Top 5: House Plants for Dark Rooms
Finding a houseplant for that dark room or shady corner has always been a challenge. The plant must look good but also exist in low light. Fortunately, there is good news for those of us who have spent too much money testing multiple tropicals for that shady corner only to be disappointed. First let’s look at some helpful tips for growing low light plants. Plants grown in low light usually grow quite slowly. This means they need water and fertilizer less often. It is also important that their pot and soil drain well. Never let them sit in water.
Here is the top 5 list of tropical plants that do well in less than ideal light conditions!
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)
Photo: A. Adam, Saskatoon
Chinese Evergreens are native to South - East Asia where they grow on the floor of tropical forests.
This is my favorite indoor plant for low light areas. It has that great tropical leaf look, is slow growing and requires minimal care. There are many cultivars and they range in height and width from 1- 3 feet. The leaves are mostly variegated or patterned, in colors of silver, yellow, green, pink and red. The more colorful cultivars do better in indirect bright light. They will lose some of their color in a very low light area, so the green hybrids are the obvious choice for a dark corner. The Aglaonema pictured above is in a north facing location.
Aglaonemas grow well in an indoor potting soil with some extra peat and perlite thrown in to improve aeration and soil drainage. The soil should be kept moist but not soggy. Overwatering will lead to root rot. Let the plant dry out somewhat between waterings but never let it totally dry out. Raise the humidity around the plant by placing it on a tray of pebbles that you can refill with water periodically.
Mature plants will flower in mid-summer. The flower is similar to a peace lily bloom but not very showy. I usually cut the flower off at the base of the stalk.
Fertilize with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer in spring and once again in late June. Do not fertilize during the winter months.
Chinese evergreens like warm indoor temperatures and should be kept away from drafty areas. Wash the leaves off monthly with a damp cloth.
The best way to propagate Aglaonemas is to divide them when repotting. Make sure your new plant has a few roots. You can also cut a few 6 - inch stems off the root ball and place them in containers of water. When roots begin to form plant the cutting in soil.
Please note that the Chinese Evergreen is toxic to dogs and cats.
ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
ZZ plant is an indestructible low light houseplant. It really is a plant that is too good to be true. It is native to Eastern Africa, will put up with neglect and drought and is disease and insect resistant. ZZ is often seen in offices where little natural light exists. Full sun will cause it to yellow and curl the leaves.
The mature height is 2-3 feet with a width of 2-3 feet. The glossy leaves are waxy and smooth. Gently clean the leaves only with water. Please do not use commercial leaf shine or milk. They will clog the plant’s pores.
ZZ is not particular as to soil as long as the soil is well drained.
Water only when fully dry. ZZ plant grows from rhizomes that store water so watering once a month in the growing season is all it needs. When watering, include an all purpose houseplant fertilizer at half strength spring and summer only. Do not fertilize in winter.
ZZ plant may flower in mid summer but the flowers are tiny and quite insignificant.
Propagate ZZ plant by division of the rhizomes at repotting time. You can also propagate by leaf cuttings. Take a leaf cutting of two or more leaves and some of the stem. Remove one or two of the cuttings bottom leaves and dust the exposed stem and leaf nodes with rooting hormone #1. Plant in a well drained soil. Place in bright light- no direct sun. It is at this point you must exercise patience as it will take 6-9 months for new rhizomes to grow!
All parts of this plant are poisonous. Wash hands after handling or better yet wear gloves when repotting and propagating.
Bonus: ZZ plant is an air purifier. It will remove xylene, benzene and toluene from the air.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
Peace lilies have dark green elongated leaves with white flowers. The flower is called a spadix and is hooded by the white leaf bract. A low light location will reduce flowering. It is a reliable low light tropical plant that is easy to care for.
The mature height and width will vary with the variety of peace lily. The range is anywhere from 15 inches to 4 feet in height by 15 inches to 4 feet in width.
Water when the leaves start to droop a little. Allowing the peace lily to droop a little will not hurt the plant. Fertilize only in the growing season (April to Mid- August) once a month with a half strength water soluble houseplant fertilizer. Do not fertilize in winter.
