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Easy-Care Houseplant Recommendations

Aloe (Aloe) – likes light, but will be OK in low light. Very low maintenance. Doesn't like to be overwatered. Great for burns.

Cast-Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior) – as its name suggests, it's a real toughie. Doesn't need much light or water. Large, bold foliage. Great in dark corners.

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema spp.) - dark green leaves that are long and wide. A great plant for badly lit spaces. Nice mottled foliage. Grows upright.

Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans) – doesn't need much light, doesn't need much water. Very graceful. The sort of plant you find in big old Victorian houses.

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Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) – has distinctive long-stemmed white flowers on shiny green foliage. Likes water. It's a nice gift plant (think "peace").

Pepperomia – lots of varieties with different colorings. It's a great little plant for a coffee table. Likes moderate light; it will get leggy if it's grown in low light.

Pothos or Philodendron – very reliable, very easy. Tolerate very low light. Easy to root cuttings in a glass of water. Great hanging plants for low-light spots. New varieties are fascinating with great coloring ranging from chartreuse to marbleized.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria) – thrives on neglect (some people say it's hard to kill it). Slow growing. Don't overwater. Doesn't mind being potbound. Grows upright, so it can fit in a narrow space. It's been making a very successful comeback since our grandma's days.

ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas samiifolia)  - Very resilient. Thrives in low light. Does NOT like direct sunlight. Water it every couple of weeks. Thick, succulent-type foliage on an erect thick stem. Very interesting.

How to Water Houseplants

Over- and under-watering account for a large percentage of houseplant losses. The most common question home gardeners ask is, "How often should I water my plants?" There is not a good answer to this question. Some plants like drier conditions than others. Differences in soil or potting medium and environment influence water needs. Watering as soon as the soil crust dries, results in overwatering.

House plant roots are usually in the bottom two-thirds of the pot, so do not water until the bottom two-thirds starts to dry out slightly. You can't tell this by looking. You have to feel the soil. For a 6-inch pot, stick your index finger about 2 inches into the soil (approximately to the second joint of your finger). If the soil feels damp, don't water. Keep repeating the test until the soil is barely moist at the 2-inch depth. For smaller pots, 1 inch into the soil is the proper depth to measure.
Water the pot until water runs out of the bottom. This serves two purposes. First, it washes out all the excess salts (fertilizer residue). Second, it guarantees that the bottom two-thirds of the pot, which contains most of the roots, receives sufficient water. However, don't let the pot sit in the water that runs out. After a thorough watering, wait until the soil dries at the 2-inch depth before watering again.

When you test for watering, pay attention to the soil. If your finger can't penetrate 2 inches deep, you either need a more porous soil mix, or the plant is becoming root-bound.

Repotting Houseplants

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Actively growing houseplants require occasional repotting. This occurs very rarely with some slower-growing plants, more frequently with others. Foliage plants require repotting when their roots have filled the pot and are growing out the bottom of the pot.

When repotting becomes necessary due to these indications by the plant, it should be done as soon as possible. The pot selected for repotting should be no more than 2 inches larger in diameter than the pot the plant is currently growing in; should have at least one drainage hole; may be either clay, ceramic or plastic; and must be clean.

Potting media should be coarse enough to allow good drainage yet have sufficient water retention capabilities. Most plants are removed easily from their pot when the lip of the container is knocked upside down against any solid object. Hold your hand over the soil, straddling the plant between the fore and middle fingers, while knocking it out of its present container.

Potting media should be moistened before repotting begins. To repot, place drainage material in the bottom of the pot, if desired, and some new soil. If the plant has become root-bound, it will be necessary to cut and unwind any roots that encircle the plant, otherwise the roots will never develop normally. Set the rootball in the middle of the new soil. Fill soil around the sides between the rootball and pot. Do  not add soil above the original level on the rootball. Do not pack the soil. To firm or settle it, tap the pot against a tabletop or gently press the soil with your fingers.

After watering and settling, the soil level should be sufficiently below the level of the pot to leave headroom. Headroom is the amount of space between the soil level and the top of the pot that allows for watering a plant. A properly potted plant has enough headroom to allow water to wash through the soil to thoroughly moisten it.