Can house plants survive in the dark?

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I’m sure a ZZ plant would try super super hard to survive in, say, a bathroom with no lights. But it wouldn’t grow very quickly, if at all, and it would thrive.

A lot of plants aren’t fussy: give them enough water, light, and something to grow their roots in, and they’ll grow their little hearts out.

Plants need light to thrive.

Sure, some need more than others, but even those that grow on the rainforest floor are hoping someday to grow around that tree trunk and emerge, blinking, above the canopy.

They have no desire to live out their life slowly rotting in your dark, sterile bathroom. 

That being said, those plants that wouldn’t receive much natural light in the wild can survive in the darkest corners of your house for a while.

In general, plants that are deemed as easy to care for are tolerant of low light conditions. By low light, I don’t mean no light.

I’m talking that weird dark corner on the opposite side of the room from the window that gets a bit of indirect light for an hour or two.

Any part of the room that’s not bright bright, but is bright enough to read a book in without an additional light source is deemed medium-light. There are several plants that will survive in those conditions, and few that’ll still grow in medium light, but since plants use light as energy, all plants need some light.

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Light is (kind of) plant food

Think of a plant as being a human being, and light as being food. No human can survive with no food. They’ll starve to death. However, there are a plethora of factors that will determine how much food each individual requires:

  • How big they are
  • Whether or not they’re growing
  • The time of day
  • How much energy they’re expending

But humans and plants want to survive. A human can survive without food for a decent amount of time. Will they thrive? No. Will they shrivel up a bit? Yes.

Plants with bigger leaves are better able to absorb light, so you might be able to get away with keeping a monstera in a spot that has a lot of medium-light all day, rather than somewhere that has bright light for an hour or so.

The more light you give a plant, the quicker it can grow, provided you’re bringing your A-game with regards to watering.

Ok, so the time of day doesn’t massively affect plants, but the time of year does. Plants, unlike people, can go into a state of dormancy when they decide that it’s winter (or summer, for plants like cyclamen).

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This doesn’t mean that they require vastly less light though, it just means that they can adapt to the shorter days that naturally occur in winter. So you might even need more light in winter, rather than less.

You can take longer between waterings though since the lower uptake (both from the plant and the atmosphere) of water means the soil remains moist for longer.

I’m assuming that if you asked whether plants can survive in the dark, you have a dark house. I can’t provide you with a list of plants that will survive in a windowless box, but I can give you a list of plants that have a decent chance of staying alive in a dingy home.

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Plants that are hard to kill

These plants are forgiving of low light conditions, under watering and general neglect.

If you’re an over-waterer, they’ll survive a decent amount of time too, but it’s a habit I’d knock on the head quickly.

By the way, if you just can’t stop overwatering, I’d go for carnivorous plants like Sundew. They love to stand in water. Just make sure that it’s rainwater, otherwise, you’ll kill ’em.

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ZZ plant

This is the closest thing you’ll get to a plastic plant. You can keep in the darkest, dingiest corner and it’ll survive.

They have big tubers in which to store water, so a big drink every month (or more) will be enough to stop it from dying.

HOWEVER having a thriving ZZ plant is very rewarding. I have a new leaf forming and it’s the coolest thing EVER.

zz plant

It looks like it’s going to shoot all a whole branch and all the leaves at once. I am EXCITED.

As you can see from the frankly abominable picture (I’m a writer, not a photographer, and as much as I try to give a shit about photos, I just can’t), my ZZ plant is in a pretty dark corner, but he’s still happy to make a new leaf.

This plant gets watered every week or so. I fill his saucer with water and let him suck it up. He’d probably need less if I flushed the entire plant through with water, but in a bid to get rid of gnats I’m exclusively bottom watering for a bit for now.

I got my ZZ plant from Sainsbury’s for £9, but you can also get them from B&Q for around a tenner.

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Snake Plant

I don’t even know if you can kill a snake plant. They’re amazing.

Update: my mum did. She left it in the conservatory over winter and it froze to death.

But they’re really rewarding if placed on a bright windowsill and only watered when they’re dry. They grow quickly and will have pups.

If you’re the kind of monster that only wants plants for decorative reasons, and want to put them in a windowless room, then go for a Snake plant or ZZ plant.

They might not die, and it’ll certainly take them a good few months to succumb if they do.

My love for snake plants is growing ever stronger, especially since I learned how to propagate one. You just cut off a leaf, cut a triangle into the bottom of that leaf so it has two little pointy corners and stick it in a thing of water:

propagating snake plant, which can survive in a dark room

You may be able see over to the right I’ve done some serious pruning of the overwatered aloe I inherited. He’s doing ok.

The cutting in the picture above is from a variegated snake plant at work. Yes, I stole it. No, no ones noticed and my boss won’t care.

I propagated a leaf from my other snake plant (one the left of the cutting), not expecting it to work. I just thought the leaf would rot.

