keep the soil evenly moist. Repot infrequently; the roots don't like to be disturbed.
Peperomia obtusifolia. Trailing peperomia forms a compact bouquet of foliage. Rounded leaves, up to 3 inches wide, have creamy gold and green variegations.
Sansevieria trifasciata. Widely admired for its tough nature, it bears thick swordlike leaves up to 4 feet tall. S. 'Laurentii' has deep green leaves with gold margins. S. 'Moonglow' has extrawide (to 4 inches) silvery green leaves. Dwarf 'Hahnii' (silvery bands on dark green leaves) and 'Golden Hahnii' (golden yellow bands) form low, 6-inch-long rosettes.