The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual

Essential Gardening Know-how for Keeping (Not Killing!) More Than 160 Indoor Plants


By Barbara Pleasant

Formats and Prices




$30.99 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback $24.99 $30.99 CAD
  2. ebook $2.99 $2.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 8, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

It’s a whole new world of houseplants, so make yourself at home in it! If you love the idea of keeping houseplants, but struggle to care for them, you’ll find solace and invaluable advice in this comprehensive guide from expert gardener Barbara Pleasant. Even experienced houseplant enthusiasts will benefit from Pleasant’s expansive knowledge of indoor gardening, which includes personality profiles, growing needs, and troubleshooting tips for 160 blooming and foliage varieties. Create a greener world, one houseplant at a time. 





Abutilon hybridum ah-BU-te-lon hi-BRI-dum


ABUTILON IS CALLED FLOWERING MAPLE because of the shape of its broad, five-lobed leaves, but it is in no way a maple. It is more closely related to the hollyhock and to the weed known as velvet leaf. When given good light and proper care, abutilon rewards its keeper by producing papery blossoms on drooping stems nearly year-round. Flowers may be red, yellow, pink, orange, or peach, depending on variety. Some varieties feature leaves mottled with yellow, but the strongest growers have solid green leaves. Abutilon plants tend toward legginess, so it is important to prune them back by one-third their size in the spring, just before the most vigorous flush of new growth begins. Also pinch back stems occasionally through the summer to promote a full, bushy shape. Regular pruning makes it easy to keep an abutilon less than 18 in/45 cm high and wide. If you want an upright plant to 36 in/1 m tall, tie long branches to sturdy stakes.

Flowering maple (Abutilon)


Light: Bright indirect light from a south or west window.

Temperature: Average room temperatures (65–75°F/18–24°C) year-round.

Fertilizer: From spring through fall, feed every 2 weeks with a balanced houseplant fertilizer. In winter, feed monthly, as plants grow more slowly.

Water: Water thoroughly and then allow plants to dry until the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch before watering again. Mist every few days in winter to prevent problems with spider mites when the air is very dry.

Soil: Any peaty potting soil; never add lime, as abutilon likes acidic soil conditions.

Repotting: Repot young plants every 6 months or so to accommodate growing roots. After plants fill an 8 in/20 cm pot, usually when they are 3 years old, propagate new plants from stem tip cuttings and discard the parent plant.

Longevity: Plants become woody and unattractive by the time they are 3 or 4 years old, but can be kept indefinitely by propagating stem tip cuttings.

Propagation: Take 4 in/10 cm-long stem tip cuttings in spring or summer and set them to root in damp seed-starting mix as described on page 299. Use rooting powder. Transplant to potting soil after 4 to 6 weeks, setting three rooted cuttings in a 6 in/15 cm container.

Selections: Abutilon has been extensively hybridized, so there are dozens of named cultivars. Those with mottled or variegated foliage are best grown as foliage plants, because they tend to be weak bloomers.

Display tips: In addition to being grown in pots or hanging baskets, abutilon can be trained to assume a treelike shape by tying the main stem to a sturdy stake and pinching off all branches that emerge from the lowest 15 in/38 cm of stem.


Plant does not bloom.

CAUSE: Not enough light, or needs additional fertilizer.

REMEDY: Move plant to a place where it will get bright natural light half the day. Switch to a high-phosphorous fertilizer. Some plants bloom very little in winter, but vigorous hybrids should bloom year-round with good light and regular feeding.

Flowers and low leaves drop.

CAUSE: Uneven watering, resulting in some roots remaining dry; too much direct sun.

REMEDY: Rehydrate pot as described on page 328. In summer, move plant to a place where it will be protected from hot midday and afternoon sun.

Sticky leaves; small insects present on leaves.

CAUSE: Aphids.

REMEDY: Prune plant to remove badly infested leaves. Clean thoroughly with plenty of water every 3 days for 2 weeks. See page 269 for more information on controlling this pest.

Leaves are pale and stippled with yellow dots; faint webbing on leaf undersides.

CAUSE: Spider mites.

