How to Keep Plants Alive in a Dorm Room

Tips to keeping your plants alive in your dorm room at college

plant on windowsill

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Houseplants are an excellent way of adding a bit of personality and coziness to a space, especially a college dorm room. With neutral colored walls, tile or wood floors, and often one window per room, a houseplant is just what a dorm needs to feel more homey. And just because a dorm isn't big on square footage, it doesn’t mean you can’t still add plants in—you'll just have to look to wall hooks and plant hangers to help make the space.

If you’re headed off to college in the next few months and you want to add some plants into your space, but you’re worried about keeping them alive, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered. We spoke to Matt Aulton, the head grower at Plant Proper, a grower and online plant seller. "Plants in a dorm room are a must! It is best to have a bit of nature in your room while you're surrounded by concrete walls,”  says Aulton. “Growing plants in a dorm room can be tough considering the little light and being tight on space. There is no need to be concerned as there are plenty of options to choose from that will grow to be happy and healthy plants in your dorm.” Here are his best tips for how to keep plants alive in a dorm room.

Find Plants That Can Tolerate a Variety of Light

dorm room plants

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The best thing you can do is choose plants that will survive in both bright, indirect light and lower light situations. Odds are you won’t know which direction your dorm room is facing before you arrive or even how many windows you’ll have! “Go-to plants on my list of recommendations would be sansevieria, pothos, monstera, ZZ plants, and philodendron, to name a few,” says Aulton. These are all plants that can do well in both low light and bright, indirect light which means they should survive if your window faces south and gets a ton of light or faces north and gets limited light. They may grow a lot slower, but they’ll still survive in that environment. 

Choose Smaller Plants or Slow-Growing Plants

small plants

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You’ll also have to consider space. If you’re in a standard sized dorm room where you’re sharing a room with one other person, you’re going to have to share that area with your roommate. Choose slow-growing plants or plants that can easily be pruned back. “ZZ plants and sansevieria are very slow growers and will not get out of control anytime soon," advises Aulton. "Pothos, monstera, and philodendron will not grow very fast in lower light conditions, but if they do become too large for your space they can be easily pruned back." A bonus that comes with a plant that needs cutting back: "you can give a cutting of the plant to a new friend,” says Aulton.

Cacti and succulents are a great idea as well. Plus, you can also pick baby-sized plants that are sold for terrariums. These are smaller versions of the plants you love. They won’t take up nearly as much space, and if you treat them well, they can grow through college with you.

Utilize Your Window Space as Much as Possible

window space dorm room

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If you’re lucky enough to have a ledge in front of your window, definitely utilize that. Some plants love to be placed directly in front of the window as long as it’s not getting really harsh light. You can also use stick-on wall hooks above your window to hang macrame pot hangers and baskets for trailing plants. This is a great way to create a leafy green curtain for some privacy. You can also find a little shelf or plant stool to layer your plants so that they all get light. Layer them so that the plants that need more light are closer to the window, or, if you can, put the tall plants in the back so it's easier when it's time to water.

Consider Artificial Lighting

grow light

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“If light is a concern, there are plenty of artificial light options that can be added to allow the plants to get that extra bit of light they may need to allow them to thrive in your dorm,” says Aulton. Grow lights can be a really inexpensive way of giving some extra light to your plants. You can find ones that go on on a timer and set that timer to be on when you’re in class. That way, your plants will get extra light if your dorm only has one window or the window doesn't let in enough light.

“Having some greenery in your dorm and caring for the plants while in college is a great addition to your college experience," says Aulton. "We would not allow a lack of space or natural light to hinder our ability to stretch out our green thumb."