Garden Help Desk: Growing indoor plants with low-light

October 28, 2017

Utah State University Extension provides informal education outreach to residents throughout the state. This question-and-answer column is designed to give you research-based information whether your gardening interest is producing fresh food, creating a landscape area or anything in between.

Question: I have several arborvitae trees that are 10 years old. They are healthy and beautiful and about 10 feet tall. In past years I’ve trimmed them so they don’t get “fat.” I’ve also wrapped them with burlap strips. Since the trees are now well developed, do they still need to be wrapped?

Answer: Yes, even though it becomes more difficult as trees get larger, you will still need to continue to wrap the trees because they always have the potential to split out if heavy snow causes them to bend down and then sometimes break. The snow won’t kill them, but may make them have a non-uniform shape.

Question: Is there an indoor plant that can exist and survive in an office without any windows or in a dimly lit room?

Answer: Yes, many indoor house plants can tolerate low-light levels with little or no natural light. The operative word here is tolerate. This group of indoor plants would prefer more light, but they’ll stick it out and contently grace your work desk and bleak office corners with their cheery green foliage under fluorescent office light.

Years ago, botanists picked plants from the shady jungle floor and brought them into their parlors, and that is why they are made for shade. And now they have become adaptable to our modern environment.

Here are a few plants worth trying in low-light areas:

Chinese Evergreen (Aspidistra elatior)Heartleaf (Aglaonema modestrum)Golden Pothos (Philodendron cordatum)Marginata Dracaena (Dracaena marginata)Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii)

There are other indoor plants that may be up to the task of livening up your low-light living spaces, but these plants are a good place to start. These plants are also low-maintenance and easy to grow. So even if you don’t have a green thumb, they should survive.

Watering. Determining how much to water your plant is going to require a little bit of attention on your part. And you will need to get your hands dirty, well, just a finger. Poke your finger about an inch into the soil of your houseplant. If it’s dry to the touch, then it’s time to water. If not, wait a few more days and check again. Roots need water, but they also need oxygen to grow. Allowing your soil to dry out between watering allows the roots to get a healthy dose of both oxygen and water.

Water in the morning and use room temperature water. When you water the plant, keep your eyes on the bottom of the pot. Water slowly and evenly around the surface of the soil. As soon as water starts to trickle out the bottom, that’s your sign to stop watering.

Tips to increase available light. Using light-colored backdrops will increase the light available to your plants. White plaster reflects about 90% of the light that falls on it, while beige or gray paint increases the reflection by about 50%. Mirrors reflect 80 to 90% of the light while wallpaper reflects only about 35%.

By following these guidelines you should be able to enjoy office plants that thrive all year long.