Knowing how much light your plant needs and how much light you have to offer a plant can be a challenge or even downright confusing. So we are going to simplify it and clear things up a bit. But here’s the disclaimer: there are general guidelines we can give you, but the fact of the matter is, when you adopt a houseplant, the answers are not always black and white. Like small children. Am I right? If you place a plant somewhere and it isn’t doing well, move it! Try a new location with more light, or less light. As we have mentioned before, there are many beautiful houseplants, but they can have different needs, depending on their species. Remember to do some research about your particular type of plant(s) to make sure you are giving that plant the best care. Ok. That being said, here’s the deal on light.
Know Your Windows
Your windows (and possibly doors) are where your natural light is coming in, and that is the light your plants really need. (We’ll make suggestions about artificial lighting another day.) You need to know which direction your windows face–north, south, east, or west. You may need to get out a compass for this one (did you know there is an app for that??), but generally, you should be able to tell direction based on where the sun rises and sets in relation to your house. Remember the acronym you learned in third grade: Never Eat Shredded Wheat. The sun rises in the East, sets in the West. Now that we have reviewed the directional basics, and you have identified which direction your windows face, here is what you need to know about each type of window.
For north-facing windows, plants nearby should be shade or low-light loving plants. North-facing windows provide the least amount of light. Chances are, plants near north-facing windows will struggle in the winter. You should move them as close to the window as possible during the winter, but take care to monitor in case you have drafty windows. They get cold just like we do.
Just as they are literally polar opposites, the same is true for when it comes to north and south-facing windows. South-facing windows allow in the brightest light. This intensity means that your bright to medium-bright loving plants will do really well here.
As we reminded you earlier, the sun rises in the east, so you guessed it. East-facing windows usually receive a lot of early morning light. This type of light is great for plants that require medium light, but even some bright light plants can get the light they need if there is a lot of direct early morning light.
West facing windows have a lot of afternoon sun, especially in the summer, and afternoon sun can be particularly intense. Plants that need bright light will do really well near a west-facing window. Place medium light plants at least 6 feet away from western light so they don’t get too much sun. Did you know plants can get a sunburn?
Know Your Surroundings
Knowing which direction your windows face is not all you need to take into account. You have to consider what surrounds your home/apartment/condo. You may have a south facing window that faces tall trees, or an east facing window that faces your neighbor’s house. Or maybe there is that overgrown bush that completely covers one of your windows…whatever it is, you need to take into account if the light in your home is also affected by those factors.
Now that you know what direction your windows face and how much light you can expect, what exactly do all the labels with “bright direct light” to “low indirect light” actually mean? Here are a few “Rules of Thumb” to consider when reading those labels or descriptions:
Check The Shadows
When the sun is shining, use yourself or something else and see what shadow is created by the light coming in your windows or doors. A strong, well-defined shadow indicates bright light. A weaker, but clearly outlined shadow suggests medium light, and a very faint shadow indicates low light. (You can also test the shadow by using a white piece of paper, holding it near the light source, placing your hand about a foot over it, and seeing what shadow is cast.)
Direct light means the sun is shining directly on the plant through the window. Few houseplants tolerate direct light very well. Many of them will be burned by this type of light. Indirect light is just that–the sunlight is not directly shining on the plant.
Read a Book
This is an easy way to check the light in your home. If you can read a book during the day with the lights off and only read by the light available, then you can generally have a houseplant. If it is too dark to read a book during the day, we suggest buying the plants made of plastic. 😉 Or you will need to invest in artificial lighting.
Look Around When Buying
Consider the light in the store where you buy your plants. At the Garden Center, our experts place the plants in the rooms that will give the plants the best light for them. If you’re shopping a box store and not supporting local and family-owned businesses, we can’t be friends. We could…but you’d have to leave the dark side.
Trial and Error
We can give you all the tips, but the fact of the matter is you have to take your plant home and see what works. Try the location that provides the light your plant needs, and if it thrives and does well, great! If not, move it to another location and see if it does better there. You may find that a plant can or can’t tolerate what you understood to be bright or low light. Here’s an example: If you look at the label of a Sansevieria (Snake Plant), it will probably tell you it does well in medium light. I have a Sansevieria in the bathroom of my home and it gets just that–medium light. It is happy and healthy. And then I also have a Sansevieria in my office that gets bright afternoon light. Guess what? It is also happy and healthy. I share this so that you know you will have to see what works for your plant, and sometimes things don’t always make sense.
Educate yourself as much as possible, then place your plant and go from there. Light, albeit very important, is just one of the factors in making sure your plants survive and thrive. Don’t forget water, drafts, and food! So many things! 🙂 As always, you know we are here to help you in anyway we can! Happy houseplanting, friends!