Houseplants are marvellous in a bathroom, but you need to use the right ones! Photo: NewAfrica, depositphotos
By Larry Hodgson
You can put houseplants all over your living area: kitchen, office, bedroom, living room, etc. The more plants you have, the more you’ll feel at ease. But bathrooms provide a special situation: a combination of conditions not found just anywhere in your home. You can take advantage of the situation to grow plants that won’t thrive elsewhere … or just read the article below discover plants that will survive there after your too numerous previous failures.
So, why are bathrooms different from any other room … from a plant’s point of view?
3 Main Factors
1. High Humidity. With a daily shower or two and water running occasionally, bathrooms are usually more humid, and often much more humid, than the rest of the house, at least for a few hours every day. Most plants will profit from the extra humidity (when humidity is high, photosynthesis is carried out much more efficiently), but not all plants like humid air (60% or more). Cactus and succulents are not humidity lovers (plus they hate low light … more on that later), so aren’t the best choices for bathrooms. Some fuzzy-leaved houseplants are susceptible to leaf diseases like powdery mildew under high humidity, so smooth-leaved plants may be a better choice.
2. Low Light. Sure, you sometimes do find bathrooms with big sunny windows, but traditionally, for privacy reasons, small windows prevail (and smaller windows let in much less light than large ones). Even when there is a window of reasonable size, the light often has to make its way through a curtain or a privacy filter applied to the glass. So, light tends to be considerably lower than in other rooms. Indeed, some bathrooms have no windows at all: a real disaster where plants are concerned! Certainly, this would rule out most sun-loving plants like cactus and succulents.
If your bathroom has no window, you probably shouldn’t be putting living plants there. Yes, there is undoubtedly artificial light, but in most bathrooms, it’s only turned on when someone is in the bathroom. So, only for minutes per day. That’s not enough for green plants, ones that get all their energy from light, to survive. If you want to put a plant in a windowless bathroom, either add a dedicated plant light on a timer (no less than 12 hours a day) or only move plants there temporarily … and only tough plants at that. A philodendron or Chinese evergreen could spend a few weeks there 2 or 3 times a year, but then you’d need to move it to a bright spot to recuperate.
Most plants that tolerate low light are foliage plants, as less solar energy is required to produce foliage than flowers. As a result, you won’t find many bathroom plants that are heavy bloomers! But … there are a few tough blooming plants that will at least hold on in a bathroom for weeks or even months. Move them there when they are in bloom—or buy them specially for that purpose—, then put them back in a well-lit spot for recuperation and rebloom.
3. Constant Warmth. Most people like their bathrooms to be cozy … at all times. So, while the rest of the house may be fairly cool, especially at night, the bathroom is usually always warm. It can have peaks of fairly high temperature—those prolonged hot showers and baths! —, but they aren’t high enough to really do any harm. The important thing is to avoid plants that like things cool or require a cold period during the year.
Basic Bathroom Plant Care
Let’s keep this simple. In a bathroom, you’re looking for a low-care plant with minimal special needs, tolerant of warm temperatures, high humidity and less than perfect light. What’s left to do is:
- Water thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch.
- Fertilize sparingly and even then, only in spring and summer.
- Repot every two years or so using regular potting soil.
Plants Adapted to Bathrooms
So, which plants are good choices for high humidity, low light and constant warmth? Those that follow are good examples. Some are long-term plants you can place in a bathroom and grow for years. Others are more temporary: they’re sold in bloom and will last in that state for months. To get them rebloom, you’ll probably need to move them to a sunnier spot. Both types will really give life to your bathroom!
Helpful Hint: Most of the plants below prefer “regular watering,” that is, wait until the soil feels dry to the touch, then water thoroughly. Any exceptions will be noted in the description.
You’ll notice that many of the plants recommended for bathrooms are aroids, plants of the philodendron family such as philodendrons, pothos, monsteras, Chinese evergreens, rhaphidophoras, etc. It just so happens that many tropical aroids come from deep, dark jungles … and that’s a close match to your bathroom’s environment. They’re among the best and longest-lived bathroom plants.
