Header images courtesy of @folia_folia and @berbtheplantfriend
Originally published by Jenny Leung. Last updated by Inés Fung.
Apart from getting a bit of fresh air on weekend hikes, most of us in Hong Kong don’t spend enough time with greenery. Though space, both indoors and outdoors, are certainly luxuries in our city, there are heaps of indoor plants that you can easily grow and take care of in your own home. Not only will a touch of nature indoors give you some clean, fresh air, it will also make a great piece of décor for your home—as well as a new hobby.
The pothos plant, also known as Devil’s Ivy, is near-impossible to kill. Not only can it tolerate low levels of light, but it’s also especially effective for cleaning the air of toxins, especially formaldehyde and benzene fumes commonly found in freshly painted or refurbished rooms.
There are quite a few varieties of the pothos, so just remember if your plant is variegated with white, yellow, or pale green, and the light is too low, they may turn completely green to compensate for the lack of light. Keep your pothos somewhere with bright, but not direct, light, and be sure to not overwater. You’ll know your pothos is thirsty when the leaves start drooping. We recommend growing your pothos in a hanging container so that its tendrils, that sometimes grow up to 10 feet long, can create a beautiful cascade.
Remember to re-pot your pothos to an upsized container if the roots have consumed the pot, as it means the plant cannot breathe. You’ll know this has happened when the leaves droop no matter how much or often you water them. Lastly, keep your pothos away from children and animals, as it is poisonous (not fatal) if ingested and can be irritant to the skin if touched.
The spider plant is, without a doubt, one of the easiest plants to take care of. Even if you’re lacking a green thumb, you’ll be able to keep your spider plant alive. Despite its name, spider plants are completely non-toxic, so your kids and pets can play safely around them.
It’ll look best if taken care of perfectly, but since they’re hardy and forgiving, they’ll survive in artificial light, low light, and even full shade despite their preference for direct, scorching sunlight. They don’t mind if you forget to water them occasionally, but try to keep them in well-drained soil if you’re watering regularly and liberally, and maintain temperatures above 10 degrees Celsius.
The only common problem spider plants have are browning leaf tips, which is caused by fluoride build-up in the soil. Simply give them a thorough watering to flush out the excess salts and the browning will go away. The spider plant produces beautiful leg-like leaves that can range from pale to emerald green, making it a great choice for hanging decoration. Spider plants were uber-popular in the 1970s, so if you’re trying to create a retro vibe, pot one in a macrame hanger in those bland or hard-to-reach corners in your home.
Peace lilies are as easy to look after as they are beautiful. While their spoon-shaped flowers resemble calla lilies, they’re actually a member of the Araceae family, though both are toxic to animals and small children due to its calcium oxalate content.
Peace lilies’ evergreen popularity is backed up by their ranking on NASA’s list of Top Ten Household Air Cleaning Plants, so they’re perfect for anyone prone to dust allergies. Peace lilies prefer light partial shade and can tolerate fluorescent lights or even rooms with no windows at all. Depending on how you want your peace lily to look, you need to provide a different kind of light. Peace lilies exposed to more light produce more of the lovely white spathes and flowers, while peace lilies in low light will have fewer blooms and look more like traditional foliage.
This gorgeous indoor plant can grow up to between two and four feet, and only need watering with soft or distilled water when it starts drooping slightly (so at least once a week). Another reason the peace lily makes a great house plant is because it thrives in room temperatures (18 to 30 degrees Celsius) and humidity that most people enjoy.
Peace lilies look super cool when potted in a glass vase or clear container where you can see the roots unfold. It’s also important to note that your peace lily blooms may not be as abundant as they are at the shops, as most nurseries use gibberellic acid—a plant hormone that the lilies are sensitive to—to trigger the production of more blooms.
When all of your attempts at keeping a plant alive let you down, the only place to go is up. With the ability to survive in the toughest of environments, snake plants tend to grow upwards, with sword-shaped leaves that are edged with a yellow lining. Some people also reckon the sharp points on the leaves make them look like a “mother-in-law’s tongue”!
Along with the peace lily, it is also included in NASA’s study for plants that can be used for air purification and to combat “sick-building syndrome.” It’s also demonstrated an ability to remove formaldehyde and benzene from the air.
Snake plants are probably the most indestructible houseplant… ever. They’ll not only survive, but thrive in any lighting condition and they’re also highly drought-resistant. They actually do the best when you leave them alone in a sturdy container with free-draining soil mix, an indirectly lit environment, and be sure to err on the side of underwatering. They also look badass in a cluster, as window-side décor or lining your bedframe like in the picture. Seriously, even the most green-challenged of us couldn’t kill a snake plant.
