Designing for Greenery in Low Light Spaces


You may not know this about me, but I'm obsessed with houseplants!  I have 25 plants in 888 sqft, but I feel like that's still not enough.  The one part of my house with no plants is my basement.  Unfortunately, that is where plants go to die.  But with the help of my friend Daphne Peters with Daphne's Botanicals, I have some hope of changing that.  Not only does she sell houseplants, but she is a Plant Stylist and can help you style your home with beautiful greenery!

From Daphne:

Are you wanting greenery for your house but don’t have any idea on where to start? Maybe you are one of the many households with this plant-light conundrum: a desire to add houseplants to liven your space but not a lot of natural light for their survival. As a houseplant design shop, one of the most frequent questions we get asked is “what plants are low maintenance and are good for my room that doesn’t have a lot of light?”

To understand how we answer this, we must first look at what light means for houseplants. Yes, when it comes to houseplants, there’s different, specific definitions for indoor light, and knowing them is significant in understanding what kinds of houseplants work for your space and lifestyle! 

Let’s take this low light space as an example:

This is the bench in the entryway of our home. It has a north-facing window overhead and light streaming in but I would still consider it a medium to lower light area of the home. Why? The number one question to consider when finding a spot for a houseplant that can tolerate lower light is “can I read a book in this space with its natural light?” If the answer is no, then the space is not good for any houseplant. All plants need some light for photosynthesis. Without adequate light, your houseplants will not get enough energy and will eventually die. This entryway has enough light to read, but not enough direct light during the day for cacti or succulents; and since it’s north-facing and doesn’t receive direct or indirect bright light, it’s considered a medium to lower light corner of the home.

Don’t fret though, there are solutions for lower light spaces! To start designing with greenery for low light spaces, know the definitions of light for your houseplants, including what ‘low light’ truly means in a home, and that positioning and distance from a window does matter! Here’s a great diagram of light (from Pinterest) that has been helpful in explaining to our clients all the definitions of light for houseplants:

Bright light - directly in front of a window, usually south or west-facing

Bright indirect light - next to a window, usually south or west-facing, but not in the direct path of the light. Sometimes this is also ‘bright filtered light,’ which can be in front of a window but with a drawn, sheer curtain.

Medium light - 4-5 feet away from a window, can overlap with low light. 

Low light - 15-20 feet from a west or south facing window, 3-10 feet away from a north or east facing window

No light - self explanatory!

There are also several hacks to help you out with low light spaces. One of them is the use of mirrors. We’ve designed spaces with houseplants that have had nooks with not a lot of natural light but have used hallway or entryway mirrors to bring outside light in to help give the area a natural boost of light. For the darkest of spaces with little to no light, we highly recommend LED Grow Lights that are helpful in growing indoor plants. If you don’t like the look or feel of LED lights, good quality faux houseplants are also a great hack for rooms that get little to no light. Our baby nursery gets little to no light since we are napping our kiddo for half the day, so we included faux ferns and hanging plants from shelves to add a touch of greenery without the maintenance and light needed for live houseplants!

To get started in choosing live houseplants, here are some fantastic options (and favorites) for lower light spaces:

  1. Snake plant - one of the classic houseplants for low light, easy to grow, low on maintenance for high returns of greenery. Does well with most home decor!
  2. Peace lily - great houseplant for low light that shows you when it needs water. The white blooms add a nice touch to your classic or modern living spaces.
  3. Christmas cactus - super easy houseplant that blooms several times a year when kept in a cool, dark space for at least 12 hours. Great for boho and homes with an artistic flair. 
  4. Pothos - does well in medium to low light and is a classic trailing plant for your bookshelf. Easy growers with minimal attention. 
  5. Bromeliads - unique houseplant with scoop-like leaves surrounding a ‘cup’ that you only need to fill with water weekly. Great to add to spaces for a tropical feel!
  6. Birds nest fern - a super easy houseplant with a rosette pattern also around a ‘cup.’ Requires staying moist with some humidity so great for bathrooms or kitchens.
  7. Calathea - one of our favorite houseplants for its reactive leaves that open and close with the light. Also, it's pet-friendly so great for homes with furry friends!
  8. ZZ plant - next to the snake plant, this is one of the most popular houseplants for low light. With distinctly oval shaped leaves, this plant is great for spaces with a lot of geometric shapes like mid-century modern or art deco homes.


Armed with the different definitions of natural light and which houseplants do well in low light, we took the lower light entryway bench of our home and added three different varieties of snake plants for an interesting display, and kept our 15-year old pothos on the shelf for an extra bright boost and balance of greenery and...voilà!  A boring low light corner now made more welcoming with houseplant greenery!:

If you liked our tips for designing with houseplants for low light spaces, but are not comfortable choosing houseplants on your own, let’s connect! We’d love to chat with you to see if we can help you with your space. Daphne's Botanicals is a virtual houseplant design service and shop that provides a concierge and personalized shopping experience. We find and style plants for your home or business that work for your budget, your home decor and your lifestyle.


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