Thursday, January 28, 2016

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Just Right for Low Light

Building on the earlier "Life Saving Houseplant Resolutions" post let's ensure a winning start in 2016.

Some of us go plant shopping with a specific site in mind. Some of us shop, fall in love with a particular plant ("It's talking to me" as one of my favorite clients says), buy it, and then put it in a spot where it will look good. Neither process is wrong, but we need to concede that houseplant success begins by matching the light in our desired site with getting a bead on the plant's light needs.

Think about it. If the tropical plant you're lusting after has evolved for hundreds of thousands of years on the jungle floor in the shade of its taller plant neighbors, it's probably not keen on direct sun. The converse is true, too. The cactus or succulent that loves to be bathed in sun is probably going to be sulky in a windowless room.

That being said the most challenging sites are the really low light ones: off to the side of a north window, an east exposure with heavy window treatments, an interior office with no natural light. You get the idea. So, assess the quality of light (direct, indirect, bright, really dark) in your room. Go for the worst case scenario. On a sunny day in our Chicago winter what are the light conditions? Is there direct sun? How long is it even bright? Thirty minutes, an hour, all afternoon? Be honest and don't fudge the answer. This reality check will determine your plant's future success.

So, what are some good candidates for a low light scenario? Below are five houseplants that will tolerate the dark corners and recesses of your home sweet home and still maintain an acceptable appearance.

Chinese Evergreen - Aglaonema
Sparkling Sarah
Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen) - Hybridizers have done wonders taking the dark green leaves and developing wonderful splashes and blotches of cream, silver green, even rosy shades that really add interest to a dark room. Keep Chinese Evergreen away from cold drafts that accompany doors opening to the outside.
Mother-in-law's-tongue - Sansevieria
Sansevieria (Mother-in-law's Tongue) - Whether the cute compact rosette forms or the taller (to 24"+) upright varieties, this is an iron-clad standard of tolerance to almost any adverse condition you present. Just don't overwater and it will thrive.
Peace Lily - Spathiphyllum
Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily) - Foliage resembles the spear-like leaves of Chinese Evergreen, except the leaves are glossy green, rather than matte. It will provide a bonus of white sail-like flowers that last for weeks before turning pale green. No direct sun - ever. Prefers to be evenly moist. You may want to try 'Domino', a variety that has wonderful white splashes on the leaves.
Palms - Lady and Areca are best
Palms- Explore the world of palms and you'll find a number of species that will be quite happy in low light. I especially like Lady or Areca palms for those situations. These will generally be taller plants placed on the floor for height. They'll endure temperatures that are cooler than some other tropicals will tolerate.
ZZ plant - Zamioculcas
Zamioculcas (ZZ plant) - It looks prehistoric (in a good way) to me. After a year of growing it I'm a big fan! It's so easy. It's on the far side of a room away from an east window. It's in a 10" pot that I water once a month. My ZZ is producing lots of new stems. That's surprising to me as I tend to expect ultra-low maintenance plants to be slow growing.

So, if you're one of those people lacking strong light and the proverbial "green thumb" give some of these winners a chance. If they don't make the grade, it's time to think "silk".             


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