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8 Houseplants I Grow in North-Facing Windows (+ 5 Tips for Plants in Low Light Rooms)

Perhaps the main reason why I love houseplants is because they can make any house feel like a home. Bring a houseplant into a room and it will instantly create a cheerful, cozy and welcoming atmosphere.

As usual, I speak from experience here. Over the course of about six years, my husband and I hopped from one gloomy apartment to another. 

There was the first-floor apartment overlooking a hill on one side and garages on the other. Followed by an attic converted into an “apartment” where the only sources of light were north-facing windows and a skylight right above the shower. 

Then there was the apartment where the living room windows overlooked a cathedral and the bedroom windows just gave into an internal courtyard (literally, a square in between houses). 

Not all houseplants did well in low light. For example, these Pilea plants were struggling, so I had to move them.

In one particularly gloomy set-up, I thought to myself that the only form of life I could grow in that apartment would be mold. 

All these places were in cities with a tight housing market, so we rented what we could find. Decor came second. And we certainly couldn’t be picky about getting enough light for our houseplant collection. Nevertheless, we managed to grow plants in all of these dark rooms. And the plants made every apartment feel like our cozy home where we could decompress at the end of the day. 

Here are some of the houseplants that, in my experience, did well in north-facing windows and low-light rooms. 

1. ZZ Plant or Zanzibar gem (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)

For some reason, most of the lists that include a ZZ Plant do so last. Maybe the lists are in alphabetical order. Maybe this plant is an afterthought. But for me, this is always in the top three plants I would recommend to a beginner. That’s because they’re truly low-maintenance houseplants that do really well in dark rooms.

Because it’s growing from a tuberous rhizome, the ZZ plant doesn’t need (and shouldn’t get) too much water. If it dries too much, it will start dropping leaves. 

This ZZ plant grew for a few years facing three brick walls. It had no view of the sky.

I’ve moved my Zamioculcas plant from one apartment to another, from one room to another, and from one corner to another of the same room. Not only did it not protest, but it keeps growing larger and longer fronds. 

Zamioculcas does require a fair bit of dusting though. So keep in mind that you should occasionally wipe the dust off the glossy dark green leaves. I do this about once a month, but if your ZZ plant is in a high-traffic spot, you might need to dust it every couple of weeks. 

2. Snake plant (Sansevieria)

I’ve always been a big fan of Sansevierias, and I’m so glad they’ve had a resurgence in popularity over the past five years or so. I’m old enough to remember a time when they were considered old-fashioned or “granny’s houseplant” – together with aspidistras and spider plants. 

As for me, I can’t get enough of “grandma plants.” Back in the day, those grannies didn’t have the luxury of worrying about humidifiers, grow lights or fancy fertilizers. So no mollycoddling plants, please and thank you! Only the tough ones survived. 

Right behind the ZZ plant was the Sansevieria. It, too, only got indirect light for a few hours a day.

Perhaps the idea of snake plants as old-fashioned is because you’re thinking of the popular Sansevieria laurentii (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue). It’s an excellent starter plant for rooms with low light. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, I can recommend Sansevieria bacularis and Sansevieria Kirkii. They’re leaner and could be more suitable for small spaces. 

In one of our previous rentals, my Sansevieria bacularis (in the photo above) was growing next to a north-facing window that gave onto a courtyard. It was getting zero direct sunlight and very limited indirect light. Yet, it was – and still is – thriving. It grew so well that I had to divide it twice. 

3. Dragon tree (Dracaena marginata bicolor

Some people call this plant “parlor palm.” Although I’ve heard this moniker applied to so many palm-like houseplants, I’d rather just keep calling it Dracaena marginata. Just to avoid confusion. 

This is probably one of the very few plants that still retained some color when I grew it in low light in front of a north-facing window. While other plants tend to revert back to a washed out green, this one kept the edges of the foliage red and orange. 

My Dracaena marginata has been doing well in front of a north-facing window.

If this is your first time growing a Dracaena, I should warn you that it’s more of a leaf-shedder than any other common houseplant. There’s nothing wrong with it, as long as it keeps growing fresh leaves from the top. It’s just its growth pattern. Every time a leaf falls, it leaves behind a little divet in the stem. I love the pattern that it creates. I think of them as soft aging lines or wisdom wrinkles. 

