Since 2001, I’ve owned a small plant care business in Albuquerque called Good To Grow. Since 2009, I’ve maintained this indoor and outdoor gardening blog.

Each Wednesday, I’ve been posting emails from readers who had questions about their houseplants. Most of the letters came from people who are not regular readers, but who stumbled across this blog because they had a specific houseplant question. When I could, I wrote them back with advice tailored to their specific question. I saved all these emails in a file.

Since my regular readers are so sophisticated with their houseplant knowledge, and because everyone has their own take on caring for plants, I wanted to turn the emails over to them and see what their advice would’ve been had the email come to them. On Wednesdays, I’ll post the original question, and on the following Wednesday, I’ll reveal the advice from the regulars, as well as my response, so we can see how we match up. It’s been an interesting experiment so far, I hope you enjoy. If you have advice, please leave it in the comment section or on my facebook wall.

I took a bit of a departure from our normal Reader Q & A last week, and instead asked if any of you would like to answer some interview questions about houseplants. Turns out, some of you did!

Here are the questions (they were sent to me by a student awhile back):

1) Why do you think people should have houseplants? Are they beneficial?

2) What type of plants would be considered a sturdy plant and could handle a short amount of neglect (not watering often or not placed in the correct amount of sun)?

3) Can plants live with simply artificial light?

4) Do all succulents have the same kind of care? If so, what is the kind of care?

5) For beginners or those with “black thumbs”, would you recommend a certain houseplant?

6) What do you think about tillandsias (air plants)?

7) Do you have anything else to add–advise or information?

Let’s see how you answered:

From right here in Albuquerque, the super knowledgeable Cass McMain wrote,

<<<<“1. Houseplants are good for you! They clean the air, and provide oxygen. They are also beautiful to look at. Everyone should have houseplants.

2. There are a number of plants that are tolerant of a wide range of conditions. Pothos (Scindapsus) are probably the most patient plants around, good for low or bright light and inconsistent care. Mother-In-Law’s Tongue (Sansevieria) are also quite easy to grow. Other good choices are Nephthytis, Philodendrons, and Dracaenas.

3. Some plants can live with artificial light (all of the above are good choices for offices) and in fact if you have the right lights you can grow almost anything.

4. All succulents do not require the same care, but for the most part they prefer bright light and for their soil to dry out a little between waterings. Don’t be fooled into thinking this means never to water them – all plants need water. Succulent plants are usually geared toward catching water and storing it, so if the soil remains too moist, the roots will rot. Some succulents are more tolerant of moisture than others.

5. Pothos and Sansevieria (see above) are very sturdy plants for low/medium light and infrequent watering. If you really like to water, you may choose a Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) which does best in medium or bright light (but not direct sun) and likes to be kept very moist. Spider Plants (Chlorophytum) are also fun and easy to grow. For a brighter location, try a Hawaiian Schefflera (Arboricola) or a Ficus Tree!

6. Tillandsias are adorable. They are in the Bromeliad family (like pineapples!) and so will bloom only one time in their life. Despite the name, they do need water. Soak the plant for a little while in water a couple of times a week but make sure never to leave it sitting in water for too long. After it blooms, little baby plants will appear at the base. These “pups” may be pried loose easily when they are mature enough to stand on their own. (Mother will gradually die – don’t feel bad about that. It’s natural.)

7- Love your plants, that’s my advice! They are wonderful living beings, and they deserve your respect.>>>>

Thank you, Cass! I agree with everything you wrote! Your answers are packed with good advice. I especially like your answer to question #7. I appreciate that you took the time to share your thoughts. Thanks again!

Our favorite houseplant guru from Iowa also chimed in. mr_subjunctive from Plants Are the Strangest People wrote,

<<<<“1) Why do you think people should have houseplants? Are they beneficial?

I don’t think everybody should have houseplants any more than I think everybody should have guitars, children, or eggs for breakfast. The people who want to have houseplants are the people who should have houseplants.

