University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

News Article 
LOW LIGHT HOUSEPLANTS

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Ailene King, Student Intern
University of Vermont
 

Houseplants, like outdoor landscape plants, have different requirements for light. Although many factors affect how well indoor plants do in a given situation, it's quite possible that the reason your plants aren't surviving has nothing to do with whether you remember to water and fertilize them. They may just not be the right plants for your lighting situation.

If you have low light conditions in your home, then try Chinese Evergreen, Rubber Plant, Snake Plant, or Peace Lily. Although these plants all have different light requirements, they will readily adapt to low light conditions. In addition, they are generally tough, with low maintenance needs.

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema), which is native to Malaysia and the Philippines, gets its name from the Greek aglaos meaning bright, and nema meaning filament, which probably refers to the shining stamen parts of the flower. This plant usually grows one to three feet high as well as wide although size does vary with species and cultivar.

The leaves are light to dark green, variegated silver, or gray, depending on species and cultivar. The flowers are non-showy and are less common indoors. Keep this plant out of reach of children and pets as all its plant parts can cause throat burn if ingested.

Aglaonema tolerates low to very low light. Warm temperatures are best, but they will adapt to cool temperatures as well. Water this plant moderately, and fertilize monthly.

It does well in average humidity, but will tolerate drier air. However, if the air is too cold (within 10 degrees or so of freezing), or very cold water gets on the leaves, they will brown. Over time, the plant may get leggy. Simply cut the stems, remove some lower leaves, and try rooting them in a light, well-drained mix or vermiculite.

Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) also is known as India Rubber Tree or Fig. It is native to Southeast Asia and is one of the original and best known large foliage plants. The Rubber Plant reaches six to 10 feet high and two to three feet wide. It may even be taller and require additional support.

The leaves are glossy, dark green, leathery, and thick. A few cultivars have colored leaves. The sticky white sap may irritate skin or the stomach if ingested. So, always wash hands immediately after touching the sap.

The Rubber Plant grows well in full sun or low light in warm to average indoor temperatures. Just make sure you don’t move it from one extreme to the other rapidly or it will lose its leaves. If too wet, too dry, or too drafty, the leaves may turn yellow and eventually drop. Water and fertilize moderately.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) also is known as Mother-in-law's Tongue or Bowstring Hemp. It is native to dry rocky habitats of west tropical Africa. Snake Plant is perhaps the easiest, most adaptable, and most tolerant of different conditions of all houseplants. It is also one of the most common.

It withstands most conditions, except freezing and overwatering. It may grow anywhere from six to 48 inches high and 10 to 36 inches wide, depending on the cultivar. The flowers are nocturnally fragrant, creamy flowers rich with nectar. The leaves are upright, stiff, and fleshy.

Taller varieties like 'Laurentii' produce clumps of flowers with broad yellow margins. Shorter varieties like ‘Hahnii’ produce rosettes with darker green crossbands. However, keep in mind that under low light conditions this plant rarely flowers.

Snake Plant will tolerate bright to low light conditions and warm to cool temperatures. Allow the soil to dry between waterings. Leaves will fall over or have corky growths if excessively watered. This plant is very tolerant of dry air commonly found in many homes.

Peace Lily or Spathiphyllum (Spathiphyllum wallisii 'Clevelandii') is native to the American tropics. Its name comes from the Greek spatha, meaning spathe, and phyllon, meaning leaf, referring to the leaf-like white spathe (the unusual cupped flower shape).

The true species is rare in cultivation. The plant reaches a height of 18 to 24 inches and 12 to 18 inches in width. The leaves are dark green, elongated and on long stems.

Spathiphyllum does best in bright to moderate light but adapts readily to low light. Too much light may cause yellowing, then browning of the leaves. It does well in average to warm temperatures with moderate watering and low fertility. Overfertilizing may cause brown leaf spots and no flowering.

Spathiphyllum likes humidity but will tolerate dry air. Keep the leaves dusted using a damp cloth or rinse them periodically. The Chinese Evergreen, Rubber Plant, and Snake Plant also benefit from occasional dusting.


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