Naturally fragrant houseplants can improve the whole ambiance of a room, creating a more calming or a more invigorating atmosphere, or even evoking memories of your favorite vacation. A few fragrant flowers and herbs do especially well indoors. Among these, you have a variety of choices including intoxicating florals, crisp citrus scents, and appetizing herbal aromas.
Sweet and Floral
If the scent of a flower garden in full bloom is your thing, there are plenty of fragrant flowering plants that can bring that summertime mood indoors.
Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)
The sweet, heady fragrance of the gardenia’s flower is the main reason this plant is so popular. Each rose-like bloom lasts for around a week, but when conditions are right, the plant can keep blooming all summer.
It’s picky about its living conditions, though, and requires high humidity, at least six hours of bright light a day, cooler temperatures to set buds and warmer temperatures while in bloom. You’ll also need to keep a close eye out for pests.
Pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum)
When this plant’s tiny, pale pink flowers open in the evening, they can fill a room with their intensely sweet fragrance and evoke the mood of a desert summer night. The plant can bloom all year, and it’s not particularly demanding, either.
Like other jasmine species, it prefers full sun to light, partial shade and needs a deep watering every two weeks or more often when in bloom. Its fast-growing branches should be pruned regularly or trained on a trellis or arch. Some find the scent overwhelming, so make sure you like it before you bring one of these plants into your home.
With its clean, calming fragrance, lavender is perfect for the bedroom or kitchen. The plant doesn’t need much, but the one thing it must have is abundant direct sunlight. The sill of a south-facing window is the ideal spot as long as it’s free from drafts. This plant dislikes wet feet, so let the soil dry slightly between waterings. Overwatering can cause root rot, which frequently kills lavender plants.
To harvest the flowers for scented sachets or tea, cut branches back to the first set of leaves and hang them to dry. Cutting branches promotes growth and blooming, but cutting just the flower tips can have the opposite effect.
Plumeria (Plumeria rubra)
The brightly colored flowers of the plumeria, or frangipani, plant are best known for their use in Hawaiian leis. They not only look good, but also produce a gentle, fruity scent that will lend a distinctly tropical air to your home.
While not overly fussy, plumeria doesn’t tolerate neglect well. It requires a bare minimum of five hours of bright sunlight daily, evenly moist soil, and moderate temperatures and humidity. In winter, it goes dormant and drops its leaves. You can store it in a cool (around 55 degrees) place for this period.
Scented geranium (Pelargonium)
Most geraniums have a light scent naturally, but scented geraniums were bred for specific aromas. Choose from rose, lemon, mint, spice, coconut, and chocolate among others. To maximize their olfactory impact, group several plants by scent type, such as spicy or fruity.
They do best in bright sunlight, but moderate temperatures. Use well-drained soil. Soil that’s too rich in organic matter reduces their fragrance. These plants are drought-tolerant and should be allowed to dry thoroughly between waterings.
Orchids (Orchidaceae family)
While known primarily for their showy blooms, many orchids also produce distinct floral, spice or citrus fragrances. Brassavola nodosa, or “Lady of the Night,” releases a strong citrus scent in the evening. Aeranthes grandalena produces a jasmine-like scent, while orchids in the Gongora genus typically produce a spicy fragrance.
Orchids require shallow planting in well-drained soil that’s kept moist. Give them bright light from a south-facing window, but not so much it scorches the leaves. They need high humidity, so place the pot in a tray of water and pebbles or mist the leaves daily.
Fresh and Spicy
Not fond of heavy, floral scents? Herbs and other fragrant foliage houseplants can freshen up your rooms without making them smell like a flower shop.
Mint (Mentha genus)
One of the best choices for giving your home a fresh, invigorating scent, mint plants are relatively easy to grow. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) are the two most popular choices, but Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) is another good option, particularly if you have limited space.
Plant your mint in a wide container to give the roots room to spread. Put it near a sunny window in a warm room and keep the soil moist. Mints are thirsty plants and often need three or four waterings a week.
Citrus (Citrus genus)
Lemon, orange, tangerine, kumquat, and other citrus trees produce a fresh, tart fragrance, especially when in bloom. After three or four years, you might even see some fruit. The trick to growing them indoors is plenty of bright light and sufficient humidity. Ideally, that means eight to 12 hours of sun, which in most climates will mean providing a grow light.
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cinerea)
This iconic Australian tree is remarkably easy to grow as a houseplant. It emits a distinctive fresh, slightly minty aroma and the blue-gray foliage suits any decor style.
This plant needs full sun and protection from drafts. Despite originating in an arid land, eucalyptus needs its soil kept consistently moist or allowed to dry only slightly between waterings. It’s a fast grower. You’ll need to prune it regularly to keep it short and bushy, or you’ll end up with a tall, gangly tree. Even with pruning, you might eventually need to transplant it outdoors where possible.
Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus)
Cuban oregano isn’t a true oregano or from Cuba, but its oregano-like scent recalls the savory aroma of Mediterranean cuisine. It favors medium light and hot, dry conditions and can’t stand soggy roots. Even so, it requires well-drained soil that’s kept slightly moist.
Sweet bay (Laurus nobilis)
Another pungent herb, sweet bay is a slow-growing plant that will provide fragrance without taking up much space. Give it well-drained soil and water deeply when the soil becomes slightly dry, but never let it dry out completely. Over winter, let it go dormant by placing it in a cool (40 to 60 degrees) room. It needs little light and water for this period. Come spring, gradually acclimate it to light and provide full sun.
Watch out for scale insects, which suck out sap and cause the plant’s leaves and the surface under the plant to feel sticky. If these bugs show up, horticultural oil usually gets rid of them.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
With its sweet-tart scent reminiscent of lemon drops, this plant is known as a natural stress reliever. The leaves are also useful for tea or garnishing desserts. It needs at least four hours of full sun daily and does better with a grow lamp. Less light than that and the plant becomes spindly. Keep the soil consistently moist, watering when the soil’s surface starts to dry.
Fragrant houseplants keep your home smelling good without the heavy, chemical scent air fresheners often bring. Better yet, some of them can help spice up your cooking, too. While these plants can all thrive indoors given the right conditions, some are rather finicky, so check up on their requirements before you buy.