In a place like Manhattan, walk-ups with tiny, south-facing or barred windows don’t create an ideal environment for growing and maintaining plants. After living in New York City for more than 20 years, I am all too familiar with the trial and error process that accompanies gardening in an urban setting.
That being said, over the years, I developed a few best practices for creating low-light gardening options in order to incorporate your own green touch to a concrete jungle like New York.
Pick the Right Plants
This may sound obvious, but if a plant label says it needs strong sun, don’t assume you and your apartment will be the outlier. Labels exist for a reason. Use them as a line of best fit. If you set your mind to one particular style of plant, remember you can always find a similar look if you take the time to do a bit of research. You want to know your plants to set yourself up for long-term success. As described on The Practical Herbalist, “Plants who love lower light conditions as well as those who can get by in the lower light so many of us live in will stay healthy and pest-free more easily if you take the time to get their watering and fertilizing right.”
Consider Conditions You Can Control
While you may not be able to influence the amount of natural light a houseplant receives, you can use other factors at your disposal. Consider the ideal temperature for your plant. As Marie Iannotti highlights, “Plants positioned near a source of heat, such as a heating vent or electronic device, may not be able to handle as much bright light as a similar plant in a cooler spot.” In the same vein, make sure your plant still gets the warmth it needs if it doesn’t have optimal access to sunlight. Consider a heat lamp or simply moving it closer to a vent.
Remember to provide optimal water as well. There’s no excuse for a plant drying out when it’s not even getting the ideal amount of natural light.
Be Prepared to Fail
Don’t assume cacti and succulents are foolproof. Even cacti can be killed without the proper care. A large part of success manifests itself in your failure. You had a strong system going over the summer but failed to consider how seasonal changes would impact your little friends. That’s all part of the process. Next time you won’t forget (or maybe you will) that you might need to supplement the less light a plant receives over the winter with a heat lamp or other heat alternative. Just focus on learning from your mistakes. Worst case scenario, you might have to invest in a new houseplant.
Fake It Till You Make It
Yes, live plants offer more benefits than fake ones, but sometimes the conditions don’t create an optimal environment. Consider turning to an alternative option. Nowadays it seems like there are more people without green thumbs than with them so if you find yourself in the previous category rather than the latter look into other options. There’s the common fake plans (that anymore look very lifelike) as well as other more eccentric options like the ‘pom pom flowers’ pictured here. Dried flowers also make a nice low maintenance option as well.