Unlike the other plants on this list, Dracaena marginata likes a bit more humidity, both in the air and in the soil. Don’t overwater it, but don’t let it dry up too much either.   

4. Silver satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus)

I have silver satin pothos plants strewn all over my house now. And all of the plants come from a single Scindapsus that spent the first three years of its life about five feet away from a window, in low light conditions. 

I have silver satin pothos all over the house. The ones in the dark rooms seem to be thriving.

I love this plant for so many reasons, but most of all because of its cheerful silver pattern. When we keep houseplants in low light, we can hardly expect color. So the silver streaks contrast beautifully with the all-green foliage of other low-light houseplants that congregate in north-facing windows. 

Just like with the ZZ Plant, the silver satin pothos doesn’t need too much water. The thick leaves store water pretty well, so I usually let it dry (but not bone dry) between watering sessions.  

5. Bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus)

Back when I wrote about the ‘Crispy wave’ fern, a newer cultivar of Asplenium nidus, I mentioned how not much sunlight reaches it in its natural habitat. 

Bird’s nest fern grows as an epiphyte on tree trunks or as undergrowth below dense canopies. So let’s just say it’s not a big fan of direct light. Which makes it the perfect candidate for rooms that get no direct sunlight at all. 

Bird’s nest ferns prefer darker rooms, as long as they get enough humidity.

Don’t let this fern dry out completely, but don’t leave it standing in water either. And never ever water directly above the “nest” in the middle of the plant. If the north-facing window happens to be in your bathroom or your kitchen, that’s even better, as these tropical plants thrive in humid conditions. 

I keep one of my bird’s nest ferns on the edge of my bathtub, a few good feet away from the window – but in elevated humidity – and it’s absolutely thriving. These ferns grow quite large in the wild. But when confined to a pot indoors, they’ll remain a manageable size. 

6. Peperomia

I won’t chat too much about peperomias since Tracey did a really good job explaining how to keep them happy in this article. And what’s the first thing that she mentions? That peperomias do well in a low-light environment. 

Yes, they do. I can attest to that. My peperomia happily lived for years in a room that wasn’t getting any direct light. There are so many peperomia cultivars to choose from, but they have one thing in common.

This peperomia grew for a few years in a window overlooking another building.

They’ll all handle a little bit of neglect, especially water-wise. If you have a look at their leaves, you’ll see how thick and juicy they are. Almost like the leaves of a succulent. So naturally, they have plenty of moisture reserves. So you can allow your peppy plant to dry out completely before you water it again. 

One thing I want to mention about the peperomia that I kept in low light is that it even flowered. Don’t expect anything spectacular when that happens, but it’s nice to know that there’s a chance.

7. Prayer plant (Maranta)

I love the habit of this plant to close up its “fingers” at night and open them up again towards the light in the morning. And if you’re wondering, yes, it does this in low light too. Perhaps even more so, since it needs to orient its leaves to soak up all the light it can get in a dark room. 

Just like the peperomia above, there are so many prayer plant cultivars to choose from; and most of them will grow in low light environments. While we’re at it, another similarity is the absolutely unimpressive flowers that maranta plants put out. 

My prayer plant did really well in an attic apartment with slanted walls and not much light.

However, unlike peperomias, prayer plants need plenty of water and moisture in the air. I found this aspect a bit tricky to balance, since plants in low-light conditions shouldn’t get too much water. What worked for this plant was giving it a thorough soak and allowing the water to drain completely out before I put it back in the north-facing window.  

8. Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)

I couldn’t make up my mind whether I should include this plant or not. 

It wouldn’t cross my mind to recommend any other type of ficus for rooms that get very little light. Certainly not a Ficus benjamina or a Ficus lyrata

But based on how well my rubber plants (Ficus elastica) are currently doing in a room with north-facing windows, I’ve decided to add it to the list. With one caveat. It will get leggy. Now I happen to like leggy plants. I think they show personality and stamina. 

Rubber plants can thrive in low light, but they’ll get a bit leggy.

However, if you like your houseplants a bit more compact and leafy, you should know that the rubber plant won’t stay that way in low light. The distance between leaf nodes will get longer and the leaves themselves might get larger to capture as much light as possible.  

5 Tips to Make the Most of the Low Light You Have for Your Houseplants. 

TIP 1: You may get low light in a window that’s not facing north.  

