Let’s talk about light Part 2: Plants for… North facing rooms
Today’s post is all about my houseplants picks for north facing rooms, a room orientation that is generally considered a somewhat tricky growing space for plant lovers. After my post a few weeks ago about houseplants, lighting + room orientation, I want to now focus on each of the different light exposures — North, East, South + West to turn our attention back to the PLANTS! More specifically, which ones are going to be right at home in situ in each of these particular orientations. I get regular questions about this so thought it would be helpful to have all the information clearly laid out + in one place here on the website + saved under the ‘a HPH guide to…’ tab on the houseplanthouse homepage.
Over the last few years, I’ve lived in a few different spaces — from a second floor apartment with old single-glazed sash windows, surrounded by trees (which really impacted how the light came in during the Summer months) to a little cottage with latticed, draughty windows. I’m currently semi-camping in my renovation project which is an old Chapel that I’m converting into the new houseplanthouse headquarters as my live/work space. This variety of homes has not only given me experience of the full range of room-orientations, but has really taught me how to understand the spaces in which my houseplants grow best.
If you’ve not see the first blogpost for context, I’ll link it here: Let’s talk about light: a HPH guide to understanding houseplants, lighting + orientation — I had a lot of fun making those diagrams + thanks for the kind messages on them! In this preliminary post, it’s really important to remember the points 5 (obstructions + window treatments), 6 (seasons) + 7 (moving shock) in the wider context of the question of light, + also that I’m in the Northern hemisphere for reference!
North light attributes
Let’s start with a brief re-cap on the key points to note about northern exposures.
KEY ATTRIBUTES OF NORTH LIGHT:
- A softer, indirect light
- Particularly weak in intensity during the winter months
- Best for low-light tolerant houseplants
If you are an art lover, you might know that in the Northern hemisphere, North-facing studios are the most desirable for painters due to the way that these spaces handle daylight. Northern light leans towards a cool tone + is more stable (it’s also often called reflected light) in that it doesn’t fluctuate towards a warmer appearance throughout the day as the sun moves around. For context, I have an Art School background so the question of light has been important to me for a long time — either through my painting or photographic practice, I am aware that I observe light in a more intense way than is perhaps usual!
In terms of houseplants + North-facing rooms these orientations are understood aslow-moderate indirect light, so the first thing you’ll want to do is position plants in these spaces as close to the windows as you can. The intensity of light is lacking in these areas + as a weaker, indirect type of light, it can be tricky to grow certain plants.
Plants for North facing rooms
1. Aspidistra elatior, Aspidistra Milky Way
Let’s mention what might be the most obvious one first — the humble Aspidistra! If you are a regular reader, you’ll know how much I love an Aspidistra + I currently have 3 varieties in my collection. Of these, the two that have grown well in North facing rooms have been my classic all green Aspidistra elatior + the beautifully speckled Aspidistra Milky Way (the other variety I have is a variegated Aspidistra Okame). In the Chapel, I grow all my Aspidistra plants in the North facing spot + they are all putting out new leaves + the Milky Way is the fastest growing of my ‘Cast Iron Plant’ gang, even in pretty low light. These plants were given this nickname because of their ability to cope with adverse situations + the Victorians would often have an Aspidistra in rooms where almost all other houseplants wouldn’t survive in the polluted atmospheres of coal fires + gas lamps. Whilst an Aspidistra might not be a fancy rare plant as is the current trend in the plant world, they are a great choice that works equally well in a traditional home or a more modern design, where these deep green leaves look effortlessly sculptural. My Aspidistra elatior is an heirloom plant for me — passed down as a division I made from my grandparents plant + I wouldn’t be without it.
2. Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum/ Devil’s Ivy)
If trailing plants are your thing, then you can’t go wrong with an Epipremnum aureum, aka a golden pothos. If you are looking for a plant to frame your window, or to let it trail off your curtain pole in a North facing room, then look no further. In a darker location the foliage can lose some of its golden variegation + revert to more of a solid green, but it won’t cause the plant any harm. It’s one of those houseplants that actually put out new growth in a darker position too — unlike some that just sit there. I currently have one in my North-east facing room which is where the building works are still ongoing + it’s pretty cold, but it’s coping well a few metres away even from the windows. Just be sure if you are growing your plant in a more shaded location that you aren’t overwatering it — less light means less frequent watering!
3. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
A Peace Lily is another resilient plant that copes well in a North facing room. I’ve grown this from a small plant + always in a dark space — it lived on top of my fridge in my old apartment, around 3 metres from east facing french doors… it really was not very light in this position but amazingly grew from quite a small plant. It was also in the kitchen in the cottage, where it was 2 metres away from a draughty window of north-western exposure where it received soft ambient light throughout the day. In the Chapel, it’s been in a Northern window + has been showing signs of new growth. In a lower light location your plant might continue growing new leaves, but if it’s blooms you are looking for it would appreciate a brighter spot. Saying that, I’m not too fussed about Spathiphyllum blooms + prefer the lovely texture of the leaves, especially as the plant matures. It’s a pretty relaxed houseplant to welcome into your home + whilst it’s not the fastest grower it’s a leafy staple for me here at houseplanthouse.
4. Philodendron scandens (Heart Leaf Philodendron)
As a golden pothos alternative, Philodendron scandens is a very forgiving plant to grow in a North facing room + its ideal location here would be trailing down off the curtain pole — you could even hang a few together to make a trailing plant ‘curtain’! Just be sure that the top of the plant gets good levels of light (don’t hang it too high above the window). If you have a location that’s more north-east or north-west facing, a philodendron brasil is another option for you to consider too. Both plants have the distinctive heart-shaped leaves but the brasil has variegated patterning across the foliage + they look really nice when hung next to each other as a way of playing with the ‘same but different’ look. As a general rule, in darker locations like north facing locations, choosing non-variegated plants is preferable.
Marantaceae are a group that generally do well in partial shade, but Maranta is my top pick out of this ‘prayer plant group’ (including Calathea, Stromanthe etc.) for a North-facing room. The lovely leaves of these plants fold + raise up at night, as if in prayer! You might recognise the red-backed herringbone maranta (maranta leuconeura erythroneura) as one that often pops up in public building planting displays like malls, libraries + foyers, which is testament to it’s low-light growing capabilities. My favourite maranta at the moment is my leuconeura var kerchoveana, aka ‘rabbit tracks’ which has the most amazing blue-green foliage with dark brown splotches. These plants prefer a softer light + can actually look a bit worse for wear if they are somewhere too bright, with crisping leaves + washed-out leaves. I’ve been growing my plant in a shaded spot for a number of years + I’m always surprised just how well it does with low light levels.
6. Zamioculcas zamiifolia (ZZ plant)
Another popular choice for a North-facing room is a classic Zamioculcas zamiifolia — the ZZ plant! These are extremely adaptable plants for this kind of location, but remember to position close to the window (+ not at the other side in a dark corner just because it looks nice!). The two varieties I grow are the classic green + the ZZ ‘raven’, which has deep inky black leaves + is a sculptural beautiful plant I’ve enjoyed growing for a few years now. ZZ plants can do well in a variety of locations, but be warned — they are pretty slow growing, especially in a North facing position. Less light means less watering — especially with ZZ’s + their thick, succulent stems. I find it easiest to gauge watering needs with these by using a hygrometer. To help your plant along feed during Spring/Summer + don’t re-pot frequently — ZZ’s prefer to to pot-bound + this can often trigger new growth to pop up.
7. Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen): Green varieties
Aglaonema are one of those plants that some people find boring, but over the last year or so I’ve noticed a definite buzz in popularity for these lovely, leafy plants, particularly online. This perhaps, has something to do with the huge variety of cultivars that have entered the market in the last couple of years. It’s worth noting that the trendy pink + white varieties do require more light than the more classic green types, like I have above. These plants are really reliable to grow in a North facing room + are pretty slow growing which makes them a good choice for smaller spaces. In a brighter position, both of these plants have bloomed for me, but really it’s the unique patterning on the leaves that are the showstopper if this humble houseplant.
