'Low light' houseplants give winter gardeners a boost

In these darker, shorter days of winter, we gardeners often turn to houseplants to keep us sane until spring returns.

But many of us have homes with little natural light, and choosing houseplants for low-light spaces can be a bit challenging. In order for any plant to thrive, we need to duplicate its natural environment as much as possible. Because most plants like sun, those you find listed here probably have their origins in the shade.

The term "low light" in regard to houseplants means any location that is 8 or more feet from a large window, with no direct light. This could include hallways, offices, basements or rooms with heavy window coverings or small windows. Here are some plants I'd suggest:

Pothos is a low-maintenance vine with variegated, heart-shaped leaves. It can be grown as a table-top plant, in a hanging basket, or trained to climb a support. The more light it gets, the more variegation is in the leaves; however, direct sun will burn it. This plant will trail to 8 feet, so if it gets too long, just cut it back.

Sanseveria, or Snake Plant, truly thrives on neglect. It will do well in both low light and brighter conditions. Two cautions: Be sure to read the label, as different varieties will grow from 6 inches to 4 feet tall; and second, it will get root rot if you overwater it, so let the soil dry thoroughly between waterings.

Arrowhead vine has leaves shaped just as the name suggests. This plant has many varieties, from green with traces of white in the leaves to bronzed pink. Young plants may make a foot-high mound, but as it matures, it begins to vine, at which point you may want to move it from a table to a hanging basket.

Peperomia are small houseplants with waxy and often textured leaves that include ripple, silverleaf and even watermelon (so named because its silver and green striped leaves resemble a watermelon). It grows to 4 to 12 inches, depending on variety, and the soil needs to dry thoroughly between waterings.

Cast Iron Plant is another whose name describes it, as it is a tough plant that will tolerate low light, low humidity and a wide range of temperatures. Several varieties have variegated leaves. Tip: It is a slow grower.

There are several closely related species of dieffenbachia. It has large, green and white leaves, and some varieties will grow to 6 feet, with cane-like stems. Dieffenbachia grows well singly, or several of them grouped together will give a tropical, shrub-like appearance.

You will frequently see Chinese Evergreens in places such as shopping malls because of their toughness. They have great foliage with shades of silver, gray or lighter green accenting the darker-green leaves. They will grow to 3 feet and are wonderful for adding a feeling of light to darker corners.

The Peace Lily is the only one of the group listed today that has noticeable blooms, and a stunningly beautiful bloom it is. Its large white flower is dramatic against its dark-green leaves. Reaching a height that can near 6 feet, the Peace Lily is one of the best plants for cleaning toxins from the air. Keep the soil damp, but not wet, and it will light up an area of your house or office.

Coming up: Give Bob Reynolds, Oregon State University home horticulture agent, a call if you are interested in becoming a part of the class that will become Master Gardeners in 2013. You can reach him at 541-776-7371.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.


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