If you've ever lived in a big city, you're probably no stranger to the struggles of keeping plants alive in low light settings. Here at Rooted, we believe that everyone would do well to add a little more life to their homes. Even if that home only has a single, tiny window.
Indoor houseplants aren’t only easy on the eyes. They also offer health benefits, such as improving air quality, reducing stress, and supporting cognitive health. Plus, plants that thrive in low-light conditions are resilient, so you won’t have to worry about them leaving you for some hoity-toity greenhouse somewhere.
In this article, we’ll break down the best low-light indoor plants that can handle some shade. It’s time to make your house a home.
How Do Plants Use Light?
It’s time to bring up a word that you probably haven’t heard in a while: photosynthesis. And in case you slept through Mrs. Sugarmeyer’s third-grade class, we’ll go over it again. Photosynthesis is how plants eat.
When humans get hungry, we hit a 24-hour Denny’s. When lions get hungry, they find a zebra. But when plants get hungry, they need just three things: light, water, and carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis is the process in which plants use those three ingredients to create glucose, which is a sugar that plants need for survival. Without any of those three ingredients, a plant will die.
Of course, different plants require different amounts of the three ingredients. A cactus will prefer lots of light, but very little water. Meanwhile, a Peace Lily will burn in bright sunlight, but requires plenty of water. And a fake plant needs nothing, but if you get one of those, we’ll never speak to you again.
How We Measure Light
As we said above, different plants need different levels of light to survive and thrive, such as bright light or indirect light. These levels of light can be measured using a unit called footcandles. Yes, footcandles.
A footcandle can be defined as one lumen per square foot—or approximately the brightness of one candle, one foot away. As far as strange measurements go, it ranks about halfway between a nautical mile and a megafonzie.
Plants can be categorized based on how many footcandles they need to fully prosper. For high light plants, we’re talking 500-1000 Footcandles. For medium light plants, it’s 100-500 FC. And low light plants only need 25-100 FC to grow strong and healthy.
Caring for Indoor House Plants
Even in low-light, caring for your plants can be difficult. If you’re a beginner, you want to take extra care to observe your plants as they grow, so you can see if they’re properly flourishing. If you’re a real weirdo, you can even talk to your plants and read them Goodnight Moon before bed every night.
We have a few tips to help you along the way.
It’s All About the Location
You’ll want to place your plants in a place where they will get the right amount of light, as well as ideal temperatures. When it comes to low-light plants, you’ll want to avoid south-facing windows or window sills and direct sunlight. Instead, find a darker corner, and if you do place them near a window, do so on the north side of your home, so they won’t get smacked with direct sunlight.
For more versatility while decorating with plants, you can use floating shelves or hanging planters.
Be a Plant Doctor
Even if you’re not a plant pathologist, you’ll be able to tell if something’s wrong if you pay attention to your plant. A common mistake with low-light plants is exposing them to too much light.
Symptoms of over-lighting include:
- Burned leaves
- Yellowing leaves and brown tips
- Reduced plant growth
- Wilting foliage
Although less common with low-light plants, some plants will show signs of needing more light, with symptoms like:
- “Leggy” growth—more space between leaves on the stem
- Smaller-than-normal leaves
- Plant leaning towards a light source
- Dull colors
You’ll also want to make sure you aren’t over-watering or under-watering your plants, looking out for symptoms such as root rot and falling leaves.
Consider Alternative Light Sources
Even for low-light plants, grow lights can be helpful for indoor gardeners because they allow you to be in complete control of the amount of light your plant is getting. Grow lights often come with timers and dimmers, so you’ll control both the duration and the intensity of the light. Not to mention, having a grow light will make you seem far more sophisticated than you really are.
You’ll want to use an LED light or fluorescent grow light, as incandescent lights are less energy-efficient, and give off too much heat for some plants.
Best Plants for Low Light
So, now that you’re basically a botanist, we feel comfortable enough to recommend to you some low-light plants. Many of these plants come from rainforest climates, as they’re naturally shaded by the large canopies of the trees they grow beneath. They come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, so there’s something for everyone, and some can even help filter formaldehyde and benzene out of the air.
Native to tropical regions in West Africa, snake plants don’t need much light to grow big and strong. They thrive in high humidity and are a great low-maintenance plant. They get their names due to their slick, green leaves, and are one of the most popular houseplants.
Another name for them is “Mother-in-law’s Tongue,” so make sure that if you bring one into your house, you set some boundaries! Different types of Snake Plant include the sansevieria laurentii, and the sansevieria zeylanica. Also known as Tom and Tim.
The ZZ plant is one of the most popular low-light houseplants. Why is it called the ZZ plant, you ask? Well, would you rather call it zamioculcas zamiifolia? Didn’t think so.
The ZZ plant is a wonderful houseplant for beginners, because not only does it thrive in low light, but it’s drought-resistant as well. So if you forget to water it for a week, don’t fret. Just do better next time. The Zenzi ZZ Plant is a smaller, more compact version of its big cousin.
Another tropical plant, peace lilies are found in the Americas, as well as Southeast Asia. They’re perennials, which means they live for many growing seasons. Peace lilies have dark green leaves and grow beautiful white flowers off of the stems, sure to bring beauty to your home.
The spider plant got its name from the long “spiderettes” that dangle from the stem of the main plant. These spiderettes can grow roots of their own, making the spider plant ideal for propagation. Just stick the end of a spiderette into some soil, and once the roots grow, cut it off the mother plant—boom—two spider plants for the price of one!
Dieffenbachia is native to the Mexican Tropics, as well as South America and the West Indies. Its beautiful, droopy leaves are the perfect thing to fill an otherwise dreary corner of your home. Dieffenbachia is toxic, so if you take a chomp out of one of its leaves, you’ll experience a burning sensation…. Sooooo don’t eat your plants. That is all.
Hailing from tropical climates like the Amazon rainforest, Calathea is used to dank and shady conditions. The beautiful leaves of the Calathea White Star make it one of the most popular house plants. Although it doesn’t need much light, it requires lots of water to flourish. So give it attention!
Gotta Grow Your Own Way
You’ve now learned everything there is to know about low light plants. So find the darkest corner of your home, and get ready for a transformation the likes of which we haven’t seen since Neville freakin Longbottom. Whether you’re in a cozy New York City apartment covered in vines or a cupboard under the stairs, these indoor plants will thrive anywhere, and bring life to places that need it the most.