Don’t let busy college life keep you from elevating your dorm room with plants! With the right variety and just a little bit of skill, you can easily turn your space into a green oasis.
The number one thing to keep in mind when looking for plants as a college student is what sort of a space you’re working with particularly when it comes to light. Where do you want to keep your plants? What direction do your windows face? Hint: north-facing windows get the least light, while south-facing windows get the most. East-facing windows get weak morning light, while west-facing windows supply strong afternoon rays.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best, low-maintenance plants for your college dorm room. From trailing varieties you can hang in your window to low-light statement plants, all of these plants are affordable, hardy, and easy to find at your local plant shop.
Low Light Dorm Room Plants
Perfect for dorms with north or east-facing windows. If you plan to keep your plant a few feet away from a direct light source, then these are your top picks.
The cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is as hardy as the name suggests. If you have reservations about plant care (or a bad track record), then you should consider grabbing one of these. It can survive more neglect than most: irregular watering, temperature fluctuation, low humidity, and low light are not a problem for the cast-iron. Even bugs tend to leave it alone.
The cast-iron plant is native to Japan and Taiwan, where it blankets the shady forest floors. It’s a member of the lily family and does sometimes flower, though the small, purple flowers bloom close to the ground and are easy to miss. The cast-iron plant has signature dark, glossy leaves that grow up to 2 feet long. They grow slowly, so expect them to stay more or less the same size throughout the school year.
While these plants can tolerate many gardening missteps, they aren’t completely indestructible. When caring for a cast-iron plant, “too little” is always better than “too much.” Cast-iron plants prefer their soil moderately moist but would rather dry out in between waterings than sit in soggy soil. Overwatering as a habit could lead to root rot.
Some low-light plants are okay in bright light, but not this one. You can keep it in a north-facing window or anywhere that’s a few feet away from direct light.
Originally from East Africa, the ZZ plant (Zamioculcas) is another great low-light, easy-care plant. Like many others on this list, the less you do with a ZZ plant, the better. These plants grow smooth leaves that shoot straight up and range in color from light to deep emerald green. The younger the plant, the lighter the leaflet.
ZZ plants are very accommodating. They thrive in bright indirect light but can live a happy life in low and medium light as well. If you notice the leaves becoming leggy, it’s a sign that your ZZ plant wants a bit more light. Direct light will scorch the plant’s leaves.
ZZ plants need good drainage but usually do just fine in a standard potting mix. If you want to go above and beyond, you can purchase a well-draining potting mix or mix in perlite or small rocks to further aerate the soil.
ZZ plants are drought resistant and store excess water in round rhizomes just beneath the surface of the soil. You only need to water a ZZ plant once every 2-3 weeks. Note that you won’t have to water your plant as much if you have it in lower light since it won’t dry out as fast. A good rule of thumb is to allow the soil to dry out before watering again.
What would a list of low-light, low-maintenance plants be without the snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata)? This plant is a tried and true favorite and with good reason! Forget to water it during exam season? Fine. Need to move it somewhere with a different light? Also fine. Snake plants are always just fine, which makes them a great choice for someone with a jam-packed schedule.
Like many others on this list, snake plants are drought resistant thanks to a water-storing rhizome. They originate from West Africa, where at one time, their fibers were used to make bowstrings. Snake plants can be just 6 inches small but can grow to over 7 feet.
Snake plants are considered low-light plants because they can survive in dimly lit conditions. However, they prefer steady, indirect light and unlike most other low-light plants, can even tolerate direct light. Snake plants prefer sandy soil but will tolerate a regular mix. The main thing to keep in mind is overwatering. Snake plants only need to be watered about once every two weeks in the summer and monthly in the winter.
Caring for a pothos plant (Epipremnum aureum) is easy. It’s so easy that it’s dubbed “the cubicle plant” since it can survive cool fluorescent light and stale office air.
Pothos are happy in a range of environments, even bathrooms with little to no light. You can keep your pothos in soil or water and note that it’s a climber. In good conditions, they trail up to 10 feet and can grow leaves that are 3 feet long. Their long trailing leaves make them a great plant to hang.
Pothos plants come in many different colors and shapes. These cultivars (as they’re called) have different needs. For example, variegated or marbled pothos need more light than solid green varieties. If you deprive a marbled pothos of adequate light, it may lose its distinctive marking or begin to suffer.
Caring for your pothos is straightforward. These plants can tolerate different light conditions, from low, indirect all the way to the bright, indirect light that they prefer. They don’t fare well in bright, intense light. Pothos plants like good drainage, so use a well-draining potting mix, or limit water and pot loosely. Water every one to two weeks, and make sure to let the soil dry in between.
