Low-light wonders

Here’s our list of the least-fussiest houseplants to cheer you up this winter.


After the colorful holiday season, the interior of your house may seem a bit dull. One way to liven it up after the tree has been taken down and the ornaments packed away is with a few new houseplants.

The only problem may be light. There’s less bright light indoors in winter, and light is essential to plants. The solution: Eschew tropicals that need a sunny spot for plants that don’t mind muted light. There are a number of attractive choices.

But first, determine whether you have enough light. No plant thrives in darkness. An easy general test is to see if you can read small print easily in the area where the plant will go. A more exact test is to wait for a sunny day and put a piece of clean, white paper where you’d like to put a plant. Hold your hand 12 inches above the paper. If you see an indistinct shadow, you have enough light for a low-light houseplant. If the shadow is a bit fuzzy but resembles a hand, that’s medium light. A clear hand shadow indicates high light.

Once you’ve found a place with adequate light, it’s time to go shopping. Plants that will live happily in low light include Dallas fern (one of the few ferns that’s happy in low light), ZZ plant, Chinese evergreen, heartleaf philodendron, pothos, cast iron plant, peace lily, prayer plant, and snake plant.

All are considered easy to grow and come in a variety of colors and sizes. If you want a splash of color, look for variegated foliage (Chinese evergreen, pothos, prayer plant, and snake plant). If you want a large plant, buy it that size since most plants don’t grow much in low light.

All low-light plants grow well in ordinary household temperatures (60 to 75 degrees F.). Fertilize them lightly only in summer. Here are some care specifics:

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) needs water only when the top inch of soil dries out. Be careful not to overwater, especially in winter. 

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.) likes a warm environment (above 60 degrees F.) and prefers having its soil dry out slightly between waterings. 

Dallas fern (Nephro­lepis exaltata ‘Dallas’) can be hard to find, but if you like ferns and have low light, it’s a delight. It tends to stay small and has a ruffled appearance, instead of having large, arching fronds. Water when soil dries slightly.

Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum var. oxycardium) is a popular indoor vining plant that puts up with neglect. Keep temperature above 50 degrees F. and water when the top inch of soil is dry. Yellow leaves may indicate too little light or too much water. 

Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii) is a very familiar low-light plant, with its lilylike “flower” (spathe). It will develop more spathes in brighter light. Keep temperatures above 55 degrees F. and the soil slightly moist (not soggy). Mist occasionally.

Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) resembles heartleaf philodendron except its leaves are usually variegated. It’s an easy-to-grow indoor vine. Let its soil dry out between waterings.

Prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) likes temperatures of 65 degrees F. and above, but will tolerate 60 degrees. If the leaves curl, the plant may be receiving too much light. Mist occasionally; if the tips turn brown, there may not be enough humidity. Keep soil slightly moist, but don’t let the plant stand in water.

Snake plant (Sansevieria), also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, will grow to 30 inches in height. It’s nearly impossible to kill unless you overwater it or keep the indoor temperature below 50 degrees F. Water when the soil dries out.

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) may not be a houseplant you’re familiar with, but it’s one that’s almost foolproof – unless you overwater it. Water when the soil dries out. 

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