Remember the name “aroid” when you’re plant shopping for bathroom greenery!
1. Air Plant (Tillandsia spp.): These strange bromeliads are often sold glued to bark or objects and absorb no water via their limited roots. They love bathroom conditions, especially the high humidity, but do need pretty good light, so only consider them as long-term plants if you do have a sunny window. Water them by soaking them in tepid water.
2. Aluminum plant (Pilea cadieri, P. spruceana and other piles): These small plants, some upright with textured leaves marbled in silver, whence the name aluminum plant, others with trailing stems and even smaller leaves that are not necessarily silvery, love high humidity and put up with low light. The Chinese money plant (P. peperomioides) is an aberrant pilea that, as the botanical name suggests, looks like a peperomia. Its round flat leaves are its claim to fame. Just give them all basic care.
3. Anthurium (Anthurium spp.): There are all sorts of plants in this aroid genus, from climbing vines to bird’s nest foliage plants, but the best known are the readily flowering varieties like Anthurium andraeanum, called painter’s palette, flamingo flower or, these days, just anthurium. It has heart-shaped leaves while a heart-shaped “leaf” (spathe) in red or various other colors surrounding a yellow column (spadix) make up the plant’s bloom. It really needs the high humidity of a bathroom to do well and will bloom in moderate but not low light. It eventually becomes a climbing plant with aerial roots.
4. Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium spp.): A vining aroid with arrow-shaped leaves in its juvenile, non-climbing form, then the leaves become deeply cut at the plant starts to climb. Leaves can be green, mottled with cream or even pink or red. Basic care is all that is needed.
5. Bromeliads (Guzmania spp. et Vriesia spp.): Consider these two tank-type bromeliads as temporary bathroom residents. Buy them in bloom and they’ll hold for months. Water not only their pot, but also pour water into the central tank formed by their leaves. After they flower, they’ll produce offsets called pups and the mother plant will slowly die, but the pups won’t likely grow up and bloom in a dark bathroom. If you want to keep them, pot them up on their own, but grow them in a sunnier part of the house and only move them back into the bathroom when they’re in bloom. Or toss them and buy new ones: most people do!
6. Calathea or peacock plant (Calathea spp.): There are dozens of kinds of this clumping plant, most with intricately mottled and veined oblong leaves. They will need moderate light, so are not for just any bathroom, but really appreciate the high humidity a bathroom can provide. Indeed, calatheas rarely survive long otherwise! Basic care is sufficient. The prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura), with leaves that fold up at night as in prayer, is similar and has the same requirements.
7. Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema spp.): This is an upright aroid with broad leaves usually marbled with silver markings, although some newer varieties have pink to red mottling. It’s often sold with several plants per pot to create a clumping effect. Tough and long-lived, but terribly slow growing, it will put up with very minimal conditions.
8. Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila): Usually sold in hanging baskets, this creeping plant with thin arching stems bearing tiny heart-shaped leaves will also climb on its own up nearby surfaces, like a window frame, thanks to clinging aerial roots. There are cultivars with variegated leaves. Prune off wandering stems. Otherwise, basic care is all that is requited.
9. Dracena or Dragon Tree (Dracaena spp.): There are many varieties of this plant, most are larger, treelike plants with long, lance-shaped leaves not much given to branching. They may be too big for some bathrooms, but look great in larger ones! Two especially tough ones are the so-called “corn plant” (D. fragrans) and striped dracena (D. deremensis, now considered a simple variety of D. fragrans) while the Madagascar dragon tree (D. marginata), with red margined leaves, isn’t as good a choice, as it needs more light than most bathrooms can provide. Also, the famous “lucky bamboo” (D. sanderiana) is also a dracena and does fine in bathrooms. Basic houseplant care is all dracenas need … but don’t hesitate to cut off their top if they become too tall! That will encourage them to branch.
10. Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia spp.): An upright aroid with huge paddle-shaped leaves usually marbled white or cream and a sturdy “trunk” that heads—slowly!—towards the ceiling. Tough as nails! Chop off the top it if becomes too tall and it will produce a replacement branch.
11. English Ivy (Hedera helix): There are dozens of cultivars of this climber or trailer, most with maple-shaped leaves that can be green or variegated. High humidity will keep away its main enemy, the spider mite. Easy to grow with just basic care.
12. Ferns (various genera): There are many, many kinds and most indoor ferns tolerate low light and constant warmth while needing high humidity: a perfect match for the bathroom. Most have deeply cut fronds, although bird’s nest fern (Asplenium nidus and others) has entire ones. Basic bathroom plant care will suffice.
13. Monstera (Monstera spp.): The best known of these climbing aroids is the Swiss cheese plant (M. deliciosa), with big, heart-shaped, deeply cut leaves, but it may be too big for smaller bathrooms. Don’t worry, though, there are smaller monsteras with similarly cut leaves like M. adansonii (M. friedrichstahlii), M. obliqua and M. epipremnoides. Or try one of the rhaphidophoras, like Rhapidophora tetrasperma, often called mini-monstera, with a similar habit and leaf shape.
14. Orchid (Phalaenopsis cvs and others): Consider orchids to be medium-term visitors, designed to be shown in the bathroom when in bloom (and many stay in bloom for months!), then moved elsewhere where they can receive the better growing conditions they need to bloom again. Orchids are best watered by removing the plant in its grow pot from the cache-pot and soaking the entire root system in tepid water for 10 to 15 minutes before draining.
15. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.): This aroid forms a clump of arching green leaves and bears white sail-like flowers. Although often recommended as a low-light plant, it probably won’t bloom under low light, so grow it as a foliage plant once the initial flowering is over. If the light is good enough, it will bloom again all on its own: no special attention is needed. Do not let this plant dry out to the point of wilting: that can kill it. Water as soon as the soil is dry to the touch.
16. Peperomia (Peperomia spp.): There are over 1500 species of peperomia and dozens of cultivars, some clumping, some trailing and some climbing, but most have fairly thick, rounded leaves, often in attractive colors. They like bathrooms because of the high humidity. Don’t hesitate to let them dry out a bit between waterings.
17. Philodendron (Philodendron spp.): There are both vining varieties of this aroid, among which the heartleaf philodendron (P. hederaceum oxycardium) is the best known, but also upright species and cultivars. You can let the vining ones trail or train them up a trellis. The upright ones sometimes need staking. They all prefer medium light, but will put up with low light for decades.
18. Pothos (Epipremnum aureum and Scindapsus pictus): These two related aroids, both with vining stems and heart-shaped leaves, were originally classified in the genus Pothos, but later moved to their own genera. Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) usually has green leaves marbled with yellow or cream (although there is a golden variety, ‘Neon’, as well), while the leaves of satin pothos (Scindapsus pictus) have silver markings. Both are tough, bathroom-worthy plants.
19. Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata, now Dracaena trifasciata): A truly tough plant with upright, leathery, swordlike leaves rising from the pot. Its vertical habit contrasts wonderfully with the creeping and climbing plants so often used in bathrooms. It prefers very bright light, but will tolerate shade. You may need to stake the leaves to hold them up (they’re much sturdier in sun). Let this one dry out more than the others: it’s a succulent.
20. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum): There are various cultivars of this grasslike plant with green leaves or white striped leaves, but all bear long hanging stems of babies, giving them a spiderlike appearance. They actually may not produce babies in a dark bathroom: they need fairly good light to do so. If not, grow yours elsewhere in good light, then move it to the bathroom when it has “babied up” to your taste. Make sure you give this one a thorough soaking when you water: its pot tends to fill with roots, preventing water from sinking in, so that a quick splash of liquid is simply not enough.
And there you go: 20 plants just perfect for your bathroom. The problem now is … is there enough space for all of them in your tiny water closet!