Whether you’re shopping for a housewarming gift, something special to send off with your new college freshman, or something to bring a little life to your desk, houseplants are perennially popular. They’re an ideal choice for business openings, birthdays, and just about any holiday. Sadly, however, many of them don’t survive their new homes.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I chatted with Joyce Mast, better known as Bloomscape’s Plant Mom, to get some advice on choosing the best low-light indoor plants and other things you should know when picking houseplants for yourself or as a gift. With more than 40 years of horticultural experience, Joyce not only knows her stuff, she knows how to make it sound easy.
What are the Best Low Light Indoor Plants?
Fact: this is probably the biggest issue facing people who want to grow plants indoors. It’s almost impossible to get “full sun” for plants that like their sunny days. That’s why the first question I asked Joyce was, “Which plants would you recommend for a low-light living room?” She offered two suggestions:
(aka Spider Plant, Airplane Plant, Spider Ivy, Ribbon Plant)
This whimsical plant (also known for its air-purifying qualities) is one of the most adaptable houseplants we recommend for plant newbies—it’s nearly impossible to kill! They prefer indirect light (they can tolerate low-light conditions) and just need to be watered moderately, and they enjoy some spritzing.
Tip: the striping on the leaves will be more prominent with indirect lighting, so avoid direct lighting, as it will scorch the leaves.
The Dracaena Limelight is among the easiest indoor plants around. This bright indoor plant will flourish in and adapt to almost any environment. With glossy, electric, lime-green leaves, this native African tropical houseplant thrives as a low-light interior plant and even adapts to fluorescent lighting. It also grows well in indirect bright light, but the foliage will be a lighter green in color. In fact, NASA lists the Dracaena Limelight as an excellent plant for removing harmful chemicals from the air. Their tolerance of a wide range of conditions makes them an excellent choice for the beginner plant owner.
How Do I Choose a Houseplant If I Don’t Know Where It Will Live?
It happens. Maybe you’re buying a housewarming gift for your friend, but you haven’t seen their new digs yet. Or you know your mother-in-law loves plants but have no idea where she might want to put a new plant baby. So, I asked if she could recommend one or two plants that would thrive under just about any conditions.
The Philodendron Brasil is incredibly adaptable and easy to care for. It’s heart-shaped leaves have gorgeous variegation, and it’s a fast grower with impressive trailing vines. This plant is a great option for any situation and will adapt to nearly all light conditions.
(aka Tabletop Palm, Neanthe Bella Palm, Bella Palm)
This slow-growing, compact palm thrives in a variety of light situations and tight spaces. Its dark green fronds create a bushy, lush plant perfect for tabletops, desks, and shelves. The Parlor Palm will do best in bright, filtered light, but will readily adapt to low light as well. Native to Mexico and Central America, the Parlor Palm requires very little care and is an excellent air purifier. Plus, this indoor plant is highly adaptable and pet friendly.
How About Plants for Forgetful People?
There are two common ways to kill your houseplants: overwatering and neglect. I tend to fall into the latter category, so I had a personal reason for asking Joyce to recommend a couple of low-maintenance indoor plants for forgetful people like me.
(aka Snake Plant, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue)
This sturdy plant is easy to care for and adaptable to varied environments, so it’s perfect for new plant owners—or for anyone looking for an easy-care houseplant. It doesn’t require much water since it’s native to the arid deserts of West Africa (and in fact needs watering only once a month during the winter). This plant is also a great roommate, removing toxins (formaldehyde and benzenes), and it creates oxygen mainly at night. Sansevieria moonshine is another variety.
(aka ZZ Plant, Zanzibar Gem, Welcome Plant, Cardboard Plant)
If you’re looking for a hands-off plant, this is it. The ZZ plant (native to East Africa) is perfect for the most forgetful plant owners. It can survive a couple of months without water, plus it grows well in any light, except for direct sun! If the light is too intense for your ZZ, you’ll see some scalding (light brown spotting). And the leaves will begin to curl, as if it is trying to get away from the light. Water the ZZ plant only when the soil is dry, about every three to four weeks depending on your indoor climate (in the winter, every four to six weeks). And if you see the leaves fall off, don’t give up hope—just water the plant immediately and they should come back.
Joyce finished up with a reminder that all of the plants she recommends should be planted in pots with a drainage hole in the bottom, to allow excess water to drain out of the soil. “Without it, water can build up in the bottom of the pot, and the roots will drown.”
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of time of publication.
Deb Powers is a freelance writer who specializes in home, education, and lifestyle topics. She draws on her experiences as a teacher, mother, grandmother, and all-around creative spirit to help others achieve their own goals.