While the lower light levels of windows that face north may seem like less-than-ideal conditions for growing houseplants, there are a surprising number of north facing window plants that thrive in the indirect light they provide. In this article, I’ll explain how to determine whether your windows are north facing, and I’ll introduce 15 of the best north facing window plants for your home.
What does it mean to have northern exposure?
When it comes to growing houseplants, northern exposure is the term used for windows that are north facing (meaning they are on the north side of your home, and if you look out the window, you’ll be facing north), eastern exposure is the term for a window that faces east, and so on for the other two cardinal directions.
While this differs in the Southern Hemisphere, this is a basic rundown of the quality of light received by each different exposure here in the Northern Hemisphere.
- East-facing windows receive light in the morning when the sun is rising (eastern exposure)
- West-facing windows receive high light levels in the afternoon when the sun is setting (western exposure)
- South-facing windows receive strong light for most of the day, from late morning to evening due to the angle of the sun in our hemisphere (southern exposure)
- North-facing windows receive low, indirect light levels due to the angle of the sun which is blocked by the structure of your home (northern exposure).
Bright, south-facing windows are ideal for plants that require a lot of sun, such as cacti and succulents, but this exposure is often too much sun for houseplants that evolved in the understory of tropical regions. For many of these plants, north facing windows are ideal.
How to tell if you have a north facing window
There are two simple ways to tell if a window has northern exposure and is a good fit for the north facing window plants featured in this article.
- Watch the sun. On which side of your home does the sun rise? That’s the eastern side. From there, determine which side is north. The windows on that side of your house are north facing.
- Use the compass app on your cell phone to determine which side of your home faces north.
It’s likely that your home does not sit “square” with the cardinal directions, so just do your best to determine the closest fit. Perhaps your windows face slightly northwest or northeast. Exposure in those windows will be slightly different than those that face north square-on, but it is a “close enough” situation that won’t impact your best houseplant choices in a dramatic way.
What conditions does a north facing window have?
Typically considered low light conditions, northern exposure results in little-to-no bright or direct sunlight coming in through the panes. North-facing windows do not receive any strong sunlight, even in the summer. Instead, you’ll find gentle, indirect light levels in the rooms on the north side of your home.
What traits do north facing window plants have in common?
Northern exposure is ideal for houseplants that don’t require a lot of bright indirect light or direct light. The best north facing window plants are low light plants that thrive with reduced amounts of sunlight. Most do not require high humidity levels, and in their native habitats outdoors, they are found in full or partial shade conditions. Most likely they evolved in the understory of tropical forests.
How to choose houseplants for the north side of your home
When selecting north-facing window plants for your home, first determine the growth habit that bests suits the space. Perhaps you’ll opt for vines that climb a moss pole or can be trained to climb a trellis or wall. Or maybe you prefer a lush jungle of dark green leaves that cascades down over the edges of a hanging pot. Or maybe your window calls for a potted plant that is rigid and upright. Consider a plant’s growth habit before adding it to your north facing window plant collection.
Meet the best north facing window houseplants
Now it’s time for me to introduce you to some of my favorite houseplants for the north side of your home. I’ve divided them into several categories: Foliage plants that vine or hang, upright foliage plants, and flowering houseplants.
Vining or hanging foliage plants for north facing windows
- Heart-leaf Philodendron (Phildendron hederaceum):
A personal favorite for low light areas, the heart-shaped leaves of this plant are the perfect fit for a hanging pot or a container on a shelf, where the vines can cascade down. It is extremely easy-care and tolerates irregular watering. In other words, try to water the plant consistently, but there’s no need to stress about it. It readily wilts when in need of water and will send you a clear signal that it’s time to irrigate. ‘Brasil’ is a variety with variegated foliage that is worth seeking out.
- Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum):
Also known as Devil’s ivy, Pothos is the poster child for plants that thrive on neglect. It’s thick vines and glossy foliage is a lovely golden color, but Pothos also comes in green and variegated varieties. Grow in a hanging pot or on a shelf to enjoy the rambling vines or train it up a trellis if you want to go vertical. It is easy to propagate through cuttings and does quite well in a north-facing window. Keep the plant evenly moist and expect the vines to grow 10 feet long if they aren’t trimmed back from time to time. You can source a Pothos plant of your own here.
- Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa):
Monstera tolerate low light, but admittedly, they will grow a little beefier with more light. Still, I include the Swiss cheese plant on this list of north facing window plants because they do work well in these conditions, particularly when placed close to the window. The large, perforated leaves are unmistakable. Monstera are vining plants that ramble up trees in the jungle. In your home, provide a moss pole or trellis for it to climb. They grow quite large and can reach 10 feet tall or more. Keep the plant evenly moist but let it get dry before watering again.
- Swiss cheese vine (Monstera adansonii):
I love this plant! It shares a common name with its much bigger cousin, Monstera deliciosa (see previous entry), but it is much more petite. The leaves are only 4 to 5 inches long, and like its cousin, they are filled with holes. Swiss cheese vine is a vining plant that can grow 5 to 6 feet tall if you provide a moss pole or trellis for it to climb. It’s a perfect fit for a north facing window and prefers to dry out a bit between waterings.
- Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum):
Yes, spider plants have been around for a long time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a spot in today’s homes. Perfect for hanging pots in a west-, east-, or north-facing window, they produce baby plants at the end of long stems that hang down from the mother plant. Do not over fertilize and keep spider plants evenly moist. From time to time they produce white, star-shaped flowers, but they are very small and often ignored.