Repot a peace lily when it is noticeably too large for it’s pot. If you notice it drooping constantly and new leaf growth is deformed, repot into a new container that is 2 inches in diameter larger than its current pot. The new pot should have drainage holes.
Propagate by division of the root ball. If the rootball is small you can divide it into two with your hands. Larger root balls can be divided with a sharp knife. Often a mature peace lily will have little offshoot crowns that are next to the mother plant. The best time to remove them from the mother plant is when you are repotting in spring or early summer. Do not worry if the newly planted peace lilies droop from transplant shock. They will recover in time.
Bonus: Peace lilies remove formaldehyde and ammonia from the air. Periodically wash down the leaves with water or give the plant a short shower.
Pothos: (Epipremnum aureum)
I have never lived in a house or condo without having a pothos or six. It is probably the easiest of all the low light tropical plants to grow. As a bonus this plant looks good as a bushy table specimen or in a hanging basket as a vining plant. It also purifies the air!
Pothos is native to Southeast Asia, Australia and New Guinea. It has beautiful glossy heart shaped leaves with pointed tips. The leaves come in various variegated patterns of green, gold and white. In very low light locations the variegated leaves will revert back to green. As mentioned previously it is a vining plant and can be trained onto supports – it will not cling itself. Indoors it has been known to vine up to 30 ft. long but that is not common. It is also grown as a groundcover in warmer climates.
A good tropical plant soil is all this plant needs along with a pot with good drainage. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Fertilize in spring and summer with a monthly dose of a water- soluble all-purpose houseplant fertilizer. I use 20-20-20 half strength in spring and summer on my houseplants and as an outdoor plant fertilizer.
Pothos is relatively pest free but has been known to attract mealy bugs. Mealy bug adults have a cottony covering on their bodies that looks like white fluff. Check your plants regularly and if caught early on mealybugs can be killed by touching them with an alcohol soaked q-tip.
Pothos does not usually flower in the home. The flower is white and insignificant.
Repot your pothos in spring or early summer. Propagation is by stem cuttings that can be started in water or planted directly into the soil with a little help from a dusting of rooting hormone. Short tip cuttings root the best. Leave a bare leaf node nearest to the end of the cutting before putting it into the soil. Roots will form from that node and the stem.
Please note Pothos is toxic to dogs and cats.
Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
The Snake Plant is native to tropical West Africa. The fibres from these plants were used for making rope and baskets.
Snake plants are usually known for their height (up to 8 ft.) but there are also shorter varieties that grow from 6-12 inches. Their swordlike leaves vary in color from pale green to dark green with dark bands which may or may not have yellow edges.
They will also do well in a bright room but not direct sun.
Do not place near cold drafts. The warmer the house temperature the better.
Snake plants like to be grown in a cacti soil in a pot with drainage. Pots should be sturdy as mature roots can very easily warp and break a flimsy plastic container.
The soil should thoroughly dry between waterings. Do not overwater as this is the easiest way to kill this plant. During the growing season water about every 3-4 weeks and in winter once every 2 months. Fertilize with a water - soluble cacti fertilizer once or twice during the growing season. Do not fertilize in winter.
Repot Snakeplants in spring. This is also a good time to propagate a snake plant by easily separating new shorter shoots (pups) from the root ball with your hands or a sharp knife. Make sure you have some roots attached to each pup. Lightly dust the roots with some rooting hormone #1 and plant in a new pot containing fresh soil. You can also propagate by leaf - cuttings but division is much easier and quicker.
If you are lucky, a mature snake plant will flower. The white/cream flowers resemble small lilies covering a tall stem. They have a very pleasing fragrance that can fill a room.
Snakeplants can be bothered by spider mites and mealy bugs. Regularly wipe off the leaves with water to deter spider mites or give the whole plant a short shower. Mealy bugs can be touched with a q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol.
Please note this plant is toxic to dogs, cats and humans.
Bonus: Snakeplants absorb and remove formaldehyde and benzene from the air. They can also convert carbon dioxide into oxygen at night.
Runners Up in the Tropical Plant Low Light Category
Dracaena j. ‘Janet Craig’
Cast Iron Plant
Corn Plant (Dracaena fragrans)
Phalaenopsis Orchid – good for north window locations.