What House Plants Are Worth Knowing: Kinds For Every Exposure

Flower lovers need not be discouraged if they do not have sunny windows, for a surprising number of plants thrive in a northern exposure, and some even bloom beautifully.

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African Violets

African violets blossom just as freely, and the sheen of the leaves is often better than on plants grown where they get some sunlight. Their entire life cycle can be spent on a north window sill. 

Ivies And Ferns

Of course, ivies and ferns are at home in such a location, and there are wide varieties of ivies, but one that especially adds character to any window garden is Leopard, with its green and cream leaves, splotched and streaked. 

Grape ivy, Cissus rhombifolia, is an old standby at home on a sunless window sill. There is a miniature variety I am anxious to try listed as C. striata.


Some begonias blossom as readily in north windows as in other locations. Wooly Bear is one of them, and it keeps its leaves soft and wooly while the white blossoms are raised well above the foliage. 

Preussen Begonia is another that keeps its strong coloring and blossoms profusely without sun. The leaves are bronzy, small, and very pointed.

The flowers range from white to deep rose. This free-branching variety is good for a hanging basket or suspended pot.

Episcia Fulgida

If one wants to venture with unusual plants, many give a new look to a sunless window, though they are plants that our mothers grew. One that always brings comment is Episcia fulgida, a native of Brazil, which has made itself at home here. 

It prefers a light soil of equal parts of sand, peat moss, and leaf mold, wants plenty of water, and prefers a moist atmosphere, though I grow it in an average room.

The leaves have small notches and are brown bronze, with the veining system a bright emerald green. 

The contrast is striking, and the plant is well-supplied all summer with velvety, red, tubular-shaped blossoms.

Maranta Leuconeura

Another old favorite is Maranta leuconeura or prayer plant. This is a low-growing beauty, with broad, smooth leaves of light green and splotches of deep green between the veins on either side of the main rib. 

The blossoms are white and would almost pass unnoticed were it not for their unusual one-sided shape. The name prayer plant has been given because the leaves fold upward at night. 

Almost every window garden has a few coleus varieties, but they are often grown in the sun when their coloring would be much richer and their sheen more velvety if grown in northern light. Because this location is usually cooler, the plants do not grow so rapidly.


Not only are Achimenes natives of the tropics, but their name means to suffer from cold. Hence, it is important to keep the bulbs in a warm location. The usual planting time is from January to April. 

It is wise to plant the bulbs as soon as they are received since they are slow in making top growth. Even when all the bulbs are of the same variety, there may be weeks’ sprouting differences. You may wait as long as 3 months for the growth of the last bulb to show.

Planting Bulbs In Autumn

House plants are my hobby, and my window sills are always full in Autumn. By the time these bulbs should be planted, there never seemed to be the right place to put them until I conceived the idea of using square milk cartons. 

They are narrow enough to fit on the window ledge, one on either side of the locking fixture. Having taped the flap opening, the carton was placed on its side, and, with a sharp knife, one panel was removed, leaving a quarter-inch margin. 

This makes the container more firm and creates a flat space to place a piece of glass cut just a little larger than the opening.

In the bottom, a layer of stones was placed; over them, a bit of sphagnum moss to retain and regulate moisture. 

Peat and sand in equal quantities make a good medium for starting the bulbs; put eight to a dozen in a carton, covering them with one-half inch of the planting medium. Place the glass on top, and the carton is ready for the window ledge. 

Examine these miniature hot houses from time to time to check moisture. The glass can be tied in place; if it fits perfectly, it should not be necessary to open until the top growth is sufficient for transplanting. 

Ideal Potting Mixture

The potting mixture should be rich in humus and porous, composed of loam, leaf mold, and sand. Provide adequate drainage; these bulbs are shallow-rooted, and bulb pans are best. 

Too much of the sand and peat is taken out as the first bulbs are being transplanted; fill in with more of that mixture; replace the glass and return the carton to its sunny ledge until those remaining are ready for transplanting. 

When transferred, they should be placed in 5 or 6 to 7-inch pots or more if the pot or basket is larger. The topsoil should never be allowed to dry out. 

Advantages Of Starting Bulbs

The advantage of starting the bulbs in a container and transplanting them to a pot is that those of similar growth will be transplanted simultaneously and blossom together. Those planted in pots in which they are to blossom will be uneven in growth and time of flowering. 

East or west windows are considered best, but here I start them in the south windows and later put them on an east porch where they get ample morning sun.

When plants are well established, a weekly feeding of liquid manure should be given and continued until flowering ceases. Then gradually reduce the water supply until the plants have died down. Shake out of soil and store in dry sand or peat until time to repot. 

Propagation is by bulbs, scaly buds, or short rhizomes, which sometimes form in the axis of the leaves; these can be planted the same as bulbs or by cuttings that root in the water quite easily. 

The catalogs list several varieties, all of the easy culture, with a wide range of colors. Of a dozen bulbs planted on March 8, four were transferred to a pot on April 27, and the first bloom opened on July 10. 

On that date, the last two were transplanted; they were just 1″ inches high. All blossomed until late Autumn. 

Pentas Lanceolata

A plant that has made itself at home with me is Pentas lanceolata, a native of Africa and Madagascar and the same family as the bouvardia. The foliage is medium green, with many strong veins that give a slightly quilted effect. 

The pointed leaves are from 3″ to 5″ inches long and from an 1 1/2″ to 2″ inches wide, with smooth and straight edges. 

The individual blossom is like a miniature Phlox drummondii, trumpet-shaped, with five points. As in phlox, there are many blossoms in a cluster. The single stamen, divided into heads, is of the same color. 

I have grown this as a houseplant on an east porch in the summer, where it received some sun, and on a south window sill in winter. It has blossomed almost continuously with its rosy clusters at the end of each branch. 

There are white and lilac forms, but I have not grown them. The soil requirements are the same for African violets, and the plants need considerable moisture. 

For best results, propagation by cuttings should be made in the Spring or early Summer months. Pentas is considered a good bedding plant and may be used the same as lantana.

Senecio Confusus

Several years ago, while traveling in Florida, I saw a vine that fascinated me. The blossom was shaped like a daisy, and I could not remember ever seeing that type of blossom on a vine. 

After searching catalogs, I learned its name and sent it to a plant. The foliage is like holly both in shape and texture, and the color of the older leaves is dark green, smooth, and seemingly pest free. 

Basking in a sunny window all Winter, the vine was nearly 18” inches high when I decided to take it out of the pot and plant it by a trellis on the south side of the house. It looked lost alongside its support, 6′ feet wide and 12′ feet high. 

When the plant was not more than 3′ or 4′ feet high, it blossomed in vivid, burnt orange clusters. The petals turned downward toward the stems, and the blossom’s center was a veritable yellow cushion. By late summer, a tumbled mass covered the trellis creating a glorious picture.

Whether or not the root will be hardy here remains to be seen. To perpetuate my discovery, I have plants started from cuttings and will try sowing seeds in pots early in the Spring.

44659 by Feme S. Kellenberger