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Indoor Plants and Low Light

Posted by Andrew Wallace on

I love to keep indoor plants.  They make me feel happy and relaxed.  I keep them beside the TV and sofa, in the kitchen, bathroom, and in the office at work... everywhere.  I love the colour, shapes and texture plants bring to my home, but aesthetics aside, when it comes to the benefits of filling your space with greenery, these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Maidenhair Fern - These delicate looking plants are perfect in low-light areas but need to be kept warm and moist


While it's common knowledge that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, research by NASA (among other studies) has shown that houseplants are able to remove up to 87 percent of air toxins in a 24-hour period.  The ability of plants to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air we breathe is called phytoremediation.  These VOCs come about from compounds in paints, furnishings, plastic products, clothing, and building materials, and it's more of a problem than you might think.

It is actually the potting mix of our house plants that absorbs the harmful pollutants by feeding bacteria in the air.  But it's the roots of the plant that work to keep the potting mix healthy, and can uptake, filter and store solid pollutants.

Studies have also found that indoor plants, by increasing humidity levels, decreasing dust and other pollutants in your home, can help to deter breathing related ailments and even help to fight the common cold.  Research shows that indoor plants can decrease coughs, sore throats, fatigue, and other cold-related symptoms by more than 30 percent.

Kentia Palm - With beautiful textured foliage, grow well indoors


The benefits of plants can also be seen across many studies into cognitive, psychological, social, and physical functions in people. 

Research shows that people in the presence of house plants regularly exhibit:

  • Increased self-esteem
  • Improved mood and sense of well-being
  • Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Increased feelings of calm, relaxation, and optimism
  • Increased sense of stability and control
  • Boosted creativity
  • Improved concentration
  • Heightened attention
  • Improved memory
  • Reduced blood-pressure
  • A higher resistance to virus and illness
Snake Plant (Mother-in-laws Tongue)


So you want to grow indoor plants but you don't get a lot of natural light.  This may be due to window facing away from the path of the sun, or buildings that over-shadow your space. Whether at home, or to brighten up your office space (and put a smile on the face of your colleagues) these are the sort of no-fuss, hardy and yet beautiful plants you need to consider.

  • Assorted varieties of philodendron
  • Peace Lily
  • Parlor Palm
  • Kentia Palm
  • All Aspidistra varieties
  • Cyclamen varieties
  • All Maidenhair Fern varieties
  • Bird's Nest Fern
  • Spider Plant 
  • Zanzibar Gem
  • Snake Plant (Mother-in-laws Tongue)
  • Shade tolerant, assorted green succulents


While a lot of low-light house-plants require little care, there are a few pointers to consider to avoid disaster.

Philodendron - These deep green, shade lovers come in all shapes and sizes

1.  Avoid too much direct sunlight - With the exception of the Snake Plant and other low-light tolerant succulents.  The house-plants mentioned above are shade-lovers.  The reason they are great for growing indoors is because they have evolved over millions of years to thrive in the darkened rainforests of the world, below the canopy of the other plants.  Periods of direct sunlight, especially in the height of summer, will leave their foliage burnt to a crisp.  A short distance from a window can be preferable to right there on the sill.

2.  Feeling Dusty - One of the pitfalls of living inside, is that indoor plants, like other household items, will collect dust.  They don't get the benefit of the occasional shower of rain or spray with the hose to clean their leaves.  Clean leaves allow the plant to use the available light to photosynthesize (produce food) and also let the plant breathe.  Dusty plants can soon become stressed and unhealthy.  Luckily, they aren't hard to clean.  I like to leave the houseplants outside overnight during light rainy periods, but failing that you can give them a rinse in the bath or shower. Be sure to use slightly warm water, and for plants with large leaves you can wipe them down with soapy water.

3.  A soak is not soaking - A common mistake leading to the untimely death of houseplants, is watering without adequate drainage.  Most plants will quite literally "drown" if left sitting in water.  The use of drip trays or sealed ornamental pots (sometimes around a standard pot or liner) need to be monitored to ensure they are not holding water.  They need to be emptied shortly after watering to ensure water isn't saturating the root zone of the plant.  Almost all plants need well draining soil.  Well drained soil stays healthy, prevents the roots from rotting, and allows the roots to access air (which is crucial for plant health).

Assorted Green Succulents - Can thrive in low to medium light.  But let the soil dry out fully between watering.

So if you haven't already, try introducing indoor plants into your space.  Give them pride of place in your life... and then sit back, and breathe easy in the knowledge that you are doing yourself and your family a massive favour.

Lloyd Fenn (aka @lloydthefarmer)

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