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Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

Posted by Astroknot 10a (My Page) on
Sat, Mar 3, 12 at 20:23

Alrighty, this may be a hopeless quest but you good folks might have some answers.

I need to find plants that will tolerate really, really shady light and cold temps. How shady? My room faces west, but it's overshadowed by a giant balcony from the floor above. It gets no direct sunlight during the day. It's shady enough to where I need to turn on a light if I have to read in the day time. And it's very cold this time of year -- not freezing. Maybe in the 50s or low 60s, and colder at night. I live in San Francisco so it's pretty mild. It feels cold like a basement (but not drafty).

Does a magical, shade-adoring, cold climate plant exist?

It occurs to me that in order to support a bit of life in my room/cave I might need to invest in a fluorescent lamp.

I bow to your good advice, and am grateful, as always.

~ Melody

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

Hi Melody,

There's no reason to bow to anyone. We all love plants and happy helping people who have questions.

Three plants that could thrive in low light and 50-60F degrees are Snake plant/Sansevieria, Cast Iron/Aspidistra, and Pothos/Devil's Ivy.

Does this area stay 50-60F throughout the year?

To keep these plants alive, they'll need to be repotted in soil that doesen't stay constantly wet.

Because the area is cold, soils naturally stay moist, so proper watering is necessary.

Artificial light will do wonders.

Some people grow their plants under lights year round. The only difference is daytime temps are usually in the 70's-80's, depending on type of plant.

Good luck, Meloday, and if you have any other questions, ask away...Toni

RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

Thanks for the reply, Toni!

I have been looking into those three plants you mentioned above. I'm also looking at Chinese Evergreen, which is listed on a lot of these house plant sites...

I've read that some plants can lose their variegation if they don't get enough light. Should I only be getting ones with solid, green leaves then?

What kind of soil do you recommend? I've noticed that for the few plants I have already, the tops of the soil doesn't seem to dry out after a couple of days. Oops! Should I be getting more of a cacti/succulent potting mix? Or maybe a soiless medium?

I guess my windowsill isn't too bad. Even though it faces the West, in the AM hours the sunlight reflects off the shiny ivy plants in my backyard enough that it brightens up the space. Bright enough to read if I'm right next to the window, which is where the plants are. The problem is getting enough of those cloudless, sunny mornings, and in San Francisco we get plenty of grey clouds year round......

I do worry about it being too cold, but it never gets down to icy temps so maybe they will be okay? Albeit very slow growers.

RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!


Some clerks say certain plants do great in shade. The reason it's said is to 1. make a sale, or 2. they know nothing about plants and repeat what others who know nothing about plants suggest to customers. lol.

Chinese Evergreen is one plant many say do well in shade..This is myth.
They will thrive in low light, but tend to grow spindly..if variegated color fades.

It's true variegated plants need more light than non-variegated, but amount depends on type of plant.
For instance, variegated Philodendrons, young Palms, Orchids will burn in harsh sun, instead do well in bright indirect light.

Yep, your plants need to be potted in a well-draining mix.

BTW, do windows leak cold air? My one plant room, the largest is cold. I discovered cold air was leaking, so placed clear plastic where plants sit.

What some people consider shade, others deem bright light. lol.
I worked at two plant stores. Customers who read a plant needed bright light assumed the window must be in direct sun, 10 plus hours per day, lol.
Maybe the light is brighter than you think??? :)

Some plants, like cactus and succulents require strong light, but many tropicals don't need as much light as people think.
Of course, they wouldn't fare well in complete shade.

Another plant to consider is Philodendron elegans, or Heart-Shaped Philodendron.

Some Dracaeanas do well in bright, indirect-sun windows, too.


RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

If you get lights go with florescent or LED's, Do not get incandescent plant lights, They have the wrong color temperature for most plant and get off too much heat, not in the way you'll want the heat.

You can use heater mats under the pots, If the soil and root are kept warm than generally the rest of the plant can tolerate a lower air temp. Heater mats are sold for rooting and to place under reptile cages.

RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

I hate to be a kill-joy here, but if the daylight is not sufficient to read newsprint, then it is not adequate to sustain even the lowest light plants for more than a year or so.

The best low light plants are Pothos, ZZ Plant and Dracaena Janet Craig or Lisa, but you don't have enough light to maintain those for very long.


RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

Scanned here, went away and returned with a question. Why is the light in a west window so low? Do you have some sort of tinted window or does it have a reflective coating? I'm setting here in my study with a north window and a purple Ficus elastica is alive and slowly growing. It never gets any direct light from the window and the only artificial light is a CFL six feet away which isn't doing anything for the Ficus, I'm sure.

RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

albert, our original poster said that the window was shaded by a large overhead balcony, literally blocking the natural light.

RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

Thanks for the replies, everyone! After to reading the replies here I've decided to take a risk and house a couple of plants at the window sill. I've picked up a Snake Plant and Pothos, and I'll see how they do. I realized that while I have to use a lamp in the day time while I'm in the room, I can still read newsprint if I'm right next to the window. And the days are getting longer and warmer, plus the angle of the sun is shifting more favorably for my window. I should be getting brighter light, and more of it. So here's crossing my fingers!

I've thought about the possibility that I might have to move my plants to a room with better light during the Winter months. But I'll see how they do for now.

I've also picked up some faster draining soil, and I think I might repot everything soon...

I have a follow-up question: I know that plants with are grown from seeds indoors have to be gradually adjusted to living in brighter light before they can be moved completely outdoors. Should I be treating these store-bought house plants the same way? The opposite way, I mean. Because I realize they might be used to living with a little more light than I will be providing them, do I need to worry about acclimating them? Or am I being too fussy, LOL.

On a side note, I've got a few spider plant babies growing upstairs. I've never grown those before, very excited to see if they take root. I feel like the room is brighter already, just having those babies there. (Why have I not gotten into growing house plants sooner?)

Thank you all, again, and happy gardening!

~ Melody

RE: Need advice and recs for an impossible house plant situation!

Melody..It wouldn't hurt acclimating to lower light, but I don't think it's totally necessary.

You said, seeds need to be acclimated to higher light, actually all plants do, including sun-loving Cactus.

It's the same when people bring their house plants indoors for winter. Plants should be moved to a shadier spot each day. Afterwards, brought indoors.

Nope, you're not being too fussy, just cautious. A good quality.

Yep, plants brighten up a home. Especiall during winter months when outdoor plants are sleeping. Toni

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