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How to Use Natural Light for Houseplants

Natural light for houseplants

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Light is just as essential to the healthy development of indoor plants as water and soil. No plant can survive in poor soil or without fertilizer for an extended period of time if it does not have access to natural sunlight. If you want to keep your houseplants healthy and thriving, it’s important that you provide them with the right amount of natural light.

Not all indoor plants need direct sunlight, but most do require some level of natural light in order to grow properly. In this blog post, we will discuss the different ways you can use natural light for your houseplants, as well as some tips and tricks for maximizing the light they receive.

Natural light is important for indoor plants because it helps them to photosynthesize, which is the process that they use to convert sunlight into energy. The plant uses this energy to fuel its growth and development. Indoor plants that do not receive enough light will often become spindly and leggy, with small leaves and weak stems.

Conversely, too much light can also be harmful to plants, causing them to wilt and develop bleached or yellow leaves. For most houseplants, the best way to provide them with the right amount of light is to place them near a south-facing window.

The Biology

One of the most important aspects of life on this planet is the remarkable capacity of plants to transform sunlight into energy. In the food chain, sunlight is transformed into useful energy by plants through the process of photosynthesis.

This vital process occurs in specialized cells known as chloroplasts, which are found in greater concentrations in plants that can tolerate higher light energy intensities. When light levels change, plants use chloroplasts to adjust their concentration in response.

For example, when light levels are lower, more chloroplasts are lined up to collect available light. Shade-loving plants may be “taught” to tolerate greater light levels via a process known as acclimatization. Regardless of the particular conditions, it is clear that photosynthesis is essential for plant life – and by extension, all life on earth.

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Can houseplants survive without natural light?

While it is possible for some houseplants to only be exposed to artificial light, it is generally preferable for artificial light to serve as an addition to natural light. This is because indoor plants typically grow best when exposed to a full spectrum of light, which can be provided by sunlight.

However, if you have almost no natural light available, you may want to consider using grow lights. Grow lights are specially designed to provide the full spectrum of light plants need to thrive. In addition, they can be adjusted to provide the exact amount of light that a particular plant needs.

As a result, grow lights can be an essential tool for keeping houseplants healthy and happy. Click here if you want to learn more about grow lights and here to learn which houseplants and indoor trees we recommend!

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Types of Light

Direct Light

Direct light is the most intense and focused type of light a plant can receive. When the sun shines directly on your plant, it’s immediately exposed to the sun’s rays. If you were to compare it to a person, they would need sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun’s intensity.

Just like people, plants can get sunburned from too much exposure to direct sun rays. Too many direct sun rays can cause leaves to fade in color, scorch, or even kill your plant.

For this reason, it’s important to research the light requirements of a plant before placing it in a sunny spot. Additionally, it’s important to remember that even plants that thrive in direct sun rays can be damaged if they are overexposed.

If you notice your plant starting to wilt or suffer from leaf scorch, move it to a shadier spot and allow it to recover. You’ll soon find the perfect spot for your sun-loving plants with a little trial and error.

Indirect Light

The sun’s rays do not go directly to your plant under indirect light. Your plant receives light reflected off another object before reaching it. The object that the light is reflected off of could be the ground, a wall, or even another plant. The angle at which the light hits the reflective surface will determine how much light is reflected towards your plant.

The closer the angle is to perpendicular, the more light will be reflected. The amount of light that is reflected also depends on the surface itself. A smooth surface will reflect a higher amount of light than a rough surface. The type of material the surface is made of also affects how much light is reflected.

A shiny surface like glass will reflect more light than a duller surface like concrete, and a white surface will reflect more light than a black surface. The distance that the reflective surface is from your plant also affects how much light is reflected towards your plant. The closer the reflective surface is to your plant, the more light that will be reflected. All of these factors combine to determine how much indirect light your plant receives.

Filtered Light

The term “filtered light” refers to light that has been diffused by an object. The object can be anything that is translucent or opaque, such as a sheer curtain, tree leaves, or even your hand. When light is diffused, it becomes scattered and less intense.

As a result, filtered light is typically cooler and softer than direct light. Plants that thrive in filtered light typically have large, flat leaves that can absorb as much light as possible.

The diffusing effect of filtered light also reduces the risk of sunburn or leaf scorch, making it ideal for delicate plants. In general, filtered light is an ideal way to provide your plants with the bright light they need without the harshness of direct sun rays.

Artificial Light

Artificial light is any light that is not provided by the sun. Fluorescent light bulbs are the most common type of artificial light used for plants. Fluorescent lights come in a variety of shapes and sizes, making them a versatile option for indoor growers.

One advantage of fluorescent lights is that they emit very little heat, making them safe to use around plants. Fluorescent lights are also available in a wide range of intensities, making it easy to find one that is suited for your plant’s needs.

If you are using artificial light to grow plants indoors, it is important to provide them with at least 14 hours of light per day. This can be accomplished by using a timer to turn the lights on and off as needed.

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Measuring Light Intensity

There are several methods for determining the intensity of light. Light intensity depends upon the distance of the light source from the plant and decreases rapidly with increasing distance. You can also look at the amount of shadow the light is casting, for instance. A strong light casts a clear shadow, but a dim light casts a hazy one.