REMEDY: Isolate plant, and prune off and dispose of badly infested leaves. Clean undersides of remaining leaves with warm, soapy water. Mist daily for a week and see if plant shows signs of recovery. If plant has a stem that is not infested, attempt to propagate its tip, because seriously damaged plants may not be worth saving.



Anthurium hybrids an-THUR-i-um


THE COLORFUL, WAXY, HEART-SHAPED SPATHES of anthurium, which are often seen in cut-flower arrangements, are the reward for growing this tropical plant. Older anthuriums were temperamental, but advances in breeding in the last few decades have resulted in plants that are much more lush, compact, and willing to flower. Blooms, which are really bracts, last for up to 8 weeks, and many vigorous hybrids bloom nearly year-round, taking a brief break in winter. Very compact plants grow to only 12 in/30 cm tall, but larger ones may grow to 18 in/45 cm tall and wide. Flower colors include white, orange, and pink.

Flamingo flower (Anthurium hybrid)

Do provide ample humidity by keeping your anthurium on a tray filled with damp pebbles or in a room with a humidifier. To keep leaves glossy and free of pests, wipe leaves clean from time to time with a damp cloth or clean plant with a fine spray of warm water. Do not allow pets to chew on anthurium foliage, as it contains calcium oxalate crystals and several toxic proteins that can cause severe mouth burning or skin irritation in all mammals, including humans.


Light: Bright to moderate, with no direct sun.

Temperature: Average to warm (65–80°F/18–27°C). Plant grows best when there is little difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures.

Fertilizer: From spring through late summer, feed plants monthly with a high-phosphorus plant food. In fall and winter, feed every 6 weeks with a balanced fertilizer. Newly purchased plants often have time-release fertilizer in the pot and need no feeding until plant is repotted.

Water: In spring and summer, water frequently to keep soil lightly moist. Leach pots once or twice in summer as described on page 263. In fall and winter, water less, but do not allow soil to dry out. Maintain moderate to high humidity.

Soil: A peaty potting soil, such as African violet mix.

Repotting: Repot annually in spring, shifting plant to a slightly larger pot. Set plant high, so the crown sits just above the soil line. If roots show at the surface between repottings, cover them with moss or a light sprinkling of potting soil.

Longevity: 5 years or more; indefinitely when propagated by division.

Propagation: When plant produces a new crown more than an inch away from the main one, gently pull it away when repotting plant and set it in a small container. With good care, it should begin blooming after about a year.

Selections: Look for named varieties, many of which will have trademarks on the plant tags. These are hybrids bred for compact growth and heavy flowering.

Display tips: Keep plant in a handsome ceramic pot that coordinates well with the color of the blooms. Snip out central flower to prolong the life of the colorful spathes and to avoid pollen on tabletops.


Plant does not bloom.

CAUSE: Young age; too little light; too much nitrogen fertilizer.

REMEDY: Plants do not bloom until they are about 1 year old. To promote bud formation, move plant to a bright place, such as filtered light from a south or west window. After buds open, move plant to lower light. Check the fertilizer analysis to make sure the second number (phosphorous) is higher than the first one (nitrogen).

Leaves turn yellow.

CAUSE: Overwatering.

REMEDY: Check drainage holes to make sure they are not plugged by debris. Water less, and consider repotting plant using a peaty soil mix that includes perlite. Anthuriums need a little air around their roots.

Lower leaves are yellow with brown tips.

CAUSE: Overfertilization.

REMEDY: Leach pot as described on page 263. Resume feeding after a month, mixing fertilizer at half the normal strength. Brown leaf tips without yellowing may be a sign of extremely dry air. In this case, increase humidity.

Small insects flit about at soil’s surface.

CAUSE: Fungus gnats.

REMEDY: Allow surface to dry between waterings. See page 270 for other control measures for this pest.



