It’s always disappointing finding a houseplant that you love, but know won’t grow in your cozy bedroom. Many interesting plants can be grown indoors but usually ones that bloom, display bright colors, or produce fruit can need a lot of sun. Thankfully, plenty don’t.
Let’s take a minute to talk about the light in our homes. “Good sun” inside is judged a bit differently than outdoor sunlight. No matter how bright your home, there is considerably less light there than could sustain a full-sun landscape plant. Inside, most houseplants can thrive in bright indirect light. If your room has nice windows and you keep the blinds open, you probably have decent lighting.
A Good Rule of Thumb — If you can comfortably read the newspaper at noon without having to flick on a light, you have enough light to grow plenty of houseplants.
Too much light can cause problems for certain plants as well. Direct indoor light is hard to find and really only exists within 3 feet of an unobscured south facing window. If you do have direct light, you’ll find that most houseplants scald and burn there quite easily. Only a few plants will be able to thrive here including cactus, citrus, jasmine, and croton. Low light spots, alternatively, are areas farther than 5 feet from a good window, or near a window that may be frosted, obscured by trees or a patio outside, small or dim, or often covered by blinds. Northern windows offer the least amount of light, followed by eastern which is usually good, and western which is considered ideal for most houseplants. Dark spots are spots with no natural light at all. Very few houseplants can grow without any natural light (except the ZZ plant and the Snake plant discussed below). Before you go houseplant shopping, take some time to observe your light, keeping in mind that’s what determines what plants will do well there. If it is winter, remember that come summer any nearby trees will be covered in leaves that may shade your desired window.
Lower light plants that just remind you of the mall or boring office buildings are no fun at all. However, there are tons of interesting varieties and cultivars of hardy houseplants that are not only low-light but low-maintenance as well.
The genus dracaena is huge and contains plants that range wildly in color, size, and shape. However , they have in common their ability to thrive in darker places with much less water and attention than conventional houseplants. You may recognize the common “corn plant” dracaena because it is frequently used in commercial areas.
Dracaena can be tall and narrow or low and dense. Dracaena “marginata” sport unusual spiky thin leaves and and the “mass cane” dracaena looks tropical, with palm-like canes and variegated plumes of foliage. These versatile plants range in color and variegation including: neon green (“Limelight”), white and green striped (“Warneckii”), and even bright pink with white and green stripes (“Colorama”). Because some varieties have thin pliable canes, inventive growers are raising young dracaena and braiding and shaping their trunks slowly as they grow. This art takes years to make and the finished products are dramatic and modern.
Place your dracaena in a spot with low or medium light, avoiding sunny spots. Water only when completely dry, once every 10 days to two weeks.
Sansevieria (Snake Plant)
You may have heard this maintenance-free houseplant called by its other name: Mother In Law’s Tongue (because it is sharp and you just can’t kill it).
Sansevieria is one of the best options for lower light. They can essentially grow in a closet. Although the snake plant is full and dense, they grow more tall than wide and offer a great option for narrow corners or spaces behind other furniture. Icing on the cake: sansevieria was ranked in NASAs list of best air filtering plants. Avoiding a snake plant that looks too “mall-ish” is easy; new and interesting varieties are being developed all the time. “Bantels Sensation” has thin white and grey stalks, “Jaboa” has thick leaves rimmed in light pink, and “Laurentii” sports emerald green foliage rimmed in yellow.
Place your sansevieria in a dark, low light, or medium light spot. Water only when dry, once every two to three weeks.
Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily)
Among lower light plants, the peace lily is a fan favorite because it will actually bloom in low light! The white cup-shaped flower looks elegant and simple against the dark green of its foliage.
Although the peace lily is not a great option for a completely dark spot, it excels in medium to low light. The variety “Sensation” is a monster peace lily, with leaves almost three times as large as the original spathiphyllum and a flower the size of a dessert plate. “Domino” has white and green variegated foliage and a slight fragrance.
Unlike most other low-light plants, the peace lily is water lover. Water once a week for full foliage and pretty blooms. The peace lily will wilt dramatically when it wants water, but will pop up easily once it gets a nice soak.
Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen)
The aglaonema is renown for its huge variety of colors. This plant can display colors from bright white to a stunning deep red. And all variegations do well in low light spots.
Aglaonema range in size and grow slowly, making for a great tabletop or desktop plant. Larger plants tend to be very dense and low, never reaching more than medium height. This makes them a great floor plant for hiding cables and plugs or framing a dark fireplace. In medium light they will send off small white cup-shaped flowers. Favorite cultivars include: “White Lightning” with dramatic white stalks and large leaves with white veins, “Osaka” has small white and green patterned foliage and is low-growing, “Maria Christina” is a beautiful patterned emerald green and can get very large and dense, and “Sparkling Sarah” has unusual pink stems and pink/red variegated foliage.
