Do you remember how old you were when you first learned about photosynthesis and how plants received their nutrients? While many of us can still remember the first moment we learned about the process plants used to extract nutrients from something as simple as sunlight, it is often seen as an underrated consideration when caring for our own plants in our adulthood.
While sunlight (natural or artificial) is an obvious factor in the survival of indoor plants, figuring out how much, the intensity of it, and how often your plant receives light can get incredibly confusing! With all the articles all over the internet giving conflicting information about sunlight for indoor plants, it’s no wonder so many plants are going hungry. In our second to last installment in our Indoor Plants for Beginners series, we have all the nitty gritty information surrounding the truth of sunlight for your house plants. We won’t spare a single detail!
Here is Indoor Plants for Beginners, Part Four: How to Find or Create the Right Amount of Light!
Figure out the amount of light you get in your home.
Before you bring a houseplant home, the best thing you can do for both the health of your future plant babies (and your sanity) is to record the amount of natural light your home receives throughout the day. While you certainly don’t need to track the exact amount of sunlight coming through your windows down to the minute, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the amount direct and indirect light entering your home, how many hours of each, and through which windows you’re seeing this. We recommend learning this about your space prior to adopting plants because each species has its own preferences when it comes to the type and amount of light it likes.
All this is truly contingent upon which directions your windows face. Depending upon the way your home sits on the land or where your apartment is situated in your building, you may receive more indirect sun in the morning because you have Southern facing windows or more direct rays in the evening because you have windows facing to the West. As the amount of sunlight changes with the seasons, so will the hours of light you see in your home. So, there is no need to worry if you don’t know exactly how much sunlight your windows see because this will fluctuate throughout the year. Once you have a general idea, you can start confidently introducing plants into your home.
Determine how much light your plant needs.
Now that you have a timeline and map of the natural light coming into your home, it’s time to bring on the plants. While you can absolutely pick up any old plant you maybe saw online that you like the look of, it is incredibly important to remember that each species of plant has its own likes and preferences when it comes to how much and what kind of sunlight it receives. A common succulent or cactus can withstand long periods of harsh direct light, but if you try putting a delicate leafed fern into the same light, you’ll find them burnt to a crisp after just a couple hours. With improper light exposure being one of the number killers of houseplants, it is extremely important to take this aspect of plant care seriously because it could mean life or death for your newest plant baby.
The easiest way to figure out the kind of light a plant prefers is by looking up the species of the plant. This can be a tricky feat when purchasing your plants at big box stores because even the most common indoor plants are often misclassified. Instead, opt for ordering your plants through reputable online retailers or go in-person to your local boutique plant shop and ask for the full botanical name of the plants you have picked out. With the Latin name of your new plant in hand, you can easily look up its desired light exposure and place it in the perfect spot in your home!
Adjust the placement of your plants accordingly.
Now that you are home with your new plant babies, it’s time to observe them and their reactions to the light just as you recorded the amount of light coming into your home before. This process may take significantly longer than the first step because it can take weeks or even months for plants to either fully acclimate to their new space or show they aren’t acclimating to the new environment. There are a bunch of red flags that could pop up saying your plant needs more or less light. Here’s a handy guide for you:
Your houseplant needs more sunlight if:
- The plant is leaning toward the sun,
- It isn’t putting out any new leaves,
- If the few leaves it is putting out are significantly smaller than the rest,
- Or if the color of your plant’s leaves starts to look faded and dull.
On the other hand, your plant may be getting too much light if:
- The leaves have a wrinkly or crispy texture,
- The color of your plant’s leaves looks washed out, as if they were bleached.
- Or if you see blotchy spots of white, yellow, or brown on the leaves (sunburn).
After diagnosing whether or not your plant is getting too much or not enough light, you can use the timeline/map of light exposure in your home you created and find a better location for your houseplant in trouble.
Monitor your plants’ reactions to the change.
While the next part of the process may seem obvious, this phase can either help your new plant thrive or kill it, even in just a few days. When you find your most recent addition isn’t getting the light it needs, it is in an already vulnerable state; moving this plant to another spot that still doesn’t giving it the proper light exposure could quickly spell doom. If you don’t see the situation changing, but you don’t observe it getting any worse, then give it time.
As long as you don’t see your plant looking any less healthy, then you should be in the clear. Always remember that your favorite houseplants have evolved to withstand worse conditions than a few dark or extra light days, so have patience in your plant and faith in yourself as a plant parent. Worst case scenario, you learned a lesson and have to buy another new plant.
Don’t be afraid to try other tricks to increase or decrease the natural light in your home.
If you live in a house or building that doesn’t see a lot of natural light, all hope is not lost – you can absolutely still bring plants into your space. There are a few tips and tricks we can recommend increasing the light available to your space, the first being to remove the drapes or blinds from your windows. While this may seem obvious (while also taking away from the décor of your home), even sheer blinds can greatly diffuse and even block a ton of vital rays from getting to your plants. You can also rearrange the furniture in your space in case you have anything large that is keeping light out. A great last resort effort to up the natural light in your space is to add mirrors to your décor, especially along the vertical wall space next to deep set windows.
Now, if you find your space having too much light, there’s no need to limit yourself to just dessert-dwelling plants like cacti and succulents because you can easily decrease the number of rays getting in through your windows. The easiest trick is to add drapes to your windows, with sheer white fabric drapes being your best option; these are great for diffusing the light coming in but not blocking it. This way, you can still place all species of plants right next to your windows, but the now indirect light will be much less intense and potentially harmful. If traditional window treatments aren’t your thing, you can also install window film. This can come in all kinds of colors, designs, and patterns, but ultimately cuts the light exposure in half for the houseplants on the inside.
When all else fails, consider the use of grow lights.
If you find yourself unable of giving your plants the light they prefer, or if you have your heart set on certain species that need a ton of light, then you can always resort to grow lights! The technology around artificial grow lights has vastly improved since their commercial introduction in the 1960’s. Simple-looking light bulbs can replicate the entire UV spectrum normally given off by the Sun, so a plant won’t even know the difference. The most common types of lights are Full Spectrum, Red Light, or Blue Light; each is specifically designed to help in the growth process of certain plants, though it is possible to find bulbs that can toggle between each option for added versatility.
Many modern grow lights can be purchased as singular light bulbs that may or may not fit a standard socket, though the all-inclusive grow light fixtures are being used more often in both home gardens and commercial settings. The latter of the two options typically come with all kinds of add-ons that can make mimicking the Sun or optimizing the light exposure to your plants’ particular species even easier. These extras can be things like programmable, automated timers to replicate nighttime hours, dimming options to simulate cloudy days to allow your plants a chance to rest, and even self-monitoring fail safe functions to make sure they don’t overheat when you’re out of the house. If adding a couple grow lights to your space is the worst case scenario, then you have no excuse for not adopting houseplants for your home!
With that, we are done with part four of our six-part Indoor Plants for Beginners series – we are finally over half-way through! Keep an eye out two weeks from now for our next guide, full of tips and tricks on how to be the best plant parent you can be.
Don’t forget to check out our other blogs! We offer tips and tricks to get the most of your gardening or indoor plant journey on a regular basis. Do you have a subject you would like us to write about? Let us know in the comments below!