I kept seeing what I thought were roots but were most likely just fibres from the plant that were exposed when I cut it. But after a few weeks, roots appeared! It was incredible!

He’s all potted up downstairs, so I’m hoping that he’ll grow another leaf soon.

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Spider plants

I’ve had a spider plant for about five years, and believe me, it’ll take anything I throw at it.

I didn’t water it for a good six months, and then I’d overwater it for a couple of weeks, and then neglect it again for another six months.

Oh, and it was in a pot with no drainage holes for four and a half of those five years.

(read here why you need drainage holes)

Did it die? No.

Did it grow? Also no. And it didn’t really start growing until a couple of weeks ago, despite me repotting it in a pot with holes and actually looking after it a good four months ago. That’s how long it took it to recover. Poor little sod.

If you get a baby spider plant and treat it well however, they grow like stink.

In my experience, they don’t root well in soil, so if you want a free plant, ask around to see if anyone has any pups, then put the said baby in water to root it. Only put it in soil when the roots are over an inch long.

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Like my spider plant, my Dracaena Marginata tri color was neglected, although only for about 18 months. They’re well known for needing a lot of light, but lack of light didn’t actually kill mine. Neither did almost complete neglect.

However, put it on an east or south-facing windowsill and give it plenty of water and watch that baby GROW. It’s also a good plant for the casual over-waterer because Jesus Christ that thing is always thirsty.

That being said, a really good soak every fortnight is perfectly sufficient.

Can it survive in the dark? No, not for long, and not if you want it to thrive, but it won’t die in low light conditions either. Well, mine didn’t, and it was tiny when it arrived. It’s hardy as hell.

Ok, so there are my four suggestions for plants that are generally hard to kill. The next group is plants that will survive in the dark for a short period of time. Well, maybe not the dark, but they’re low light.

Some of the plants on the list below may surprise you, because they’re traditionally plants that are said to require bright light, but if I can keep them in a low light situation in North Yorkshire, I’m sure most of you can too.

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Plants that climb will survive well in the dark (ish)

(for a bit, anyway)

Plants that climb probably started on the rainforest floor, and using other trees, climb towards the sun.

That doesn’t mean you can keep an orchid in your windowless hallway it’s whole life. But you might be able to do it for a month, if you really want to.

I’m saying ‘if you really want to’ because I’m petty, and I want you to either leave your dark rooms plant less or use one of the unkillables in the list above. But I know that some of you just want the plants for aesthetic reasons, and that’s ok. I suppose.

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Last year these were pretty much only available online in the UK, but now loads of garden centres do them, and I got a decent-sized golden pothos from Sainsbury’s for a fiver.

(It was overwatered as hell though, so if you get one leave it alone for at least a week, make sure it’s properly dry before watering it again, and give it plenty of light before you move it to the darker spot you intended it for).

Pothos are cheap, are perfectly tolerant of low light conditions, and don’t need much in the way of watering. I have a Marble Queen pothos that flops dramatically when she needs water, which is super helpful. I’m talking completely wilted, to the point that she looks dead. A quick drink and she’s right as rain the next day.

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Monstera Deliciosa

The more light they have the quicker they grow. That’s the Monstera rule. We’ve got one that we treated as abysmally as the afore-mentioned spider plant and it’s doing well now.

I have two in fairly low light, and if I notice they’re putting out a new leaf, I move them closer to the window to hurry the process up, but they’re growing albeit slowly.

Monstera, in my experience, are hard to kill. If you want one for aesthetic purposes, buy one that looks the way to want it to, size-wise. Keep it watered and pest free, and it’ll be fine in lower light conditions. No light might be a bit of a stretch though.

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There are loads of different philodendrons, but the ones you’ll find easily available are similar to pothos in terms of light requirements. I have a Brasil and a Heartleaf and they’re fine on my mantel pice a few metres away from my east-facing window.

Top tip: if you’re in the UK anyway. Dobbie’s garden centre (it’s a chain) sell Heartleaf philodendrons as pothos for £6. As opposed to the £30 you’d spend elsewhere.

Next on my list is a Philodendron Micans because they look soft and velvety af.

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I have one syngonium. I don’t know what kind, but I assume a common one. It’s growing quickly and doesn’t seem to care where it lives. It’s currently on a shadowy bookcase and fairly happy about it.

Update: I have like ten Syngoniums now. I love them.

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As long as you’re not bothered about it flowering, orchids are fairly easy to care for. They’re essentially parasitic, so as long as you have them in a well draining medium and water them every other week or so, you’re golden.

If you want them to flower you’ll have to fanny about with clear pots and lots of light and stuff. That’s not really my thing.

I’m currently waiting for mine to do…something, but since it was chronically overwatered in a non-draining pot in heavy potting mix, it’s taking its time. It’s developing some nice healthy roots above the potting medium.

I have no idea if that’s normal, but I’m happy to let it do its own thing, and just offer support in the form of water.