Upright foliage plants for northern exposure
- Moonlight Philodendron (Philodendron ‘Moonlight’):
You can’t beat the beautiful chartreuse-green leaves of ‘Moonlight’. They are broad and glossy and provide the perfect “jungle vibe”. This variety of philodendron doesn’t produce a thick vine like some other philodendrons do (including my favorite, Golden Goddess). Keep it evenly moist and expect it to grow about 2 feet tall and wide. The chartreuse will be more prominent with more light, so this plant also does well in an east-facing window.
- Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior): Also known as the iron plant, this beauty produces dark green, broad, strapping leaves with long leaf stems. It’s a perfect north facing window plant because it tolerates very low light levels and is tough as nails. It’s also tolerant of dry soil conditions, so if you forget to water it from time to time, it will forgive you, though it much prefers to be kept evenly moist. Growing to a height of 30 inches, the cast iron plant also comes in variegated and speckled varieties.
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema):
Known for its colorful foliage, this houseplant is extremely easy to grow. The green-leaved varieties handle low light conditions better than the colorful-leaved varieties, but both will do well if placed close to a north facing window (rather than setting back from the window by a few feet). Insert your finger into the soil and water only when the soil is dry down to the depth of your middle knuckle. Depending on the variety, Chinese evergreens can grow from 12 to 36 inches tall. There are dozens of different varieties with various colors and markings on the foliage.
4. Dragon tree (Dracaena marginata):
This north facing window plant boasts slender, strappy foliage. With time, their stems grow tall and Seuss-like, with the foliage emerging from the tops of the stems. Leaves are variegated with pink, white, and green. The variegation will be better with more light, so keep it close to the window if you’re growing it in a north-facing location. Do not overwater. Rather, keep the soil evenly moist. If given the space, dragon trees can top out at 8 to 10 feet, but they are not fast growers, so maturity takes many years.
5. Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Dracaena trifasciata; syn. Sansevieria trifasciata):
These tough-as-nails plants grow up to 4 feet tall, though there are also cultivars that stay much more compact. Some varieties are variegated, while others are solid green. Low-light situations are tolerated quite well, but do not overwater. If snake plants are growing in a north-facing window, water very infrequently (maybe once every 4 to 6 weeks). More light = more frequent irrigation needs. Snake plants have very thick, strap-like leaves that are rigid and upright, giving it a modern vibe and making it a great plant for tucking into a corner. Learn when and how to repot a snake plant in this article.
6. ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia):
A real stunner, the ZZ plant is a perfect choice for north facing windows. Its dark green, compound leaves and thick upright stems can reach up to 3 feet tall. Drought tolerant and very forgiving of a neglectful houseplant parent, it’s the ideal indoor plant for complete newbies. There is even a black variety for a gothic vibe!
There are many different ferns that thrive in northern exposure and are easily grown as houseplants. A few of my favorites include the Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalata ‘Bostoniensis’), which should never be allowed to dry out, can be taken outdoors for the summer, and the fronds grow to a height of 2-3 feet; the Cretan Brake fern (Pteris cretica ‘Albolineata’) which is a lovely fern with variegated, finger-like leaves that prefers higher humidity levels; and the Blue Star fern (Phlebodium aureum) which has incredible blue-green leaves and is a real show-stopper (find more about the blue star fern here).
Other north facing window plants grown for their foliage include English ivy (Hedera helix) which can be grown in a hanging basket, on a topiary, or trained to grow around a window; the nerve plant (Fittonia) which has beautiful variegated leaves that have pink, white, red, or yellow veins; as well as lady palms (Rhapis excelsa) and parlor palms (Chamaedorea elegans) which are much more tolerant of low light than other species of palms.
Blooming plants for windows with northern exposure
- Peace lilies (Spathiphyllum):
Peace lilies are a great houseplant for someone with low light conditions. They thrive in northern exposure. The leaves are glossy and green, and from time to time they produce white spathe flowers. They grow upright to a height of 1 to 2 feet. Spathiphyllums do not like to dry out and wilt easily (here’s what to do when a peace lily wilts). Thankfully, the plant will quickly perk up as soon as it’s watered. But overwatering will also cause the plant to wilt so be mindful of the current soil moisture conditions before adding more water.
- Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis):
Of all the orchids, the moth orchid is among the most common and easy to grow. Propagation through tissue culture has made them easy to source and has allowed a vast array of colors to come to the market. The blooms can last for months. Moth orchids are considered a north facing window plant only when they are in bloom. Lower light levels keep the blooms looking good longer. But to generate bloom spikes, the plant needs much more light; an east or west facing window is needed to encourage the plant to bloom. But once in flower, move the pot to a northern window. Irrigate by running water through the pot in the sink every week or two. Here’s more about caring for moth orchids.
- Beefsteak begonias (Begonia erythrophylla):
This rhizomatous begonia has thick, succulent stems and round leaves. They produce their blooms in the winter. Blooms can be pale pink or white. Another begonia to grow in a north-facing window is the Rex begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum) which is grown primarily for its colorful foliage. Keep begonias on the dry side and do not overwater or they may develop root rot.
Other flowering houseplants for north-facing windows include bromeliads, Rieger begonias, and cyclamen, though need brighter light levels to generate blooms. Once the plant is in flower, though, it can be moved to a window with northern exposure where the blooms will last longer.
Go north, my friend
I hope you’ve found a few north facing window plants you’d like to grow on this list. I think you’ll find the diversity of foliage colors and textures available will help you create a lush collection of houseplants even without bright conditions. To determine which of these plants is best for use around pets, please refer to the ASPCA’s Pet-Safe Houseplant List.
For more on growing healthy houseplants, visit the following articles:
- Anthurium care guide
- How to care for mother of thousands plants
- Jewel orchid care
- Kangaroo fern care
- String of dolphins plant
- How to bottom water plants
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