Houseplants that can withstand the Eye of Sauron?
July 5, 2014 11:47 AM   Subscribe

What indoor plants will thrive with the sun blazing down on them? I have gorgeous 8' tall windows and inviting wide windowsills. I want to keep lots of plants on them, but my southeastern exposure has turned most things into shriveled up husks. I know that cacti are the obvious answer, but I haaaate cacti. Does anything else love tons of light and heat?
posted by TwoStride to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

Or you can put tint on the windows.
posted by yohko at 11:53 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I envy your sunlight! Can you give tomatoes a go?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:54 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wait, you're in (state in profile)!?

That's pretty far north to be having this issue.

Maybe you just aren't watering the plants enough? Don't let the soil dry out all the way.
posted by yohko at 11:56 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Condo regulations prevent any tint on the windows. And in the summers the sill gets up to about 90+ degrees if left unchecked. Watering is defintely important, but I'd like something that won't fossilize if left alone for a weekend, which is the problem I've been having.
posted by TwoStride at 11:59 AM on July 5, 2014

Best answer: Try rosemary, lavender and geraniums. You can even get them at Home Depot or whatever in those plastic buckets and drop them in a decorative pot. If you love basil you can probably grow that too, just keep pinching it back so it doesn't get leggy. The SW exposure is possibly a blessing in disguise. There are some really beautiful lavenders and and geraniums and your window sills will be so unique and enviable. With that kind of light you can do things that are not traditionally what we think of as houseplants. Geraniums with produce blooms like you wouldn"t believe. Just keep turning everything a quarter turn every week or so so they don't get lopsided. You might have to take the basil out of the window if you're gone for the weekend but the lavenders, rosemary and geraniums should be fine. I'm not sure about the fancy geraniums but the old fashioned red/white/pink ones do fine inside and would look great interspersed with the lavender/rosemary.
posted by BoscosMom at 12:09 PM on July 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

I've lived in houses where the entire house gets up to 90+ degrees if left unchecked, and I'm guessing the windowsills got hotter but I never actually thought to check. Also a very low humidity climate. I had spider plants and er... 4 or 5 other ordinary houseplant type things that I bought at the grocery store. Nothing renowned for being difficult like those plants with the pretty dark purple flowers or orchids. I usually water whenever I remember to do it, maybe once a week or so.

Maybe there's something other than the types of plants that's the issue? If you keep the plants in the containers they come in, roots fill it up and there's not much room for water. Repot into larger containers. You can also buy potting soil meant to retain more water. There are also pots that have built in water reservoirs.

Also, don't use black or dark colored pots. Is the windowsill black? You could get something white to put over it.
posted by yohko at 12:14 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

What is it about cacti that puts you off them? Would succulents be OK instead? There are many succulents in weird and wonderful shapes that don't resemble what is commonly thought of as being a cacti shape - squat and round with lots of spines.

Plants like Mother-in-law's Tongue should be able to withstand being left in such conditions with ease.
posted by Solomon at 12:16 PM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you use A/C? That might have a bigger effect than the light.
posted by ryanrs at 12:16 PM on July 5, 2014

Best answer: Pelargoniums. Pots and pots and pots of pelargoniums!
posted by lydhre at 12:18 PM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you as awkward a cook as I am? Put an aloe plant in your window for immediate first aid for kitchen burns. Aloe is spiny like cactus but you could prettify the sill with geraniums or other flowering plants.
posted by Cranberry at 12:24 PM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Aeoniums will do the trick and there are a multitude of forms and colours so you can mix and match. Often available at home depot or lowes.

For sheer oddity value not much beats a large pot of lithops

If it were me I'd grow haworthia (but that may be too close to Cacti for you). I'm particularly fond of large clumps of Gasteraloe 'green ice'

However even succulents will cook in a windowsill under direct sunlight unless there is significant air movement. You will need a fan blowing on your plants.
posted by srboisvert at 12:34 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Cacti are out because of an unfortunate childhood encounter that involved a slippery floor, a 6' cactus, and about 2 hours of tweezing the spines out of my arm and side... They are dead to me now.

Thansk for all of the suggestions so far!
posted by TwoStride at 12:34 PM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Jade plants are easy, drought tolerant, love the sun, don't really look at all like a cactus and have no spiky bits.
posted by steinwald at 1:18 PM on July 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

I know nothing of the mysterious ways of houseplants, but could this maybe be remedied by some terrarium cover or enclosure you put them in during weekends that you're absent? So that the shock they experience is temporary jungle conditions rather than temporary desert conditions.
posted by XMLicious at 1:27 PM on July 5, 2014

Aloe vera have a lot of the good points of cacti without being dangerous to deal with. Also, iirc, they are among the top five houseplants for helping to clean the indoor air. And they eventually survived my black thumb. I killed the first two gifts from family who were trying to hook me up with houseplants but I eventually did make it work. I had a sunny kitchen window in one apartment and when we moved, I had to replant & give away dozens of aloe as parting gifts.

