Add a Little Life to Your Indoor Spaces
Looking for plants for your home or office that don’t need much light? It’s always a good starting point to mention that light is what powers plant growth. We talk about “plant food”, but fertilizer serves the same roll for plants that your mineral supplements do for you: it provides minerals essential for growth…but it’s light that provides the fuel for plant “body-building” processes to work. Without sufficient light, plants are just on a low energy diet and eventually waste away.
Unless it’s right in front of a sunny window, a plant receives pretty poor light in your home. Light intensity drops quickly with distance from the window, and it also travels in straight lines, it doesn’t bend around corners. The good news is, there are some foliage plants that will survive in low light spots for months and even years and many range in size from table-top to floor plant.
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
Glossy green leaves & occasional long-lasting white flowers (if they get enough light); key to these plants is water: if they dry out they wilt dramatically, but if you haven’t let them go too long, they will quickly spring back when watered.
ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
Glossy green leaves; thick, succulent stems that store water, and when dry, they seem content to just sit, as if in a state of suspended animation; very tolerant of low light, providing you keep them on the dry side; if you want yours to grow, give it more light and more water in the summer, and it will send out new shoots.
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema)
Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema): Several varieties commonly with green leaves & silver accents; non-descript flowers similar in shape to the peace lily; bushy & short in stature; slow growing; can handle drier soil.
Snake Plant (Sansevieria)
Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue: rather slow-growing; very tolerant of dry soil; strong vertical architectural lines (like a series of swords in a pot); undemanding plant that you can throw in a corner and sort of forget about.
Pothos (Epipremnum): number of varieties available with heart-shaped, glossy leaves of plain green or variegated with white or yellow; can climb up bark or trail out of a hanging planter; needs well-drained soil.
Philodendron (Philodendron): number of varieties available with glossy leaves of plain green or variegated; leaves grow larger and more ovate as the plant matures and some varieties have “cut” or lobed leaves; loves to wander and climb up bark stakes; needs humus-rich, well-drained soil.
Dracaena (Dracaena): number of varieties available; long sword-like leaves radiate out from a vertical trunk often in a rosette fashion; leaves will vary in width from 1/2” to 3” depending on the variety; leaf color will vary from dark green to chartreuse & can be plain or variegated with shades of white and/or red; needs well-drained soil; can handle drier soil.
A few tricks to extend the life of low-light tolerant plants
Place the pots on saucers with attached wheels: you can roll them toward the window during the day, and back to the corner at night. Another strategy is to rotate plants: put a plant in your corner for a couple of weeks, then replace it with another, moving the first plant to a brighter area. You can also rejuvenate them by putting them outside in the summer (in a protected spot, not in full sun as they will sunburn badly).
Please Note: Do Not Panic…..when you first bring a plant home it may get some yellow leaves (especially when it is leaving a bright greenhouse); this is typical of a plant entering a low light situation; it no longer gets enough light to power older, less efficient leaves, so it allows some to yellow and die.
Independent Garden Centers have everything you need to transplant your favorite tropicals into larger pots, or you may choose to plant them directly into existing flower beds, thus treating them as annuals. Whatever you decide, blending tropicals into your landscape will create an exciting new look for you and your neighbors to enjoy.
African Violets: Providing the proper light levels for your African violets will ensure that they remain healthy and provide you with a nearly constant show of beautiful flowers. They will grow best in a bright indirect light, such as a sunny window with a sheer curtain drawn over it to protect the leaves from the scorching effects of full sun. Violets also do very well under florescent lights. Florescent tubes specifically designed for plants are readily available, but many people have had good luck with regular florescent lights, which are cheaper. Read more from our blog post Behnkes Loves African Violets. Behnkes has a long history with African Violets dating back to the 1940’s. Read more about Behnkes history and African Violets here.
TradeWinds Hibiscus: The Perfect Patio Plant. Behnke Nurseries offers a wonderful selection of many colors of TradeWinds Hibiscus. TradeWinds Hibiscus feature lush, exotic blooms that flower continuously. Enjoy indoors as a potted plant, outdoors in the landscape or as patio potted plants…anywhere a splash of color is desired.These hibiscus are not hardy outdoors when temperatures drop below 55°F. Large exotic blooms in bright colors with dark green, glossy foliage and beautiful flowers that bloom continuously.
Mandevilla: is the perfect choice for colorful quick growing screens. It provides a nonstop bounty of huge pink trumpet shaped flowers, beautifully presented against attractive dark green foliage. Native, once again, to Brazil, it prefers plenty of sun for best flowering and well drained soil. Apply liquid fertilizer periodically during summer and you will be rewarded with waves of big beautiful blossoms. This vine can be trained to climb posts and lattice, making it a favorite for growing up lamp and mailbox posts. Let mandevilla drip from an arbor or garland your front porch or entryway.
