Yard and Garden: Caring for Low-Maintenance Indoor Plants


December 13, 2017, 1:54 pm | Richard Jauron, Greg Wallace

AMES, Iowa – Winter is the perfect time to focus on indoor plants. A number of plants thrive indoors but don’t need a lot of attention. Which plants are a good fit for the home and are low-maintenance?

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulturists can help answer questions about house plants. To have additional questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

How do I care for a ponytail palm?

The ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is an easy-to-grow, low maintenance houseplant. Plant characteristics include a swollen, bulb-like base and long, strap-like leaves which arch out from the stem creating a fountain-like effect.  

The ponytail palm should be placed in a brightly lit location in the home. A site near an east or west window is usually a good location. The ponytail palm is a type of succulent. Don’t water it as often as you would most houseplants. Allow the potting soil to dry between waterings. In spring and summer, fertilize once or twice a month with a dilute fertilizer solution.

How do I care for a jade plant?

Place the jade plant (Crassula argentea) in a sunny window where it receives direct sunlight. The jade plant is a succulent which stores water in its foliage and stems. Overwatering (watering too frequently) is the most common problem. Allow the potting soil to dry between waterings in spring and summer. Reduce the frequency of watering by a few additional days in fall and winter. Fertilize once or twice a month with a dilute fertilizer solution in spring and summer.

How do I care for an umbrella tree?

The umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla) is native to rainforests in Australia and New Guinea. In the home, place the umbrella tree in bright, indirect light near an east, west, or south window. Allow the potting soil to dry moderately between waterings in spring and summer. Reduce watering frequency in fall and winter. Fertilize once or twice a month with a dilute fertilizer solution in spring and summer.

Norfolk Island Pine

How do I care for a Norfolk Island Pine?

Place the Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) in a brightly lit location near an east, west, or south window. Rotate the plant weekly to prevent the plant from growing toward the light and becoming lopsided. Thoroughly water the Norfolk Island pine when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. From spring to early fall, fertilize the plant with a dilute fertilizer solution every two to four weeks.

Temperatures of 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit are satisfactory for the Norfolk Island pine. Winter is often a difficult time because of low relative humidity levels in most homes. Raise the humidity level around the Norfolk Island pine with a humidifier or by placing the plant on a tray or saucer containing pebbles and water (Make sure the water level does not reach the bottom of the pot.) Low relative humidity levels or dry soil conditions may cause browning of branch tips and lead to the loss of the lower branches. Insufficient light may result in droopy growth.

How do I care for a peace lily?

Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum spp.) tolerate low light levels, but perform best in bright, indirect light near east, west, or south windows. Do not place plants in direct sunlight. The peace lily likes consistently moist soils. Water plants when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch. Plants will wilt if the potting soil is allowed to get too dry. Fertilize once a month in spring and summer with a dilute fertilizer solution. Over-fertilization may result in the browning of leaf tip

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