Even if you don’t have a lot of direct sunlight, you can still grow plants in your apartment.
It would be nice if every home had clear southern exposure. But while plants, shrubs and trees all need light for photosynthesis in order to get nutrients, there are some houseplants that are better for low light than others.
What do we mean by low-light?
“Nothing can grow in the dark. But if you can read by the natural light you have in your apartment then a plant can survive there,” writes Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, a.k.a. The Houseplant Guru, author of “Grow in the Dark: How to Choose and Care for Low-Light Houseplants.”
If it’s really dark in your place, you might want to consider investing in grow lights, calibrated specifically for indoor growing. You can get super-efficient, Earth-friendly, LEDs that last longer than fluorescent bulbs.
If you want to go the natural-light route, there are plenty of options for leafy, colorful plants that are easy to care for and thrive in low-light areas. It’s just a matter of finding the right ones.
Here are some of the best houseplants for low light.
1. Pothos, Epipremnum aureum
The golden pothos is a variegated plant (has more than one color). Its green leaves have splashes of yellow. “If new growth is missing the secondary color, chances are your plant needs more light, whether natural or artificial,” Steinkopf writes.
Pothos is great for hanging baskets, and you can train the plant to grow around the windows, on a topiary frame or even on a cone. If you don’t want it to trail, trim it at the soil level and plant that stem back in the pot. Beware, though, that pothos has calcium oxalates, which is toxic to cats and dogs.
2. Chinese evergreen, Aglaonema
These are really popular now, and there are so many new cultivars in pink, red and green. “It’s drought tolerant so if you go away for a week you don’t have to worry,” Steinkopf writes. Note: This plant is toxic to pets.
3. Spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum
There are several types of spider plant, but the plain green ones with white long spindly leaves and white flowers look great in a hanging basket. If their leaves are falling over, you may have to find a little brighter area. They don’t need much attention except some watering when the soil is dry. No worries if you have pets — spider plants are not toxic for them.
4. Prayer Plant, Marantha leuconeura
The variegated leaves in lemon-lime with red splotches or red stripes, fold upward at night. Hence, the common name. Keep this plant in some light so it maintains its color, but don’t put it in direct sun or you might see some burnt parts on the leaves. Check out the many YouTube time-lapse videos of the prayer plant doing its thing. Namaste, indeed. And, it’s safe for pets.
5. Moth orchid, Phalaenopsis
This tall slim plant sends out flowers that can last for more than a year. If it has some decent light — East sun is enough — or lives under a grow light, it should send out spikes the following year. You might find these in the grocery store in a cache pot, one pot inside another, which doesn’t have a drainage hole.
“I like to remove the plastic pot, water the plant and drain it well. If you let the plant sit in the water in the cachepot, the roots may rot,” suggests Steinkopf. Repot this plant every two years, and give it some fresh orchid bark or moss. These are non-toxic to pets.
6. Bird’s nest fern, Asplenium nidus
This fern always looks ready for a fancy party with its ruffle-edged swirling leaves. The bird’s nest fern thrives in the East sun, not in the full sun. Be sure to water the plant all around its center. If water collects in the middle, the plant may rot. Ferns normally grow in the jungle on the sides of trees, which allows rainwater to just wash down. These are non-toxic to pets.
7. ZZ plant or Zanzibar gem, Zamioculcas zamifolia
“This might be the best low light plant there is,” Steinkopf writes. “It will do fine in a north window, and if you’re a forgetful waterer this is a good choice. You can almost forget about it.” The ZZ has an underground stem so the part you see is the leaflet. The whole plant is thick and fleshy and stores a lot of water and so do the stems.
8. Peace lily, Spathiphyllum
“It’s amazing how little light it needs to still flower. It can be a water hog, but lower light means less water needed,” Steinkopf writes. The lily adds some drama and elegance with its white flag, called a spadix, which protects the actual flower, the spike pointing upward in the middle. Like an orchid, the flower can last for months.
And, peace lilies are happy to be divided up so you can plant them in other pots for pops of color in other parts of your apartment.
Tips to keep your low-light houseplants thriving
- When it comes to watering, remember this mantra: Check on a schedule, but don’t water on a schedule. Put your finger in the soil up to the first knuckle, if it’s dry, it’s time to water. Keep it splashing on until water comes out of the drainage holes. Don’t just water in the same spot. Water all the way around the plant thoroughly so the root ball gets moistened.
- For max light, make sure your windows are clean — especially in the winter. And, if you’ve got removable screens, take them out in colder months when you don’t use them since screens block your light.
- If you can, rinse your plants in the sink every so often. Plants make food via photosynthesis through whatever light hits their leaves. Dusty leaves mean fewer nutrients.
- If you want your plant to remain a certain size, keep trimming as it grows. Don’t wait until it gets to a certain size and chop it at once.
Even if your apartment is in an urban jungle, you can create your own mini jungle by choosing the best houseplants for low light. You not only will add color, texture and visual interest to your interior spaces, but you might just boost your mood and productivity.