Orchids: While most orchids are challenging to grow in the home, some are pretty straightforward. The most popular is the Phalaenopsis or Moth Orchid, which, as the name implies, is shaped vaguely like a moth. Like most orchids, Phalaenopsis are epiphytes. Epiphytes grow upon other plants instead of in the ground. They are not parasites, they don’t “feed” on the host plant; they just hang out there.
Bougainvillea: is famous for its brilliantly colored floral displays and quick growth rate. It is easy to care for and available in a dazzling spectrum of colors ranging from purple to magenta to scarlet to brick red to crimson. Also look for white, pink, orange, and salmon. Flowers are actually small yellow-white tubes surrounded by three papery bracts responsible for the brilliant displays (sometimes called the paper flower). Thorn-protected canes are covered with rich green heart-shaped leaves. Also native to Brazil, bougainvilleas enjoy bright sunny conditions, rich loamy, well-drained soil, and prefer to have their roots crowded when grown in containers. Grow them on fences, trellises, or arbors for explosions of color
Gardenia: is not a bloom-all-at-once-and-it’s-over-shrub. It blooms in mid-spring to early summer over a fairly long season. Picture gorgeous, dark to bright green, glossy leaves on a shrub that can grow 6-8 feet high with almost equal spread. The flowers are white, turning to creamy yellow as they age, and have a waxy feel. They have a powerful, sweet fragrance, and can perfume an entire room. Air currents carry the scent throughout the warm summer garden to the delight of all. Need I say more (except to say that care sheets are available here)?
Jasminum sambac: (also known as Arabian jasmine) is a bushy vine or scrambling shrub with shiny dark green leaves and fragrant little white flowers. The waxy snow white flowers are about 1 inch across, borne in clusters of 3-12, and intensely fragrant. They fade to pink as they age. Arabian jasmine blooms throughout the summer and like most of the other jasmines, is very easy to grow in almost any moist, but not waterlogged soil. It is often grown in a pot, on the patio or deck in full sun to partial shade, with or without a trellis, and brought indoors in the winter to enjoy it’s sweet perfume whenever one walks by.
Kimberly Queen Ferns: Perfect for your porch. Hanging from the rafters or in big pots on either side of your entrance, these beauties will make you feel like you’re sitting on main street in Savannah.
Cestrum nocturnum: is a sprawling shrub with glossy, smooth, simple leaves and vine-like stems. Commonly known as night blooming jessamine (some people mistakenly say jasmine), it blooms in cycles throughout the summer, and especially makes itself noticed in the evenings while in bloom, when its perfume scent is distinctly powerful. Greenish-creamy white tubular flowers rise from above the leaves along the stem, followed by shiny white, fleshy berries. Cestrums bloom best in full sun to light shade and prefer light sandy soil. For a mixed border, background, or as a free-standing specimen, this shrub is attractive and can be used in butterfly gardens, as it provides food for the larvae of some caterpillars.
Hibiscus: flowers are glorious and huge—at their best 6 inches in diameter and occur in many colors, blooming most of the summer. Most are flared and have a bell shape and may be single or double, smooth or scalloped. They have a long central tube with stamens and pistils at the tip. I will save you the embarrassment of walking around with bright yellow pollen on your nose by saying the flowers are not fragrant. Hibiscus makes a wonderful “containerized” summer plant either in a bush or tree form. Just provide them with fairly moist, moderately fertile, well-drained, and slightly acidic soil. Anyone interested in attracting hummingbirds and butterflies should try a hibiscus. Behnke’s is continually finding new varieties for you to try.
Nerium oleander: is a tough, versatile plant with showy summertime flowers in white, red, pink, salmon and light yellow. Some varieties are delightfully fragrant, and, alas, all are poisonous if the leaves are ingested in large quantities, so don’t eat them. Oleanders prefer bright sun and can survive both dry or wet soils. Although some cultivars can reach up to 20 feet tall, they can be pruned as needed to maintain a nice shape. Otherwise, I might suggest a cute little variety, ‘Petit Salmon’, which is a dwarf that grows to only 4 feet.
Odontoglossum orchids: are becoming very popular for their ease of growing and long lasting sprays of small, distinct flowers which often have a pleasant fragrance. They will typically bloom once a year and can be grown in the home, as well as in a sheltered area in the garden. Repot at least every two years when the new shoot is two inches tall or when new roots appear, using the orchid mixes available at Behnke’s. Through hybridizing with Oncidiums and other related orchid types, there is a seeming endless array of striking color patterns possible.
