Houseplants for the Elderly--Practical Gift Ideas for Seniors

Practical Gift Ideas for Seniors

6 Houseplants for the Elderly

Having a houseplant (or two, or three) is healthy for every human being. They purify the air and provide emotionaly and visual gratification. So why wouldn't the elderly benefit from some live greenery as well?

Actually, caring for a plant can help elders have a sense of purpose. For those who have spent their lives caring for a spouse, children pets, etc. and who are now alone, a plant can still feed those nurturing instincts without requiring too much expense or physical exertion.

Here are few plants that make great gifts for seniors, and some additional tips for making sure you give a plant that is an enjoyable, healthy gift:

Before You Choose a Houseplant for a Senior

Not all plants are a great idea. The more frail an elder is, the less likely that they will want to care for a plant that is high maintenance. Plus, a plant that is notoriously difficult to grow can die, and that can lead to a sense of failure and depression.

Luckily, there are several houseplants that are very easy to grow. They might not be totally kill-proof, but they are much more likely to at least survive, even if your loved one forgets to water them or they become temporarily pot-bound.

You should also take into account these things:

Plant size: 

Eventually a plant will have to be repotted or moved for some reason. Big plants such as indoor trees are beautiful, but a smaller, easier-to-handle plant will be better. Just remember to read the tags that come with the plant. Not all of them will stay as small and cute as they are in the nursery. If you do opt for a large plant (and many of them are great options for the elderly), be available to help with any repotting or maintenance.

Rate of Growth: 

Will a plant be happy for a long time in one pot, or will it outgrow several pots in a short time? If your loved one is willing and able to change out the pots and soil frequently then this isn't a concern, but if they might have trouble, you should search for a plant that grows slowly.


Some plants can be mildly to severely toxic to humans. Usually, this just shows up as skin irritation. Since older people have thinner, sensitive skin, even a non-toxic plant could cause irritation. Just remind them to wash their hands after handling the plant.

If a elder has dementia, and you think there might be a possibility they could forget and taste a leave or not wash their hands after handling, you should speak to your nursery about plants that are absolutely safe for humans and pets.

NOTE: even toxic plants have to be consumed in mass quantities to be fatal to an adult. However there can be some very uncomfortable and scary symptoms. Luckily, many edible plants make great houseplants!

Here are a few suggestions for easy plants to give the elderly:

1. Aloe Vera 

The aloe plant is a beautiful and useful succulent. Not only is it very easy to care for, having the stems on hand to treat burns and scalds can be helpful in the kitchen. The juice will also help heal many different cuts, abrasions and skin irritations.

Aloe plants can get very large, up to three feet in height and breadth. If you are getting an aloe plant for an elderly loved one, try to pick a small one or a series of small ones to start with. It takes awhile for them to grow to maturity. Every couple of years or so, the baby plants need to be potted separately. This is something you can help with if the owner is unable to do so.

Requirements: Bright light (any window or rooms with plenty of artificial light throughout the day), and sandy soil.

2. Peperomia

This plant is a nice light-weight plant. It rarely grows bigger than 6 to 12 inches, and can be kept on  a narrow windowsill or petite side table.

This is a low-to-medium light plant. This makes it great for the person who keeps their home relatively dark. (Many elderly keep rooms dim because sunlight affects their vision.) It will even be happy in a north window!

The peperomia is also pretty to look at, with heart shaped, textured leaves and interesting spiky appendages. A good option for a hanging basket, too.

Requirements: Lower light, dryer air.

3. Mother-in-laws Tongue

This plant has the reputation of being immortal, and for a good reason. You really, really have to try hard in order to kill one. Unless you take it out of the dirt, soak the roots in battery acid and throw it out to freeze in Siberia, then this plant will probably be okay.

It is however a bigger plant that needs to be in a floor pot. Your elderly loved one does not need to be trying to move or re-pot this plant without help. It grows to about 4 feet in height at full maturity.

This plant does have a toxic element. It is not the best plant for a senior who owns pets or who is visited by young grandchildren unless supervision is used.

It makes a nice corner plant for a bedroom, and doesn't being ignored.

Requirements: Any lighting, warm air, little water, no fertilizer.

4. Cast Iron Plant 

This plant is aptly named. It is hard to kill. It grows slowly, and has beautiful leaves. It is another tall plant, like the mother-in-laws tongue.

Perfect for a dim corner near a window, the cast iron plant needs little in the way of special care. In fact, all it really wants is water,  filtered or bright light, and average potting soil.

At its tallest, this plant will be about 20 inches, which still doesn't make it too tall for a table. Today, the plant can be found with the traditional glossy, dark green leaves, or a variegated leaf.

Requirements: Bright or filtered light, normal room temperature and humidity, normal soil conditions.

5. Pothos Ivy

I'm pretty sure that everyone has one of these plants already. They are very common, since they propagate like crazy from just stem cuttings. The pothos has the NASA stamp of approval as being one of the top air purifying houseplants.

Since this plant comes from the jungles of South America, it is used to reaching lengths of 40 feet in great conditions. In the home though, it probably won't grow quite that much, but I've seen some that trailed the floor while hung from the ceiling.

Still, if you don't want a plant that long, it is easy to keep the vines trimmed. And all those cuttings just mean more pothos!

The pothos pretty much tells you when it needs something too. It wilts when it wants water, and turns yellow if it is getting too much light. Just because it shows the signs doesn't mean the plant is doomed. Water it and move it to a less-sunny place and it will continue to flourish like nothing ever happened.

Pothos is another plant that can cause nausea, vomiting and irritation in pets and children. It needs to be hung out of reach if there are dogs, cats, or small children in the home.

Requirements: Water, indirect light, and a place to rest its roots. Namely, a pot with average soil. Cuttings will also grow hydroponically if you keep them in a glass of water.

6. Spider Plant

The ideal hanging basket plant, the spider plant is known for its fountain of vines, and little "baby spiders" that grow from longer trailing vines. It is a forgiving plant, but slightly more needy than the pothos ivy.

Spider plants like a little bit more sunlight, but not too harsh or too hot. It also likes to be watered frequently during warm weather, and prefers not to get too cool. As long as a person can manage watering and occasionally trimming this plant, and has a nice window, this plant will just hang out and purify the air.

Requirements: Bright, indirect sunlight, frequent watering in summer, frequent fertilization during summer, normal room temperature, no cold drafts.

One Last Word About Houseplants as Gifts

Plants are living things. If you give one as a gift, I recommend including the basic necessities for its care. It is just a courteous thing to do, especially if a senior is living on a budget. These items can include:

  • A nice pot (the flimsy ones from the nursery won't hold up) with a water tray
  • A plant mat to prevent water stains on floors and tables
  • A clean spray bottle for misting (labeled to prevent chemical mix-ups)
  • A nice potting soil mixture as per the plant's instructions
  • A small thing of fertilizer if recommended
  • A strong hook or wall bracket for a hanging plant
  • A set of scissors just for plant trims (to prevent contaminating scissors that might be used near food.) 

Put all of the extra stuff into the nice flower pot and you have a gorgeous houseplant gift basket!