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Specifically my Hoya Krimson Princess.

She is doing so well, and she’s growing faster in medium light than when she was in bright light. She currently growing a long-ass vine, which is cool, and putting out gorgeous variegated leaves.

I thought that hoya needed bright light, and either that’s not necessarily always the case, or I have a freak. I’m happy with either explanation.

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Plants that grow in the shade can survive in the dark, kinda

But plants that grow on the rainforest floor like dappled light – they probably grow in less densely packed parts of the forest than vining plants, so they’ll get some sunlight, but not a lot.

So what does that actually mean?

Well, I keep a Boston fern in a dark corner of my kitchen, next to some bright light. By which I mean that light never actually hits the plant, because the boiler is shielding him, but the plants next to him get bright light through one of those textured windows. But he never actually gets any.

Except that light bounces around, especially if you have white walls, which I do. So whilst technically he’s in a corner that gets no light, it’s bright enough for him to, dare I say it thrive.

This is the fern that I bought as a sad little specimen from the reduced section in Sainsbury’s. He spent two months in the bathroom window getting big and strong and now he won’t stop growing.

Ferns have lots of little spindly leaves, which I assume means they take in a lot of moisture from the air (because of the high surface area), hence why he did so well in the bathroom and is continuing to do so in the kitchen.

Would he survive in a dark bathroom?

He might. For a bit, anyway.

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I have a Calathea Leopardina.

It blooms.

It doesn’t need much water.

It doesn’t need much light.

I love it.

I’ve kept it alive in every condition going, except complete darkness.

I try to put it somewhere where it’ll thrive, but the thing thrives everywhere. It’s currently next to the Boston fern, getting nice amount of light (although secretly because they were together in my bathroom, and I feel bad about splitting them up because I anthropomorphise everything), which I hope it likes.

I really hope is it happy, and it’s not just a people please (see, anthropomorphising again).

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Prayer plants

Erm, I don’t own any, but they’re similar to calathea, so I imagine a hardy prayer plant would do ok in low light conditions. Let’s move on because I don’t know anything about prayer plants other than that they naturally grow in the shade.

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Caroline, I have a dark, windowless bathroom. I want to put plants in it and have them thrive. Suggestions?

Actually, yes.

Suggestion 1: Grow lights

I’ve not tried any grow lights yet, but I’m planning on getting some in winter. When I do, I’ll probs just go for whatever Kaylee Ellen suggests. She links to all the stuff she uses in the description box of every video. Ta, Kaylee.

Please note though, grow lights alone will not be enough for a lot of plants. The lights also have to be pretty close to the plant, so if you want a lot of plants, you’ll need a lot of lights, and probably to keep the light on in the room all day. Not great for either the plant or your electricity bill.

Suggestion 2: Moving your plants

This one is probably your best bet, cost-wise.

Buy yourself two ZZ plants and two snake plants. A pothos would probably be ok too.

Find a bright light situation for three plants. Then once a week switch the bathroom plant. Essentially, your plant will have three weeks in which to grow, and one to look pretty in your dark room. I’m suggesting ZZ plants and snake plants because they’re the ones that don’t seem to care how they’re kept, but if you keep them in good conditions for three weeks out of four, they’ll continue to grow.

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Would I recommend keeping plants in a dark room?

No, not in good conscience. Because, as I’ve previously demonstrated, I anthropomorphise plants and don’t want them to struggle and/or die.

And I’m sure plenty of mine are quietly struggling because I’ve not got their conditions quite right, so I don’t want others struggling just because I want an aesthetically pleasing bathroom.

But my bathroom has a window and a windowsill, albeit a small one. I’d probs feel different if I didn’t although my bathroom is currently plantless, because the UK has just freefallen into Autumn, and I think it’s a bit chilly for plants in there.

Oh, if you’re wondering why I’m assuming so many people have windowless bathrooms, it’s just because a lot of UK flats seem to. It’s an assumption. Soz.

I hope that was helpful, though I get that when you asked the question ‘can house plants survive in the dark?’ you really wanted me to say ‘yes, get this one’ but I’m afraid light is a necessity for plants.

If anyone is growing a plant successfully in a windowless room, please let us know, with details of what it is and how well it’s doing. I’m always willing to stand corrected (though please don’t be mean, I’ll cry).

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2 thoughts on “Can house plants survive in the dark?”

  1. Don’t forget the Aspidistra! I have several decedents from a 1960’s garden in Manchester (given to my mother) still going strong. One survived being outside for several winters completely forgotten about until I moved house. I cut the leaves back, repotted, sprang back to life!

  2. They’re so difficult to find nowadays, but yeah, apparently their ‘cast iron’ nickname refers to how hardy they are! I\ll have to keep my eye out for one.

    No plant survives my mother, so unfortunately I have no hand-me-down plants BUT my jade plant is a cutting from my dad’s and that thing is a beast now!

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