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Successful houseplants

Indoor plants are enjoying their biggest surge in popularity since the 1970s when no home was complete without a Swiss cheese plant, a rubber plant and a weeping fig. Then fashion changed and veered towards sterile minimalism, so there was no place for greenery and its associated ďmessĒ and the plants had to go.

However, things turn full circle and now everything is ďgreenĒ and eco-friendly again, a whole new generation are realising the huge benefits of having plants around the home. Yes, they do make a bit of mess sometimes, but the health benefits more than make up for picking up the odd leaf or dead flower.

Plants produce oxygen, absorb toxins (including carbon dioxide and the chemicals from new furniture or carpets) and it has been scientifically proved that they actually make you feel more relaxed. In fact, theyíre also like pets in that you have to get to know them: how often do they need water; how much light do they need; when do they need feeding? Theyíre all different and each has its own personality - you may even discover you donít like some of them, but thatís ok! Itís all part of the fun.

Some plants are easier than others for the beginner, so here are our Top 10 starter plants for indoors:

Spider plant (Chlorophytum) - a very easy and tolerant foliage plant with graceful green and white striped leaves. The leaves turn pale when it needs water, which is a good hint. Will grow almost anywhere except deep shade.

Money plant (Crassula) - a sturdy succulent plant, which means it stores water within the leaves. Tolerant of moderate neglect, but will produce tiny white flowers if you treat it well. Prefers good light and will even tolerate a hot windowsill.

African violet (Saintpaulia) - forms a flattened rosette of hairy leaves with pretty flowers in the centre. Prefers a slightly shady spot and will scorch in direct sun. Water on the leaves causes brown marks, so always water from below using a saucer.

Begonia (Begonia) - there is a plant for everyone from this group ranging from ornate leafy ones to pretty flowering types. They are easy to grow, but do best when well fed and watered.

Clivia (Clivia) - an architectural plant with broad, strap-like, arching leaves. Looks good anyway, but looks stunning when the clusters of orange or yellow flowers appear. Some are fragrant. Tolerant of most conditions except cold, when the leaves will turn brown. Peace lily (Spathyphyllum) - this can be a bit more temperamental until you find the right spot for it and learn how often it needs watering. Let the leaves begin to wilt, then water well. One of the best plants for absorbing toxins from the air and it looks wonderful when the pure white flowers open up.

Flaming Katy (Kalanchoe) - another easy succulent that will cope with a little neglect. Flowers profusely when it is happy in a range of colours to suit your room. Scorches in full sun, but is happy in most places.

Croton (Codiaum) - a glorious, leafy plant with brightly-coloured, glossy leaves that look best when kept clean (a damp cloth works wonders). The flowers are insignificant, but pretty. Prefers part shade and some humidity to grow well.

Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) - a family favourite, because these long-lived plants tend to get handed down. Easy to grow and even easier to root from a few leaves, these plants are amongst the safest for beginners and put on a wonderful show each winter. You can trim them back if they get out of hand.

Coleus (Solenostemon) - another excellent plant for leaf colour, but these leaves are soft and slightly hairy, so need to be kept dry. All sorts of colours and sizes, so you can choose one to suit, but remove any of the small flowers that form to save them draining energy from the leaves. Prefers good light for the best colours.

Top tips for keeping your plant going

Donít forget it. If no-one gave you food or water, youíd die too.

How much water is when it needs it - lift the pot up. If itís light, itís dry and it needs watering. Use a saucer under the pot and water into that so you can put more in until the level stops dropping. Wait 30 minutes and then tip away the surplus so the roots arenít sitting in water.

How much food is different, so stick to a simple routine and apply food every two weeks or at the beginning of the month, whatever you can remember. Knock off feeding between October and March for most plants as they wonít need it over the winter (Christmas cactus is the exception and should be fed until flowering stops, then left unfed for three months to rest).

If the plant looks sick, work out whatís wrong from an initial list of: too much water; too little water; too bright for it; too dark for it; you forgot to feed it. If all these seem ok, check the compost for pests nibbling at the roots.

Itís important to note that inferior compost will result in poor growth. Always use good quality, new, bagged compost that has been stored dry. Never use home-made garden compost for pot plants or you may scorch the roots, and never use compost containing green waste indoors.

(Top:Flaming Katy Middle:Peace Lily Bottom:Clivia)

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