Low Light Plants for Growing in Containers

By Bill Marken, Suzanne DeJohn, The Editors of the National Gardening Association

Place plants that adapt well to low light in east or north windows, foyers, stair landings — anywhere that receives little or no direct sun. But remember, if it’s too dark for you to read a book, it’s too dark for a plant to grow there. The following plants fall into this category:

  • Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior): Dark green, elongated leaves grow vertically, reaching a height of up to 3 feet. Place this plant in an area with a cool to average temperature. Expect it to grow slowly. Let the soil dry out between waterings, and fertilize infrequently. The cast-iron plant is one of the easiest and most reliable houseplants.

  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema): Some Chinese evergreens have dark green leaves marked across with white (Maria); others have yellow-green leaves with darker splotches (Silver Queen). Both types grow into lush, leafy mounds. Height varies, so read plant labels. They thrive in average temperatures as long as they’re not exposed to cold drafts. Let the soil dry out between waterings. Cut back older canes to promote new growth from the base. Chinese evergreens are very easy to grow.

  • Dracaena: Many species are available, and most are slow-growing. The most familiar species include Madagascar dragon tree (D. marginata), with long, thin leaves coming out like a fountain; corn plant (D. massangeana), common in office buildings, with tall canes sprouting wide leaves at the top; and D. warneckii, a large, shrubby plant with green-and-white-striped leaves. Place these plants in an area with an average temperature and medium humidity. Let the soil dry out between waterings, and fertilize infrequently. Leaf tips and margins may turn brown and crispy if the plants are overwatered. Dracaenas are easy to grow.

  • Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata): This has been a houseplant since Neanderthal times, which explains the politically incorrect name. Its familiar vertical blades grow slowly to 18 inches. These plants thrive in cool to hot temperatures. Fertilize infrequently. Mother-in-law’s tongue is very easy to grow.

  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum): Here’s the ubiquitous mall plant, and for good reason — its dark, glossy foliage, on 1- to 4-foot plants, looks sharp without too much attention. Peace lilies occasionally sport white flowers. They can tolerate low humidity. Let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. If the soil dries too much, the plant will wilt dramatically; however, it will usually recover an hour or two after watering. Peace lilies are easy to grow.