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How to Keep Your Houseplants Happy: Understanding Light

Updated: Apr 22

Houseplants only need a few things to thrive - water, nutrients, and light. It’s a simple equation, but getting the right balance of each can be difficult - especially when it comes to light. Plants use light to produce the sugars they need to survive via photosynthesis; they must have a source of light to survive. Light exposure is one of the most common plant parent woes. It affects how often you water your plants, how fast they grow, and where you locate them. Understanding light is a key part of how to keep your houseplants happy.


Whether you’re new to houseplants or a plant enthusiast, understanding both the light your plants need and the lighting in your home can be complicated. Ever scratch your head and wonder ‘What does bright indirect light mean, and where do I find it?’. Worried you chose the wrong spot for your new Calathea? Want to feel confident that your new Bird of Paradise will thrive? Below we dive into common light terms and discuss where to find each kind of light in your home.



Index:



UNDERSTANDING THE TYPES OF LIGHT

All plants need light to survive. There are low-light plants but no no-light plants. Here's what each type of light really means:


Direct light

Direct light is the strongest and brightest level of light for plants. It usually refers to south-facing windows but can also refer to outdoor full sun. Direct light means the rays of the sun are directly shining on the plant (note that direct light inside your home is not as strong as direct light outside). Plants that require direct light include cacti, succulents, and some tropical plants. These plants need at least six hours of direct light a day to thrive. However, be careful not to let plants get too hot, as they can sometimes scorch in direct sunlight.


Indirect Light:


Bright indirect light

Bright indirect light is the second strongest level of light for houseplants. It’s not direct, but it is steady and bright. Picture the spot right next to a window that receives brief moments of direct light (no more than an hour a day) before being obstructed, yet remaining bright. Examples include an east-facing window, or just next to a south or west-facing window.


Medium indirect light

Medium indirect light is a lower level of light for houseplants. It usually comes from north-facing windows or a location about 5'-8' feet from other windows. These areas still receive steady light from windows, but it is not direct.

Low Light

Low light is the lowest level of light for houseplants. It usually comes from a location in the room where the plant receives no direct sunlight and only indirect light from windows or grow lights. There are plants that can survive in lower light but none will thrive or grow as quickly as they would in brighter light. If your plant is not getting enough light, you may notice yellowing leaves, slower growth, or a lack of flowering.



UNDERSTANDING LIGHT IN YOUR SPACE

There are a few factors that determine the kind of light your space receives, including the direction your windows face, how far away your plant is from a window, the time of year, and if there is anything obstructing light such as trees or curtains.



When thinking about the light in your home remember that the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and the tilt of the Earth's axis means the sun is always coming from the south. What does that mean for the light terms we learned about above? Let's dig in:



North Facing Windows

North-facing windows receive no direct light throughout the day, making them the best choice for low and medium-light plants. These plants include snake plants, ZZ plants, and pothos. They can survive with just a few hours of diffuse, gentle light each day, making them ideal for areas with limited natural light. However, they may not thrive or grow as quickly as they would in brighter light.



East Facing Windows

Because the sun rises in the east, these windows will receive morning light. This light is softer, making east-facing windows the perfect spot for plants that love bright, indirect light. Monsteras, Pothos, and Fiddle Leaf Figs will all thrive in this setting. Don't be afraid of morning sun shining directly on your plant, as they can handle the less-intense rays during this time of day (though it is always a good idea to keep an eye on plants as the seasons change and slowly acclimate them to new lighting conditions).




West Facing Windows

West-facing windows receive bright light in the afternoon and early evening as the sun sets. The sun's rays are strongest in the afternoon, so the light coming directly through the window may be too strong for most houseplants. Place plants that like bright indirect light near but not directly in a west-facing window, or choose succulents, cacti, or sun-lovers like a Bird of Paradise that will thrive in direct afternoon light.



South Facing Windows

In real estate, south-facing windows are often the most sought-after as they receive the most light throughout the day. From late morning to later afternoon, unobstructed south-facing windows will fill your home with a good deal of bright light. Light-loving houseplants tend to prefer being placed close to, but not directly in, south-facing windows (it also helps to have a bit of distance from the glass as it can get cold during winter). The best thing about south-facing light is that you get the full spectrum of light in your home. You can place plants that like bright indirect light next to or 3-4 feet away from windows, and place lower light plants on the far wall. It is important to note that just like humans, plants can get sunburned! If you notice your leaves look pinker, faded, or are getting brown, dry, and crispy, these can all be signs of too much sun.


Still not sure what direction your window faces? Most phones have a compass app these days to help!


A few important things to consider when assessing the lighting in your home:

  • Do you have an awning or covered patio?

  • Is there a large tree or shrub in front of this window?

  • Is there a building or house next to or close by?

  • Do you have coated or UV-protected windows?

  • Do you close your blinds at night and are late to wake in the morning?

  • Even if your plants are receiving the right amount of light, they may still become lopsided if they are not rotated regularly. Rotating your plants every few weeks will ensure that all sides of the plant receive adequate light and will promote even growth.


The direction your window faces greatly affects the type and intensity of light that your indoor plants receive. By understanding the different types of light and which plants thrive in each, you can create the ideal growing conditions to keep your houseplants happy. Whether it's a north-facing window for low-light plants, an east-facing window for ferns and foliage plants, a south-facing window for succulents and tropical plants, or a west-facing window for flowering plants, there's an ideal spot for every plant in your home.





 

Stay tuned for future blogs, when we will discuss the best houseplants for each kind of light, how to augment your light, what to keep in mind when moving your plants outside for the summer, and signs that your plant isn’t getting the right light.





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