Ask A Master Gardener – Easy to Grow Houseplants

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior).

It is always nice to have a little green inside, especially during these dreary, gray winter days. Houseplants are just the ticket for keeping the creative juices flowing after the outdoor growing season is over.  Experienced and novice gardeners alike can enjoy experimenting with some easy-to-grow-houseplants.

One of the most fool-proof plants is the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia).  This durable, tropical-looking plant is native to eastern Africa and will live in nearly any condition, including low light, dry air, and little water or fertilizer.  It will grow to 3–4 feet tall and has underground rhizomes that resemble potatoes.  These rhizomes store food and water enabling it to go long periods of time without care.  They have shiny, dark, almost waxy-looking leaves.  While it will live with neglect, it will thrive with bright indirect light and adequate water.

Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sanseviera) is another nearly indestructible houseplant. It tolerates both bright and low light, needs little water, and has essentially no pest or disease issues.  This is the plant that just won’t die.  I have had my specimen since 1975, have moved it to 5 states and multiple locations in most of those states.  It is like the Eveready battery of plants. It hails from southern Africa and has sword-like leaves that will grow 3–4 feet tall.  Mature plants will produce flower stalks with small, sticky, fragrant, white flowers.

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is a third hardy houseplant that will suit many gardeners.  Native to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, it is often mistaken for philodendron.  Pothos has crisp, shiny leaves with gold, white, or yellow markings and sturdy vines.  Philodendron has heart-shaped dark green with slender vines and is rarely variegated.  Philodendron is certainly a fine houseplant and will thrive under many conditions, however pothos is even more undemanding.  Keep it in bright, indirect light, on the slightly dry side and it will reward you will long trailing vines.  The one drawback is that it is poisonous and should be kept away from small children and pets.

Kalanchoe is a very large genus of plants native to Madagascar, most of which are very easy to grow either indoors or outdoors. In the succulent category, they require little water, will tolerate a wide range of light, and many have delicate flowers. Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is a houseplant with beautiful scarlet, pink, salmon, or yellow flowers that persist for extended periods of time.

The cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is, well, cast iron.  You will need to actively try to kill it to get rid of it.  Once popular during Victorian times in poorly lit parlors and less than ideal conditions, it fell out of favor as conditions improved.  It has enjoyed a resurgence as an indestructible house plant.  Native to eastern Asia, it grows slowly, tolerates low light, drought like conditions, and has few pests.

The last, but equally reliable houseplant is the Aloe.  Most people are familiar with Aloe vera, one of the most widely cultivated plants in the world.  Aloes are native to Africa and Arabia and are a succulent.  They require little water, but do need brighter light than any of the other easy-to-grow plants.  There are many varieties to choose, including striped, spotted, swirled, and rosettes.

Have fun, plant something, expand your horizons, try one of these easy-to grow houseplants this winter.

Carol Shirk

Certified Master Gardener



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