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The Best Pot Plants: Our Ultimate Guide for both Indoor and Outdoor (Part 6)

One of the best pot plants - the Cordyline


This is the sixth part in our series on the best pot plants for the home, whether indoor or out
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We also suggest that you also check out our introductory article: Smart Tips for Growing Healthy Pot Plants at Home

We have also compiled guides to how best to grow roses in pots for the home; how best to grow palms in pots; and the best large pot plants for using as privacy screens.

So let’s continue with our rundown of the best pot plants.

Ponytail – a very easy care potted plant

The Ponytail  plant (Beaucarnea recurvate) is a very easy care house plant. 

The Ponytail plant looks similar to a Palm plant, they have a long stem or truck with cascading foliage at the top.  The leaves are long and thin and lime green in colour. 

Plants usually start off with a single trunk, however as they grow larger they can develop multiple trucks.  Ponytail plants do flower,  however, the flowers are not very colourful.  Ponytail plants are known and grown for their unusual shape. 

The plants have a very large root base,  which forms a rounded mass at the base of the plant.  This root base is a store of water and food for the plant to use during dry times. 

Due to this root tuber the Ponytail plant is incredibly drought tolerant.  This makes it an excellent choice if you are looking for an easy care house plant to grow in full sun to semi-shaded spots.

Ponytail plants can live a very long time, so it is likely that you will have to upgrade the pot sizes as the plant grows.  So pick a pot which will allow you to remove the root ball, an open aperture is best.  Many gardeners start with a small pot and move up. 

Ponytails can eventually grow to 2m or more in a large pot, but can start from as small as 30cm in a small pot.  Small pots seem to reduce the growth somewhat,  making the plant bonsai to a point.  But, it should be noted that the root ball is very strong as it grows and will eventually break a pot. 

Ponytails are usually pretty slow growing, so if you would like a large one it is worth purchasing an advanced plant from the nursery.  Ponytails are mostly grown as pot plants and will grow in cool temperate (under cover) temperate and warm temperate to tropical climates. 

Plants grow best in full sun, however,  they will grow well as patio plants in semi-shade conditions.

Care of Ponytail pot plants:  

Although Pony tail plants do not need much care in a pot, they will still need a little fertiliser now and then.  Regular use of liquid fertiliser will produce lush new growth,  which will make the plant look great.  Once a fortnight should be enough. 

Over many years the potting mix may become stale, so the use of some wetting agent and some seaweed tonic, will help the plant improve.  Re-potting will be needed at some stage as plants tend to live 40 years plus. 

There could be some pests which will attack the leaves, usually caterpillars, but this is rare.

Growing Cordyline potted house plants

If you are looking to grow an easy care potted house plant, then a Cordyline plant may be a good choice for your garden or patio. 

Generally Cordyline plants grow like a palm, with a single stem and bushy foliage at the top.  The leaves grow from a central point at the top of the plant. The leaves are generally around 50cm long, and plants can grow to around 2m tall, in a large pot.  In smaller pots of around 50cm, Cordylines will grow to around 1.2m tall. 

There are many new and unusual varieties on the market, as these are very versatile plants.  Some of the new varieties are smaller and more colourful than the original Cordyline australis (which has green foliage which can grow to a large size as a garden specimen). 

Some of the new varieties have names such as Sundancer (pbr), Redstar and Purple Dazzler.  They all have different coloured leaves,  and all will grow in pots.

The best climates for Cordylines are temperate, warm temperate and subtropical climates, they will also grow in some cool temperate areas with protection.  They do make excellent potted house plants, but some are better than others in regards to drought tolerance.  

Plants can be grown in full sun to semi-shade situations, which makes them great to grow on a patio, or veranda.  Cordylines can stay in pots for many years and many gardeners upgrade them to larger pots as they grow, or plant them directly into the garden.  

Please note that the Australis variety Cordylines are different to the Terminalis and Fruticosa types which are more suited to shaded subtropical areas, these have broader leaves and are more colourful in foliage.

One of the best pot plants - Cordyline Fruticosa or Hanjuang plant

Care of Cordyline potted house plants:  

Generally speaking Cordyline pot plants do not need much care.  However, maintaining regular watering is still important.  A healthy, well watered Cordyline, always looks much better in a pot than one which is not looked after. 

Use a quality well drained potting mix with slow release fertiliser when potting up your plant. 

Pest problems are not a big issue with Cordylines, but you may get curl grubs in the potting mix, which eat the roots and fungal problems on the leaves.  Some varieties are more prone to fungal problems and these usually are indicated by blotches on the leaves. 

Many of the new release varieties no not get these fungal problems.  If you do get spots on the leaves, there is not a lot you can do, but try a sunnier spot and keep your plant healthy. 

Fertilise your plants using a scattering of slow release fertiliser on the pot surface, once in spring.  Or use a liquid fertiliser once a week, or fortnight.

If your plant is not growing well, or has been in a pot for a many years,  use of some seaweed tonic and or some wetting agent. This generally will improve an old, stale potting mix. 

Ficus benjamina (weeping Fig) – a house plant suitable for shade or sun

It would be very neglectful to compile a list of the best pot plants and to omit the Weeping Fig.

