Everything to Know About Keeping Plants Alive in Your Dorm Room

published Jul 8, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image

Living in a dorm can feel like a drastic change, especially if it’s your first time living in a cramped shared space. The good news is that a simple houseplant or two can help turn even the smallest shoebox into a proper home that makes your new life phase feel more comfortable.

Indoor plants are a great way to lift the whole mood of your dorm; plus, they take in excess carbon dioxide and promote the flow of oxygen. This is crucial around finals time, when you’ll need your room to be as stress-free as possible.

But because college inevitably bring a packed schedule, it’s important to make sure your plants are as low-maintenance as possible.

Here are some of the best overall plant options for dorms, plus some general tips to keep your babies thriving:

Sansevieria 

No, that’s not a Harry Potter spell—it’s the name of the widely-popular plant, also known as a snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue. The plant grows upwards instead of outwards, making it perfect for those who don’t have much space. It’ll look great tucked in the corner of your desk!

“[This plant] prefers dry soils, so it can be left over spring break,” says Lindsey Swett of Boston’s Niche Urban Garden Supply, a popular store in a city packed with college students. 

A member of the agave family, the plant is native to drier parts of Africa. Although it only requires watering once every few weeks, it does require a moderate amount of light, so be sure to place it in the sunniest parts of your room. 

Aloe

You’ve definitely used this before to take care of a sunburn, but the aloe plant itself is also a perfect addition as an indoor companion.

Aloe plants require sandy soil and bloom in the summertime—perfect if you have an August move-in date. While aloe can survive in artificial light, it’s best to keep the plant by a window to prevent it from getting droopy. In fact, if you take really good care of your aloe, the plant will also produce “pups,” or other little plants, which can be transplanted into new pots. “This makes for perfect low-cost gifts!” Swett says.

The best part? It only requires watering every three weeks, so don’t worry if you need to leave it for longer periods of time, like winter and spring break. 

Devil’s Ivy

Don’t let the name scare you away. Devil’s ivy could be the key to transforming your dorm. The plant is a “climber,” which means when it’s properly taken care of, it will grow to great lengths across your windowsill and wall. Who needs a tapestry when you can have a houseplant? 

To take care of devil’s ivy, make sure you keep it in indirect sunlight. This would go best layered across a bookshelf, on top of a dresser, or even artfully layered across some well-placed wall hangers. (Which means more room on your windowsill for others!) The only catch is that the plant does best when misted with water, so you’ll need a spray bottle on hand. (Tip: You can get a nice looking mister that doubles as decor for a relatively low price at Target.)

Agave/Jade Succulents

Of course, there’s always the classic jade or agave succulent. Technically, many indoor plants are considered succulents, including both the aloe vera and sansevieria. However, the ones seen above are arguably the most popular, and you can typically find them for around $5 at major grocery stores. In fact, clubs at my college would often have succulent sales to raise money for their organization, and lines would be out the door. 

Succulents are usually easy to take care of, but make sure you place them by your (probably limited) window space, because they do need as much sunlight as possible. They also require watering at least once a week.

What To Do if You Have Poor Lighting: 

Luckily, most plants that fall in the “indoor plant” umbrella are meant to withstand poor lighting conditions. One lighting tip we’ve offered in the past is adding a mirror in a position that can reflect natural light from a window.

If your room has no windows, artificial indoor lighting can be used to simulate sunlight. If you have a desk or floor lamp, swap out its standard bulb for a red/blue, suggests Cody Alexander of Urban Jungle, a plant store in Washington, D.C. Plants primarily absorb light from the blue and red wavelength regions of the light spectrum. An LED lightbulb targets these wavelengths, giving your plant the exact lighting it needs to grow.

But unless you’re planning on becoming a full-on botanist, don’t stress about buying artificial grow lights—even your desk lamp will suffice. 

Watering Tips For When You’re Away

Unfortunately, there is no plant that is truly indestructible because all plants eventually need to be watered. 

For weekend getaways and longer breaks, it’s good to invest in tools like a watering globe, which you only need to refill every so often and will keep your plant hydrated for weeks. Other inexpensive tips include laying down damp newspaper on soil or ice cubes for slow-release watering.

And if all else fails, look to your roommate or floormate! If you’re out and about and know you won’t make it back to your room to water your plants, ask them to step in. But be sure to exchange a favor with them in return. 

And Finally, How to Keep Your Plant Babies Safe

Personal story here: when I was a freshman, I kept most of my plants on a little stand on the corner of my desk. When it came time to hosting small get-togethers in my room, I quickly realized the importance of keeping your plants safe: one party foul or misplaced swipe of the elbow sent my plants to the ground, with the dirt flying everywhere. 

An easy investment is a wall shelf that you can position out of reach from even the clumsiest of friends. This shelf hangs from adhesive strips that are ideal for dorm walls.

Or, instead of one large plant, consider grouping together a bunch of small succulents in a sturdy tray that has a lip.

You can also hang plants from a ceiling hook, since the walls aren’t super drill friendly. Target has lots of options for macrame hangers, chain hangers, poles, and more. 

Overall, no matter your dorm lifestyle or spacial restraints, if you’re really stuck on which kind of plant would do best in your dorm, it might be best to leave it up to the pros. 

“The best thing to do if you have questions about which plant is right for your space, is to pop into your local plant shop and get advice,” Swett says.

Want more dorm ideas, inspiration, and stories? Head over to Dorm Therapy HQ!