Tuesday, November 7th, 2006...6:12 pm

Growing plants in your dorm room

A person by the name of Ryan emailed me today and asked the following question: “I want to grow plants in my dorm room at college and was wondering whether you recommend any type of plant and whether I need to take any special precautions.”

Below are some of my thoughts on the topic –

I think it is lovely that you want to grow plants in your dorm room. I don’t think there is anything that makes a room more pleasant and homey than having plants in them. So I commend you on this endeavor.

You ask me to recommend plants for you. I can recommend lots of plants. However, I don’t know, from reading your brief email, what type of plant you want or much about the environment you have to grow plants.

Are you looking for flowering plants or will you be happy with plants that are primarily green?  I don’t know much about the dorm room and how much light your room has or how hot the college keeps your room. I don’t know how much time you will have to devote to the care of your plant. As a student I have to guess that you don’t have much extra time to devote to the special care that some plants might need and also that you will be going home for mid-semester breaks so that you will want a plant that is low maintenance and can take some abuse.

I am recommending 2 plants that are so easy to care for that I can almost guarantee that you will have these plants for the rest of your life if you want to keep them and you may want to pass them on to your sons and grandsons to decorate their dorm rooms when they go to college. Both plants can take abuse and still thrive and look nice. Both are plants that have been popular since your grandmothers’ and great grandmothers’ days all the way back to Victorian times.

The first plant I recommend is called an Aspidistra. One common name of this plant is the “cast iron plant” because it is so hardy. It can live in low light levels so you can keep it in a dark corner of your dorm room. It can take temperatures as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t object to dust and pollution. It doesn’t want to be overwatered so that if you are away or forget to water the plant, the aspidistra won’t mind. This is a best bet for indoor gardening beginners.

The Aspidistra belongs to the Liliaceae family (a family which includes lilies, hostas, tulips, and asparagus) and the subfamily Convallariaceae (which includes lily-of-the-valley and Solomon’s seal). The most discouraging aspect to aspidistras is their frustratingly slow rate of growth. But they do grow. And I have read that they can occasionally bloom with smallish flowers that are tulip-like, puce in color, with darker speckling, and borne at soil level. Aspidistras are relatively pest- and disease-free. Occasionally they are susceptible to anthracnose or fungal leaf spots, which can be aggravated by perpetual over-watering. Simply prune away the affected foliage. Be sure to sterilize the cutting surface of the pruners with rubbing alcohol between each cut. And they might get spider mite particularly in overheated rooms. Use insecticidal soap or give the plant a weekly cold shower and get better air circulation to help get rid of the mites,   You can google up sites that sell Aspidistras so that you can choose whether you want the leaf to be all green or have white spots.

For more information on the Aspidistras see here and here.

The second plant I am going to recommend is a Sansevieria plant. It is also known as the Mother- in- law Tongue or Snake Plant. It has thick, fleshy sword like leaves with gold edges. The Sansevieria plant might have a few more needs than the Aspidistra plant, but not much. It too thrives on neglect. 

Sansevieria doesn’t like temperatures to fall below 50 degrees. It will take sunlight or shade, though it does prefer light. It wants moderate watering between spring and fall but likes the soil to dry down between waterings; missing a watering or two does no damage. In the winter water only every one to two months. It doesn’t like to be over watered. However, I take mine outdoors in the summer and don’t do a thing to it. If it rains a lot, the plant doesn’t seem to mind. It is really in the winter that it doesn’t want too much water. Repotting is rarely needed and that won’t be needed for your sansevieria for many years. Sansevieria will have a flower if the environment is perfect. I really don’t know what that perfect environment is, but a Sansevieria did bloom for me and it was very exciting. It sent up a stalk that had inconsequential flowers that were amazingly fragrant and on the stalk were balls of nectar. In all the years that I have had a Sansevieria this happened only once; so don’t expect it to happen and you might be surprised one day. Neglect is what the Sansevieria likes.

Some other plants you might want to try to grow are plants that you grow from fruit you might eat in your dorm. The first is to take a pit from a fresh avocado. Wash it off and put it, pointed side up, in a glass of water. You just want the rounded part in the water, so you can poke some toothpicks in it to hold it above the glass- you don’t want the entire pit to be in water, just be sure that the bottom is always under water. If you are lucky, you will get an avocado tree. I doubt that you will have fruit from the tree, but the tree can get quite big. (If the first avocado pit rots, keep on trying other pits. You will get one to root.)