Plumbago auriculata: is a favorite of butterflies, blooming most of the spring, summer and fall. For continuous bloom, place in full sun and feed with Miracid™. Plumbago can be pruned to grow like a vine and scramble over supports, or pruned into a more compact mounded shrub suitable for borders, foundation plantings, and for color massed in beds. When planting in a container for your porch or patio, use a light, sandy soil mix with good drainage. This is a beauty with its long, gracefully arching branches that shower the air with sky blue flowers.
Queen of the Bromeliads: yes a common name, for the not so common Aechmea ‘Chantinii’. You probably know her relative, the silver vase bromeliad, with its powdery leaves and pink flower cluster (inflorescence). Bromeliads flower only once, lasting a month or more, but little “pups” or offsets are produced that can be severed from the mother plant when they are several inches tall. This particular variety is strikingly different and I can not do it justice by describing it. You will just have to come by and see it for yourself.
Rosemarinus officinalis: is the backbone around which all other herbs rally. Rosemary, the herb of remembrance, friendship and love, has been used as a medicinal and aromatic herb for thousands of years. Rosemary can be tricky to grow, but its fresh, clean scent when brushed against, puts it on my favorite list. When grown in a container, use a clay pot that dries out quickly, and a very well-drained planting medium. Supplement with lime once a year and provide at least 6 hours of full sun every day.
Serissa foetida: is a diminutive shrub with tiny deep green leaves, pink flower buds and a profusion of little white funnel shaped flowers. It is one of the most popular of all bonsai subjects, but it can be difficult to maintain. Behnke’s Beltsville store will carry several named cultivars to include ‘Flore Pleno’, ‘Variegated Pink’, ‘Mt. Fuji’, and ‘Kyoto’. My advice is never water serissa if it is without leaves and always take home a Behnke care sheet.
Trachelospermum jasminoides: (common name: confederate jasmine) is a beautiful and energetic vine that goes two-tone in the spring as it flushes light green with new growth against darker green glossy leaves. Shortly thereafter the scene transforms again when the delicate white pinwheel flowers breathe enchanting fragrances, lasting several weeks, into the spring air. These sun-loving, pest-free, easy to maintain, drought resistant marvels will go quickly when they begin to bloom.
Umbrella plant: (commonly identified as Cyperus alternifolius in many garden books) is a great choice for containers and will thrive in regular potting soil with regular watering. This close cousin of the papyrus plant, from which the ancient Egyptians made paper, grows in clumps in wet and boggy areas. In bright sun, clumps will be compact and the stems closely packed. Under shady conditions clumps will grow higher and be composed of fewer stems and larger leaves giving a more graceful aspect. Confined to containers, this plant is a must for fish ponds and water gardens (whiskey barrels), where this fascinating plant will add height, beauty, and a tropical touch.
Vandas: have recently become one of the favorites of the orchid world. The show from one spike can last up to eight weeks, and vigorous plants, if adequately fertilized, can be expected to bloom twice yearly. They enjoy full sun in the morning or late afternoon, but will require shading from about 11am-3pm. They are priced on the high end of the scale, but as popularity continues to grow, you will see the prices go down.
Wandering Jew: (Tradescantia zebrina) is a succulent-stemmed plant that creeps and sprawls and trails all over itself to make a dense groundcover. That’s right, I said groundcover. We know it to be grown indoors as a hanging basket or container plant, but in warmer months, wandering Jew is grown outdoors as a groundcover or a bedding plant, to create a tropical atmosphere. To encourage it to spread as a groundcover, plant the rootball in good soil, then spread out the trailing stems and partially cover them with organic mulch. Groundcover plantings can be established effortlessly, then ripped out and moved with ease when the landscape plan changes. You can make a gorgeous flower arrangement out of practically anything by sticking a few wandering Jew sprigs in with it.
Allamanda cathartica: is a tropical twining vine with deeply veined, glossy, whorled leaves and large, trumpet shaped bright yellow flowers (hence the common name golden-trumpet vine). Prickly seed pods follow the flowers with winged seeds that fly about when the pod dries and breaks open. Native to Brazil, allamandas prefer sun to light shade and well-drained soils. They can be allowed to grow up a trellis, slender tree, or side of a building where there is support. Some cultivars have been bred for fragrance, while others grow as bushes instead of vines. Allamandas are breathtaking when in the full glory of their bloom, so place them where they will be as conspicuous as possible.
Add color to your home or office with a few of these fall blooming houseplants. Going to a friend’s house for dinner? Bring a little something in bloom to say “Thank you.”