Ever feel like you live in a cave? Or is your house SO BRIGHT that you feel like it’s the surface of the sun? Or are you somewhere in the middle?
Some indoor gardeners have to deal with the heat and intensity of sunny, south-facing windows. Others are trying to raise their collection of houseplants in much dimmer circumstances.
If you are one of the people struggling with a low-light environment, your best option is to choose plants that will naturally prefer these conditions.
How Low is Low-Light?
Honestly, it’s difficult to really put a figure to how much light would be classified as a “low-light” area for houseplants. There are a few factors at play. Windows are a big one.
South-facing windows with unobstructed sun exposure are definitely strong or bright light scenarios, and it goes down from there. Windows that face to the north are usually poorer for light, as are any that sit in the shade too much during the day.
Then you have to consider where your plants are sitting, relative to the window. Sitting right in the window sill is one thing, but they are going to get a lot less light when they are in the far corner of the room on a side table. Of course, any rooms with no windows at all are definitely low light.
For those areas, you’ll have to rely on artificial lighting to keep houseplants alive.
Here’s a list of the 15 best low-light indoor plants.
Best Low-Light Indoor Plants
1 – Pothos
Known as pothos or Devil’s Ivy, this is one of the most popular indoor low-light houseplants. It is just so easy to take care of, and it thrives anywhere. It consists of an attractive vine, with large variegated leaves in shades of green and yellow.
Hardy, and easy to care for, a pothos will do nicely in a window with indirect light, or a dimmer spot away from a window altogether.
In spots with very little light, the clever plant will adapt its leaves to be more green than yellow, so don’t be surprised if you see a color change. It’s simply reacting to its surroundings.
For other care, a pothos needs water when the soil gets dry to the touch. Pothos work very well in hanging baskets, which could be a smart idea, as the leaves are a little toxic if someone (or a pet) eats them.
2 – Peace Lily
For some striking white blooms, a Peace Lily makes a nice addition to a shadowy corner. Many varieties can reach 2 or 3 feet in height, or even higher. Don’t plan on keeping your Peace Lily on a little shelf, as it may outgrow it in no time! They only flower once or twice a year, and you’ll have a large bush of glossy green leaves the rest of the time.
They don’t like the cold, so you have to keep them in areas that won’t get too chilly in the winter months. When it comes to watering, you should wait until the soil is dry or you start to notice a little bit of droop in the leaves.
3 – Cast Iron Plant
The cast iron plant gets its name from how tough it is to kill (much like these plants), which makes it a smart choice for the novice gardener or someone who may have a black thumb. Sometimes called a “ballroom plant”, the big bushy leaves aren’t dramatic, but they add wonderful greenery to any low-light area. It will do fine even if you forget to water it.
Slow-growing, you won’t have to worry about repotting a cast iron plant for several years, though that doesn’t stop it from eventually reaching a height of 2 feet!
4 – Peacock Plant
Most blooming plants need sun, so it can be tough to find a really visual plant for low-light areas. With a peacock plant, you won’t even notice there are no flowers.
The leaves have a dramatic striped pattern, and new, emerging leaves can be red or pink. You’ll know it’s getting too much light when the leaves start to lose their stripes.
Don’t let the soil dry out, and you might want to give it a regular spritz of water with a mister, because it likes high humidity. If the leaves start to get brown spots, you need more moisture in the air.
If this variety isn’t your cup of tea, check out another of the dozens of species of Calathea!
5 – Snake Plant
Like the Peace Lily, this is a great larger plant that can reach up to 3 feet in height, though smaller varieties do exist if you want something for a sill or table. It has tall pointed leaves that stand upright, with bold stripes in various shades of green or yellow.
They will do okay with some direct light, but will thrive better in more indirect areas. Don’t overwater, and let the soil get dry between watering. Snake plants are prone to root rot, so you really don’t want to overdo the water.
Snake plants will reproduce with underground tubers and can outgrow a pot after a few growing seasons. You’ll have to cut away the new sprouts or divide the plant up into new pots.
6 – Sword Fern
Actually, many types of ferns do very well in dimmer indoor spaces, not just the sword fern. You can also try asparagus fern, maidenhair fern, or Boston fern. The sword fern will grow very large, so you might want to choose another variety if you are short on space.
Ferns naturally thrive in shady spots, and they love the same environment as a houseplant. Though great for low light, ferns of all types can be a little tricky for a casual indoor gardener.
They need a lot of moisture, and don’t tolerate dry conditions at all. At the same time, you can’t let the soil or their roots get too soggy. A dish of pebbles in water or wet moss near your plants will help keep that humidity up.
7 – Philodendrons
This is a whole family of plants that come in different shapes and sizes, all with a lot of interesting foliage. For a trailing vine, try a heartleaf philodendron, or a more upright variety with a lacy leaf.
As long as you don’t keep your plant in a very hot window, it will do just nicely in high or low light. Keep it watered regularly, typically when the surface of the soil is just getting dry to the touch.
8 – Peperomia
You can take your pick from hundreds of Peperomia species and varieties, all of which will do nicely away from windows and direct sunlight. Not only will they grow in low light, they do very well in artificial-only lighting areas too.
