Decorating with Houseplants

Varieties of begonia planted in wooden trug on windowsill, January
Lynne Brotchie / Getty Images

People have been growing houseplants for centuries for a simple reason: they are beautiful. Or at least they can be, providing you follow a few simple rules for enriching your living space with greenery. Some of these rules are aesthetic, including matching your plants with your décor and lifestyle. And some of them are practical, making sure you grow plants that will thrive in your growing environment and be compatible with your lifestyle and level of skill. Still, there are very few indoor environments that can’t be improved with a few houseplants, especially if you adhere to these simple tips:

  1. Right plant, right place. This is a common phrase uttered by landscapers, but it’s equally true indoors. Before you fall in love with a particular genus or type of plant, spend a little time in your environment to see what your conditions are. Do you have low light? Medium light? Or bright light? Will your plants be exposed to cold drafts? Can you provide adequate humidity for tropical plants? Ultimately, whatever you choose to do, an unhealthy plant will never look good. Along these same lines, if you’re new to houseplants, it’s a good idea to start with easy and popular plants. They will be harder to kill.
  2. Group your plants. Plants will almost always look better when grouped, typically in groupings of three plants or more. Within this broad recommendation, you can do almost anything: group identical plants together for a lush, contemporary feel, or cluster ferns for a forested look. Typically, tall plants do better in the back of groups, and a few small flowers up front can really brighten a room. If you don't want to deal with multiple pots, it’s always possible to group several species of plants together in one pot, with a tall centerpiece plant surrounded by smaller groundcover plants.
  3. Think about your décor. If you’re into desert colors, use desert plants. If you prefer rich tropical hues, think tropical plants like philodendron and monstera.
  4. It’s OK to treat plants like cut flowers sometimes. If you just love orchids but you don't buy them because you’re afraid to kill them, don't worry! There’s nothing wrong with buying a lovely plant and keeping it inside while it thrives, then moving it outside or even discarding it when it begins to decline. One common trick used by interiorscapers is to nest the bland nursery pots into larger decorative pots, making it easier to switch plants out when one starts looking ragged. If you really feel guilty about discarding struggling plants, look at it like this: you’re helping keep the nursery and greenhouse industry healthy, which benefits both plants and people.
  5. Pay attention to your plants. Of course this means following the basics, like watering and fertilizing when necessary, but it’s also a good idea to spend a little time every few days closely inspecting your plants. Flip up leaves to look for bugs on the underside. Feel the soil. Rotate the plant. There’s no doubt that a little TLC can help your plants thrive.
  6. Use interesting containers. The plant itself is really only half of the decorating equation. Containers are just as important. Look for containers that complement your interior décor and that also fit your lifestyle. If you already know that you cannot tolerate any leaks or drips on your floor, then don't get containers that will leak constantly. Instead, buy containers with no holes in the bottom and put your plants inside them on raised blocks to allow for drainage.
  7. Look for inspiration! Check out magazines, websites, and other homes to see what people are doing with plants. Truly, you are only limited by your imagination in containers, styles, and species. From terrariums to atriums, there’s always a way to include more plants in your life!