You’ll never have to joke about a brown thumb again! We have the lowdown on the most indestructible plants for your home and how to care for them.
Have you heard yourself uttering this phrase when offered a new house plant: “No thanks, I have a brown thumb,” wishing it wasn’t true? Or maybe you just stick with a simple and direct: “I always end up killing plants.”
You aren’t alone. Everyone you know with an Instagram feed full of greenery started out with a failed plant experiment. The difference between you and that friend is that they didn’t give up.
We have a list of the best low-light indoor plants and will coach you through choosing your plant babies and raising them to adulthood for one big happy plant family. Consider this your crash course in low-maintenance plant parenting.
When you head to your local nursery, have your research (ahem, these tips) handy on your phone. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the colors and shapes of all the plants you’ll see in the greenhouse, but you need to stay focused on your mission. Plants that thrive indoors with little light can look as majestic as a tropical rainforest (almost).
You want the kind of plant that can survive a nuclear war, not a delicate, super-rare species that costs as much as your monthly mortgage payment. We’re not just talking about low-light survivors here; we also mean low-maintenance plants sized perfectly for those itty-bitty nooks around your house. All of these plants should only require once-a-week watering. Set a reminder — you can do this!
These clumping or smaller spreading beauties are the best plants for sitting on a living room end table as standout decor, adding texture to your space. They don’t grow too tall and can be trimmed back if they begin to spill too far over the edge of the kitchen counter. You may even be able to root that clipped end to grow another plant.
Let’s look at this stunning foliage from options that require the highest light level to the least:
Prayer plants (calathea) have striking dark and light green striped leaves with purple undersides. The undersides become apparent as the leaves curl up in the evening (hence the nickname prayer plant.)
Spider plants (chlorophytum comosum) are bright green and form a spray of leaves that are so fun planted to look like hair in a pot shaped like a head. Spider plants can take indoor, direct sunlight and don’t require a lot of water, so let the soil drain well. As they grow, they sprout tiny baby spiders on shoots that can be clipped to start another plant. Best of all, spider plants are pet-safe.
Maidenhair fern (adiantum) has delicate fronds with lacey leaves that create a stunning contrast on a marble countertop or a black bookshelf. The maidenhair fern is probably the most temperamental of all the plants listed here, so if it seems to struggle, try different placements around the house until you find the spot where it thrives best. The plant’s ideal temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit (Honestly? Same).
Staghorn ferns (polypodiaceae) are also called elkhorn ferns due to their antler-like appearance. These plants can grow without soil, so they can be wall-mounted, mounted on a moss ball base, or mounted on a wooden plaque for a fun take on taxidermy. They also grow well in pots with plenty of moss. Set a reminder on your phone for a weekly watering so the moss doesn’t dry out.
Chinese evergreen (aglaonema commutatum) has leaves in hues of dark green, silver, and a red leaf edge that make them a joy to use as impactful and colorful decor. They can grow in very low light, but the variegated varieties do better in brighter light.
For those spots around the house where you could use some vertical height in your interior decor, a hanging basket with any one of these vining plants trailing from ceiling to floor would be the ideal fit. Climbers grow well in bright to medium indirect sunlight, and their clippings can all be rooted to start new babies. Don’t be surprised when your neighbors ask for some!
English ivy (hedera helix) is a classic hanging plant that is equally beautiful in a basket or climbing a trellis up the window for a bit of privacy. It can go from indoors to outdoors whenever the mood strikes you, but when kept indoors, you’ll reap the rewards of one of the best air-purifying plants, according to NASA.
Golden pothos (epipremnum aureum), also called devil’s ivy, is a tropical plant with waxy variegated leaves that grows well in any level of light, from bright indirect light to barely any. The golden pothos is one of our star indestructibles because it can tolerate dryer soil if it has to. Not only that, but it can be left in a vase of water indefinitely with no soil at all — hardcore.
For this reason, pothos cuttings are handy to keep rooted as impromptu gifts or replacements if one of your potted ones dies. (Not that we think that will happen!). Just change the pothos’ water out when it starts to get cloudy.
Heartleaf philodendron (philodendron hederaceum) is similar to the pothos in appearance, but its heart-shaped leaf is longer and not as waxy nor as variegated. The green foliage is beautiful, cascading over the edge of a bookshelf.
Tall upright low-light houseplants are perfect for those empty corners of the living room. Two of the same height can be striking when flanking an architectural feature of your home, like a fireplace, and evenly spaced pots along a breezeway can complement your architecture.
