Which plants are best in conservatories?

Conservatories are a great way to add extra living space to a house and they can create a bridge between the indoors and the garden. They are also, of course, fantastic environments for many types of houseplant. Typically, plants that like bright lights do well in conservatories, but there is more to it than that. This guide will give advice about the plants that will really thrive in conservatory conditions, and give some suggestions about which plants might not be quite so happy.

What makes conservatories special?

Conservatories, sunrooms, garden rooms - these are all names we give for highly glazed rooms that are great places to relax, view the outside world and, of course, keep plants.

The modern conservatory is a direct descendant of orangeries of the great stately homes, as well as wonderful Victorian plant houses designed to conserve and display plants brought to Europe from all over the world.

large plant inside conservatory or greenhouse at KEW gardens

One of the great advantages of such spaces is that they are so well lit. This means that your plants will seldom be wanting for light. They are often warm - almost hot - in the summer, despite all efforts to shade them. Conversely, they can be a little chilly in the winter.

These conditions are ideal for a wide range of plants which can be displayed with great imagination and style.

Keeping you and your plants comfortable

It is possible to create environments in conservatories that are perfect for the most exotic and demanding of tropical plants, but you do need to consider your own comfort too. Bright light, high temperatures and lots of humidity might make for fabulous displays of exotic orchids and bromeliads, but that might not make for a comfortable place to while away the hours. The best approach is to make sure that you are happy and then find the plants that will work well under those conditions.

Another thing to consider is that in warm conditions, plant pests reproduce much more quickly, so keep an eye open for common species such as mealybugs, scale insects and two-spotted spider mites. Our recent post on common plant pests gives some useful advice on what to look for and how to deal with pests.

Temperature

Temperatures in conservatories can get quite high in the summer and drop fairly low in the winter - especially if the room is not used often. Most plants do best under fairly constant conditions, but those from semi-arid regions are, surprisingly, much more tolerant of low temperatures. Mediterranean species also prefer some seasonal variation, so as long as your conservatory doesn’t fall below 10°C, you will have a wide choice.

If you are looking to keep some tender tropical plants in a conservatory, then you will need to keep minimum temperatures a few degrees higher: 15°C at least.

Humidity

Plants from the tropics do well under humid conditions - they have their origins in rain forests where there is ample moisture in the air. A good way to ensure the right humidity, without it becoming too oppressive, is to have an indoor water feature where there is constant movement of water. These can be quite inexpensive, and the sound of trickling water adds to the atmosphere too.

Another way of maintaining humidity is to stand plant pots on trays with a few centimetres depth of LECA (these are small expanded clay pellets that can absorb a lot of water) or even gravel. The high surface area will allow lots of moisture to evaporate around the foliage. This also has the benefit of making the environment less attractive to two-spotted spider mites - a pest that can run rampant in warm and dry conditions.

Plants from arid or semi-arid regions do better under conditions of low humidity - cacti and succulents, as well as plants with long sword-shaped leaves. Fortunately, these are generally untroubled by spider mites.

Light

Conservatories are blessed with good light (as are sunny windowsills in other parts of the house). Some plants are quite tolerant of direct light (desert plants, for example), but others are rather more fragile, and their leaves can get damaged. Artificial shades are often fitted in conservatories, and these are very useful, but don’t forget that you can use large plants to shade smaller specimens.

Size, shape and colour

You can be very creative in a conservatory with plants, and a variety of different shapes and sizes will add a lot of interest. If you have the space, consider creating groups of plants in a naturalistic setting by clustering pots together or even creating a larger indoor feature bed. Make use of accessories such as interesting rocks and stones too.

As well as small plants for windowsills or shelves, you might have space for larger plant specimens. If floor space is at a premium, why not use plants trained on a pole or climbing a trellis. Hanging plants are great too: there is often ample headroom in a conservatory to have some vining plants that hang down, or that can be trained along wires.

One of the benefits of good light in a conservatory is that there are many plants that have interesting colour and patterns on their foliage that will do very well, and some that also have attractive flowers too.

