There are so many houseplants from which to choose. How does one decide?
Become familiar with the light conditions inside your home. Light can be the determining factor as to what you can grow in your indoor environment. The first question to ask yourself before plant shopping is, “What type of light exposure would my plants receive?”
- Many of our houseplants are native to tropical regions. Foliage plants growing under the jungle canopy thrive in reduced sunlight and readily utilize the plentiful rainfall. However, the low light of the jungle floor is still much brighter than most homes.
- Houseplants typically have their lighting requirements noted on a label. But, what does the information mean?
- Direct sunlight is found in front of a south-facing window. Most flowering houseplants require a southern or eastern exposure.
- Bright light is found near areas of direct sunlight but not necessarily directly in the window.
- Medium to low light is found in a north facing window.
- Remember that the less light a plant receives, the less water is needed. Watering routines will vary from season to season. All houseplants use less water in the winter.
- If you really must have a houseplant in a location of less than optimum light you can ‘rotate it’. Keep it in bright light most of the time to keep it healthy and then move to the lower light location for no longer than a couple of weeks. In some situations, such as when growing African violets, natural sunlight can be supplemented with florescent lights.
It is easier to find houseplants for sunnier locations. Here is a list of suggestions for houseplants that tolerate low light situations.
Snake plant (Sansevieria) The snake plant, also called “mother-in-law tongue,” is one of the toughest plants on the planet! It comes in two forms. The first is a tall, upright type with very tough, strap-like leaves. The second type has a dwarf rosette form that is only a few inches tall. Both are available with either green leaves or leaves edged with yellow.
Philodendron vine is the most well-known member of the philodendrons. It has attractive dark green, heart-shaped leaves on trailing stems. It prefers bright light but will tolerate low light. This is a favorite plant in offices, as it thrives under florescent lights. Regular pinching of the tips of the plant will encourage compact, dense growth.
Pothos vine (Scindapsis) is a vining plant related to the philodendron. It is also called devil’s ivy. The species Scindapsis aureus has attractive yellow or off-white variegation in the leaves. However, if kept in very low light, the yellow fades out to green.
Peace lily (Spathiphyllum) can grow to 2-4 feet tall indoors. The leaves are attractive dark green and fairly glossy. This is an excellent houseplant and one of the few that flowers in low light conditions. It needs more water than most houseplants, and if you let it go too long without water, it quickly wilts. There is also a much smaller form (8-10 inches) commonly used in florist dish gardens.
Chinese evergreens (Aglaonema) are very attractive plants with silver or light gray-green markings in the foliage. They grow from a central point but old plants develop tall stems. These overgrown stems should be cut back to promote more compact growth.
Dracaenas (Dracaena fragrans ‘Warneckei’) are large houseplants. Most are under four feet tall, but some can reach eight feet in height. All of them have attractive foliage, either striped or patterned. They prefer to be kept on the dry side and thrive in bright light. But, they are also very tolerant of lower light conditions.
Additional Resources From the Home & Garden Information Center
- Best Practices for Growing Houseplants
- Selecting Houseplants
- Choosing and Caring for Houseplants (video)
By Debra Ricigliano, Extension Program Assistant and Certified Professional Horticulturist, Home & Garden Information Center