Ficus Benjamina (Weeping fig) is a much loved house plant for indoors, patios or pot gardens. 

Ficus benjamina is a very versatile plant, not only can it adapt to living in heavy shade,  it can also grow in full sun (once conditioned). This has made them one of the best and most used of the pot plants for the home and office for the last 40 years. 

Ficus benjamina (Weeping fig) is a very easy care pot plant and does not need constant watering, It can live in a pot for decades. 

Ficus benjamina can be left to grow into an attractive natural shape or trimmed into topiary shapes.  The natural shape tends to be tall and bushy shrub in a pot.  When shaped this Weeping fig can be trimmed into Standards (ball of foliage on top) and Pillars. 

As a pot plant they have nice thick glossy foliage which creates a tropical atmosphere.  It’s important to note that this plant can grow into a large tree, so they are better kept as pot plants and not planted into the garden. 

Many people use Ficus Benjamina as a potted screen plant on patios or balconies.  If you intend to use this Ficus as a screen plant it is worth using a large pot.  Many potted Weeping Ficus can be kept in pots down to 20cm wide, but if you require a large growing Ficus, to 2m tall or more, you will need to get a very big pot.  

When purchasing your Ficus plant,  make sure you buy one which is grown for the conditions to which you intend to introduce it to.  If you intend to grow it as an indoor plant,  purchase a shade grown one.  If you wish to grow it in full sun, get one which has been adapted to grow in full sun. 

We have found that indoor grown Ficus plants are generally suitable to grow on shaded patios and balconies.  You can condition your Ficus to grow in a new position, but it can take time for the plant to adapt and you may get some leaf drop. In time, new conditioned leaves will develop and the leaf drop will stop.

Care of Ficus pot plants: 

The care of your Ficus benjamina (Weeping Fig) is pretty straight forward.  When potting up your plant use a good potting mix with some slow release fertiliser.  Maintain watering and keep the potting mix moist,  but not saturated. 

Ficus Benjamina grow very well in self-watering pots and it is worth purchasing one of these for ease of maintenance.

Normally Ficus grow quite quickly, however, if you need your Ficus to green up, or grow quickly, use some liquid NPK fertiliser.  If your plant has been in a pot for many years and the potting mix is a bit stale, use some seaweed based tonic and some wetting agent. 

Pests are not usually much of a problem, however,  if you are growing your Ficus in very shaded conditions they will sometimes get Aphids, Scales (of various types, black or white blobs on stems) and Mealy bugs. 

These can all be controlled (to a point) with white oil, which can be sprayed on. However, in the long run it may be better to find an area with brighter natural light.  A healthy plant will have fewer pest problems and will require less care. 

As an indoor plant Ficus Benjamina can be grown in any indoor area where people normally live, as long as there is sufficient light.  As a balcony or outdoor plant, they grow best in temperate, warm temperate and tropical climates.

If you are looking to plant a Ficus in a pot for screening purposes (a good choice) then please read our post – Best Large Pot Plants for Privacy Screening

Aspidistra “Cast iron” – a pot plant for shade

The old Aspidistra has been much forgotten since the 1960’s when it was a very popular house pot plant.  We think it’s time to bring it back as one of the best pot plants.

However, it is now making a comeback and for good reason.  Aspidistra plants are known as the “Cast iron plant” and this is appropriate as they are very tough. 

Quirkily though, they do not look tough and hard as you may expect – in fact, they actually look quite tropical. The leaves are long and broad and grow thickly from clumping tubers.  The foliage is dark green, however there is a variegated variety which has some white in the leaf. 

Aspidistra potted house plants are best grown in shaded positions. They do not grow well in full sun and so if you have a shaded balcony or patio, they are worth considering.  They can also be grown indoors but need bright natural light. Note that this does not mean lots of direct light, just bright light conditions. 

A big attraction with Aspidistras is that they are easy care and do not need constant watering. This makes them an ideal plant for those of us lacking green thumbs and they also make great gifts for non-gardeners.   

Best climates for Aspidistra plants are temperate and warm temperate regions, they will also grow indoors in any climate where people normally live.  Plants are easy care and live for decades in pots.

Closeup on a green aspidistra plant in a pot - one of the best pot plants

Care of Aspidistra pot plants: 

Aspidistra plants are one of the most easy care house plants you could have.  They require minimal attention, but a little care will keep them looking fabulous.

Use a good well drained potting mix, with slow release fertiliser when potting them up.  Self-watering pots are a very good option.  These cut down your work considerably and are preferred by the professional indoor plant companies. 

Use some liquid NPK fertiliser from time to time to keep your plants looking their best. You may have to wipe the leaves with some white oil once or twice a year to remove dust (yes dust, these plants are so tough the dust settles on them).

Now you would think that such a tough plant would not get any pests and that is pretty much true.  However, under some conditions Mealy bugs can be a problem on Aspidistra plants.  Mealy bugs are one of the worst pests on indoor plants and normally Aspidistra plants only get them indoors. 

Treat your plants with a spray of white oil from time to time usually fixes most of the pest problems associated with mealy bugs.  Mealy bugs can be found at the base of the leaf and are a white fluffy looking insect, about 5mm long.

See our other articles below for more ideas on the best pot plants for your home and garden.

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