There’s some weak scientific evidence that houseplants are beneficial w/r/t mood, air quality, stress level, and that sort of thing: I would say this is only relevant to you if you want to have houseplants anyway. People who don’t want them shouldn’t get them just because they think they ought to.

2) What type of plants would be considered a sturdy plant and could handle a short amount of neglect (not watering often or not placed in the correct amount of sun)?

In my particular circumstances, these qualify: Strelitzias (bird of paradise), Ficus benjamina (weeping fig), Ficus maclellandii (long leaf fig), Spathiphyllums (peace lily), Aechmea fasciata (silver vase plant), Schlumbergeras (holiday cactus), Euphorbia tirucalli (pencil cactus), Hatiora salicornioides (drunkard’s dream), Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant), Chlorophytum ‘Fire Flash,’ Pandanus veitchii (screw pine), Philodendron hederaceum (heart-leaf philodendron), Schefflera arboricola / S. actinophylla (umbrella tree), Tradescantia pallida (purple heart), Yucca guatemalensis (spineless yucca), Agaves, Aglaonemas (Chinese evergreens), and Euphorbia trigona (African milk tree).

Other people’s results will vary.

3) Can plants live with simply artificial light?

Some of them.

4) Do all succulents have the same kind of care? If so, what is the kind of care?

Not really, though strong light is (almost) always good.

5) For beginners or those with “black thumbs”, would you recommend a certain houseplant?

See #2, in particular the ones toward the end of the list.

6) What do you think about tillandsias (air plants)?

Not a fan.They’re not crazy about me either.

7) Do you have anything else to add–advise or information?

• All houseplant advice is general; all houseplant care is specific. Which is to say that people can give you advice for easy-care plants all day long, but ultimately, if you want to know what plants work for you, there’s no substitute for buying one of everything and seeing what works out. Almost everybody has one “easy” plant that they can’t grow well and one “difficult” plant that they can.
• Sometimes plants die. It’s best not to take this too personally, since it’s not always your fault.
• Sometimes plants die. It’s best to take this at least a little personally, since sometimes it is your fault.>>>>

Haha, and sometimes you’re just a murderous fool! I loved all your answers, mr_subjunctive. They were thoughtful, insightful and practical. I think you’re especially right that no one should get a houseplant because they think they ought to – that’s not a good foundation for any relationship. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

Finally, from our ever-friendly and ever-awesome Canadian neighbor, Martha from Plowing Through Life wrote,

<<<<“1) Why do you think people should have houseplants? Are they beneficial?

For those who can keep them alive, it’s a wonderful way to bring nature indoors. And if you live in a northern area like I do where winters are very long, that little bit of nature can keep you sane until spring rolls around. For those who can’t keep them alive, I think they should stay away from houseplants!

2) What type of plants would be considered a sturdy plant and could handle a short amount of neglect (not watering often or not placed in the correct amount of sun)?

I’ve found that certain Dracaenas, Chlorophytums, Philodendrons, Aglaonemas and Sansevierias can be extremely forgiving and tolerant of neglect.

3) Can plants live with simply artificial light?

Yes, some of them can. But I always prefer natural light.

4) Do all succulents have the same kind of care? If so, what is the kind of care?

No, they can vary. But giving them lots of light is met by a thumbs up by most.

5) For beginners or those with “black thumbs”, would you recommend a certain houseplant?

You can’t really go wrong with Pothos.

6) What do you think about tillandsias (air plants)?

I love them! And they do extremely well under my care.

7) Do you have anything else to add–advise or information?

Don’t grow houseplants just because you think you should. If you don’t like them, and if you can’t provide them with proper care, leave them at the greenhouse for someone else to take home.>>>>

Also wonderful advice, Martha. I agree that it’s great to have a little bit of Nature indoors. I’m surprised more people don’t have houseplants for that reason alone. I also agree that if you’re not going to take the time to engage with the plant, you should not bring it into your house in the first place. It’s not like plants can water themselves.

