By Sarah McColl
City living has its charms (hello, delivery everything), but we’ll admit to sometimes longing for some outdoor space to grow…something. Anything.
Turns out that desire for green is health-related as much as it is aesthetic. Research shows that plants efficiently remove harmful volatile organic compounds (from paints, furniture, printers, cleaning supplies, and dry-cleaned clothes), mold spores, and other pollutants from the air.
Which ones are best for you, and which will survive less-than-greenhouse-level conditions? We tapped Justin Hancock, a horticulturalist at Costa Farms, to help us decorate and detoxify.
THE PERFECT PLANT FOR A DARK WINDOWLESS BATHROOM
Top Pick: Most houseplants like humidity, since they come from tropical rainforest-type places, Hancock says. But if the bathroom is dark, he recommends the stiff, sword-like leaves and enhanced purifying powers of snake plant (Sansevieria).
“It’s been loved by generations because it’s so easy to grow and you can enjoy it practically anywhere, including low light,” he says. Or, for more color and a softer look, Hancock recommends Calathea for its “lush and textural” leaves.
Runner-up: Ferns. They don’t need direct light; the Austral Gem fern (Asplenium ‘Austral Gem’) is one of the hardiest.
THE PERFECT PLANT FOR A SUNNY BEDROOM
With lots of light, you can grow just about anything.
Top Pick: Fiddleleaf ficus (Ficus lyrata) is a favorite with interior designers for its big, dramatic leaves. Give this beauty bright light and regular watering, advises Hancock.
Feeling a bit more cramped? “Try succulents,” Hancock suggests. “These low-water plants love lots of light and bring a wide variety of colors and textures to tabletops and windowsills.” Display them individually or in groups.
Runner-up: Bromeliads transform the bedroom into a tropical getaway with blooms in an array of colors. Some even have stripes of variegated foliage.
THE PERFECT PLANT FOR A DARK LIVING ROOM
Top Pick: Colorful Aglaonema may win for best all-round. “It’s easy to fall in love with the fact that this plant tolerates low light, grows well in medium and high light, can be watered regularly or left dry for two or three weeks, and shows off fantastically variegated foliage streaked or splashed with shades of red, pink, white, cream, or chartreuse,” says Hancock. Madagascar dragon tree (Dracaena marginata), or, if you have less room, lucky bamboo, are other good options.
Keep in mind that “low light” is not the same as living in a cave. “In the houseplant world, we define low light as having enough to comfortably read a book or magazine for most of the day without having to turn on extra lighting,” Hancock says.
THE PERFECT PLANT FOR THOSE THAT LACK A GREEN THUMB
“All three are practically indestructible—as long as you don’t overwater them—and can go two or three weeks without water,” says Hancock.
Runner-up: A chia pet?