Also, I am wondering if you can partially tint the window without violating condo rules by putting window decals/film on it. Something like this.
posted by Michele in California at 1:27 PM on July 5, 2014

Best answer: Don't do a terrarium cover. From brutal personal experience, I've found out that the combo of direct sun + enclosure is basically a broiled plant recipe.

Nthing the suggestion to try growing indoor herbs. People have mentioned lavender and rosemary. You can also try thyme, oregano, and tarragon. Bonus with herbs: they actually do better if you let them dry out from time to time. Plus, they smell good.

(Tomatoes can be tough to grow indoors because most won't set fruit if they don't consistently get nighttime temps below 70 degrees for a period.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:40 PM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

In Nice we plant lavender, rosemary, thyme, bougainvillea, and wisteria. Bougainvillea and wisteria LOVE the sun; they repay you with lovely vines and boatloads of beautiful flowers.

Yucca is also good, but it's like a weed; it never dies. Best to pot it, not put it in the ground – I tried cutting off overgrown yucca at ground level, after which it promptly proceeded to put out new shoots. Friends of mine had a potted yucca that got blown over by a gust of wind, likely during the stormy winter they were away. The plant stayed like that, without dirt (which had fallen out and been blown away), and its roots inaccessible to rain because the pot was covering them. It was still alive when they got back in June.
posted by fraula at 1:55 PM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agave attenuata is kind of pretty and has zero spines or thorns. (link is to google image search for A. attenuata).
posted by sciencegeek at 3:45 PM on July 5, 2014

I've just learned that sage likes hot and dry. I had two in pots that turned yellow-green when we had a fair amount of rain. I experimented and put one in the greenhouse and was stingy with the water. It greened right up and looks noticeably better than the one living outside.

And yes, to lavender as a few have mentioned. Mine live outside the fence of my garden and don't get watered very often. They are thriving.
posted by Beti at 8:09 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might look at using sub-irrigated planters for the watering.

Also, iirc, they are among the top five houseplants for helping to clean the indoor air.

The actual study about plants cleaning indoor air was where they blew benynze-laden air past the roots of something as part of prospective spacelab research. As far as I understand, indoor plants don't clean indoor air measurably - they can dump mold spores into it though.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:24 PM on July 5, 2014

Best answer: When people keep mentioning "succulents" and questioning your ban on cacti, what's going on is that the cactus family includes a much wider array of plants than the spiny dangeous things we automatically think of as "cactus". This page about the Chistmas Cactus explains how the plant can have pretty flowers, no spines, and yet still be a cactus. So if it's only the spiny trauma that makes you exclude cacti, at least stop by the Christmas cacti at the garden center, say hello, see if you think it would be an okay plant to have; they are really pretty when they bloom, and strongly unbakeable. Also drapes nicely, so you could hang it in the window, or set it on the ledge and let it cascade over.
Not instead of the herbs (great idea, I can never keep my rosemary warm enough!) but in addition, since it sounds like you've got a giant window.
posted by aimedwander at 7:15 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Most commonly-sold houseplants are capable of growing in fairly bright light, though not necessarily all-day, full-strength direct sun. During production, a lot of them get strong light for fast growth, and then before shipping get moved to a spot with less light, so they'll acclimate better to the darker conditions in homes. Consequently, a lot of them will burn if they're thrown into full direct sun, but it's not necessarily the case that they can't take direct sun. You may be able to grow some of them by gradually increasing the light over time (as by moving the plant closer, or removing obstructions from the window). 90F is pretty hot for a lot of tropicals either way, though, especially tropicals with thin, broad leaves.

Here are some plants I would recommend for this location (though they may still need to be acclimated, depending on where they've been growing previously):

more succulent-looking:
Agave spp. (century plant) • Crassula ovata (jade plant) • Euphorbia tirucalli (pencil cactus) • Epiphyllum cvv. (orchid cactus) • Gasteria, Haworthia, and Aloe spp., as well as their hybrids Gasterworthia, Gasteraloe, and AlworthiaHuernia spp. and Stapelia spp. (lifesaver plant, starfish flower, various others) • Leuchtenbergia principis (agave cactus) • Sansevieria cylindrica

more leafy-looking:
Pedilanthus tithymaloides (devil's backbone) • Synadenium grantii (African milk tree) • Ananas comosus (pineapple) • Neoregelia cvv. • Cycas revoluta and other spp. (sago palm) • Hoya spp. (wax plant) • Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant) • Tradescantia zebrina (wandering jew) • Tradescantia pallida (purple heart)

Euphorbia trigona (African milk bush) and E. milii (crown of thorns) • Adenium obesum (desert rose) • Pachypodium spp. (Madagascar palm) • Beaucarnea recurvata (ponytail palm)

MeMail if you're interested in more detail, or search the names on my houseplant blog.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:41 AM on July 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Holy cow, thanks, Spathe Cadet! Off to devour your blog.
posted by TwoStride at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2014

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