They won’t get too large and many varieties have interesting bumpy or wrinkled leaves. Let the soil get dry at least an inch deep before a light watering. That’s all there is to it.
9 – Spider Plant
Most people have owned a spider plant at some point, because it’s simple to take care of, and it grows well in all levels of light. It has long slim leaves that drape down over the edges of its container.
It can also sprout longer tendrils with little baby spider plants on them. You can snip off the baby buds (called pups) if you want new plants, and just root them in their own pot of moist soil.
This is also one of many plants known to help keep the air clean indoors, which is definitely an added benefit!
10 – Lucky Bamboo
Not as traditional a houseplant as most of these others, but lucky bamboo plants are getting very popular these days, even though they are not really bamboo. The perennial herb may strongly resemble bamboo, but the distinguishing feature is the fleshy stem. Real bamboo has a hollowed stem.
Some lucky bamboo plants are plain, natural stalks, and some have been shaped into spirals or braids. They are extremely well-suited to no-sun areas like an office. A day of artificial light is enough, and they require very little care. Bamboo can take some brighter light as long as it’s not too hot or direct.
Lucky bamboo is different from most houseplants as it usually lives in a vase of water rather than soil. Make sure the roots stay under the water, and change it out completely every 2 to 3 weeks.
11 – Waffle Plant
This unique low-light houseplant may sound like it has ridged leaves, but it has smooth foliage with a distinctive metallic purple tint. Sometimes called red ivy, it will keep its lovely color as long as you grow your plants out of direct light.
Keep the soil moist without water-logging the roots, and find a place for your waffle plant away from any drafts. Added humidity can be helpful for peak performance, so either mist your plants or keep a dish of water with pebbles nearby.
12 – Ivy
This creeping, climbing, woody plant is an evergreen with many different varieties. When planted outside in the ground, it makes excellent ground cover, as it creeps and spreads, staying roughly 2-8 inches off the ground.
Inside, you can train it to climb. It can grow as tall as 100 feet, though I’m sure you’ll want to keep it much smaller than that!
Ivy has two different leaf types, depending on what that stem is used for. Leaves that are on climbing and creeping branches are juvenile and palmately-lobed, which means its lobes radiate out from the center. Leaves that are on the flowering and fertile branches are adult, not lobed, and cordate (heart-shaped).
It likes to be on the dry side, so let it dry out a bit before watering. You’ll want to break out the watering can when the top of the soil is dry to the touch.
13 – ZZ Plant
A brown-thumb’s dream: the ZZ Plant. It is tolerant of drought, neglect, and low-light situations. It really is an easy care low light plant. Keep it in indirect light, and water it when it is fully dry, and you will have a happy plant.
With alternating, glossy, green leaves on its upright stems, the ZZ Plant is mainly known for its foliage. It does flower, but the flowers are small. You can propagate this plant both through leaf cuttings and through separating the underground tubers. You could have a whole army of ZZ’s in no time!
One big word of caution with the ZZ Plant is its toxicity. Every part of the plant is toxic. Avoid consuming this plant, and also please prevent any children or pets from consuming it. You may want to wash your hands after handling it, as well.
14 – Dumb Cane or Dieffenbachia
If you’re looking for a larger plant with showy leaves, look no further than the dieffenbachia. The large green leaves of this hearty shrub are splotched with white, cream, or yellow to provide a beautiful contrast. This plant is, like the ZZ Plant, known for its foliage, as its flowers are fairly inconspicuous.
The dieffenbachia prefers moderate light, but it does tolerate low light well. Keep the soil moist, but do not overwater, which will cause root rot. A good rule of thumb is to water it twice a week, when the soil on top is dry to the touch.
Keep this plant away from kids and pets, as it can cause issues with numbness and swelling if eaten, though in most cases, it is not life-threatening.
15 – Chinese Evergreen
A great “all things go” plant for indoor situations of all types is the Chinese evergreen. The Chinese evergreen is a great plant for beginners, since it tolerates a lot of less than ideal situations that beginners may put a plant in.
This plant is so hardy that it even thrives under fluorescent light and stingy watering. You can keep the soil evenly moist or water only every couple of weeks, and it will be happy.
With many of its varieties, the bright green leaves are shot with silver, making the foliage very attractive. With enough light, it will flower, and its flowers look similar to calla lilies.
Add Artificial Light
Most of these plants will do fine in a dim area providing they do get some light during the day. If you are trying to keep them healthy in areas that truly have too little light, or even no natural light at all, you can use artificial light to brighten things up. It’s not too difficult.
A regular household light can be enough, though you’ll get more mileage out of fluorescent or LED bulbs instead of incandescent. A strong overhead light, or a smaller lamp set up near your plants is probably all you need to keep these low-light plants happy.
You can give your plants a little advantage over sunlight if you choose cool or blue-tone light bulbs. This is the spectrum that encourages foliage growth, as opposed to warm lights (red) that will prompt flowering. Since almost all of these low-light plants are grown for their foliage, you can use this to produce lusher and leafier growth.
Whether you’re going with indirect sunlight or lamps, you still need to make sure your plants get a relatively full day of light. A timer can come in handy for that if you’re not going to be around.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.