Aside from mushrooms, are there any decorative houseplants I can grow in a dark and neglected apartment?
April 20, 2011 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Does a dark and somewhat uninhabited apartment mean I can't have houseplants?

I'm trying to make my apartment feel more "homey", and I was looking at artificial plants the other day, but I can't help feeling I'd be happier with real ones. The problem though, is that I feel it's highly likely I'd kill them.

My apartment is bad for plants in 2 respects:
  1. It tends to be very dark. My walls are painted a dark color, and my apartment doesn't get much sun. Even when the sun is shining on it, I tend to like to keep the blinds closed or nearly closed because I'm afraid passersby in my neighborhood will be inventorying my goods through my windows and making note of when I'll be gone so they can come take them (I'm not seriously afraid of it happening, but I feel like not advertising my stuff to the world is a good precaution). If I had plants I could probably keep them near a window with the blinds slitted at least, but it'd still be relatively dark.
  2. I travel on a semi-regular basis and may be gone anywhere from a few days up to 2 weeks. If I knew I was going to be gone 2 weeks I could probably have somebody stop by to take care of my plants once or twice, but I do worry about neglecting them.
I have seen some of the other houseplant-related questions on Metafilter, including this one about low-hassle shady plants, but most of them seem to assume either planting outdoors, or adequately sunny indoor environments. I worry that my situation is more plant-hostile than theirs.

What do you think? Would any plants I buy be doomed to wither away? If not, what would you suggest I buy? Hostas? Pathos? Cactus?

I do not have pets. Nobody lives in my apartment besides me.

Thanks Mefites!
posted by Vorteks to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Three plants that may survive in your conditions are Sansevieria, Zamioculcas and Pothos. The first two could survive the two weeks with no water at all, the Pothos would need water, but you could easily drown it before leaving, literally submerge it and leave it that way while gone.

These are plants I give to people who aren't just lacking a green thumb, but actually have a withered thumb of plant death - and just about anyone can take care of them in just about any conditions.
posted by jardinier at 12:48 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Pothos would be perfect for your situation. I have one in my office that only gets very slight and indirect sun, is watered once a week, and is thriving. A pothos would dry out a bit after two weeks (curly leaves, maybe some yellowing), but would spring back once you watered it again. Or, as I see on preview, giving it a ton of water before you go would do the job too.
posted by dayintoday at 12:53 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: I sympathize! My apartment has dark walls and is very, very shady. I also regularly forget to water my plants for weeks. I have a Philodendron, a Zamioculcas and several cacti that have been happy for almost two years, in my dark apartment, under my inattentive care. I also had a Draecena that was doing very well until my roommate leaned a chair back into it and snapped its stalk in half. I've had very good luck with my ferns as well (n.b. they are on a windowsill, so they do get a little more sun than they would otherwise). Those should work for you too!

In the same apartment, I have somehow killed several ivies, several peace lilies and a cycad. But, their deaths may not have been due to low light, but rather to leaving them in my roommate's care for two months, so YMMV with those guys.
posted by pemberkins at 12:56 PM on April 20, 2011

Ferns! They're easy, lush-looking, and really like the shade.
posted by rosa at 12:57 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: i refer to our home as" the cave" and our pothos is going great. we've even split it off 5 times (they can grow in just water!). we are adding a couple plants from the fern family.
posted by nadawi at 1:03 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: I have had a heck of a time killing bamboo so long as I've left it in a lot of water. I recommend a clear vase to keep it in, so you can see the water level when you come home. It goes a lighter shade of green when not in sunlight, but that doesn't kill it.
posted by lizbunny at 1:30 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: Nthing the Zamioculcas (also called ZZ plant). I have one in my work office, far from the reaches of any natural light, and I remember to water it maybe once a month.
posted by cabingirl at 1:40 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: Seconding sansavieria and nthing pothos. If you want something a little more unusual, try the cylindrica variety.
posted by cyndigo at 1:49 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: Nth-ing Pothos! I usually have bad luck with indoor plants and the Pothos I have is very happy! Seems like every day it is sprouting a new leaf :) I can attest to the pre-vacation drowning method as a good one as well. I just did this (was gone for a week and 2 days) and he's still sprouting away!
posted by sleepykitties at 2:00 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: My Great-Grandmother kept African Violets in a terrarium. While hers were in a sunny window, appropriate spectrum bulbs would work as well.
posted by Talia Devane at 2:30 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: You may or may not like the look of it, but you could attach some 24 or 48 inch fluorescent tube to a shelf, and grow plants under lights. Most plants (other than succulents or cacti) love this set up. Pothos or philodendron would go nuts.
You would need to put the lights on a mechanical timer. The lights on the timer could have the added benefit of making your place appear occupied. At least, that is what I tell myself.
posted by easilyamused at 2:39 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Looks good, easilyamused! Also, you appear to have the exact library chairs that I had and loved for years. Wish I could find another pair on the street, where I got the last ones....
posted by cyndigo at 3:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We got plant lights and timers in my (completely windowless) office, and the plants are flourishing - we picked low- and medium-light plants, but even the ones we were concerned about seem to be surviving. Plant lights can go in any regular lamp, so we just got a couple of desk lamps and set one over each pot.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:09 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: Ferns! They're easy, lush-looking, and really like the shade.

Outdoor shade and dark houses are not equivalent. The average lit room is about 7-10 footcandles of light intensity; the average outdoor deep shade is 50-100 footcandles.

I agree that aspidistras, pothos, and sansivieras are likely to die more slowly than the average plant in a dark room- they have slower metabolisms than many houseplants and tolerate more shade.
That does not mean they will thrive a dark painted room with slatted blinds. Buy some supplemental lighting for plants. These low-light plants need 50-250 footcandles of light to survive. That means an (open) north window, or 500-2500 lux from fluorescent lights.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:34 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mother-in-laws tongues. They are unkillable.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:11 PM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: Snake plants (Mother-in laws-Tongues), Pothos, and African Violets are all very forgiving of your situation! Along with cacti and succulents!
posted by troublewithwolves at 10:26 PM on April 20, 2011

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks everyone! I'm going to look into all these options. I started marking a couple answers as best, and I saw the other answers were really good too... I ended up marking almost all of them. :-) I really appreciate all the suggestions.

@oneirodynia - Other than getting a fluorescent bulb that says "500-2500 lux" right on the package, is there a method you'd recommend for measuring the light level in my room? I've never heard the term "footcandles" before, but I'm heading off to google it now.
posted by Vorteks at 6:48 AM on April 21, 2011

Best answer: If you're interested in using lights and timers, I've used these LED grow lights with timers, and they're extremely energy efficient, and will last 'forever.'
posted by jardinier at 7:48 AM on April 21, 2011

Response by poster: @jardinier - Thanks! I am indeed open to using such things, although I'm surprised how expensive it is! $60 for one light. Ouch. Still, it might be worth it.
posted by Vorteks at 7:58 AM on April 21, 2011

Yeah, LED lights are spendy - but I replaced every bulb in my house with them and you can go years without buying a bulb. Yes, CFLs are better than incandescents, but LEDs are so much better. I even found LEDs to replace the halogens in my track lighting, and that's such a huge improvement in the energy bill as well as the expense of replacing those bulbs which burn out frequently.

If you're using a bulb for a plant, it's going to be on 12 or more hours a day - in which case it really, really matters how much electricity it uses and how often it burns out. I find the cost to be worth it.

Also, you can get these really cool bulbs from the same place that have 16 colors and a remote control...
posted by jardinier at 8:25 AM on April 21, 2011

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