Aphelandra squarrosa
ah-fee-LAN-druh squar-OH-sa


APHELANDRA’S GLOSSY GREEN LEAVES marked with bold white leaf veins are reason enough to grow this plant, which matures into a 4-foot-tall, evergreen shrub in its tropical homeland of Brazil. Potted plants usually grow to no more than 15 in/38 cm tall and are best kept in pots no larger than 6 in/15 cm in diameter. Most people obtain a blooming aphelandra, which shows a lovely cluster of yellow bracts from which emerge delicate, yellow, tubular flowers. The flowers last only a few days, but the bracts often persist for 4 to 8 weeks. After the bracts deteriorate, clip them off and allow the plant to rest in a cool room for about 2 months. As light becomes more abundant in late spring, move plant to a bright place near a south or west window, but not in direct sunlight. Or, shift it to a shady porch or patio. When exposed to bright light for 3 months, aphelandra will usually rebloom in the fall, its natural bloom season. Light intensity rather than day length triggers flowering. A zebra plant may not bloom when kept in low light, but it will earn its place with its exotic foliage.

Zebra plant (Aphelandra squarrosa)


Light: In spring and summer, bright. In fall and winter, moderate.

Temperature: Warm (65–80°F/18–27°C).

Fertilizer: From spring through fall, feed every 2 weeks. Leach pots twice during the summer (see page 263). In winter, feed only every 6 weeks.

Water: Keep soil constantly moist. Do not let this plant dry out. Maintain moderate to high humidity.

Soil: Potting soil amended with peat moss or African violet mix.

Repotting: Annually in spring to refresh soil. Keep plants slightly rootbound.

Longevity: 1 to several years; indefinitely if propagated from rooted cuttings.

Propagation: Take stem tip cuttings in spring and root as described on page 299. Use rooting powder to speed rooting.

Selections: The most common cultivar, ‘Dania’, has emerald green leaves with white veins. The white venation is more dramatic in ‘Apollo’. ‘Red Apollo’ features stems and leaf undersides blushed with red.

Display tips: Wipe leaves often with a damp cloth to keep them glossy. Display in a prominent place in fall, when the plant is in bloom.


Leaves become crinkled or curled.

CAUSE: Too much light.

REMEDY: Move plant to a shadier location.

Growing tips wilt.

CAUSE: Soil too dry.

REMEDY: Aphelandra requires constant moisture, which can be a challenge in summer when the plant is kept in bright light. Rehydrate pots that may have dried out in the center (see page 328). This often happens with rootbound plants grown in a peaty potting mix.

Lowest leaves wilt and drop off.

CAUSE: Too dry; too wet; excessive fertilizer.

REMEDY: Maintain constant moisture and reduce strength of fertilizer solution. Leach pots to remove possible accumulated salts (see page 263).

Small yellow spots on leaves; tiny flying insects are present.

CAUSE: Whitefly.

REMEDY: Isolate plant and install sticky traps as described on page 278.

Plant is weak; grows slowly; small flying insects present.

CAUSE: Fungus gnats.

REMEDY: The moist, peaty soil aphelandra prefers is attractive to this irritating pest. Keep soil slightly dry for several days, then trap larvae with potato pieces as described on page 271.

White cottony masses on stems.

CAUSE: Mealybug.

REMEDY: Remove mealybugs with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol or vegetable oil. Follow other control measures described on page 273.

Small sucking insects on leaf undersides and new leaves.

CAUSE: Aphids.

REMEDY: Clean plant thoroughly with water, then spray with insecticidal soap. See other control measures on page 269.



NAMED AFTER SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY, French-born plantsman Michel Begon, the begonia family includes more than 900 species, and there are ten times that many named hybrids. Most begonias grown as houseplants come from tropical regions, so they are warm-natured plants. All begonias have fleshy stems and lopsided leaves, with half of the leaf larger than the other half. Leaves vary in shape from elongated hearts to pointed, ivylike forms, and some begonias have rounded leaves with scalloped edges. Begonia flowers are either male or female. The male flowers tend to be short lived, while the female flowers persist for weeks as enclosures for winged seedpods.

Angel-wing begonia (Begonia × corallina)

Numerous “outdoor” begonias can be grown indoors for short periods, including the wax begonias used as indestructible bedding plants in the summer garden, and tuberous begonias, often grown in hanging baskets kept outdoors in shady areas. Yet three types of begonia make superior houseplants: angel-wing begonias, fancy-leafed begonias, and winter-blooming begonias. Each type is discussed in detail on pages 12–14, since each has unique characteristics.

