How to pick the right houseplant

Updated 1/29/2018 1:30 PM

Q. What factors should I consider when selecting houseplants?

A. It's easy to get carried away when seeing the lush, green indoor plant specimens on display at the garden center. But the process of making a decision on what to buy should start in your home, long before you get to the store. Consider:

• Plant placement: Where do you want this plant to live in your home? Is the area large or a small? Are you looking for a dramatic focal point in the living room or a modest filler plant on a window sill? Are you thinking of creating plant groupings or having a singular, specimen plant? Plan your space and measure before choosing.

• Conditions: What kind of light and temperature conditions are found in this area? A southern exposure would be quite suitable for sun-loving plants, but a northern exposure would be more appropriate for lowlight plants.   

• Maintenance: What kind of maintenance are you willing to do to keep the plant healthy and looking garden center-fresh? Do you prefer a low-maintenance plant because you travel frequently or can you accommodate one that needs more care and closer attention?

• Family considerations: If you have pets or young children, some plants may not work because they can pose a hazard. You can learn about these ahead of time, even before you set foot in the garden center. Such plants, which may have prickly spines or are considered toxic if ingested, can still be companionable houseplants if they are not in high-activity areas or are out of reach of children and pets.  

Once at the store, it is important to read the tags that are found on every plant on display -- these will provide you with answers to many of the above questions.  

So what plants make attractive indoor companions? Let personal preference guide you in this aesthetic matter. Do you love the odd shapes and rough texture of cactuses? Or do you prefer the smooth, thick-leaved look of succulents? Are you eager to have flowers during the winter months when your outdoor garden is not in flower? Then having forced blooms of colorful amaryllis and delicate paperwhites can provide some winter joy.

For further information on houseplants and their care and maintenance, here are two excellent resources: the University of Illinois Extension Service website at and a widely recommended book, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual by Barbara Pleasant.

-- Arlene Swartzman

• Provided by Master Gardeners through the Master Gardener Answer Desk, Friendship Park Conservatory, Des Plaines, and University of Illinois Extension, North Cook Branch Office, Arlington Heights. Call (847) 298-3502 on Wednesdays or email Visit

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