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    Indoor Plants: Know Your Indoor Light Levels

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    Houseplants bring a bit of nature inside and can lend lovely visual elements to your indoor space. To keep them looking their best, consider the plant’s light requirements. Just like outdoor plants have specific requirements such as shade or sun, indoor plants need different levels of light. They typically fall within low-light, medium-light, or high-light requirements, which refers to the light intensity levels. 

    Why do plants need light

    Why is light so important? It’s how plants produce food and get their energy to grow and thrive. Without it, they often turn a yellowish or pale color because they can’t produce chlorophyll, which is what makes them look green and healthy. They may become leggy, drop their leaves, and die.

    What affects indoor light levels

    Light levels in the home typically depend on windows or artificial lights. Houseplants can thrive with either, though it’s important to select plants that match the light environment in your home. 

    Depending on the plant, windows might supply adequate light, but other factors affect both light levels and intensity, such as the proximity of the plant to the window, the direction the window faces, and the window size. Window coverings like curtains or shades, outside overhangs or porches, trees, or even shade from other buildings can affect light levels. The amount of light also changes with the season, so moving houseplants from one window to another, depending on the time of year, may be helpful. Even the color of your walls can affect light intensity. Bright, light-colored walls are more reflective and can increase light intensity. Dark walls and surfaces can decrease it. 


    Choose the right plant for your light level

    When adding indoor plants, consider light levels in various areas of your home and select plants accordingly.

    Indoor plants for low-light levels

     
    • Cast iron plant (Aspidistra)
    • Ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)
    • Dumb cane (Dieffenbachia)
    • Dracaena
    • Pothos (Epipremnum)
    • Philodendron
    • Snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata)
    • Zee zee plant (Zamioculcas)
     
    • North-facing windows typically receive the least light and the coolest temperature.
    • Plants usually grow more slowly and need less water in low light environments. 
    • Even if your conditions are low light, that’s no reason to give up on enjoying plants in your home. Minnesota Extension shares this list of popular indoor plants that can thrive in low-light environments such as a north window or a dark corner. Even in rooms with no windows, such as an office, fluorescent lighting that is on several hours each day can be adequate for these plants.

    Indoor plants for medium-light levels

    • Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
    • Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria)
    • Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
    • Fiddleleaf fig (Ficus)
    • Begonias (Begonia)
    • Ferns
    • Spider plant (Chlorophytum)
    • Croton (Codiaeum)
    • Jade plant (Crassula)
    • Monstera (Monstera deliciosa)
    • Schefflera (Schefflera)
    • Peperomia (Peperomia)
    • East-facing and west-facing windows receive a medium level of light intensity and temperature. Medium light can also result when sheer curtains diffuse bright window light from a South-facing window. Several plants will thrive in these window conditions or in rooms where fluorescent lights are on for several hours each day.

    Indoor plants for high-light levels

    • Cacti and succulents
    • Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe)
    • Poinsettia (Poinsettia)
    • Caladium
    • Orchids
    • Culinary herbs such as basil (Ocimum) and thyme (Thymus)
    • Citrus such as calamondin orange, kumquat, Meyer lemon
    • Hibiscus
    • South- or southwest-facing windows receive the brightest and most intense light and are the warmest in temperature. 
    • Most plants grown for their flowers require high-light growing conditions.

    Light duration for houseplants

    Light duration can make a difference. The longer the period of light doesn’t always equate to what is best for the plant. Some plants are sensitive to day lengths; others are not.

    Some plants are considered short-day plants, meaning they need 11 or fewer hours of light during a 24-hour period. In other words, some plants are just like some people. Some need a longer period of darkness to get the best rest so they can end up looking their best. Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus, kalanchoes, and poinsettias are considered short-day plants. Too much light for a period longer than 11 hours may affect reduce blooming. Put them in a spot with the right amount of light and they show off. 

    On the other hand, some plants are considered long-day plants. To flower, they need light that exceeds the hours of the night period, more than 12 hours each day. Among long-day plants are African violets, gloxinia, and tuberous begonias.

    When a plant is called day-neutral, it is insensitive to day-length differences and its flowering cycle will not be affected. Gerbera daisies are an example.

    Using supplemental or artificial light

    Plants need both red and blue light for photosynthesis. A lot of indoor lighting is from incandescent lights, which provide primarily red light. They also put off a lot of heat, so plants do not need to be placed too close to them.

    Fluorescent lighting or special grow lights may supply both red and blue light, which are important energy sources for plants. They are energy efficient and produce little heat. They also are available in many different sizes.

    Light-emitting diodes or LEDs are also energy-efficient and can be a good choice for small houseplants.

    See our guide on How to Choose Grow Lights for Indoor Plants and Seedlings. When selecting lights, check the manufacturer information for details. 


    Find more tips for indoor plant growing

    Lifestyle factors for thriving houseplants, plus 10 options to consider adding to your home.
    Indoor plants tend to hail from tropical regions meaning humidity is a key factor in their success. Read more about how to keep your plant babies happy and the humidity steady.