The eight below are listed from the most sunlight-loving to the least.
Lucky bamboo (dracaena) is an easy grower in bright indirect light. The nature of its tall stalks makes it great for desks and offices, and the twirling vine growth adds a sculptural effect to a room. You can expect this plant to live for up to two years but can extend its lifespan by repotting it in fresh soil.
Dumb cane (dieffenbachia) is at its best in brighter light but can grow in very low light. You may want to switch where you set it once in a while for more sun. In bright light, this plant native to the West Indies can grow up to six to ten feet tall. If you see small, subtle green blooms, congrats, plant parent, you just leveled up.
Monstera (monstera deliciosa) is also called a Swiss cheese plant. You didn’t think we’d make it through a houseplant article without mentioning this fave, did you? It is indeed a worldwide favorite and the most popular houseplant in Europe, North America, Asia, and Oceania.
Its dark green leaves, with holes that become ever more prominent as it grows, can tolerate being somewhat root-bound (you’ll see roots growing out of the top of the soil to help support it.), so you won’t have to stress over repotting it too soon. It can also grow quite large, especially if you give it a moss-covered stake to grow upright against.
Cast iron plants (Aspidistra elatior) like medium to low light and are pet safe, which is a big deal since so few houseplants are. The leaves can grow to two inches long and four inches wide. If you move this plant outdoors, you might see white or purple blossoms.
Snake plants (sansevieria) are succulents that grow in low light conditions and are one of our favorite low-maintenance houseplants due to their prominently striped tall leaves: in flat snake-like shape, whale fin, or starfish varieties.
ZZ plants (zamioculcas zamiifolia) grow in extremely low light to no light (So they’re great for the office.) and can be thoroughly dry before their next watering — a flexibility that’s always a comfort to nervous plant parents. Another great air purifier, ZZ plants come in a raven-colored variety that offers incredible contrast next to other green plants.
Peace lily plants (spathiphyllum) are one of the most adapted to low light in our roundup. They are perfect for windowless rooms or offices and can even bloom, given the right fertilizer. The Peace lily has a lifespan of three to five years. If yours outgrows its pot during this time, no biggie: This plant is super easy to repot.
Bromeliads (bromeliaceae) are another pet-safe (yay!) tropical plant that can bloom indoors and are able to grow in low light to no natural light. Make sure to snap a few pics of the vibrant flowers since you’ll likely only see this slow-growing plant bloom once during its lifespan. Sixty to 85 degrees Fahrenheit is the sweet spot here, although this hardy fellow can handle 20-degree weather (albeit reluctantly).
Houseplants that can grow so tall that they’re almost to tree status can be a labor of love, especially if they are a finicky species. Don’t worry; we’ve got the two easiest to care for:
Ponytail palms (beaucarnea recurvata) have a fun exposed stump that tapers into a stem with agave-like leaves that spread at the top like a ponytail. They love bright indirect light and shouldn’t be kept too wet.
Rubber figs (ficus elastica) add a dash of mystery to interiors with their waxy, deep green to purple leaves and will thrive in low light conditions. For a full plant, cut the top off of a younger rubber plant, root it in water, and then plant it next to the mother plant. Water this plant every two weeks.
Don’t sweat this plant baby situation. Plants are good about giving you signs that they need a bit more attention.
If roots are coming out of the drain holes of your pot, it’s time to repot that bad boy. Besides packed roots, another sign of stress is bleached leaves, which can be fixed by moving the plant further away from a window.
If the leaves are instead turning yellow, this may indicate you’re overwatering. You want the soil moist but not waterlogged. Try slowing down on your water and letting the soil dry out some between waterings.
A general rule of thumb for watering houseplants is to stick your finger in the soil. When the top inch is dry, it’s time to water again. You will get a feel for this.
Most of these plants can live at lower light levels but benefit from being rotated to a spot nearer a window occasionally. When that’s not an option, grow lights can be an indoor plant game-changer, even if only for a few hours a day while you’re at home.
Opt for an LED strip variety to put under the kitchen cabinets or hide in a bookshelf. LED strip lights produce very little heat, so they’re safer to leave on for longer periods of time, and they can be invisible until you turn them on. Clip-on lights can be moved through the house to rescue the plants that need them most.
It’s time; you have done the research, and now you’re ready to become a proud low-maintenance plant parent. From bringing green rooms to life to bringing green plants to life, you’re ready for it all.
Photo Credit: (Left) Gardenista
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