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Jessica Walliser

These tough plants can survive in low-light offices

Jessica Walliser
| Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, 9:15 p.m.
Pothos even does well in offices with no windows and just fluorescent lights.
Jessica Walliser
Pothos even does well in offices with no windows and just fluorescent lights.

Question: I am looking to add a few houseplants to my office. We have several small offices, each of which has a window, but it's on the back side of the building, so the light isn't very bright. Do you have a few recommendations you can make as far as houseplants that might be successful in that environment? They don't need to be blooming, we just want green!

Answer: The reason many people struggle to grow indoor plants in low-light office spaces is because they pick the wrong plants. You were smart to ask this question before heading to the nursery and buying whatever plants strike your fancy.

There are hundreds of different plants that are suitable for growing indoors, but not all of them prefer the same growing conditions. In offices like yours, where light levels are low to moderate at best, making smart plant choices is important to your success. If you choose plants that require more light than you have, the stems will be leggy, the leaves will be pale, and the plants will not be their best.

For indoor environments like yours, choose low-maintenance plants that stay green and lush without needing a lot of light or a lot of care. Minimal irrigation needs are another bonus of the plants I'm about to describe; you'll only have to water them about once every two weeks. And their fertilization needs are minimal, too. Each requires only a diluted solution of liquid houseplant fertilizer about once per month from March thru September. Other than trimming off an occasional leaf here and there, these plants are about as easy-care as you can get!

Snake plant: Also called mother-in-law's tongue, snake plants are the toughest of the tough. Their thick, succulent, strap-like leaves hold a lot of moisture which minimizes their irrigation needs. There are solid green, yellow-streaked and even golden-leaved varieties. Snake plants are incredibly tolerant of low light, especially the solid green-leaved varieties. Full-sized varieties can grow up to 3 feet tall, while dwarf bird's nest types top out at just 4 inches high, perfect for desk-top plants.

Cast iron plant: This plant has earned its name by being as tough and long-lived as cast iron. Extremely tolerant of both low light and infrequent waterings, cast iron plants have long, wide, strappy leaves that can be up to 2 feet long on older plants. There are some variegated varieties on the market, but they prefer more moderate light levels than the plain green-leaved varieties do. This plant does bear flowers, but they are infrequent and sporadic.

Heartleaf philodendron: This good, old-fashioned houseplant grows long tendrils of heart-shaped leaves streaked with pale green. They're very tolerant of forgetful waterers; even when they wilt, they'll quickly bounce back after being irrigated. Tendrils can be trimmed easily if they grow too long. This is a great plant for hanging window baskets and tall corner tables where the tendrils can trail down over the edge of the table.

Pothos: Another vining houseplant, this thick-leaved plant is quite common, and for good reason. The variegated leaves and trailing stems are easy to care for. Pothos even does well in offices with no windows and just fluorescent lights. While it wilts quickly when dry, the plant rapidly rebounds after watering. The vines can reach 10 or 20 feet long unless they're occasionally trimmed. There are both yellow-green and white-green variegated cultivars, but a silver variegated cultivar called ‘Silver Satin' is probably the toughest of them all.

Swiss cheese plant: Also known as Monstera, this houseplant is a big beauty that takes up lots of room. The leaves are lobed with lots of irregular holes in them, hence the name swiss cheese plant. Bold and tropical looking, this houseplant tolerates low light conditions quite well, though the vines it creates can gobble up a lot of space if they aren't trimmed from time to time. Swiss cheese plant is often encouraged to grow up a wooden pole inserted into its pot. It can also be allowed to climb walls, though the aerial roots it produces may damage drywall and floors as they cling to it.

Horticulturist and author Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. Her website is jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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