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These 8 indoor plants are hardy enough to survive Chicago winters

Commit to sprucing up your place in the new year

An evergreen tree on the front entrance of a home during winter. Shutterstock

So, you’ve decided to hop on the bandwagon and turn your apartment into a green oasis? A new year, a new you, and lots of new leaves.

Don’t wait until the spring to shop. In the winter, you might find a few special varieties that disappear quickly at the height of spring and summer. Our editor-in-chief Kelsey Keith is a fan of the Norfolk Pine, which despite its evergreen aesthetic is actually a tropical plant. More of a Philodendren fan or fancy some Angel Vine? Those indoor plants are available online.

For those worried about how the frigid Chicago winter might affect your newfound love—we’ve got eight hardy plants for you.

Two Chicago-based plant experts, Stephen Hill of Sprout Home and Rhonda Castillo of Christy Webber Farm and Garden, shared their tips for keeping plants alive during Chicago’s suboptimal temperatures and their recommendations for the winter-resistant plants.

“Regardless of the time of year,” Hill said. “You still need to be respectful of what kinds of sunlight [your plants] get. Some can do well in dim light, others absolutely have to have the hottest sun.”

If plants are near a window for optimal sunlight, it’s also likely that they’ll be a bit colder in winter. That’s okay as long as you take some precautions, Hill says. All summer plants soak up the warmth and energy of the sun, but come winter plants go through a dormant phase where they are able to use their reserves from summer.

“The only thing that would be detrimental to them is if you are heavy with watering,” he said. In winter, this could lead to root rot because the plants just aren’t using as much energy.

Hill notes if you have succulents or desert plants, those will survive near a cold window because temperatures can drop quite low in the native areas. However, tropical plants won’t be happy. In general, it’s good to keep any plant away from air vents or drafty corners.

If you notice some houseplants look particularly sad, both Hill and Castillo mentioned the benefits of having a humidifier, sealing up windows, or even putting a cork coaster between the pot and a window sill.

With these tips in mind, here are eight houseplants recommended by Hill and Castillo that are most likely to survive a chilling Chicago winter.

Elephant tree (Operculicarya decaryi)

“They are really nifty small desert trees,” Hill said. Plus, their leaves even change with the seasons, and in winter, some plants will sprout tiny red flowers. Don’t let these mini trees and gnarled branches intimidate—the plants aren’t high maintenance.


Desert nights have trained cacti to withstand low temperatures, which make them perfect for withstanding Chicago winters in drafty apartments. In fact, give the cactus enough drought and cool air, and you might even get it to produce a flower come summer. Hill suggests trying out the Chin cactus.


“A lot of succulents can handle cooler temps,” Hill said. Winter for plants is similar to when you take a nap: it prepares you for the rest of the year, he said. If you’re just starting out, succulents are a great place to begin—they are incredibly durable.


Ferns are hardy plants, but air moisture and light are two key factors in their growth. “The battle is maintaining humidity, as heating dries out the air. Some people will run humidifiers and you can mist them routinely, too,” Hill said.


Jade plants are generally forgiving plants and will tolerate a draft. Just like cacti and succulents, it can be happy near a cold window. While the plant can grow in less than ideal conditions, it’s best in full sunlight.

Christmas cactus

“This is not a traditional cactus,” Castillo said. “But they will also tolerate drafts as well.” The plants get their name from blooming around the holiday season, which makes it a perfect festive house plant. To encourage more flowers after a blooming period, make sure to put the plant in a dim, cool place.

Cast iron plant

“They are really, really tough plants,” Castillo said. “They will also tolerate any sort of lighting.” That’s great for forgetful plant owners and dark corners that need a bit of greenery. The long, leathery foliage adds the perfect volume.

Snake Plants

The tried-and-true Sansevieria trifasciata is a house plant nearly impossible to kill, even in the middle of a polar vortex. It comes in a variety of green shades from deep emeralds to stripes of chartreuse. “From personal experience, I have never had issues with snake plants,” Castillo said. “They are just tough as nails.”