Plant Lighting 101: Where to Place Houseplants to Get the Perfect Amount of Light



Plants thrive in the right kind of lighting. Too little light may stunt the growth of a plant and its leaves, while too much light can scorch a plant. The wrong kind of lighting can make a plant more susceptible to problems like root rot. The trouble is that gardeners may not know which type is best for their plant. Although species tend to have specific preferences, the individual plant may also grow accustomed to certain levels. Gardeners should pay attention to the health of their plants as it relates to lighting, and be ready to make gradual changes when needed. With this information, plant owners will understand the various types of lighting and how to determine if they should adjust it.

Bright Light

Bright lighting is the most common light preference for house plants, although it depends on the species. Rooms with lots of large windows may offer plenty of bright light. This lighting level does not necessarily mean the lighting is direct. Rather, it indicates that the light source is plentiful (and lights up the room). As a general rule, gardeners are more likely to get this type of lighting from windows that track the path of the sun at some point during the day. The amount of bright lighting depends on the season, region and the position of the window. If you can comfortably read a book in a room (with only the source of light illuminating the space), there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a bright light source.

Low Light

As a contrast to bright lighting, low lighting is far away from any light source. For example, a plant placed at the back of the room 20-30 feet away from the window is likely in low lighting. Rooms without windows, as are common in office buildings, and corners away form windows may offer only low lighting. Typically, light level changes in a gradient from bright to medium to low. Some plants can thrive in low lighting, although they may need additional support from artificial lighting or grow bulbs.

Direct Light

People may think that bright and direct light are one and the same. In fact, they describe different qualities of light. In a nutshell, directly light means there is nothing between the light source and the plant. Plants that need direct light must typically be placed right next to a window that faces south or west, and may even prefer to live outside. While most plants do best with bright lighting, only a portion of these need bright, direct lighting. However, direct lighting requires care even in these cases. In the hot summer, particularly in regions with a hot climate, direct lighting can be harsh on plants that are accustomed to bright but indirect lighting.

Indirect Light

Indirect lighting is a common preference for indoor plants. This light level indicates that the lighting is present in the room, but not shining directly onto the plant. Windows that face east or north may offer indirect light. Additionally, lighting from windows that face south or west may become indirect at least a few feet from the light source. People who use filtering curtains or shades on their windows as a way of blocking solar heat gain or glare may turn direct light into diffused indirect light as a result.

Signs a Plant Isn’t Getting the Right Amount of Light

Plants eventually present signs that they need more light or less light than they are getting. Excessive direct lighting is obvious in that the plants start to look burned with brown, crisp leaves. Insufficient lighting forces plants to grow in unusual ways as they try to get closer to the light. Long, leggy stems are a good example. Plant enthusiasts should pay close attention to these signs, as they can become a problem even for plants that should be able to handle that type of lighting. Plants can become accustomed to a different light levels, and may need to gradually adjust to changes.

When to Use Artificial Lights

Plants use lighting as a way to create food. Much as humans cannot survive without food, plants cannot survive without any type of lighting. In low light rooms, when relocating a plant to an area with brighter lighting is not possible, artificial lighting may be a necessity. Plant owners should consider options that they can place close to the plant but not necessarily shining directly onto the leaves. As with natural light, too much light can cause damage if the source is too close or the bulb is too bright (or hot). People may want to research the preferences for the species and choose a grow light accordingly.

Types of Grow Lights for Plants

Although there are many types of grow lights designed specifically for growing plants indoors, people do not necessarily need to buy these in order to keep their plants healthy. Many plants can use lighting from a variety of accessible, affordable light sources like compact fluorescent bulbs or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. These options are ideal for plant owners who want growth but not necessarily flowering. Plants should have access to these lights for several hours a day.

For growing plants that require consistent, bright light, high-intensity discharge lights or high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights may be necessary if there isn’t a sufficient natural source of light indoors. These light bulbs are generally available at gardening specialty stores or home improvement stores. For best results, gardeners should place the light around 6 inches from the plant and leave the lights on for several hours a day. These lights can be swapped for other types of lighting to promote changes in the growth cycle.

Ultimately, keeping a house plant healthy may require some testing of the lighting. After all, plants that ordinarily do well outside might need a different situation inside, and their preferences will change by the season. Plant owners can avoid most problems by offering a variety of lighting levels in a room, and watching for common signs that a plant is not thriving where they are placed. Understanding how to make gradual changes can help reduce the chances a plant goes into shock. With these tips, plant parents can help their plants maintain healthy growth indoors.

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