So many of our answers overlapped, but I’m not surprised by that. I think we’re all pretty like minded people in the houseplant universe.

Here’s what I had written in response to the student interviewer:

1) Why do you think people should have houseplants? Are they beneficial?

–By being beneficial, do you mean, do they clean the air? There’s a NASA study that says they do, but I doubt you’d be able to tell. Clean air would be low on the list of reasons I would recommend plants to people for their homes (for offices, it can be a different story, because most office buildings have windows that don’t open and don’t help circulate the air). The main reason to have plants is for the nurturing and experience of helping something grow. Plants are living, breathing creatures, they are pets who can’t bark.

After college, I couldn’t afford artwork for my apartment walls, so I used plants as decoration instead. So aesthetics is another valid reason to have houseplants. Some of them are very pretty.

Another reason is for the joy of having a little bit of Nature in your home.

2) What type of plants would be considered a sturdy plant and could handle a short amount of neglect (not watering often or not placed in the correct amount of sun)?

There are so many! Cactus and succulents, of course, because they hold water inside and are able to go longer without because of that. I like Sansevieria ‘Snake plant’ as low-maintenance plants. Epipremnum, or Pothos is a very mellow plant.

3) Can plants live with simply artificial light?

The answer is yes. I have a few clients who work in buildings with only fluorescent lighting and no windows, and the plants do just fine. I’ve got Aglaonema, Sansevieria, and Pothos in those places.

Some plants will need sunshine, but lots and lots of plants don’t.

4) Do all succulents have the same kind of care? If so, what is the kind of care?

No, they are varied. Some succulents will want more water than others, depending on the thickness of their leaves. If you have a plant on a sunny windowsill, that plant will drink more than one that doesn’t get as much light. What type of potting media is used will play a role.

One thing about having houseplants, it’s a relationship. As the weeks go by, you get to know your own plant, you learn what it likes and what it doesn’t. It’s hard to give cookie cutter advice when you’re talking about living creatures. I’ve seen plants who were supposed to need lots of water learn to adapt to being chronically underwatered. Each individual plant owner needs to learn what his or her houseplant needs through trial and error – that’s how you both grow.

5) For beginners or those with “black thumbs”, would you recommend a certain houseplant?

Sure, I already recommended five, in this post called “Top Five Most Rewarding Houseplants for Novices.”

6) What do you think about tillandsias (air plants)?

I think they are adorable. And a good way to introduce people to the world of houseplants in the lowest possible maintenance way. I think some people are scared off houseplants because they believe they are too much work, tillandsias would beg to differ.

7) Do you have anything else to add–advise or information?

No one develops a green thumb overnight. It’s a learning process for everyone. People who profess to have black thumbs just haven’t made the decision to invite plants into their life. Once a plant is indoors, in a container, it’s 100% dependent on your care – it can’t fend for itself. The decision to own houseplants should be weighted with the at least some of the gravity as bringing a new pet into the house. Only, the houseplants don’t need you to fuss over them every day like a cat or an iguana. Houseplants are way better pets in that regard.

I personally love houseplants because I think they make my house prettier and cozier, and I enjoy taking care of them and watching them grow. Sometimes, they die. Sometimes, we have a falling out in the relationship (meaning I grew to hate it, usually because it attracted mealy bugs). They can test my patience, but ultimately, I’m the human, so I decide who stays or goes.

People who say plants can’t communicate simply aren’t paying attention. They express their needs by dropping leaves or developing damaged leaves. They show their healthiness by producing new growth or blooming.

Caring for houseplants is not rocket science, it’s life science (which is better).

I hope you discover the joy of houseplants for your own reasons. If you have any questions, you’re welcome to shoot me an email.>>>>

See what I mean? Like-minded plant-loving souls up in here. Thanks again to everyone who participated!

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