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A wagonload of easy-to-grow houseplants

In Steve Martin's 1984 comedy, "The Lonely Guy," Charles Grodin's solitary character held intimate conversations with his nearest and dearest friends - his houseplants.

Pitifully hilarious.

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Although his begonias didn't provide the warm touchy-feely relationship he longed for, they did perk up his otherwise gloomy apartment.

Attractive houseplants can add vitality and pizazz to any room in your home - even if you do have friends. They are particularly welcome if you don't have a yard or garden. They have a way of bringing the outdoors in.

Houseplant foliage comes in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and sometimes scents. (See, they are just like friends.)

When shopping for houseplants, it's best to avoid supermarkets and home-improvement stores where plants often sit for weeks in a sunless, air-conditioned, dry environment getting little if any care. Prices may be appealing, but, unless you're sure to purchase them as soon as they arrive, it may be best to avoid them.

Stick to nurseries. They have a better selection. They're grown under proper conditions, and you can get professional advice on their care.

A little known fact: Foliage plants don't, as a rule, need as much light as those that bloom. A flowering hibiscus, for instance, needs full sun. A rubber tree doesn't.

Fluctuating heat and humidity, overwatering, and drafts are a houseplant's worst enemies. Most, but not all, indoor flora thrive when there is little temperature fluctuation, and appreciate a relatively high humidity.

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One solution is to set plants on a tray filled with pebbles with water beneath. A humidifier, of course, is ideal.

Keep your plants away from fireplaces, radiators, or other heat sources. Most thrive best in well-ventilated rooms. And, if they are doing well in a particular area in your home, don't move them.

A general rule-of-thumb is to water only when the plant's surface soil is dry. And when you do water, do it thoroughly, and stick the fertilizing schedule recommended on whatever product you buy. Cut back on fertilizing during cold months.

With proper attention you may develop a thumb greener than Martha Stewart's.

Here are several houseplants that are easy to care for and can complement any indoor setting. All can add dramatic interest to your home.

Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa): These are recognizable by the numerous elongated perforations in their broad leaves. Swiss cheese plants have vigorous growth spurts and enjoy bright to moderate sun. Native to South American rain forests, they thrive in warm, humid climates.

Dracaena (Dracaena cincta): This evergreen will branch with age, displaying its crowded rosettes of long, narrow, arching leaves. It's a slow grower that likes bright light and some humidity. Water when soil surface is dry. Any of the dracaena family is dramatic and easy to grow.

African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona): Its three-angled, leaf-lined stems shoot upward giving it a strange, other-worldly presence. Milks like bright sun and warmth. In winter they tolerate cooler temperatures.

Thread palm (Washingtonia robusta): If you have a sun room, this houseplant will make a striking addition. Native to northwest Mexico, thread palms develop a single stem with fan-shaped leaves. Do not overwater. Fertilize with foliage houseplant food once a month.

Fiddle-leaf fig (Ficus lyrata): A wonderfully dramatic houseplant if you've got room to let it stretch out. It can grow to 10 feet tall and six feet across. It has large, dark-green, shiny, fiddle-shaped leaves. Avoid direct sun, and water only when soil is dry.

Umbrella plant (Cyperus albostriatus): Here's one plant you can't drown. They love to sit in water and will die a quick death if allowed to dry out. Their ethereal foliage provides a good contrast to broad-leaf plants.

Pilea (Pilea peperomioides): These small plants from China are easy to grow because they tolerate neglect. Their leaves resemble small shields. Pileas can survive weeks of drought, but don't take waterlogging well.

Slender club-rush (Isolepis cernua): Rush plant leaves resemble slender blades of grass and bear tiny brown spikes. These small plants enjoy shade and cool temperatures. Water when soil surface is dry.

Mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata): This plant's long, slender, leaves are dark green, sometimes with golden edges. They can tolerate low-light conditions and seem to thrive on neglect.

Corn palm (Dracaena fragrans): Crowded with glossy green leaves, the corn palm can grow up to 10 feet tall. Give it room, moderate water, and lots of sun.

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