8. Snake Plants Dracaena trifasciata (Sansevieria Snake Plant)
If you have some North-facing windowsill space to fill, a snake plant is a viable choice to try, but in this position it’s best if there aren’t any obstructions outside of the window as it’ll prefer as much light as it can get here. As I’ve said before about snake plants, I personally prefer to grow mine in a brighter position if I can, despite them being commonly advertised as ‘low light houseplants’. Absolutely do not place them in a dark corner, far away from the window because your plant will look like it’s been frozen in time + it’s unlikely to put out new growth, or any growth that might appear will be spindly + just a bit sad looking.
9. Kenita + Parlour Palms
Palms are a great option if you’ve got an empty corner adjacent to a North facing window, which would benefit from the addition of some leafy greenery! They are a statement + can grow to be a real feature in a room, particularly a north-facing one where you’ll want to avoid those big tropical plants that need brighter locations. Varieties that are particularly shade tolerant like the Howea forsteriana (Kentia) + Chamaedorea elegans (Parlour) palms are a great choice + they were another favourite of the Victorians due to their ability to cope with subdued light + polluted air from open fires. The Chamaedorea above left is often next to the window in a north facing room of a family member, which receives soft light throughout the day + is a lot less crispy as a result! It used to be positioned in a brighter room, but since moving to this space it’s really flourished. It might not be the fastest grower, but it’s a plant that will be at home in your space for years to come.
For smaller north-facing rooms, a Syngonium makes for a lovely little plant that copes well in an ambient light environment. I’ve grown my pixie lime in the darkest of positions in my old apartment + in the cottage too + I was always surprised how perky it looked! In the apartment it was around 4 metres away from a west-facing window, where it only got an hour of very late afternoon sun in the summer months + in the cottage it has been happy around 3 metres away from a south-east position on my sideboard, where it gets a bit of sun in the morning, but not much else. Green varieties are the most forgiving in a north-facing room + the leaves are a cheerful table top addition to my north-east workroom at the moment.
11. Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum)
In the title image of the post, you might have noticed that I popped a spider plant on a shelf in my North-east workspace next to my extra long golden pothos + to my surprise it’s not only been growing new leaves here these last few weeks, but is also throwing out a runner, which means there will be plantlets on the way before long! Chlorophytum are notoriously adaptable to a range of light conditions + cope well with spells of neglect, dry-ish air, a warmer or cooler environment, a brighter location or a shaded spot too. In this position it gets some East light in the morning, but to clarify, this is by no means a bright place for plants — it’s on a wall that’s around 2-3 metres from either a north or east window, so not ideal, but I’d say it’s a good example of how tolerant these plants are! They also only need watering once every two weeks or so on this darker shelf, so they are extremely easy going.
I hope this post has given you some inspiration for plants that can work in a north-facing space, which can sometimes be considered more of a challenge for keeping houseplants happy. The key points to take away are that in this room orientation, try to place plants in close proximity to the window/light source to provide the most favourable environment for your plants to grow in softer light. Bear in mind that non-variegated plants are better suited to a more ambient light setting + also that watering frequency will likely reduce — you might find your plants only need watering once every few weeks. Watch out for plants that might start to stretch towards the light (rotating them regularly helps), or in trailing plants where the leaves start to become small, or there are long gaps between the stems (signalling they would prefer to be closer to the window/in a brighter position).
As I mentioned in the preliminary post, to maximise the way that light enters your home, a few carefully placed mirrors adjacent to windows can really help to enhance the available light. This in an especially good tip for north facing spaces. I’m planning on adding in a carefully positioned mirror in my north-east room in my new place + I’ll be sure to share it when I do. In terms of supplemental lighting in lower-lit environments, I’ve got a post that I’ll link here in case you are interested. Thanks for your requests for this by the way, I always appreciate hearing what you’d like to see here on the website! Stay tuned over the next few weeks for the other posts — the plants that do best in East- South- + West- facing rooms.
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Published at Sun, 31 Oct 2021 13:30:17 -0700