Images of interiors tastefully decorated with lush greenery are driving the craze for indoor plants. One area that’s caught my eye is the use of trailing potted plants for bookshelves. Shelving lends itself to the display of plants that cascade out of their pots and makes the most of interesting containers.

If you’ve tried and failed or don’t know which plants to try, here are tips to get the look you want. Below is a list of trailing plants that grow indoors along with upright plant recommendations to add colour, texture and contrasting foliage shapes.

Trailing plants add an extra layer of interest to an intriguing book collection, especially when mixed in with compact, upright options. Devil's Ivy, Peperomia Raindrop and Chain of Hearts are all popular choices.

 

Some light reading

The key to success lies in the amount of light your shelving receives. Shelves, particularly bookshelves, are often placed away from windows out of direct light creating difficult situations for plants to thrive. Lower shelves may also be darker than shelves that are higher, more open or level with windows. A skylight near a shelf gives additional light to higher shelves.

To assess the light on a shelf, see if your hand can throw a shadow when you hold it near the shelf and also regularly check plants on the shelves for signs of stress – such as scale, mealy bug or yellowing leaves.

If you can’t move the shelves into a more brightly lit spot, switch your plants out so that they spend a short time on the shelves and are then moved back to a better-lit position. As the back of the shelf will be dark, even plants exposed to bright light must be rotated so that each part of the plant gets better light. Ideally rotate each plant about 90 degrees each week.

This eclectic selection of upright and trailing plants adds a fantastic finish to any bookshelf!

Caring for your bookshelf plants

Once you've assessed your bookshelf's light access, it's time to choose your plants - but remember, too many plants in a small space really can be a crowd. It's important to space your plants out on the shelves so that each one has its own space to grow and is easily accessible for regular watering and care.

Watering can be quite a challenge when plants are placed on shelves. Ideally, take each plant out of its cover pot and take it outdoors undercover to water, or otherwise use a sink, bathtub or shower. Allow excess water to drain before returning the plant to its position. Take the opportunity while your plant is off the shelf to dust the leaves, trim off any dead or damaged leaves or stems and check for pests.

The weight of the plant and its pot can also be an issue on shelving. Keep large, heavy pots on lower shelves or move them to a secure shelf where they are unlikely to be knocked. Shelves that span a wide space without support may bow under the weight of heavy plants or too many plants, so look for shelves with good support.

If you are buying a set of shelves to use for your plant display, select shelves that can be set at adjustable heights to allow more readily for the size of your plant and pot collection.

Pilea is a cute upright option for bookshelves, while pothos, rhipsalis and hoya make beautiful trailing options that will tumble elegantly over the shelves.

 

Ideal bookshelf plants

There are plenty of indoor plants that will grow quite happily on your bookshelf, adding that all-important serene green foliage or a splash of unexpected colour. Whether you're looking for something to trail down the shelves or something small and compact, here are a few of our top plants for bookshelves.

 

Hanging or trailing choices

  • Chain of hearts (Ceropegia woodii) has small, heart-shaped silver, green and white leaves that forms long chains which can be looped and trained along and down shelves.
  • Hoya (Hoya carnosa) is highly tolerant of low light. In brightly lit conditions it produces long-lasting, wax-like flowers. Trailing varieties such as ‘Krimson Queen’ (dark pink flowers) and ‘Krimson Princess’ (pink flowers and variegated leaves) are two to look out for.
  • Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) has trailing stems of small, dark green, shiny leaves and tubular red flowers.
  • Peperomia (Peperomia and varieties) is a plant that tolerates low light. There are trailing varieties that can be used to cascade, as well as small, decorative upright varieties including ‘Watermelon’ (pictured in header) and ‘Raindrop’ which add interest in a pot or terrarium.
  • Philodendron hederaceum is a trailing philodendron with attractive heart-shaped bright green leaves that have an appealing, tropical look. ‘Brasil’ has striking yellow variegations that bring interest to an indoor display.
  • Pothos, also known as devil's ivy (Epipremium aureum), has heart-shaped green or variegated leaves. Variegations may be white, cream or gold. The stems are thick and succulent and plants grow quickly in good light.
  • Rhipsalis is a type of trailing cactus – minus the spikes – with coral-like growth. It will also produce small flowers.
  • String of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) has long chains of bead-like green leaves. Treat gently as the stems are easily broken, but new plants readily regrow from broken sections.

 

Upright small plants

These plants can be grown in small pots or look for plants in terrariums such as Flower Power’s stylish Living Trends range of terrariums and small plants in on-trend or novelty planters to decorate your shelving

  • Prayer plant (Maranta) forms clumps of brightly coloured and patterned leaves.
  • Cyclamen are widely available in flower in autumn and winter to add temporary splashes of pink, white and red flowers for up to six weeks. Water with care and remove spent flowers and leaves twisting them off at the base of the corm.