Yes, Your Home’s Trickiest Spot Can Have a Plant—This Pro Gives Her Recs

updated May 14, 2020
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Credit: Taryn Williford

Many people dream of being surrounded by an indoor jungle, but then fail to take into account that they might live in a place with small, north-facing windows that tend to get drafty in the winter. You want our plant kingdom to look instagram-worthy with a million fiddle leaf figs that are thriving, but perhaps your space doesn’t lend itself to that scenario.

“What plant should I put here?” is a question that Jarema Osofsky, owner of Dirt Queen NYC, a full service plant design studio and secret plant shop in Brooklyn, hears often.  She operates her plant speakeasy on an appointment-only basis via her website or Instagram account; then potential plant parents can visit her Gowanus warehouse space and show her pictures of their space, pick out plants, and go home happy (although at the moment she is operating on virtual appointments only, but they deliver locally so New Yorkers can #stayhome happy, as well).

“When clients come to me with a space they have in mind for plants, I find out what direction their windows face, take note of air conditioners and radiators, and consider their lifestyle,” says Osofsky. She adds that in tricky places, she takes into account a plant’s light needs, native habitat, and hardiness level.

I had a virtual plant consultation with her recently, and it felt like plant shopping with your best friend… if you really trusted your best friend with plants and interior design decisions. She was able to see my space over the phone and offer suggestions that would not only thrive in my space, but also would be aesthetically pleasing. 

So when we received pictures from readers and Apartment Therapy staffers seeking advice about which plants to put in their tricky spaces, I knew just who to ask. Osofsky took a look at the spaces, noted their qualities and past victims, then offered up her suggestions. Then, to give an idea of what they’d look like, Apartment Therapy’s art team did a little photoshop magic. Keep scrolling to read (and see) Osofsky’s expert recommendations.

Credit: Taryn Williford

The tricky space: a drafty stairwell with low-light

Its past victims: several hanging plants

“I suggest hanging a scindapsus (Scindapsus Pictus ‘Exotica’) here because they can grow in lower light conditions and are not overly sensitive to cold drafts,” says Osofsky.

“They are resilient plants—forgiving if watered inconsistently, generally pest resistant, and overall low maintenance. Their cascading vines of silver speckled leaves hang beautifully in planters.” Osofsky adds that a jade pothos and philodendron cordatum would also work well here for similar reasons. 

Credit: Image: Taryn Williford; Plants: Shutterstock

No matter the environment, for hanging plants to thrive, they need to have adequate drainage. If your planter does not have a drainage hole, Osofsky suggests adding an inch-deep layer of lava rocks to the bottom of the planter.

“These rocks will act as drainage, absorbing excess water and creating a layer of aeration between the plants’ roots and the bottom of the planter,” she says. “You want to avoid your plants’ roots sitting in excess water.”

For hanging planters with drainage holes, she suggests putting out a plastic dish or tray on the floor when watering to catch any excess water that drips out. 

Osofsky also suggests adding a floor plant such as a Sansevieria variety to this space. “I like the ‘bantel sensation’ because the light bluish-grey leaves would pop against the black wall. A Sansevieria lancia or zeylanica would work well too,” she adds. 

Credit: Marisa Ortiz

The tricky space: a living room with indirect light

Its past victims: a fiddle leaf fig

RIP to so many fiddle leaf figs. Osofsky first addresses why it didn’t thrive in this space. “Most likely it wasn’t receiving enough light, given that window is on the smaller side,” Osofsky says. She adds that they do best in south and west facing room rooms with unobstructed windows. 

Plants that she suggests for this space include ZZ plants (Zamioculcas Zamiifolia), Rubber trees (Ficus elastica ‘Variegata’), and Calatheas (Calathea makoyana and Calathea orbifolia).

Credit: Image: Marisa Ortiz, Plants: Shutterstock

Osofsky says that ZZ plants enjoy light, but can also thrive in low and medium light spaces. “Their versatility makes them a great option for living rooms with indirect light,” she says. “They can brighten up a shady corner and keep it tidy with dark green stalks that grow upright rather than wide.”

Rubber trees enjoy both ambient and direct light, making them happy campers in front of a window,” says Osofsky.  From a design perspective, she says she also loves variegated rubbers because of their unique color way and sculptural fashion.  

And finally, cute little Calatheas. “Calatheas are stunning houseplants, popular for their ornate leaves,” she says. “They prefer indirect bright light, so place them near a north-facing window or several feet away from a south or west facing window—a spot where they can bask in an ambient glow without being hit with too much direct sun.”

Credit: Image: Nicole White-Legrand

The tricky space: a low-light bathroom with privacy glass and a radiator

Its past victims: unknown

Oof, a radiator in a small bathroom! What plant could you put here?!

Osofsky suggests hanging a plant in the window to create some space between the plant and the radiator.  She warns that if your plant is too close to the radiator, the dry heat could cause the plant (and its roots) to dry out.  She says a sign of this would be curling, crisping, or dropping leaves.  

And a practical point:  “Plants with cascading vines can also add privacy if your bathroom window is not frosted,” she says. “When the vines grow too long, just prune the ends so they don’t bake on the radiator.” 

Osofsky says that certain plants, like ferns, would not do well in this particular space, because they prefer to maintain moist soil, and the radiator won’t allow for that kind of environment.

Credit: Image: Nicole White-Legrand; Plant: Shutterstock

However, she says, a hoya would do well here. She recommends a hoya ‘krimson princess,’ which would be happy in this space since it is semi-succulent and somewhat drought-tolerant. “Hoyas also enjoy indirect bright light, perfect for this frosted window glass,” Osofsky says.

She adds that peperomia varieties like Peperomia ‘hope’ and succulents like String of Bananas would be happy here, as well. 

Often, plants struggle because they’re not placed in the right environment for their needs. So before bringing home a new plant, take into account the space you’re hoping to fill and choose accordingly. Then, bask in the satisfaction of knowing you’re giving your new leafy friend exactly what it needs.