The second is to take a fresh pineapple. Twist off, do not cut, the leaves at the top of the fresh pineapple. Put the bottom of the leaves in a glass of water. (Eat the pineapple fruit.)  Again, if you are lucky, you will get roots to grow out of this part. The pineapple plant is in the bromeliad family. You will be raising a little pineapple plant. If you really hit the jackpot, you might get a little pineapple to grow out of the top. I have never been that lucky, but I did get the plant to live.

The third thing to try is to plant some seeds from your citrus fruit. If you are lucky you might get a seed that is not sterile and will grow into a small orange, lemon,  grapefruit or other citrus tree. Grow the seeds in soil that is kept moist, but not overly wet.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. If you need more help, please don’t hesitate to write back to theGardenLady. 

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13 Comments

  • Wow! Such a thorough response. I didn’t expect it. But you’ve given me everything I need to make my decision. Thanks so much!

  • Con que nombre se le conoce a la ASPIDISTRA en America Latina?

  • What about if you are away for the summer break? What can you do if you are away for a month or so?

  • […] In response to a November 7th post about growing plants in the dorm, the Garden Lady received the following question from a Marklen about how to care for your dorm plant when you are away for a month or so. What about if you are away for the summer break? What can you do if you are away for a month or so? […]

  • […] Reread the column I posted on November 7, 2006 called “Growing Plants in Your Dorm Room.” In that column I suggested trying to grow, with instructions on how to plant, an avocado tree, a pineapple plant and a citrus tree from food you probably have in your house. These are plants your children might enjoy growing. […]

  • I was wondering what kind of plants would be good that are of a prolonging fragrance such as a lemony or fresh smell that I can keep in my dorm room. I don’t have a lot of natural light, but the temperature stays at a constant 65-75 degrees F. Not that our room really smells bad, but the thought of getting something like a plant that I consider of more interest, compared to buying all those fake Glade things, sounds good to me.

  • I was curious a friend of mine gave me a grapefruit tree. i have noticed sprouts coming out of it now that it has more light and space and someone to water it . it is an indoor tree and When i saw the sprouts, i asked her if she planted anything else she said geraniums but those died off and mother in law tongue… i looked up mother in law tongue and saw its poisonous does that cause cross pollination issues w/ the grapefruit being in the same pot if they’re toxic. Simply do i have to worry about toxic grapefruit now….

  • […] For an article on growing plants in a dorm room that has lower light levels, please read TheGardenLady column of Tues., November 7, 2006. […]

  • Hey! I only just saw this, but it’s very relevant.

    I want to spruce up my college dorm with something living, but I would also like to spruce up my dining hall meals. Last year I tried pepper plants, which unfortunately suffered because I was unable to change their soil. I was hoping for some general herbs- basil, rosemary or fennel. Preferably something that wouldn’t require special lighting, frequent soil changes, or religious watering. I am good at caring for plants, in general, but cannot guarantee that I won’t be absent for up to 4 days at a stretch. … For decoration, I usually keep cacti for this reason.

    I’m also at school in Cleveland, so light quality in the winter can be very poor, aside from artificial light.

  • Hi,
    I was wondering what you thought about Yerba buena. I discovered this plant today and love the lemony minty smell to it. I wanted to know if it’s a dorm friendly plant. I’ll be living in Mills College in Oakland, CA. I was thinking of buying a small bamboo shoot and another plant (yerba buena?). Maybe you can recommend other plants the do well in dorm rooms and has a nice fragrance (not to strong)?
    I also like plants that can be used for different things, like made into a tea to sooth the throat. Something like that.
    Thanks. =)

  • Odmaa Davaanyam (Mrs)
    September 25th, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Dear Garden Lady,

    I am writing this from Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar.
    My country is in Asia, between China and Russia. Winter is harsh and lasts more than 4 months.
    I am intersted in planting room plants and help people to have them in their homes. I have more than 15 different room plants in my rooms. I am not a specialist in this area. Could you give me an advice to begin my business? During winter in my contry it reaches minus 30-35 degree centigrade. We who live in houses and apartments during this time do not face cold because we have central heating system. So room temperature is usually between 17 to 30 centigrade degrees.
    Your comments were useful for me.

  • I am interested in growing a small organic food garden in my dorm.I live in San Antonio,Texas. The room is kept no lower than 70 F.I have a large ledge by my window and was considering keeping the plants there instead of in my room.There is ample sunlight.I was wonder what type of fruit or vegetables you would consider I grow,if possible. Thank you.

  • Yo, thanks Garden Lady. I goggled this topic and you gave a dope answer. I’m gonna go plant a pineapple.

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