Caring for Begonias

Begonias vary in size, longevity, and their most remarkable features. Angel-wing begonias make wonderful houseplants, since they produce showy leaves and pretty flowers. They are also reasonably long lived and easy to propagate by rooting stem cuttings. Fancy-leafed begonias are more challenging to grow, but their stained-glass leaves are among the most painterly plants in existence. Most people use winter-blooming begonias as short-lived color plants for winter windowsills. When the last flowers fade, you can discard the plants or keep them long enough to propagate new plants from rooted stem cuttings.

Light: Begonias need moderate light in summer, so they fare well when grown near an east window or under fluorescent lights. Those that bloom benefit from increased light in winter, when they perform best near a south or west window.

Temperature: Protect plants from chilling, as they are easily damaged by temperatures below 55°F/13°C. A temperature range of 65–75°F/18–24°C is ideal for most begonias.

Fertilizer: A steady diet of liquid fertilizer diluted to half the normal strength will keep begonias happy. Feed plants every 2 weeks while they are actively growing. Flowering begonias benefit from a high-phosphorous plant food. With fancy-leafed begonias, a balanced plant food is fine.

Water: Begonias are easily damaged by overwatering, yet they also suffer when their soil becomes extremely dry. Watering practices vary slightly with begonia type, but as a general practice it is prudent to allow the top inch of soil to become nearly dry between waterings. Begonias need moderate to high humidity. Make use of trays filled with dampened pebbles or use a humidifier in areas where you grow begonias. Avoid frequent misting, which can lead to problems with powdery mildew. Because of their need for humidity, begonias are good plants to grow in the same room with orchids, bromeliads, or ferns.

Soil: Provide begonias with a peaty yet well-drained soilless mix, such as African violet soil. Many good-quality potting soils that include perlite, which lightens the mix texture, are satisfactory for these plants. Heavy soil that dries slowly is not a good choice for begonias.

Repotting: Begonias often are sorted according to their root types, which can be fibrous or tuberous or include a thick rhizome that spreads over the surface of the soil. Root type influences container size and shape. Angel-wing begonias have fibrous roots and grow best when slightly rootbound in smallish pots. Most fancy-leafed selections develop rhizomes that grow near the soil’s surface, so the best containers for them are broad and shallow. Winter-blooming begonias usually need no repotting unless you want to shift them to a more decorative container.

Be careful not to plant any begonia in a large pot, as this can lead to problems with overwatering and root rot. After repotting, tap on the sides of the pot to tamp soil into place, but do not press it down hard with your fingers. A bit of air left in the potting mix is good for begonias.

Winter-blooming begonia (Begoni × hiemalis)

Propagating: All begonias can be propagated by setting stem tip cutting to root in a warm, humid environment. Fancy-leafed types can be propagated from petiole leaf cuttings, as is done with African violets (see page 302). They have the further distinction of being the only commonly grown houseplants that will develop plantlets when a leaf is pinned to the surface of dampened seed-starting mix. Although interesting, this method is slow compared to rooting petiole leaf cuttings, and not nearly as dependable. Some begonias can also be grown from seed, though hybrids are best propagated vegetatively, by rooting stem cuttings or leaves.

Small details: Begonias often react badly to changes in their environment, so it is wise to provide special care when bringing a new one into your home or office. Buy from a local source if possible, or purchase a small plant if it must be shipped. Reputable suppliers will ship plants only in warm weather. When you get the plant home, protect it from exposure to drafts and dryness by enclosing it in a loose plastic bag for a few days. Babying the plant along during its first few weeks in its new location can make a dramatic difference in a begonia’s short- and long-term welfare.

Pruned stems from angel-wing begonias make good cut flowers.


Leaves turn yellow or brown and fall off.

CAUSE: Overwatering.

REMEDY: Keep plants in small pots and water only after the surface becomes dry. Cool conditions and oversized pots contribute to this problem.

Tan spots on leaves; plants rot at the base.

CAUSE: Botrytis, a fungal disease.

REMEDY: If possible, remove affected leaves and propagate new plants from clean stem tip cuttings. This disease is common with rooted cuttings, and is best prevented by using a clean, pathogen-free rooting medium.

Spots with yellow halos on leaves.

CAUSE: Bacterial leaf spot.

