Indoor Houseplant Planter
April 30, 2021 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Our house has a neato built-in planter in the foyer, but the exposure is north-northwest so there is no direct sunlight. We have complete black thumbs (but I'm learning) and have no knowledge whatsoever of houseplants. What can we plant there that will have some height to fill the space and thrive? Here's an ad from the homebuilder of what it may have looked like in groovy 1960. My partner seriously suggested we plant plastic houseplants. Please help.
posted by hwyengr to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Lots of different kinds/sizes/colors, they have great structure, they prefer to mostly be ignored.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:53 AM on April 30 [12 favorites]

If you don't have pets ZZ plants are very tolerant of low light and being ignored.
posted by lafemma at 8:07 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]

Seconding ZZ plants.
posted by lovableiago at 8:17 AM on April 30 [2 favorites]

I have a pothos that, when I purchased it, was potted with a stake that it climbs up, so it has some height. It is very tolerant of me forgetting to water it and not being right beside a window. Philodendrons would work similarly.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:20 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Ficus are classic indoor trees, my parents have one that’s at least 35 years old and still only ~6 ft tall. Fiddle leaf figs are another, trendier option. Parlor palms, if that’s your vibe? Norfolk Island pine, maybe?

Monstera are trendy and would work as a mid-height plant in that setup (3-4’). You may not get the “Swiss cheese” holes in the leaves in low light.

You may want to look at mulch/gravel options to keep fungus gnats down.
posted by momus_window at 8:51 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Seconding sansevieria/snake plants. They prefer a life of dark neglect.
posted by SamanthaK at 10:18 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]

If you want some height, adding a big ceramic pot or two could add some nice interest and variety to the space while being able to be filled with cheaper/smaller plants.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 10:32 AM on April 30 [4 favorites]

For verticality - I’ve seen (very successful) sansevieria grow up to 6’ tall but that’s it, so I’m not certain that that will give you the height you’re looking for. How about some Swiss cheese plants (monstera deliciosa?) I have some planted in our very shady porch and they are very happy. Message me and I can send you a pic; if you’re in SoCal happy to get you started with a cutting or three.
posted by arnicae at 10:41 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dieffenbachia and Monstera will grow big in that space. I’d probably go for a graduated height arrangement with ZZ plants in the front, then Sansaverias, and tallest Monstera and Dieffenbachia at the back.
posted by quince at 11:12 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Cast iron plants - Aspidistra are probably the lowest light houseplants typically available.
posted by congen at 11:18 AM on April 30 [1 favorite]

This "How Many Plants" site was linked on the front page; the plant care guide lets you sort for both 'low light tolerant' and 'easy going'.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:02 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Northern exposure and little light is very difficult. I'd consider having 2 full sets of plants in containers and swapping them out every 2 weeks, with a 2nd location that gets adequate light. Even then, I'd stick with plants that tolerate poor conditions. Or. Jessamyn has mossariums; might work,
posted by theora55 at 12:08 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

If you grow trailing, vine-type plants, you could train them on a garden structure for the tall architectural element. Or put pots on pedestals.
(I'm saying, don't splash out on huge plants before you know what will survive in that spot.)
((That's a great space. If nothing can grow in it without specialty lighting, or constant rotation, or a lot of fuss, use the area for art/architectural salvage display/something neat, but non-living and less labor-intensive.))
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:57 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

The house I grew up in had a foyer planter and we had a thick planting of Sansevieria which grew in very little light. They eventually got about 28-30" tall. After about 20 years the planter developed cracks that leaked and mom replaced the plants with artificial plants in a bed of sphagnum moss.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:35 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Ferns should do ok, mine are Rabbit's Foot ferns and are very happy in a spot like that. Or a Zanzibar whatsit.. ZZ plant?
posted by Coaticass at 5:17 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]

Those ferns won't meet your height requirement though. Oops. And tree ferns might be too big.
posted by Coaticass at 5:18 PM on April 30

Zz plants will be hard to kill and give a good sculptural elements to it. You could build a structure for a pothos vine as well, though I have had issues in similar conditions with very leggy plants that failed to thrive long term.

Given the light structure that I'm assuming is still there- I'd personally add in supplements grow lights and just switch the grow bulbs on at night so you're not sitting in the room with the odd tinged lighting (or do if you like that look). Adding supplemental light will give you far better options that what you're working with currently.
posted by shesaysgo at 12:47 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Does "no direct sunlight" mean

1) it's usually dark, or
2) it's bright, but there's just no direct light?