Adding a Chinese evergreen to the mix can take your plant collection to the next level. These ornamental plants come in a range of colors, from dark green to red and even silver. With a short, thick trunk and long leaves, this plant is another beautiful, low-light option for your dorm. They do like warmth and humidity, but beyond that are generally low-maintenance.
No Chinese evergreen likes direct light. Like the pothos, the lighter the variegation of the leaves, the more light it needs. If your particular plant is dark green, you can grow it in the near shade.
Chinese evergreens like slightly acidic soil, but are not super picky. If a regular mix is all you’ve got, you’re all set, just make sure you have enough drainage. These plants like a bit more water than some of the other low-light varieties. Keep the soil moist but never waterlogged. It’s better to let it dry completely than overwater.
Medium Light Dorm Room Plants
Medium-Light: If your desk is in the middle of your room and needs a green adornment, this category is for you. Medium-light plants thrive a bit away from the window but still like steady, indirect light.
Bright Indirect Light: This refers to areas that receive steady, bright, but primarily indirect light. Plants with this light preference can tolerate a dash of direct light without their leaves scorching.
Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are a popular houseplant and with good reason! Their care is straightforward, and they’re non-toxic to pets. As the name suggests, these plants have thin, spindly leaves that are either solid green or striped with white. These plants grow moderately fast and can grow outwards of a foot long which makes them a great plant to hang in an east or north-facing window.
Spider plants can tolerate lower light but are happiest in indirect light. This is not a plant that can tolerate direct sunlight, so your best bet is to keep it away from windows that get bright light.
Your spider plant’s growth is a good indicator of how happy it is with its light conditions: robust growth is a good sign, as is prominent striping. If your plant isn’t getting enough light, its leaves will be darker, and growth will be sparse.
Keep soil moist but take care not to overwater. Pot in loose, loamy soil with good drainage for added protection against root rot. If you notice brown leaf tips, your water may contain too much fluoride and chlorine. To remedy this, you can trim off the brown and switch to filtered water or rainwater. Too much salt in the soil is another reason leaf tips turn brown.
Despite the name and resemblance to bamboo, lucky bamboo plants are actually a type of tropical water lily. Despite this, they are popular in the Chinese tradition of feng shui, where they bring good luck, prosperity, and general good vibes.
If you’re a forgetful gardener, then lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) is the plant for you. Caring for it is so easy that you won’t even need to get messy with soil. Stick it in water, leave it alone, and soak in the good feng shui.
Lucky bamboo plants require very little care. Place them in an area of your room that gets strong, indirect light. If the stalks begin stretching out, you may need to provide more light.
You can keep lucky bamboo in well-draining, moist soil or place it in a vase with at least one inch of water. If planting in water, try to change it weekly. These plants can be sensitive to chlorine, so either water with distilled water or use tap water that’s been sitting for at least 24 hours.
You probably know that aloe veras have a number of medicinal uses. The juice from their stalks can act as a natural remedy for burns, scrapes, and cuts. This makes them a great, multi-purpose plant to keep in your dorm.
If you do choose to harvest your aloe vera, remember that they grow slowly. Cutting too many leaves off at once can harm the plant.
Like other succulents, less is more when it comes to caring for your aloe vera. They only need water once every 2-3 weeks in the spring and summer, and even less in the winter and fall. Aloes like a deep watering, so let the soil get fully saturated but then let it dry out before you water again. Take care not to overwater; planting your aloe in a pot with good drainage can help as well. Place your aloe in bright, indirect or direct light.
The Air plant (Tillandsia) is a great decorative plant for your dorm. In nature, they are epiphytic, meaning they grow on other organisms like trees. Air plants don’t need soil, so you can get creative with how you display them. You can keep them in glass bowls, terrariums, or hang them up however you please.
Air plants blossom once at the peak of their life cycle. After they slowly begin to decline but they will send out a few “pups” before they finally go. Let these pups grow to just about ½ of their parent plant’s size before removing.
Air plants might be unconventional in ways, but they still have the same basic needs that other plants do. To water them, place them in a bowl of room temperature water and let them soak for about 5-10 minutes. After taking them from the water, place them upside down on a towel until they’re fully dried, or around 2 hours. This is a very important step that will prevent your air plant’s roots from permanent damage.
Repeat the watering every few weeks.
Air plants like bright, indirect light. The more light your plant gets, the more water it will need, so adjust accordingly.
