The Best Low-Light Indoor Plants Can Handle Any Shady Situation
There’s a variety for every ledge and nook.
Updated Oct 12, 2018 6:27 AM
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While our dream home has floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the space with natural light, the reality is that many of us have apartments with shady corners that provide less than ideal conditions for greenery. The good news is that in the wide world of greenery, there are many low-light indoor plants that enjoy a dark nook or, at the very least, don’t mind indirect or dappled rays. Below, we’ve curated our favorite varietals for any style of home and any temperament of plant parent. Most fall into the category of “very hard to kill,” but we’ve also enlisted the help of some of New York’s gardening pros, who share the tips and tricks you’ll need to get started. Explore their picks for the best low-light indoor plants to create your very own jungle at home.
- Best low-maintenance: Cast Iron Plant
- Best fast growing: Pothos
- Best visual drama: Rex Begonia
- Best for propagating: Spider Plant
- Best for brown thumbs: Snake Plant
- Best versatility: ZZ Plant
- Best flowering: Red Anthurium
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Origin: When it comes to making a new plant feel at home, “you’re essentially trying to re-create its original environment so it can successfully live in your space,” says New York City–based plant doctor and consultant Maryah Greene. Depending on its natural habitat, different low-light plants will require varying amounts of water, humidity, and warmth. Greene recommends researching a plant’s native climate and doing your best to adjust the variables to make it as similar as possible.
Humidity: Many low-light plants are tropical and best suited to a warm, humid climate under the forest canopy. Greene recommends investing in a mister and humidifier to mimic rainforest conditions, especially if you live in a naturally drier climate or have baseboard heaters or radiators.
Watering and care: Beyond frequency (weekly, biweekly, monthly), pay attention to whether the plant likes its soil to dry out completely before being watered or if it prefers a consistently moist base. “Be patient and always feel the soil before you water!” cautions Briana Tedder, a resident plant doctor at Rooted. If the first few inches of soil are dry, it’s time to bring out the watering can.
Our Top Picks
Best Low-Maintenance: Cast Iron Plant
While this plant is as sturdy and durable as your favorite cast-iron skillet, it might require even less attention. Not only does it thrive in low-light conditions, it can handle a wide range of temperatures and isn’t fussy about a regular watering schedule. Fill that shaded corner with its slender, glossy dark green foliage and let it do its thing.
Best Fast Growing: Pothos
There’s a reason why you’re probably already familiar with this classic vining plant and its heart-shaped leaves—it can acclimate to nearly any space. While it will grow rapidly (anywhere from 12 to 18 inches per month!) in bright, indirect light, it does just fine in a shaded corner. It prefers a warm, humid climate, so avoid keeping it in a position that’s both dark and cool. Check out the silver and marbled variations if you prefer a pattern over the classic green leaves.
Best Visual Drama: Rex Begonia
The Rex begonia is a personal favorite of Domino’s chief content officer, Kate Berry. You’ll spot it throughout her New York City “garden in the sky.” Its variegated leaves look almost hand-painted, and the color combinations can vary widely from dark burgundy and punchy magenta to rich green and frosty silver. All this drama demands some extra attention, however. It can handle low light but requires higher humidity (no misting, though) and regular watering (but not too much).
Best for Propagating: Spider Plant
Don’t let the delicate-looking slender leaves fool you; the spider plant is a hardy variety that will still grow in low-light conditions. It gets its name from the spiderlike baby offshoots that sprout from its slim stems. Once these spiderettes grow their own 1-to-2-inch roots, you can clip them from the mother stem and place in distilled water until the tendrils further develop.
Best for Brown Thumbs: Snake Plant
If you struggle to keep greenery alive, the snake plant is here for you with open arms and zero judgment. Indestructible is the word most often used to describe this plant because of its ability to grow in nearly any kind of light and with very little watering (in fact, not letting its soil dry out is the only mistake you can make). While the chartreuse-edged variation is most common, its swordlike leaves come in a range of striking varieties to match your style. Our favorites include the speckled futura robusta and stout golden hahnii.
Best Versatility: ZZ Plant
There’s just something about the ZZ (short for Zamioculcas zamiifolia). From its charming appearance, with cheerfully ascending stems bursting with glossy dark green leaves, to its low-maintenance temperament, the ZZ thrives in almost any style home, with any style plant parent.
Best Flowering: Red Anthurium
If the red anthurium looks familiar, it’s likely because the strikingly sculptural blooms have been a go-to among cool floral designers for years. Rather than take a cutting, bring the whole plant home for a piece of living art that will thrive much longer than an arrangement (the red flowerlike leaves last for about three months at a time). The tropical anthurium likes a warm, humid climate and can’t stand direct sunlight (though it will grow more slowly the less light it gets).
What are the signs that a houseplant isn’t getting enough sunlight?
While the plants on this list are suited to low light, all plants still need some sunlight to survive. If your plant is growing slowly or developing smaller-than-usual leaves, that can be a sign of stunted growth due to a lack of nutrients from the sun. Another telltale sign is dark or colorful leaves that lose their vibrancy. So if your plant looks a bit faded and tired, it might need to travel south to a sunnier spot in your home.
Is it okay to move plants around so they get more natural light?
When you first bring a plant home it may take a few tries to find the sweet spot. But once you discover a suitable nook where it looks perky and is growing, it’s best to leave it be. Remember, in its natural state your plant would be literally rooted to the spot. So while it may be tempting to keep a plant alive in your windowless bathroom by moving it into the sun a couple hours a day, it’s ultimately not a sustainable solution since every new location brings different light, humidity, and air quality that your plant needs time to acclimate to.
When should you consider using grow lights?
While grow lights can’t completely replace the good ole sun, they can make a dim room more hospitable to plants that need medium or bright light. Greene recommends Soltech Solutions for a range of powerful, high-quality grow lights that even include a track lighting system that can transform a basement or garden-level apartment into a plant paradise.
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