Does your house feel drier than the Sahara Desert right now? Forced hot air and houses closed up tight against winter's chill can bring on dry eyes, raspy throats, and parched skin. Houseplants, which usually come from tropical regions with sky-high humidity, don't like it much, either.
Ideal humidity for the most commonly grown houseplants is in the 60-80% range, but that's getting high for humans, who are most comfortable with levels between 40-50%. Many plants do fine with humidity levels down to 40%, but winter indoor air can get even drier.
Some signs that dry air is affecting a plant are brown leaf tips or yellow edges, flowers dying quickly or buds drying up and falling off. These stressed plants also become vulnerable to insect pests and diseases.
Fortunately, there are houseplants that take the low humidity of the typical house in stride. Cacti and succulents are the most obvious examples. They can handle humidity levels as low as 30%. But there are other plants, those with thick, waxy, moisture-storing leaves, that can handle humidity levels below 40%.
If you don't know the level of humidity in your house, get a hygrometer, available at any garden center or home improvement store. It measures the amount of water vapor in the air, relevant to the total amount of air in a space.
These five plants will stay lush and green in winter, even in your arid home:
Hoya bilobata. Photograph by Marlamcnutt - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77719849
Hoya, or wax plant (Hoya spp.): This slow-growing vine reaches about four feet in length. It can tolerate low light, but needs bright light and regular fertilizing in order to produce its pretty pink flowers. Its thick, waxy leaves and stems also make it very forgiving if you forget to water.
Photograph by DenesFeri, Wikimedia Commons, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en
Jade plant (Crassula ovata): The classic jade plant can handle drafts, a good thing since it needs bright light, which means it grows best close to a window. Feed only once or twice a year, in spring and/or summer. With age, jade plants can reach six feet in height, but most houseplants stay under three feet.
Monstera or Swiss cheese plant (Monstera spp.): The older and happier a monstera is, the larger it gets. Leaves can reach two feet in width. (There are species such as M. adansonii that stay small.) Plants tolerate lower light, but do better in bright light, and can even handle some direct sun. Every two weeks, turn the plant one-quarter to the left to keep the leaves evenly sized. Fertilize if the leaves become pale or if you want a larger plant.
Philodendron and pothos (Philodendron spp.): Heart-shaped, waxy leaves in vivid green (philodendron) or streaked with yellow or white (pothos), these vines will grow in bright, medium, or low light. They only need fertilizing once or twice a year. Vines can grow 20 to 40 feet long, however regular pruning keeps them in check.
Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata): Another slow grower. With super-thick, tough architectural leaves and upright shape, this forgiving plant is the closest thing to indestructible. No wonder it's enjoying a resurgence in popularity. It grows faster in bright light, but is fine in low. Grows to four feet.
These five plants prefer soil on the drier side. Because they are so effective at conserving moisture, overwatering can cause the roots to rot. Water when the top inch or two of soil is dry.
High humidity won't bother these houseplants, so they'll be just fine growing in more humid areas of your house, such as a bathroom or near a humidifier.
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