The Chinese Evergreen is very sensitive to over watering so be sure to only water when the soil is completely dry, once every two weeks or so.
Neanthe Bella (Parlor Palm)
The neanthe bella palm is one of the most versatile houseplants you can get. It can do well in high light all the way down to low and has a modern yet elegant feel.
The plant is dense and low-growing, hardly ever exceeding three feet in height. Its beautiful green foliage is a cluster of small delicate palm fronds. Although this plant is not suitable for extremely dark spots, a dimly lit bedroom environment would do just fine.
Water your palm once a week or so. The neanthe bella can thrive in both moist and dry conditions, so watering is easy.
Zamioculcas Zamiifolia (ZZ Plant)
The ZZ plant is probably my top pick for a dark bedroom. I always get the question: what can I put in a room that has no windows? Well, this (and the snake plant) are really the only plants I could recommend for zero natural light.
The ZZ plant basically thrives on neglect. And, it looks cool too. Thick fleshy stalks produce glossy oval leaves. New growth comes in a lime green and darkens with age. ZZ grow both wide and tall, tapering off at about four feet in height. They are very slow growing, especially in dark spots.
ZZ plants are very sensitive to overwatering. They need almost no water. Water once every three to four weeks!
Epipremnum Aureum (Pothos)
Also called the “Devil’s Vine” because it is impossible to kill, pothos makes a great low light statement for a spot that needs a trailing plant. In hanging baskets or on a high shelf, pothos will trail elegantly with long vines of thick leaves.
Good for low to medium light spots, pothos can adjust to almost any area. Interesting cultivars include: “Neon” a bright yellow/green, “Pearls and Jade” a crinkly leaf with white and green blotches, and “Silver Satin” a large textured silver and white leaf. Some growers train pothos to climb up totems or onto frames for interesting low-light topiary.
Pothos does grow quickly and benefits from a bi-yearly haircut to keep it from getting leggy. Water once a week to once every ten days.
The philodendron family is enormous and includes a plethora of houseplants. Some grow tall and wide, some stay bushy and low, and some even trail.
Most are suited best to low or medium light and cannot take overly dark spots. Favorite varieties include: “Selloum” which is thick and busy, growing to five feet in height and four in width with interesting hand-like leaves, “Brasil” trails and has heart shaped variegated foliage, “Monstera” is a wide bush known for its cut-out foliage, and “Pink Princess” has large spade-like leaves that are red and green blotched with candy pink.
Philodendron want to dry down between waterings and need only be watered once every ten days or so.
General Low-Light Plant Care
Although each plant on the list above has its own watering requirements, there are other general tips for care that they all have in common.
Acclimate It — If your desired spot is unusually dark (or unusually bright) your new plant will need to be acclimated to it. Your houseplant has probably been living somewhere with bright indirect light and while it can live in lower or brighter light, sudden changes can cause declines in health. When you first bring it home initially put your plant in a place with medium light and then move it little by little to your desired spot over the course of a week.
Don’t Repot Right Away — Keep your plant in its original plastic growers pot and simply sit it down into a decorative pot or basket (lined with a saucer if needed). Water only when the soil is dry. Once a week, check the soil by pushing your finger into the dirt as far as it can go. If the soil is even slightly moist, do not water. There are such things as water meters that are supposed to tell you when to water. But these gadgets are typically unreliable and just don’t work as well as the human finger.
Water Just Right — When you do water, give the plant a nice soak. If you only throw a glass of water on it the first inch of the soil might look moist, but the water has not been able to evenly reach the roots. The easiest way to water your plant is to bring it to the sink or bath and soak it. Then, let it sit and drain before replacing it. You should never water your plant if it is sitting in a decorative container or saucer without drainage. These plants are highly susceptible to over watering and sitting in water can be fatal.
Do Repot When Needed — You do have to repot your plant into a larger pot once every two years or so. You’ll know its time when the plant becomes too big and unstable for its container and/or you can see roots emerging from the surface of the soil or protruding from the drainage holes. Repot into a container with good drainage that is 2 inches larger in diameter than the previous pot. After repotting, be very careful not to overwater since the new soil will retain lots of moisture.
Fertilize — Feed with a balanced fertilizer once a month from April-November.
Houseplants are some of the funnest plants to work with because you actually live with them. Even in a dim bedroom, there are plenty of options out there that will compliment your personal taste and style.
Originally published at www.doityourself.com.