REMEDY: On angel-wing and fancy-leafed begonias, remove affected leaves and increase air circulation. Dispose of infected winter-blooming begonias, as they carry this disease throughout their systems.

Flowers twisted and distorted, especially on winter-blooming begonias.

CAUSE: Thrips or mites.

REMEDY: See page 276 and check for presence of thrips. If present, pinch off affected leaves and buds and dispose of them. With good care, plants should rebloom in a few weeks. Mites are a more persistent pest. If flowers and new leaves are distorted, but no thrips are present, assume mites are the problem and dispose of the infested plant.

White powdery patches on leaves.

CAUSE: Powdery mildew, a fungal disease.

REMEDY: Remove affected leaves at the first sign of this disease. Increase air circulation around the plants. Older leaves are more susceptible than young ones, so propagating new plants annually is a good preventive strategy.

White cottony creatures on stems and leaves.

CAUSE: Mealybugs.

REMEDY: Isolate plant, and remove mealybugs by hand using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. Repeat every 5 days until problem is controlled. Do not use oil sprays on begonias to control mealybugs or other pests.

Leaves of fancy-leafed begonias become pale and brittle.

CAUSE: Excessive light; dry air.

REMEDY: Move plant to a spot with reduced light and increase humidity. When new leaves appear with good color, propagate a few to grow a new plant.

Getting to Know Begonias

In addition to the three types of begonias described below, there are many more available from specialty greenhouses and collectors.

Fancy-leafed begonias show mesmerizing variegation patterns.



Begonia × corallina, other species and hybrids be-GO-nee-uh ko-ra-LEE-nuh


WITH MARVELOUSLY MARKED LEAVES and elegant pendant flower clusters, angel-wing begonias are the best types to grow as house-plants. There are dozens of species and named hybrids, which vary in size, leaf variegation, and flower color. Dwarf selections grow to only 12 in/30 cm and can be kept as table plants, while large ones become nearly shrublike within a few years’ time, often growing more than 36 in/90 cm tall and wide. Bloom time varies with cultivar, but most angel-wings bloom best in late winter and spring. The varieties named below are among the strongest rebloomers, often producing several flushes of flowers at different times of year.

Angel-wing begonia (Begonia × corallina)


Light: In spring and summer, bright filtered light with no direct sun. In fall and winter, bright light, including up to 4 hours of direct sun.

Temperature: Average room temperatures (65–75°F/18–24°C) year-round.

Fertilizer: Feed every 2 weeks with a high-phosphorous plant food mixed at half the normal strength.

Water: Allow soil to become dry to within 1 in/2.5 cm of the surface between thorough waterings.

Soil: A light, peaty soilless mix such as African violet potting soil.

Repotting: Repot annually in spring, shifting plant to a slightly larger container. Add pebbles or broken crockery to the bottom of the pot to increase weight and improve drainage. Very large specimens may need staking.

Longevity: 4 to 5 years, or indefinitely when propagated from stem tip cuttings.

Propagation: In spring or summer, root nonflowering stem tip cuttings in perlite, seed-starting mix, or a half-and-half mixture of peat moss and sand, as described on page 300.

Selections: ‘Bubbles’ is naturally dwarf, and produces orange-red flowers almost continuously. Pink-flowered ‘Looking Glass’ grows 12–36 in/30–90 cm tall, and features metallic silver leaves with olive green veins and red undersides. The dark reddish leaves of ‘Cracklin Rosie’ are speckled with pink, while long-limbed ‘Sophie Cecile’ has green leaves speckled with white. For hanging baskets, white-flowered ‘Orococo’ is a real beauty, with ivy-shaped, green-gold leaves edged with dark red.


  • "Cursed with a brown thumb?…Barbara Pleasant has come to your rescue."—Stephanie Bloyd, Mother Earth News, August-September 2006

On Sale
Nov 8, 2022
Page Count
384 pages

Barbara Pleasant

Barbara Pleasant

About the Author

Barbara Pleasant has written about organic gardening and self-sufficient living for more than 30 years. Her books include Starter Vegetable Gardens, 2nd Edition, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The Gardener’s Bug Book, The Gardener’s Weed Book, and The Gardener’s Guide to Plant Diseases

Learn more about this author