"My Favorite Houseplants," by the Whistling Gardener

String of Pearls. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
String of Pearls. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Reality check! The days are getting shorter, our yards are getting wetter and while our desire to continue to work with plants may not be diminishing, the joy of working out in the garden is fading. The obvious solution is to move inside the house or if you are really lucky, into your personal greenhouse or atrium.

All of this naturally brings me to the subject of houseplants which, for the next several months will most likely be the focus of many a northwest gardener.

That’s not to say that there is nothing to do in the garden, or that on a nice day we shouldn’t be out in the garden. It’s just a fact that we will be spending more time indoors and we might as well improve that time by surrounding ourselves with plants that will generate oxygen, filter our air, and generally make us happier.

So, here is a list of favorite houseplants organized by light requirements that you might want to try out this winter season. Happy indoor gardening!

High light houseplants are plants that need lots of light and should be located near a south or west-facing window within a foot or two of the glass. Here are some great high light houseplants…

String of Pearls: This is a succulent with pea-like “leaves” that will drape over the sides of a container, so it is perfect for hanging from the ceiling. It can also be incorporated into a small dish garden, to create some extra drama. It is easy to propagate and share with friends and is very tolerant of the low humidity conditions often found in homes.

Croton: These plants are the personification of the tropics. Large, glossy, and extremely colorful foliage of oranges, yellows, reds, and greens. Crotons are the perfect choice to liven up a room, just make sure they have plenty of light. In the right conditions they can grow three to four feet tall.

Medium light houseplants need (you guessed it!) medium light. This can be either an east facing window or several more feet into the interior of the house. Here are a few favorites…

Giant baby tears (Pilea depressa): Soft textured and delicate looking, Pilea makes a good trailer or dish garden addition. The glossy foliage has a soothing effect and the plant, in general, is easy to grow.

“Sambac” jasmine: If you enjoy fragrance, this is the one you want to try. Delicate, white flowers bloom for a long time and the aroma will freshen up any stale smelling room. If you are still experiencing the flavor of bacon you cooked last Sunday morning, maybe a “Sambac” jasmine is what you need.

Philodendron “Swiss Cheese:” This is an old timer that is making a comeback. It looks like a split-leaf philodendron that has been split and then split once again, which gives it an interesting look. “Swiss Cheese” is a vining plant that can either be allowed to trail over the sides of a pot or trained to grow up a stake sort of like it would do on a tree in its native environment.

Monstera: This is the good old-fashioned split-leaf philodendron that is just a bulletproof house plant to grow almost anywhere in the home. Again, it likes to vine so give it a stake to attach itself to, stand back and watch it grow.

Low light houseplants are for those darker areas of the house where it is hard to imagine a plant will thrive. Here are three that should perform well…

“Bird Nest” Fern: Ferns, as a whole, are happy in low light situations and “Bird Nest” is no exception. Instead of finely divided fronds, “Bird Nest” ferns have entire fronds, which makes for an eye catching look. Remember that ferns enjoy higher humidity; so a little misting now and then is appreciated.

“Staghorn” Fern: Growing up in San Diego I had several varieties of staghorns growing out in my patio, but in the northwest, we treat these as houseplants and keep them inside during the winter if not all year long. The fronds look a lot like antlers and will grow either in a hanging pot or on a wallboard. In nature, they are epiphytes and grow on trees horizontally. They can be quite a conversation point in a home.

Calathea: These attractive plants have interesting patterns on the leaves and can blend easily with home décor. They stay compact and only reach twelve inches tall, so they fit well on a coffee table.

As we move into winter and you start having “gardening withdrawals,” try out some of these easy to grow house plants and see if you don’t breathe a little easier, both physically and mentally. Spring will be here sooner than you realize.

Sunnyside will be hosting a free class:  “Putting The Garden To Bed,” Saturday, October 27, 2018, at 10:00 am.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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