Heart Leaf Philodendron
Heart leaf philodendrons (Philodendron scandens) or “sweetheart plants” are a great choice if you’re looking for a low-maintenance, hanging plant. This popular variety produces long trailing vines up to 4 feet. Their care is straightforward, though they do like to be pruned back every once in a while. This isn’t essential, but it helps keep them looking thick and healthy. To display, hang them on a hook, or guide their long climbing vines up a trellis.
This plant likes a healthy dose of bright, indirect light, but can’t tolerate direct sunlight. If your plant’s growth begins to falter, it may be a sign that you need to move it somewhere with better light. Keep it in a pot with good drainage and only water after the soil is completely dried out. These plants prefer a peat-based potting mix and like to be watered with room temperature water.
Sadly, the money tree won’t make you rich, but it can bring you positive energy to get you through finals. In its natural habitat this tree can grow to a whopping 60 feet but will max out indoors at around 6-8 feet. You can keep yours desk-size by pruning back the roots each year, just take off a 1/3 with clean shears.
Money trees are great for those with a penchant for overwatering. Pot in a well-draining mix and water when the first inch or so of your plant is dry. Place in bright, indirect light for at least six hours a day. Money trees are tropical plants and prefer temperatures between 65 and 75 degree fahrenheit.
Bright Light Dorm Room Plants
A note on direct light: Not all plants that thrive in direct light want a full 8 hours of it. Some can only tolerate a few hours a day before their leaves become scorched. Others, like a cactus or certain succulents, are happy spending their entire day soaking up the sun’s rays.
Succulents are a category of drought-resistant plants that store water in their fleshy leaves and stalks. Many familiar plants like aloes and jades are succulents, but the overall category deserves mention on its own. Succulents come in a range of attractive shapes and sizes and can add flair to any room. The classic succulent is small and makes a great addition to a sunny window-sill.
Succulents need between 4 and 6 hours of sunlight for optimal growth. They are adaptable and can tolerate less light than they prefer, but their shape, color, and overall growth may suffer as a result.
Your watering schedule will depend on the time of year because succulents need more water in the warmer months of summer than they do during winter. As a general rule, water once a week in summer, once a month during winter, and somewhere in between at the other times of the year. If possible, pot your succulent in a fast-draining mix or add perlite or sand to regular mix.
There are thousands of cactus plants, many of which thrive indoors. All they need is a sunny window and minimal water. Cacti are covered with spines and/or hair and come in a range of shapes and sizes. Cacti famously grow in dry, desert environments, but they also grow in tropical, or subtropical areas. Most local plant stores will have a good variety to choose from, just make sure you have a spot in your room that gets plenty of light, and you’re good to go!
Most cacti like bright, direct light, but immature cacti or some forest varieties fare better in indirect light. This is especially true during the summer when the sun’s rays are their strongest.
Most cacti like sandy soil. If you only have a regular potting mix, combine it with sand or perlite to boost aeration. Like succulents, cacti also need more water at certain times of the year. In their summer growth phase, make sure to water whenever the soil is dry. In the winter, only water when you notice your cactus beginning to shrivel.
Note: Overwatering your cactus in the winter is a common but deadly mistake. Once rot sets in you may have no choice than to dispose of the plant and start again.
String of Pearls
Also known as a “string of beads” or “rosary,” the string of pearls (Curio rowleyanus) is a vining succulent with round, pearl-like leaves. It originates from the drier parts of southwest Africa, where it trails along the ground. Its vines grow up to 1-2 feet in length, making it a phenomenal hanging plant.
Overall, the string of beads is easy to care for, but like most succulents, it is susceptible to overwatering. Potting it in a well-draining pot full of sandy soil (like a cactus mix) will help protect it from root rot. Keep the soil lightly moist during spring and summer and cut back on watering during winter.
Your plant will tell you if it’s not getting enough water. When a string of beads is dehydrated, its leaves begin to lose their round shape and flatten out. String of beads plants like a mix of direct and indirect light.
The jade plant is such a popular houseplant that it’s really only grown indoors. This succulent has small oval-shaped leaves and is generally easy to grow. It grows slowly, just a few inches a year, but can grow up to 5 or 6 feet tall.
A jade plant requires similar care to any succulent. It needs well-draining soil (regular potting mix with perlite is fine), a moderate amount of water, and bright, direct light. Water once a month during winter, and once every 1 or 2 weeks in the summer. All jade plants do fine in bright, indirect light, but mature jade plants can also survive direct light.