There is no shadow to be seen when the light intensity decreases. Foot candles, or a measurement based on the intensity of one candella, are also used by many growers to make their decisions. As a starting point, below is the basic foot-candle size:

  • Low light intensity (200–500 foot candles): Almost deep shadow, unsuitable for most plants.
  • 500–1,000: Bright enough to read by and suitable for shade-loving plants but still being modest in intensity.
  • 1,000–2,000: Even though it may not form a well-defined shadow, bright indirect sun rays are ideal for many plants needing indirect sunlight.
  • 2,000–4,000: 40% of the noon sunlight, or direct sun rays entering through the windows, is bright light and suitable for plants requiring high light intensity.
  • 4,000–5,000: Nearly two-thirds of noon sun or brilliant indirect light is ideal for plants with high light needs.
  • Up to 5,000: Super-bright, ambient lighting

Foot candles are an important consideration since even the brightest indoor spaces seldom reach the 10,000–12,000 foot candles of full daylight. Despite this, plants put near windows might still catch fire due to the magnifying effect of the glass and the fact that the plant may not be used to being exposed to direct sunlight.

The plant itself is the greatest guidance when it comes to determining the appropriate level of light for your plants. Overexposure to the sun may cause yellowing or burnt areas on leaves, while underexposure can result in lanky growth.

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Plant Positions

Gardeners who want to cultivate plants inside are often battling for better or more steady lighting. You should realize that sunlight entering through a window is not as powerful as sunshine coming from outside, and the intensity of light decreases fast as the plant is pushed away from the windows.

If you want to know how much light is streaming into your home, you need also keep an eye on where your windows face. These bullet points show how light intensity changes with window direction in the Northern Hemisphere.

  • North-facing windows. In general, these windows have the lowest light intensity and are generally covered in a thick layer of dark shade. A north-facing window may be able to grow shade-loving plants in the summer. Still, these windows are typically not favorable to plant development in the winter.
  • South-facing windows. Because of the sun’s east-to-west arc, windows towards the south tend to have higher light intensities. Unobstructed southern windows provide the best lighting conditions for houseplants.
  • East facing windows. It’s best to open your east windows early in the morning when the sun isn’t nearly as powerful. Mild or morning light-only plants frequently fare well in east windows.
  • West-facing windows. In the late afternoon and evening, the sun shines directly into the west windows, making for some intense heat in the summer. Sun-loving plants will thrive in a west-facing window, despite the lower light intensity compared to a southern exposure.

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Main Types Of Natural Light Settings

Full sun

Most home plants dislike too much direct sunlight, and many of them will die or be severely harmed if they get it. No other plant grows well in full sun except desert cacti and succulents (which appear to appreciate some light and sunny circumstances). A south-facing window receives full sunlight.

Partial sunlight and shade

For a plant to get a few hours of sunshine throughout the day, it will need to be placed near a window facing west or east. Avoiding the sweltering noon sun is made possible by placing a plant near a west or east-facing window. Close proximity to a window, particularly for blooming plants, is ideal for many sorts of plants.

Full shade or low light

The majority of plants, particularly those that blossom, do not thrive in full shadow or low light. When it comes to low-light plants, you’ll discover a few that flourish and are simple to cultivate (good for beginner growers). Cast-iron plant, mother-in-tongue, law’s dragon tree, and zz plant are just a few examples of plants that thrive in low light, and you can discover a collection of them here. In most cases, the quantity of light a room receives depends on the size or number of windows it has.

Bright without direct sun

Most foliage plants, as well as a large number of blooming plants, need a light source that is bright without being in direct sunlight. South-facing windows provide the most light without getting any direct sunlight, so situate your plant at least three feet away from one of these windows. If the window is big enough to let in enough light and the plant is placed in front of it, you may even use it in an east or west-facing room.

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How plants are affected by too little or too much light

Too little light causes plants to lack chlorophyll, which is the green pigment that gives plants their color. “Leggy” stems suggest that the stems are long and slender and seem to be aiming for the light. The plant develops vast intervals between the leaf nodes on stems when it receives little light (the point where a leaf grows out from the stem).

It’s possible for plants to lose older leaves if they don’t get enough light. Variegated plants (those with white and green leaves) may sometimes go back to being solid green. It is possible that flowering plants will not yield any seed pods. Exposure to excessive sun may cause burned and browned leaves in plants. All of these side effects can be avoided by giving plants the appropriate amount of light they need to thrive.

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Natural light for houseplants – FAQ

Which type of light is best for a cast iron plant?

Full shade or low light.

What’s the best type of artificial light to grow leafy greens?

Blue light or mixed light bulbs are suitable for starting seeds, leafy greens, and non-flowering house plants. 

Where in my house will my plant receive the most light?

South-facing windows typically get the most light, but this may vary if you live in a dense city or have a shady yard. 

Where in my house will my plant receive full shade?

A north-facing window provides full shade, but low light can often depend on the size or amount of windows in a room.

Can I use artificial lighting if I can’t get enough sunlight to encourage plant growth?

Yes, you can use artificial lighting such as a grow light. Artificial lighting, such as fluorescent bulbs will provide a full light spectrum. It’s important to mind the quality of light plants receive, which will improve plant growth. 

Which type of light is best for a snake plant?

Low light.

What is a full light spectrum?

The light spectrum is composed of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet light. Sunlight provides all colors of light. 

How to Use Natural Light for Houseplants

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M.Arch. Julio Arco
M.Arch. Julio Arco

Bachelor of Architecture - ITESM University
Master of Architecture - McGill University
Architecture in Urban Context Certificate - LDM University
Interior Designer - Havenly
Architecture Professor - ITESM University

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