Generally, when we talk about window orientation, we assume that said window has an unimpeded view of the sky. But when you live in a city, or even in a townhouse in the suburbs, this is often not the case. 

At the height of summer, this room only gets an hour of sun every evening.

So even if you have east- or west-facing windows, they may get as little light as a north-facing window if they overlook other buildings, or if there are awning or trees blocking the light. 

TIP 2: Your low-light houseplants may not bloom. 

There’s a reason why you didn’t see any plants with spectacular blooms on my list above. No African violets. No kalanchoe. And definitely no orchids. Houseplants in low-light environments are less likely to bloom. If you bring home a houseplant in bloom expecting it to keep flowering in a north-facing window, you might be sorely disappointed. 

No blooming plants would survive in this dark corner of my living room. So I add a bit of bloom using colorful containers.

Instead, you could go for plants that have interesting leaf patterns (sooo many maranta and peperomia cultivars to choose from). Or simply opt for visually interesting pots and containers to add a bit of extra color to your room. 

TIP 3: Your low-light houseplants may lose variegation.

I’m a big fan of variegated houseplants, but I quickly discovered that variegation and low light don’t go well together. Variegated plants need light to keep their pattern, so if you don’t get enough light, the variegation fades out. And the new leaves will usually grow monochromatic green. 

I replaced variegated plants with interesting foliage that won’t fade away.

One of the reasons why I love plants such as the silver satin pothos or the prayer plant is because I get that “variegation fix” without it being actual variegation. The spots on the silver satin pothos will never recede back to total green.

TIP 4: Remember to rotate plants in low light.

Even plants that do well in low light will lean towards the window to get more of it. This phenomenon, called phototropism, is normal and expected. 

For some plants, for example my Dracaena marginata, I might just let it happen. A tilted plant fits better in my small bedroom and this helps me optimize space. 

The trick is to remember to rotate the plants when you water them.

Other plants, such as the prayer plant, looked a bit silly stretching towards the light. So I got into the habit of rotating them a few degrees every time I watered. Make sure you always rotate them in the same direction. 

TIP 5: Make decor choices that help low-light plants thrive. 

Believe me, I know that decorating choices in dark rooms are limited, especially if you’re renting. Here are a few choices I made to increase the chances of my plants thriving in a low-light environment.   

Wherever I could, I used mirrors to help bounce the light around. I added mirrors behind the houseplants that I kept on shelves. And added mirrors at an angle to the window. 

I replaced the standard “renter’s blinds” with linen curtains that let in more light. When possible (i.e. when we weren’t closely facing another building), I kept the curtains open all the time. 

Every bit of light helps. Even artificial light.

I placed lamps close to plants and plants close to lamps. Artificial light is not a perfect replacement for natural light. But the few hours I had the lamps on in the evening anyway helped my plants get a bit more light. (If you do this, make sure you use lamps with LED bulbs because incandescent bulbs give off too much heat and might scorch your plant.) 

Pick your houseplants wisely, and they’ll thrive for years. 

It may be tempting to get a plant just because you fell in love with it at a store, on Instagram or at your friend’s house. But I believe a large part of what’s considered a “green thumb” has to do with knowing what plants to pick. You can grow some things, but you can’t grow everything. 

So it’s always better to buy plants for the kind of conditions you have (light, humidity, space), rather than buy any plants and try to get them to adapt to your environment. 

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Mickey Gast

I like to think of myself as a writer who gardens and a gardener who writes. I was hooked into this lifestyle more than a decade ago, when I decided that my new husband’s tomato patch had to be extended into a full-blown suburban veggie paradise. It was a classic story of “city girl trades concrete jungle for kale jungle.”

Before that, it was a humble peace lily that gave me the houseplant bug, so I have her to thank for 15+ years of houseplant obsession. I get a kick out of saving and reviving houseplants that others write off, although my greatest sin is still overwatering.

When we went back to renting in cities, I gardened in community gardens, campus gardens and post stamp-sized balconies. Setting up gardens from scratch in three different (micro)climates taught me to stay humble and to always keep learning.

Nowadays, when I’m not writing, you’ll probably find me pottering around my suburban backyard where I’m creating a pollinator paradise, complete with herbs, veggies and flowers.

If you’re nosy like me, you can follow my plant experiments on Instagram @greenwithpurpose. I also write about plants, gardens and books on my website,