Guide To Indoor Plant Lighting

Guide To Indoor Plant Lighting

Last Updated On: March 15, 2023

Even beginner gardeners know that plants need light to survive. It is one of the three ingredients needed for photosynthesis. During this process, the chlorophyll pigment in the chloroplast absorbs the energy in the blue and red light waves while reflecting the green light waves, which is what gives plants their color. The issue is that not every plant needs the same amount of light to thrive. There are also different types of lighting available for indoor gardeners to utilize. That’s why learning about your lighting options for indoor gardening is a must when placing your plants throughout your home.

Natural Light & Different Window Options

Natural light from the sun is probably the first light source most people think of. For good reason too, sunlight can provide all the light your plants need while not costing a dime.

The sun comes in all of the windows of your home, but those windows don’t all offer the same quality of light. Some offer direct light while others only let in indirect light. The sun also hits those windows at different times throughout the day and in many cases for different lengths of time as well. That’s why you need to consider which window is best for your particular plants.

Leep in mind that no two houses are the same. Obstacles like trees can potentially block some or all of your light. Time of year can be a factor as regions with harsh winters will typically receive less natural light during them. Keep these in mind while reading below as these are just generalities that may not apply to all situations.

North Windows

The windows on the north side of your home don’t get any direct light, though they do offer lots of medium indirect light. North-facing windows are a good place for plants that like low light conditions or indirect light.

South Windows

Since they are on the opposite side of the house from the north windows it’s likely no surprise that the south windows receive the most amount of sunlight each day. Aside from the early morning or late in the day, these windows will be letting in direct sunlight all day long. This is the best place for plants like fruits or vegetables that need lots of bright light.

East Windows

East windows can be a great home for plants that like both direct and indirect lighting since it gets the former in the morning and the latter the rest of the day, even during the winter. Plants that want moderate light or periods of direct light will thrive here.

West Windows

The west windows of your home also get a lot of indirect light, with some direct light in the afternoon and early evening. This is similar to east-facing windows, and consequently, similar plants will likely do well here.

What About The Ordinal Directions?

At this point, you might be wondering about the ordinal directions like northwest or southeast. The answer is that they generally form a mix of the two cardinal directions they compose.

For example, southeast will generally be a decent amount of direct sunlight but with some periods of indirect sunlight as well. This will be less sunlight than a purely southerly-facing window, but more than an eastern one.

The other directions will follow suit.

What Type of Sunlight is Best for Indoor Plants?

We discussed the different types of light each of the windows in your home has to offer but now let’s look more closely at what that actually means.

Direct Light

Direct light is as close to full sun as you can get indoors, which means that if you look outside, you’ll actually see the sun in the sky. This is the brightest option for sunlight, and it is also the hottest. Not all plants can handle this amount of light and heat, so it is best to keep the more delicate ones away.

Those with cacti, succulents, fruits, veggies, orchids, geraniums, or other high light plants can place them next to their south or southeast windows without worrying about killing their plants. You may even be able to start some seeds with this type of light, though the ones that need more time indoors may need some assistance from a grow light as well.

You should also keep in mind that the heat that accompanies the direct light will dry out plants faster, so extra watering may be needed. This can also be dangerous to frailer plants which can end up with brittle leaves due to the heat.

It’s also important to note that the direct light indoors is not entirely the same as full sun outdoors. As light passes through your window some of it will get reflected and diffused which reduces its intensity. Keep this in mind, as an hour of direct indoor light is not the same as an hour of full sun outdoors.

Indirect Light

Indirect lighting is a combination of direct and indirect lighting, like what is offered by east- or west-facing windows. This combination of light is less intense and isn’t as hot as direct light, so it is suitable for plants that are a bit more delicate. You can also turn the direct sunlight from a south window into indirect light by hanging a sheer curtain or similar obstruction between the window and the plant.

Light exposure also tends to decrease with distance. Moving a plant back a few feet from the window can also change direct light into less intense indirect light.

Flowering plants grow best with this type of lighting, as do leafy ones like Ficus Altissima or Heartleaf Philodendron. They get the light they need without the intense heat of the afternoon sunlight.

Medium Light

Medium-light is created when you move about 5 feet away from your south- or west-facing windows. The window still lets in that bright, direct light, but with the plants pulled away from it, they get the light they need without the intensity that could damage them.