Top plants for your conservatory

Small succulents

In very bright spots, look for plants that are succulent, have foliage in a compact rosette or which is reduced to spines (as in cacti), are hairy or waxy. These are all ways to conserve moisture. Hairy succulents trap a layer of moist air close to the surface of the plant and plants with a blue or grey waxy coat use it to reflect damaging heat and light.

There are currently three small succulents in the foli8 range for bright areas that will look good on their own or planted together in a group. Occasionally, small colourful flowers are also produced. As well as being great in conservatories, they are excellent for sunny windowsills too.

Aristaloe aristata “Cosmo Green Pearl” small succulent houseplant for the conservatoryEcheveria agavoides small succulent houseplant for the conservatoryEcheveria runyonii small houseplant succulent for conservatory
Images above, from L-R: Aristaloe aristata “Cosmo Green Pearl”, Echeveria agavoides, Echeveria runyonii
In more shady areas, you could also try Sansevieria canaliculata “Fernwood” or its bigger cousin Sansevieria trifasciata “laurentii”.
Sansevieria canaliculataBuy Mother-in-law's Tongue
Images above, from L-R: Sansevieria canaliculata “Fernwood”, Sansevieria trifasciata “laurentii

Plants with long, sword-shaped leaves

This leaf shape evolved in semi-arid regions on many continents. The leaf shape is good for conserving water, as it has a relatively low surface area, and the foliage grows in a self-shading rosette form. Many leaves of these plants are also spiny or have very sharp margins - this is to deter browsing animals, so take care when handling them.
In the foli8 range, plants in this category do not have spines, although the Yucca does have tough leaf edges that might scratch if roughly handled.
Yucca elephantipes is a great conservatory plant. It is as tough as old boots, will cope with cold conditions in the winter and likes really good light (shown below).
yucca elephantipes

Other plants to consider are Beaucarnea recurvata or Ponytail palm (below), which isn’t a palm, and our selection of Dracaenas.

buy beaucarnea recurvatadracaena fragrans golden coastdracaena fragrans yellow coastbuy dracaena fragrans cintho corn plantbuy dracaena deremensis lemon limebuy dracaena marginata

Images L-R: Beaucarnea recurvata, Dracaena fragrans “Golden Coast”, Dracaena fragrans “Yellow Coast” and Dracaena fragrans “Cintho”, Dracaena deremensis “Lemon-Lime” and Dracaena marginata

Trees and palms

If you want some bushier foliage in your conservatory plant displays, then trees with smaller leaves would be good. Ficus benjamina (either green or variegated), Clusia rosea (the Autograph Tree) or Ficus lyrata would be excellent choices. Polyscias fruticosa “Ming” would also be good, but do make sure that the foliage is misted.

If these plants are positioned quite high up, they can cast some nice dappled shade for other plants, or people wanting to be out of the direct sunlight.

 buy ficus benjaminaficus variegated braided stemClusia rosea plant in compostable potficus lyrata makes the perfect conservatory plantming aralia makes the perfect plant for your conservatory

Images L-R: Ficus benjamina, Ficus benjamina variegata, Clusia rosea, Ficus lyrata, Polyscias fruticosa “Ming”

No conservatory would be complete without a palm or two, and both Dypsis lutescens (the butterfly, or Areca palm) and Howea forsteriana (Kentia palm) would be good choices (although keep the latter out of the most direct sunlight).

dypsis lutescens areca palm conservatory plantkentia palm makes the perfect plant for conservatories

Images L-R: Dypsis lutescens, Howea forsteriana

Of course, these suggestions aren’t exhaustive - there are dozens of pants in our range that will do really well in a conservatory. A lot depends on the space you have available,the environmental conditions you want to maintain in there and what you use the space for.

Shop conservatory plants to find the perfect plant for this bright room in your home.

 

By Kenneth Freeman

Main Image credit - Huy Phan, via Pexels.com

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