Tips for Selecting Successful Houseplants for Your Space

Those looking to liven up their space can consider incorporating a houseplant into their home with some simple tips

February 18, 2022, 2:20 pm | Aaron J. Steil

AMES, Iowa – Iowa winters can certainly be dreary. As temperatures dip below zero, gardeners often find themselves longing for a break from the cold, brown outdoors. A simple solution to this issue is to incorporate a houseplant into your home. Luckily, becoming a successful plant parent can be very attainable so long as you listen to your plant’s needs and follow some general tips for success. 

Woman taking care of her potted plants at home, by pikselstock/stock.adobe.comAccording to Aaron Steil, consumer horticulture specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the first thing to consider when selecting a houseplant is the light available in your home. Luckily, many common houseplants available in Iowa have been popularized specifically because of their lower light needs. A good rule of thumb is that most houseplants will thrive in bright, indirect light. The best way to provide this is to place a plant next to a window, but not in a direct ray of sun. 

Certain plants, including snake plants, ZZ plants and cast-iron plants, require almost no direct sunlight.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, many succulents and cacti require a lot of sunlight and will thrive in direct rays of light. Falling somewhere in the middle, plants like philodendron, pothos and pilea appreciate the bright indirect light discussed previously. 

One thing to be mindful of when determining the best spot for your new plant is that catch-all rules about the light available from windows facing a particular direction may not apply in your case.  “A south-facing window is often considered to have bright light, but the amount of light coming through a window can be impacted by several factors.  Obstructions like trees or other buildings, coatings on the window or even the width of the overhang on your roof can all change the amount of light coming through a window,” explained Steil. 

Overwatering is another common issue many new plant owners face “One of the most common problems many indoor gardeners face is overwatering. It's so easy to do accidently and when it happens the symptoms look much like underwatering,” said Steil. Overwatering is indeed a common issue, but if you are aware of your plant's needs, it can be conquered. A mistake that many new plant parents tend to make is to water their plants on a schedule, or according to a chart or app. 

This is not recommended, since a plant’s watering needs can be influenced by a wide variety of factors that apps may not be considering, such as plant size, soil type, container type and even the time of year. The most foolproof method is to check plants on a set schedule, and only water when the top inch or so of soil is dry to the touch. If you notice your houseplant wilting, do not immediately assume that this is due to a lack of water, as wilting can be a sign of dry conditions or over-wet conditions. Rather, check your plant for signs of root rot or overwatering first. 

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is a wide variety of extension resources available to houseplant enthusiasts, including ISU Extension and Outreach Horticulture and Home Pest News.

Guides for houseplant success can also be found at the Extension and Outreach store by following these links:

Becoming a successful plant parent is attainable, so long as you observe your plant’s needs and keep your home environment in mind when selecting a plant. Do your research, but don’t be afraid to try something new! 

Photo Credit: Woman taking care of her potted plants at home, by pikselstock/

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