Editor’s note: This story was originally published in February 2021.
Houseplants aren’t just a trend. They bring life, brightness and even purifying qualities to your home. But in Maine, keeping houseplants comes with some unique challenges, especially during the winter when the light is low, the air is dry and the days are cold. So what’s an aspiring houseplant owner to do?
Certain houseplants, though, are going to be better for Maine’s specific conditions than others, and are generally better if you’re just getting started with houseplants.
“When getting a houseplant there can be various characteristics to choose from, especially here in Maine,” said Ellie Longfellow of Longfellow’s Greenhouses in Manchester. “Choosing a plant based on its light requirements is very important. Additionally, houseplants that thrive in humidity, a plant owner would want to make sure they are able to provide the plant with those conditions through misting, humidifiers or various methods that can increase humidity in the home (or space) which can be hard to do in our dry Maine winters.”
Some plants that have a reputation for being easy to take care of are, in fact, not that easy to grow in Maine.
“Succulents and cacti can be tricky to grow in Maine, due to how cloudy and cold our winters can be,” Longfellow said. “With less sun, it can make the sun thriving plants a little unhappy. Ferns can also be tricky in the wintertime, as their leaves can dry out due to a lack of humidity and moisture.”
Regardless of what you choose, you’re going to need to know a few things about care if you want houseplants to survive in your house at all. Make sure your plants have proper lighting (near a south-facing window, though not so close as to be impacted by drafts, is ideal), well-draining soil and pots with drainage holes to prevent roots from rotting no matter what plants you choose, Longfellow said. In the same vein, she said to pay attention to the watering requirements of your plant to make sure you are not leaving the soil soggy and soaked.
Once you have met these conditions, though, here are the houseplants that are best for Maine.
Snake plants, all classified under the scientific genus Sansevieria, are some of the most tolerant houseplants available. These plants can be neglected for weeks at a time; yet, with their strappy leaves and architectural shape, they still look fresh. Additionally, they can survive low light levels, drought and have few insect problems.
“In my opinion some of the best houseplants that I could recommend would be the snake plant,” Longfellow said. “Needing very little water and TLC, this plant can be successful for most everybody.”
Melissa Higgins, wholesale manager at Sprague’s Nursery in Bangor, said that snake plants are also “one of the very best oxygenators and needs the least amount of care.” In fact, NASA research has even shown that snake plants are able to help remove toxins from the air inside your home.
There are a variety of different snake plants, from the pudgy Sansevieria ballyi, or dwarf snake plant, to the tall Sansevieria trifasciata, or striped snake plant, which can grow up to four feet tall. No matter what look you prefer for your houseplants, there will be a snake plant for you.
Like snake plants, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, or ZZ plants, will tolerate neglect. They require little light and little watering. Their wide, waxy, dark green leaves also reflect sunlight and brighten rooms.
However, pet owners and parents of curious children beware: all parts of the plant are poisonous. Though rumors that handling the plant can cause cancer have since proven untrue, you should always wash your hands after handling ZZ plants to avoid skin irritation.
The many varieties of house plants in the genus Pilea are known for their bright green, coin-shaped leaves. The cheeky, fast-growing plants thrive in dry conditions, adapt well to low light areas and are great for beginner plant owners.
One popular type of houseplant is the Pilea peperomioides, which has a number of fun names, including Chinese money plant, UFO plant, pancake plant, missionary plant and mirror grass among them.
Higgins said that aside from its tolerant nature, Pilea plants are fun for houseplants owners because they are easy to propagate and share.
“Pilea [are] known as the friendship plant because of its quickly multiplying stems that can be separated and given to friends,” Higgins said.
Houseplants in the genus Peperomia are low-maintenance, slow-growing houseplants that are native to South American rainforests, where they grow in the cool, shady rainforest understory. The compact plants are often mistaken for succulents, but are easier to care for in the conditions in Maine.
The genus boasts over a thousand species, but only a dozen have made their way to the houseplant market. Still, the plants are diverse in appearance, with leaves ranging in shape from hearts to lancets, and colors from solid green, marbled or even gray and red.
[It] comes in so many varieties,” Higgins said. “My favorite [is] ‘watermelon’ as [it has] very cute flowers.”
Houseplants in the genus Monstera are known more commonly as Swiss cheese plants. They are famous for their naturally perforated leaves that gave rise to their nickname. You may recognize them from Instagram, as these houseplants are very popular. In fact, Higgins said they are currently the #1 houseplant sold in the United States.
Two different species of Monstera are cultivated as houseplants: Monstera deliciosa, which have more of a fan-like appearance, and Monstera adansonii, which have longer, tapered leaves with completely enclosed holes. In the wild, these plants can grow dozens of feet tall and several feet wide, but indoors, they usually range between six and ten feet in height.
In their native environment, Swiss cheese plants grow beneath the canopy of large trees. So, they prefer indirect sunlight, or sunlight filtered by a sheer curtain. They are also capable of producing edible fruit, which looks something like an inverted, green corn cob, but don’t get your hopes up as they rarely do so indoors.
Epipremnum aureum is a tropical vine with crisp, shiny leaves bearing gold, white or yellow markings. Despite their common name “pothos,” these common houseplants are not in the genus Pothos. Pothos need higher light levels in order to develop good leaf markings and variegation, but are still able to thrive in low-light conditions. In fact, this plant is often called the devil’s vine or devil’s ivy because it is almost impossible to kill and it stays green even when kept in the dark.
“Pothos make nice trailing plants if someone is looking for a plant to trail, especially for hanging baskets,” Longfellow said. “Moderate light will keep them happy, and pothos especially can take lower light as well.
Houseplants in the genus Philodendron are often mistaken for pothos because they have a similar look and have a lot of the same growth requirements and habits. However, there is a difference in the texture and shape of the leaves; Philodendron leaves tend to be less waxy and more heart-shaped than their pothos counterparts. In fact, the most common type of Philodendron grown as a houseplant is the heartleaf philodendron, or Philodendron hederaceum.
Still, like pothos, philodendrons are popular because they tolerate low light and variable temperatures.
“Philodendrons are fun vining plants that can be grown just about anywhere,” Higgins said.
Houseplants in the genus Hoya are known for their curtaining vines with thick, waxy leaves (hence their nickname, wax plants) and clusters of star-shaped flowers. Hoya are often sold in hanging baskets, but the stems will tumble from tall containers as well.
Despite their sometimes delicate drapery and cute, punchy flowers, Hoya are among the most tolerant of all houseplants. Longfellow said that Hoya plants are easy to care for as long as they are in a bright spot with indirect light.
Even though these are the best houseplants for Maine, Longfellow said that the most important thing is to choose a plant that you like. If one is really calling to you at the plant store, just do a little research about how to help it thrive.
“Every plant is different, and it is important to remember that when it comes to their care,” Longfellow said. “It is never a bad idea to do some research on a new plant before you purchase, if you are unfamiliar with its variety, or ask for help at your garden center.”
This first appeared in the January/February issue of Bangor Metro magazine, available on newsstands throughout much of Maine. Bangor Metro is also available by subscription.