Dim light? No green thumb? These plants don't care

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

If you're a lackadaisical plant lover living in a shady abode, don't despair about a dearth of green companions. Philodendrons need not be your only botanical chums, because there are numerous foliage plants that are tolerant of dim interiors. Keep in mind, however, that because their growth rate will be slow and their flower production nil, their consumption rate will be low.

These tolerant plants will need less of everything -- food, water, and light. You should never leave them sitting in water, and always top their pot's drainage holes with thick layers of drainage material: one-half inch for every three inches in a pot's diameter.

From April through September feed these plants every two months at half the recommended dosage and not at all the rest of the time.

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Grow these toughies as close to light sources as possible. Shun heavy draperies, remove window obstructions, and add to your dim natural light by leaving your incandescent lights on during the daytime.

The following are some readily available houseplants that will survive dismal conditions and minimal care:

* Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestrum)m -- This plant, with its oblong, waxy, green leaves closely set along thin cane stems, is ideal for nooks where King Sol never shines. It hails from the Far East. You can grow it indefinitely in water or keep it happy in consistently moist but not soggy soil.

* Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)m -- If you've come to view yourself as the consummate plant assassin, choose an aspidistra, whose common name, cast-iron plant, indicates its durability under horrible conditions.

Another Far East native, it has long, shiny, dark-green leaves that sprout directly from the soil. Don't choose the variegated types unless you are willing and able to provide them with bright light.

*Dumb-cane (Dieffenbachia picta)m -- These are among the best plants to grow in dimly lighted, dry, and warm homes. their thick canes are surrounded by spirals of long, pointed, white-spotted leaves, and under optimum conditions they'll grow to five feet.

Allow the soil to dry out between waterings, and keep children and pets from munching on its toxic foliage.

* Corn plant (Dracaena massangeana)m -- Although some reach 10 feet in height, these plants grow so slowly that you ought to start with one about the size you want to end up with. The foot-long leaves, sword-shaped with yellow interiors and dark-green edges, crowd the tops of slender canes. Let its soil go dry before rewatering.

* Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)m -- No longer the world's rubber source, yet its name persists. It is a member of a big family and will eventually grow to tree size even in poor conditions. Its leaves are wide, dark green, oblong, and thick. As long as you allow its soil to go dry between waterings, it hardly matters what else you don't do.

* Swiss-cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa)m -- A large-scale, green embodiment of Swiss cheese, this large-leaved climbing plant is frequently sold as "split-leaved philodendron" -- which it does indeed resemble.

Actually, it looks too good to be so tough, but the adage about appearances being deceiving applies. If you provide it with something to cling to, it will survive in shady places, put up with inconsistent watering, and endure fluctuating temperatures.

* Boston fern (Neophrolepis exaltata bostoniensis)m -- Among the hardiest of ferns, it has long and variously cut fronds that rise directly from the surface of the soil. Unless your home is cool and moist, however, pick another toughie. Although ferns like their light limited, they insist on high moisture in both soil and air. Also, they are frequently hungry.

* Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)m -- this most indestructible of houseplants has long, leathery, dark-green leaves that grow in rosettes to four feet. It is as easy to care for as its plastic replicas and adapts to almost any condition other than generosity in food, water, and size of pot.

* Marble queen or pothos (Scindapsus aureus)m -- If you favor vinelike foliage and your home is warm, this plant is for you. It's a hardy vine whose dark-green-splashed-with- yellow leaves look great hanging out of baskets or climbing trellises.

Allow the soil to dry out before rewatering. Also, at the start of each season pinch its stem tips.

* Piggyback plant (Tolmiea menziesii)m -- This is a native American plant originating along the Western coastline from California to Alaska. It is named after its reproductive method, in which its brightly green, curly, slightly hairy leaves give birth to minuscule versions of the mother plant. These plantlets may be rooted in moist soil and severed from the parent once the roots develop in six to seven weeks.

Like Boston ferns, piggyback plants like their light indirect, their soil moist, rich, and humusy, and their atmosphere cool and moist.

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