Plants use light the way animals use food—to turn into the energy that fuels growth, reproduction and life itself. And when it comes to our indoor plants, it turns out, they can be as picky about their lighting as Goldilocks was about her porridge. Too much or too little light will sicken a houseplant and eventually kill it. But how to know what level of light is “just right” for your favorite indoor greenery?
First off, your houseplant will tell you if the amount of light it’s getting is enough. A plant getting dim or too little light will:
- Drop leaves.
- Become spindly and lean toward light source.
- Sport yellowing or pale leaves.
A plant getting too bright or too much light will have:
- Burned or scorched leaves.
- Wilted leaves and stems.
- Curled or wrinkled dry leaves.
Most houseplants you buy at the store will be marked as requiring low, medium or high levels of light. If they are not, you can go to our plant library and search for the specific plant to find out its light needs. Or, use our advanced search functions to look for plants that do best in the sort of light you have in your house.
Most light will come from your windows. The light intensity will depend on:
1. Which way the window is facing.
2. How close the plant is to the window.
3. Whether there is anything blocking the incoming light.
North-facing windows get no direct sunlight. They’re best for plants requiring low light and medium-light lovers that are provided a healthy dose of supplemental artificial light.
East-facing windows get a mild morning sun until around midday. They’re great for low-light level plants and some medium-light level plants, especially those that can’t take the heat or brightness a southern or western exposure offers. Medium-light lovers should be placed no more than one foot from the window.
South-facing windows get the most light, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. They’re a perfect place for plants that love the sun. Houseplants like cacti that need lots of light should be placed within one foot of a south-facing window. Those that prefer medium-light intensity, most houseplants, can set between one and three feet away.
A west-facing window is also good for high- and medium-light loving plants. It doesn’t get as many hours of sun as a southern exposure, but it does get the sun at the end of the day, when the temperatures are warmest.
Even with the right exposure, your plant may be getting the wrong amount of sun. Trees outside can block the light coming into the house during the summer, but when the tree is bare in winter, let too much light in. A room with bright walls will reflect more than darker ones and increase the intensity of the sunlight your plant receives. And window treatments and hanging decorations can dim otherwise sunny spots.
It’s best to choose your houseplants based on the light you have available in your home. Or, you can treat them as you do seasonal plants like poinsettias or cut flowers—enjoy them while they last and compost them when they start to fade.
Love houseplants but don’t have enough of the right type of light to grow the indoor jungle of your dreams? Check out our tips for setting up supplemental lighting systems for your houseplants.