Livonia plant guru's now book sheds light on growing 'in the dark'

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
Lisa Steinkopf poses in the sunroom of her own house which she and her husband John  converted into a greenhouse.

Livonia author Lisa Eldred Steinkopf was in the process of wrapping up her first book on houseplants a few years ago when her copy editor at the time suggested the idea for what would eventually become her next one: a book all about low-light plants.

The copy editor, Alyssa Bluhm, also a Livonia native, said she lived in a garden apartment – a lower-level apartment – where much of the light was blocked out. 

Steinkopf, who grew up in the country, admits she’d never really heard of a garden apartment but she knows plenty about houseplants (her nickname is the “Houseplant Guru.”) And she knew there were certainly plants that would be just fine in low-light situations. 

“There’s always ways to maximize your light,” said Steinkopf.

And now Steinkopf has written in an entire book about low-light plants and how to pick what’ll work for you. “Grow in the Dark: How to Choose and Care for Low-Light Houseplants” ($25, Cool Springs Press), hit shelves Tuesday and details the top 50 houseplants that grow in low-light condition, along with tips for maximizing the light you have and tips for watering and propagation.

“It’s not as difficult as you think to find a plant that will live in your light levels,” writes Steinkopf in the introduction. “The key is to do a little research before you purchase a plant.”

Moses in the Cradle, also known as an oyster plant, makes a good low or medium-light houseplant, writes Steinkopf. “Nonvariegated cultivars of this plant can take low to medium light, such as a north or east window,” she says.

Steinkopf is like a walking encyclopedia of plant knowledge. She has a “Houseplant Guru” webiste – – and grows more than 200 plants in her own home. She also gives presentations to garden groups and clubs all over Michigan. She’ll be a speaker at Homestyle’s next Dish & Design event on May 29 (tickets go on sale Wednesday at noon).

Her new book comes two years after her first, “Houseplants: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Growing and Caring for Indoor Plants” ($30, Cool Springs Press). With photos shot by local photographer Heather Saunders, Steinkopf says the new book is geared toward millenials but it has tips and information for anyone, even those are who are houseplant novices. 

Livonia author Lisa Eldred Steinkopf's new book, "Grow in the Dark," is all about choosing and caring for low-light plants. It hits stores May 7.

Steinkopf, whose husband’s family owns Steinkopf Nursery in Farmington Hills, says she hears all the time from people that they don’t have enough light in their homes for plants.

“If people ask me about low light, I tell them first to decide how much light they truly do have,” says Steinkopf. “If they do determine they have low light I tell them to purchase a ZZ plant, an aglaonema, pothos, philodendron or some other low light plant.”

And how do you determine the amount of light you have? First and foremost, figure out which way your windows face. If there’s enough light in a room to read a book, you have enough to sustain a low-light plant, says Steinkopf.

But “it’s really important to know which way your windows face,” said Steinkopf. “If the sun comes up in the morning in your window, it faces east.”

A friend suggested another good analogy to figure out your windows: “Are you drinking coffee or wine and the sun is your face?” says Steinkopf.

Her new book offers 15 ways to enhance you do have. Among Steinkopf's tips: Wash your windows, wipe down your plants (dust and dirt block can reduce the light reaching the plant cells) and use mirrors. And even though dark colors such as black and navy may be very trendy these days, Steinkopf suggests painting your walls a light color. 

“Lighter colors are more reflective, which means they will bounce more light onto the plants,” she writes.

If you truly don’t have enough light in your home, supplemental light from electric lights can help. Steinkopf said fluorsecent lights are the most common type of light people use to supplement their plants – she has 18-inch-long fluorescent plant lights installed under her cupboards in her own kitchen so African violets will bloom continuously – but even a simple table lamp with a clamp can give your plant a boost.

Her best advice for those who want more green in their homes but have minimal light: “Find the plant that fits the situation you have.” 

Twitter: @mfeighan

A Plant for Every Window

Aren’t sure what houseplants would work in your own home? Livonia author Lisa Eldred Steinkopf says start with figuring out which way your windows face and then pick plants from there.

East: Steinkopf says east-facing windows are one of the best for plants. They get "soft, cool morning light," she writes. Suggested plants: African violets, ferns, begonias, prayer plants, aglaonemas.

West: Western sun exposes your plants to more heat. Suggested plants: cacti, succulents, air plants, snake plants, ficus, flowering plants.

South: These windows receive the most light throughout the day. Low-light plants place too close to these windows without protection may burn and, if left there, die. Suggested plants: cacti, succulents, weeping fig, or anything from the ficus family.

North: North-facing windows receive no direct sunlight. Suggested plants: foliage plants such as the cast-iron plant (aspidistra), philodendron varieties, ZZ plant and pothos.