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Mr. Smarty Plants - Plants for low light in Houston

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Tuesday - April 21, 2009

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Container Gardens, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Plants for low light in Houston
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I moved from a home in New Jersey to an apartment in Houston, TX -inside court - low light. I can't keep houseplants alive., What do you recommend that I try here? Both inside the apartment and on a small patio?

ANSWER:

You probably already know that your main problem is the lack of sufficient sunlight to nurture your plants. A problem for us at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is that we are dedicated to the care, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which the plant is being grown. Native plants are really at their best outside in the dirt, and most don't adapt well to the extreme conditions that being grown indoors entails. You can start by reading our How-To Article Container Gardening with Native Plants, from which you will learn that your inside court will probably be better than inside your house, even if you have some sunny windows where the plants could grow. 

However, we will try to help you find some solutions and some native plants that tolerate less than 2 hours of sunshine a day. We consider "sun" to be 6 hours or more of sunlight daily, "part shade" to be 2 to 6 hours, and "shade" less than 2 hours. Besides the lack of natural sunlight, plants grown indoors find it difficult to adapt to artificial cooling and heating. Another problem for indoor plants is that they are too available for watering. If you go past a plant and it is looking poorly, what is the first thing you think of? "It needs a little drink." In fact, it may be drowning, because of a common situation for indoor plants. They often are in decorative pots, without drainage. No one wants a pot draining water out onto their furniture or floors, right? If you keep putting water in, and there is no place for it to drain out, the roots will soon begin to rot, and the plant is a total loss. And, at least for us, the biggest problem is that most of the information available on indoor plants recommends non-native plants, about which we have no information in our Native Plant Database. 

All that having been said, we will search our database for plants native to East or South Texas (we never can decide for sure which Houston is) that tolerate shade. Some will be herbaceous flowering plants, but we will also take a look at some ferns that may not provide any color but will hold their place year-round. If you have difficulty locating these plants, go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, type in your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box and you will get a list of native plant nurseries and seed suppliers in your general area. They will have contact information so you can determine if they stock what you are looking for before you shop.

Perennial herbaceous plants

Salvia coccinea (blood sage) - 1 to 3 ft. tall, blooms white, pink February to October

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed) - 1 to 2-1/2 ft., blooms yellow April to June, evergreen

Iris brevicaulis (zigzag iris) - 1 to 2 ft., blooms white, yellow, blue, purple March to April

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinalflower) - 1 to 6 ft., deciduous, blooms red May to October

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox) - 8 to 18 inches tall, evergreen, blooms white, red, pink, purple March to May

Podophyllum peltatum (mayapple) - 1 to 1-1/2 ft., blooms white, pink March to July

Ferns

Adiantum capillus-veneris (common maidenhair) - 0 to 1 ft., evergreen, high water use

Athyrium filix-femina (common ladyfern) - 1 to 3 ft., deciduous, medium water use

Dryopteris ludoviciana (southern woodfern) - 4 ft. high and wide, water use high

Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) - 1 to 3 ft., evergreen, medium water use

Thelypteris kunthii (Kunth's maiden fern) - 1-1/2 to 3 ft. tall, semi-evergreen, medium water use


Salvia coccinea

Coreopsis lanceolata

Iris brevicaulis

Lobelia cardinalis

Phlox divaricata

Podophyllum peltatum

Adiantum capillus-veneris

Athyrium filix-femina

Dryopteris ludoviciana

Polystichum acrostichoides

Thelypteris kunthii

 

 

 

 

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