Several plants prefer this type of lighting, including ferns, rubber plants, spider plants, and the fiddle leaf fig. The only issue with this type of lighting is that the plants may not dry out as quickly as you expect, so you need to be careful not to overwater them. Feel the soil every few days to be sure it’s dry before adding more.

Low Light

Those north-facing windows that don’t let in any direct sunlight are considered low-light conditions. You can also place low light plants near the interior walls of your home to keep them away from the brighter light of the other windows in your home. Plants that prefer low light should be placed in one of these areas.

Low-light plants tolerate these conditions but may do better with a bit more light, like medium or indirect light, so take care of the lighting instructions of your plant.

Many plants prefer low light conditions, including the cast iron plant, ZZ plant, pothos, peace lily, and parlor palm. Since there is limited heat accompanying this type of light, these plants don’t need to be watered as often. They also tend to grow slower than plants that prefer more light.

Lighting Issues

Though we strive to give our plants the proper care, sometimes things don’t always work out as intended. When plants get too little, or too much, light there can be issues that develop.

Fortunately, light damage is often not permanent. It only becomes plant-threatening when ignored for a long time. If caught quickly, you can often save the plant.

Browning Leaves

The most common symptom of lighting issues is browning or discolored leaves. This is often caused by too intense sunlight or too much heat. In most cases, simply moving the plant back from the window or to a lower light condition is the fix. You should also look to prune back any dead parts of the plant as this can make them susceptible to pests.

Drooping Leaves

While it can be other issues (like lack of water), drooping leaves can also be a sign of lack of light. The drooping is a sign that they’re not getting the energy they need from sunlight. The solution is simple, give them more light. That is of course after determining the lighting is in fact the issue.

Stunted Growth

Another common issue with poor lighting is a general lack of growth. Many plants will grow more slowly in low light conditions or take on more dull colors. In many cases, plants will not flower or produce their fruit/veggie if they don’t get enough light. Flowing takes a lot of energy, and without enough light, the plant won’t have the energy to do so.

This can be difficult to determine as it can take weeks or months to notice the issue. That’s why it’s important to always keep an eye on your plant, and know the timeline for growth that you should expect.

One important thing to note is that sometimes this is done on purpose to prevent flowering. Certain gardeners look for just that green foliage, and by limiting the light they can encourage this growth and discourage flowers.

Reaching and Bending

The last two issues we’ll look at are plants growing spindly and weak, or exhibiting excessive bending. These are both usually light-related issues.

If your plant is reaching out and begins to look weak this is often due to a lack of light. The plant is growing to try and “reach” the light, and putting its energy into that. You can correct this by increasing the light the plant gets, but you may often need to add support until the plant fills out.

Bending is a similar issue as many plants will grow towards their light source. If you notice this, try turning the plant so it gets even light on all sides. This usually involves turning the plant every few days to encourage even growth. Over time, The plant will naturally tend to fix itself. In extreme cases, you can use supports to help keep your plant up.

Artificial Light

Lastly, I wanted to briefly touch on artificial light. Using artificial is important for a lot of indoor gardeners, and a very easy way to get more light for your plants. A full guide on artificial lights deserves its own article, so we’ll only briefly touch on a few important ideas here.

When To Use Artificial Light?

You can really use artificial lights anytime you need more light for your plants. They come in a wide range of sizes, so you can find them in sizes suitable for a single plant all the way up to commercial grow sizes.

Artificial lights are also a great choice in the winter when the sunlight is naturally less intense. With the correct grow light setup, you can encourage healthy plant growth year-round.

Artificial lights also make it easier to utilize more areas of your home. A low-light room can be transformed with a few grow lights into a bright haven for light-hungry plants.

What Kind of Lights to Choose?

In general, home growers should look to LED or fluorescent lights. Both types can be bought very cheaply, and are energy efficient. They also don’t give off much heat, which is something you need to be careful with when using certain types of lights.

Here’s an example of a cheap LED light for growing. There are a lot of other options out there though, so do a bit of research if you’re going down this path. We’ll be producing a more in-depth guide in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

Guide To Indoor Plants Light

Hopefully, you’ve learned something from this article. Lighting is an essential part of growing plants, and getting it right is important. Luckily, lighting is not that difficult, and with the knowledge here you’ll be growing a beautiful garden in no time!

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