No, we don’t mean a fake rubber plant (although they are easy to take care of)—we’re talking about the underrated houseplant variety of the magnificent rubber tree, the ficus elastica. We know a lot of us don’t have the luxury of space, but we promise you can still have a statement indoor tree as the rubber fig’s growth is limited by its light reception and growing container.
If you’re patient enough to grow your own, plants that start out younger when you buy them adapt better to indoor living than starting with a more mature plant. They can grow to impressive heights within a few years, especially if you put the plants outside during the summer. Keeping the plants in small pots will restrict their growth if you want to keep them smaller.
Bright but indirect sunlight is the rubber fig’s favourite, so this plant may not be the best for any low light homes. During the plant’s dormant season (winter), it may only require watering once or twice per month, but during its growing season (summer), the plant should be watered frequently in order to keep the soil moist. Even a couple spritzes as you’re getting ready for the day would work! Best of all, rubber plants can help absorb and remove any formaldehyde in the air, a potentially harmful gas that is found in many household and pressed-wood products.
Rex begonias will easily add a splash of stunning colour to any drab home with their colourful leaves. Also known as painted-leaf begonias or fancy-leaf begonias, these plants frequently have foliage that grows up to six inches long in bright shades of green, red, silver, and even purple. These plants are grown almost exclusively for their foliage, and since the rex begonia is actually the basis for hundreds of varieties of begonias, you’ll find some interesting and beautiful hybrids when you go plant shopping after reading this guide.
Rex begonias like bright, indirect light year-round, even when they go dormant in the winter. Thankfully, they can tolerate less light than other begonias and are able to thrive even under fluorescent lights. It’s also a perfect plant for Hong Kong summers, as these plants love humidity and warm temperatures. As long as you keep your rex begonia in fast-draining soil by a shaded window, and prune it every once in a while, you’ll have a piece of eye-catching plant décor for years to come.
Give your home an urban jungle feel with the philodendron, a low maintenance house plant with nearly 500 species and varieties. The Greek name is a literal combination of “love” (philo) and “tree” (dendron), and it’s a good-natured and leafy addition to any home.
If you’re overwhelmed by the abundance of choice, there are two main types of philodendron: vines and non-climbers. For example, a philodendron Brasil can be trained to grow along a wall or around a window. A heartleaf philodendron can be placed in a basket on the edge of a shelf, or hung from the ceiling to let the vines unfold down. Regardless, philodendrons are one of the easiest and lengthiest vines to maintain, as long as you keep the soil moist and the plant in bright but indirect sunlight. They’re not finicky, however, and will still thrive on underwatering.
Looking for a plant that requires basically no maintenance but (apparently) brings you good feng shui and fortune? You’re in luck with the lucky bamboo, a plant that should be familiar to most Hongkongers for their immense popularity in shops and offices.
The ideal number in a vase should be three, one for happiness, one for long life, and one for wealth. However, if you choose to grow a group of lucky bamboos, the colour of your tie will be what attracts the luck you need. For example, a red tie is used for joy and prosperity, while a green tie is associated with health, wealth, and harmony.
Caring for a lucky bamboo plant is easy peasy: Stick them in a vase or pot with lots and lots of purified or distilled water to cover the roots, and change the water once a month or every two months (or if it starts smelling). It loves bright indirect light and will grow faster if you rotate the sun-facing side every so often. Sit back and wait for your luck to change with your lucky bamboo… or you know, make your own luck.
Good for mojitos, chutneys, fruit salads, tea, and even tinctures, you can use mint for a cornucopia of home recipes and remedies. They’re also super easy to grow at home as long as you have some space where the cute little sprigs can receive plenty of morning sun, but away from drying or heating elements.
It has a super fast-growing root system, so keep an eye out to be ready to re-pot, but they can easily thrive on neglect. If the upper part of the soil becomes dry to the touch, then watering is needed. Or if you really can’t be bothered, cut five to six inches off the tip of an existing mint plant (or any stems you have laying about from last weekend’s potluck dinner or house party), remove the bottom leaves, and chuck it in a water-filled glass or bottle. Set it in a sunny window with at least four to six hours of light each day, and you’re set. No fuss at all, and you get a delicious ingredient on hand at all times.
Another tough-as-nails, dang-near-unkillable houseplant is the ZZ plant. You may have seen this sturdy plant as a staple in the houseplant social media communities, and you can turn your #inspo into reality easily. The ZZ plant, with dark green leaves, strong stems, and wide branch growth, makes for a great addition to any home or office. It tolerates neglect, drought, and lack of light.
ZZ grows quite slowly and you won’t have to re-pot often, and it only reaches a height and width of up to two to three feet. Just remember not to leave the tropical-native ZZ near any cold drafts, and try to place it somewhere near sunlight so it can keep look glossy and strong. ZZ plant is another air purifying plant mentioned in the aforementioned NASA study for its adeptness at removing copious amounts of toxins such as xylene, toluene, and benzene from the air.