'Green' up Your Indoor Space With Pet-Friendly Plants

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • Since summer is almost behind us, consider bringing the outdoors inside with some lush, pet-friendly greenery
  • Pet-safe houseplants to consider: Blue star fern, Parlor palm, dwarf Cavendish, Emerald ripple peperomia, Prayer plant, Lady palm, and the Chinese money plant

Summer is almost in the rearview window, which means it's a good time to think about greening up your indoor environment as the shorter, chillier days of fall and winter approach. Houseplants are the perfect way to accomplish this, but as a pet parent, it's important to be knowledgeable about which indoor plants are safe for dogs and cats in the event they decide to taste-test them.

Fortunately, there are a variety of plants that can bring the outdoors inside during the winter months without posing a health hazard to your animal companion.

7 Pet-Safe Indoor Plants

1. Blue Star Fern — Botanical name: Phlebodium aureum; native to the tropical rain forests of South America

The blue star fern is an easy houseplant to maintain indoors year-round since it does just fine in lower light conditions. It's also hard to overwater this plant, and it typically grows to a foot in height and width. Unlike many other species of ferns that have delicate-looking fronds, the blue star's leaves are wider.

Since this fern enjoys low light, it should be located in indirect light toward the center of the room, or in an east-, west- or north-facing window, where it won't receive full sun all day.

Choose a loose, quick draining potting mix (e.g., a potting mix for orchids). Water the blue star fern frequently, but don't let it stand in water or wet soil. It does best at normal room temperature with some humidity (think kitchen or bathroom or place the pot on a tray of damp pebbles).

2. Parlor Palm — Botanical name: Chamaedorea elegans; native to Mexico and Central America

This is an ideal tree to bring indoors because it grows very slowly, often taking years to reach its full height of 3 to 4 feet. It also thrives in low light conditions and is an excellent air purifier. Place your parlor palm by a window that receives some early morning or late afternoon light and water it sparingly, allowing the soil to begin to dry between waterings.

You may need to repot once a year for the first few years if your parlor palm is growing steadily, but after that point, top dressing only will keep it healthy. If you have more than one of these palms in a container, add a basic fertilizer every month or two to ensure the soil doesn't get depleted of nutrients.

3. Dwarf Cavendish — Botanical name: Musa acuminata; native to the Canary Islands

Also called dwarf Cavendish banana trees, while they may seem an unlikely houseplant, they've actually been grown indoors since Victorian times. They do require a bit more space than your average houseplant, preferably in a bright, humid room. Although this plant is a "dwarf," it can still reach 8 to 10 feet in height, so you can start it on a window ledge, but within a few years you'll need to give it more space.

The leaves are big and fast-growing, but quite fragile. Plant food, copious watering, lots of light, a generously sized container, and a warm room, especially in winter, are the recipe for success. Kept indoors, these trees aren't likely to produce fruit, but their lush, tropical appearance more than makes up for it.

4. Emerald Ripple Peperomia — Botanical name: Peperomia caperata; native to the rain forests of Brazil

These semi-succulent plants grow best in a warm, humid environment in bright indirect sunlight (direct sunlight will burn the leaves); they also do well under florescent lights. If there is insufficient light, this slow-growing plant may simply stop growing.

A well-aerated potting soil that drains quickly is ideal. Since over-watering can cause yellow leaves, soggy stems and other problems, wait until the top half of the soil is dry before watering. Also consider watering from the bottom, which keeps excess moisture off the leaves and prevents disease.

Most peperomia plants never grow beyond 12 to 18 inches. Smaller plants can be used in dish gardens and terrariums. Compact peperomias are ideal for tables, and some varieties make excellent hanging plants.

5. Prayer Plant — Botanical name: Maranta leuconeura; native to Brazilian tropical forests

This plant is named for its leaves that tend to fold together at night, reminiscent of praying hands. Prayer plants make good houseplants because they're slow-growing, hardy and easy to maintain. They're a low, spreading plant that many people place in hanging baskets; however, they also grow horizontally.

Prayer plants grow in low, medium or bright light, but in bright light, the leaves should be protected from direct sun. Water just before the soil surface dries and maintain the plant in relatively moist soil. You can fertilize just once or twice yearly or more often if you choose; these plants do best in above average humidity.

6. Lady Palm — Botanical name: Rhapis excelsa; probably native to China and Taiwan

Outdoors, lady palms can grow to 6 to 12 feet with a spread of 3 to 12 feet, but when grown indoors in a container, they stay much smaller. Repot every two years, increasing the size of the pot each time until it is as large as you want it to grow. The lady palm does best near an east-facing window, out of direct sunlight.

In spring and summer, water when the soil is dry to a depth of 1 inch; in fall and winter, water when the soil is dry to a depth of 2 inches. It's best to drench the soil with water until it seeps out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot and then empty the saucer under the pot after 20 to 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can set the pot on a layer of pebbles to prevent the soil from reabsorbing the excess moisture.

African violet potting mix is ideal for lady palms but take care not to over-fertilize. With proper care, the plant should last for several years.

7. Chinese Money Plant — Botanical name: Pilea peperomioides; native to the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in southern China

The bright green pancake-shaped leaves of the Chinese money plant add a burst of vivid color to any room. This plant likes bright light, but not direct sunlight, which can scorch the leaves. Use a pot with draining holes and a well-draining potting soil. Allow the soil to almost dry out between waterings; droopy-looking leaves mean your Chinese money plant is thirsty.

Rotate at least weekly to prevent your plant from growing lopsided. Fertilize monthly during the spring and summer. Since Chinese money plants can be hard to find, you might want to grow a few extras to give to family and friends.

You can do this by separating plantlets that grow up through the soil; follow the stem about an inch under the soil, use a sharp knife to cut the new plant free, plant it in a new pot, and keep the soil moist until the baby is well-anchored and begins producing leaves.

Alternatively, you can cut free new plantlets that grow straight from the stem of your original plant, place them in water until roots develop (in a week or two), and then follow the above directions for planting.

These seven plants are considered pet-friendly, however, to be on the very safe side, I recommend keeping them out of reach of furry family members, because just about anything unusual a pet snacks on has the potential to cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset.

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