If the answer is 1), then you should either go plastic or add supplemental light (and it doesn't have to be a grow light; it can be a regular white light; grow lights are just more efficient for plant growth). If 2), then you could look into:

Ficus tree / weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) or long-leaf fig (F. maclellandii)
* needs to have light hitting it from all directions, or it will defoliate on the dark side (especially for F. benjamina)
* will probably eventually hit the ceiling, and you'll have to make a decision about what to do with it then
* there are some nice cultivars of F. benjamina with interesting color or variegation (e.g. 'Margarita,' 'Black Diamond,' 'Starlite')
* mildly toxic to pets / kids (unpleasant but not likely to be fatal or cause lasting harm if eaten; sometimes causes skin irritation if handled)

Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
* some varieties get taller than others; either start with a full-size plant, or make sure the variety you're getting will reach the size you want
* toxic to pets / kids (can be fatal, especially to cats)

ZZ plant / eternity plant / Zanzibar gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
* new growth will be slow, stretched, and weak without decent light
* mildly toxic to pets / kids (unpleasant and painful but not likely to be fatal or cause long-lasting harm)

corn plant / "dracaena" (Dracaena fragrans or D. deremensis cvv.)
* very slow-growing, especially in these circumstances, so pick a plant that's already pretty close to the size you want
* toxicity sort of a question mark, but unlikely to be fatal or cause long-term harm

peace lily (Spathiphyllum cvv.)
* there are some varieties that get very, very large (look for 'Mauna Loa,' 'Mauna Loa Supreme,' or 'Sensation' to start with), though you should remember that unlike most other plants on this list, they get large in all directions: if it's five feet tall, it's also going to be five feet in diameter
* some people find them tricky to water; this is not a good choice if you're likely to forget about the plant for a few days at a time
* mildly toxic to kids / pets (unpleasant and painful but not likely to be fatal or cause long-lasting harm)

dumb cane (Dieffenbachia cvv.)
* only a few varieties get very tall, and even those that do get tall will tip over and crawl eventually, especially if all the light is coming from the same direction, but they're easy to care for, tolerate low light, and are one of your better options for very large, dramatic leaves. 'Tropic Snow' is classic but gets a bare stem as it grows and starts crawling early; 'Tropic Rain' is better about holding leaves and staying upright, but only relative to 'Tropic Snow'
* toxic to pets and kids; causes severe pain and swelling if chewed

Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema cvv.)
* not all varieties get large; I'd recommend 'Silverado,' 'Brilliant,' 'Silver Bay,' 'B. J. Freeman,' or 'Cory,' which can all reach at least 3 feet, sometimes taller
* the varieties with pink or red are beautiful but will not work for your situation: do not attempt
* mildly toxic to kids / pets (unpleasant and painful but not likely to be fatal or cause long-lasting harm)

shoebutton tree (Ardisia elliptica) or coral berry (A. crenata)
* more attractive when immature (which is how they're generally sold) but can become tall, and tolerates fairly low light
* toxicity of foliage isn't high as far as I can tell, but they will produce shiny black (A. elliptica) or red (A. crenata) berries which likely are toxic, and could be fatal to kids or pets

metallica palm (Chamaedorea metallica)
* more odd than pretty, but won't object to low light and aren't difficult to care for
* specimens get leggy as they age but can reach at least 4 feet
* totally not toxic, as far as I know

clivia (Clivia cvv.)
* can reach 3 or 4 feet tall and get only slightly less wide
* can bloom, but probably won't in this set-up; mostly you're getting them for the long, dark green, strappy leaves
* like to have a rest from watering in the winter and will sometimes drop leaves if you water them anyway
* mildly toxic to kids / pets (unpleasant but not likely to be fatal or cause long-lasting harm)

pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)
* best growth requires strong light, but I have personally seen a plant that must have been at least 30 years old, planted in front of a tall floor-to-ceiling window with no direct sun, opposite a white wall, and the plant was *spectacular*, so I know it's theoretically possible.
* more weird than pretty
* very toxic to kids / pets; sap can cause blindness if it gets in the eye, and it will irritate the skin and all kinds of other things

Climbing plants to consider if you're willing to build a trellis: Monstera deliciosa (split-leaf philodendron), Syngonium podophyllum (arrowhead vine), Epipremnum aureum (pothos), Scindapsus pictus (silver pothos), Philodendron hederaceum (heart-leaf philodendron), Philodendron mexicanum, Philodendron erubescens 'Red Emerald.' Keep in mind that if you have things planted in front of them, that's going to cut down the amount of light these get, potentially to the point where there will no longer be enough light to sustain the plant. Monstera won't get split leaves in low light; all seven are mildly toxic in a pain-and-unpleasantness way.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 11:50 AM on May 1 [2 favorites]

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