Everything You Need To Know About Lighting

More than anything, plants need light. It’s the lifesource for all vital plant functions. Find out why, how much and what type of light your plant needs to keep on thriving.

Everything You Need To Know About Lighting

Words by The Sill

Plants 101 Next Article
More than anything, plants need light. It’s the lifesource for all vital plant functions. Find out why, how much and what type of light your plant needs to keep on thriving.
Why do plants need light?

All living things need food and water. For plants, light is food. They use it in a vital process known as photosynthesis, wherein the energy of light is captured by chloroplasts, sparking multiple metabolic reactions — one of these being creating sugars (food) for plants. Sugars fuel plant growth, so the more light a plant is exposed to, the more energy it will create and the faster it will grow.

Know these pairs:

  • Quality = Color
  • Quantity = Intensity

These characteristics of light are important in understanding how and why a plant will behave in your home.

Quality

Quality is based on the color and type of light. Light is energy that comes in varying wavelengths, each with a corresponding color. Colors we can see with our own eyes may not be useful for plants, because they ‘see’ light differently than we do. Plants appear green because they reflect green light, so green light is useless to plants. Instead, plants need light they can absorb and make use of like yellow, orange, red, blue and violet, as well as invisible light like UV light from the sun and some infrared.

Quantity

Quantity of light is based on the intensity or the brightness of light that reaches the leaves. The more light photons that hit the leaf = the more energy captured and faster growth. Begonias or Oxalis, for example, depend on intense light to sustain their fast-paced growth. Any plant that produces flowers or fruits depends on intense light too. These plants are working with basic ingredients like water, CO2, sugars and nutrients that are chemically built into complex molecules, like flower pigments, but only when the right light intensity conditions are met. Some plants have self-regulating mechanisms and will even refuse to flower or will try to but fall short halfway through the process if there isn’t enough intense light.

The darkest shade outdoors is still brighter than the sunniest window indoors.

In and Out

Outdoors, even in the shade, light is bouncing from all angles — from 360 degrees around and from the 180 degree arc above in the sky. When a plant is indoors, light usually only comes from one source, like your sunny window, massively reducing the angles light is bouncing off from, and the amount of light and vital photons a plant needs. When we bring a plant indoors, we literally invoke something called exponential reduction in photon exposure. The poetic quote above helps us remember this fact a little more easily.

Light Bright

You may have heard the terms “bright light” and “low light” plants, but what does that really mean?

“Bright light” or “full sun” means there is no barrier (curtains or blinds, a tall tree or building that creates shade) between the plant and the light source (a sunny window). This is where your plant will receive the most bright or direct light while indoors. Aloes, succulents and palm trees are sun worshipping plants. They should get direct sun for at least 6 hours a day. Generally speaking, you would want to put them the brightest spot in the room.

“Medium light” or “filtered sunlight” is light that’s been diffused (sheer curtains) between the plant and the light source (a sunny window) Some refer to it as “dappled sunlight”. Anything partially obstructing the path between your plant and the lightsource creates this medium light. Ferns and aroid plants (Monstera and Aglaonema) have evolved to live on the forest floor, so they are used to being shaded from the sun. They have not evolved to handle the harsh rays of direct sunlight so they prefer medium light conditions.

Low light” means no direct sunlight will reach your plant. It is probably a few feet away from your light source (sunny window) or in a room with artificial light. (Learn more about artificial light). Low light means less energy and less food. Some plants can survive in low light conditions but they will not thrive.

Keep in mind that the sun changes places in the sky depending on time of day and season, affecting how much light your plant will get. Monitor how the light changes throughout the year and adjust your plants position accordingly.

Test it Out

Want to know how much light your plant is getting? A shadow test should do the trick. Take a sheet of paper and hold it up to the light source when the sun is high around midday. Take your free hand and place it a foot or so above your piece of paper. A sharp shadow indicates bright light while a softer shadow indicates medium light. If your plant is a few feet away from a window, even a sunny window, your plant is surviving in low light.

Remember, light is food for plants. Make sure you understand how much natural sunlight your plant needs and how much light your space can provide before making your plant selections.

Creating an Herb Garden at Home

Tired of the frequent trips to your local grocery store for fresh herbs? Here’s some tips on bringing the outside in and creating an herb garden ri...

How To Repot an Orchid

While the average tropical houseplant should be repotted about once a year in fresh potting mix, Phalaenopsis orchids are a whole different repotti...

How To Make Your Orchid Rebloom

Just as we start feeling the winter blues, our orchids start going into dormancy. When spring rolls around again, your Phalaenopsis orchid might ne...

Anthurium

Learn how to care for an Anthurium. Anthuriums are flowering plants native to the Americas. They are known for their brightly colored flowers, wh...

Phalaenopsis Orchid

Orchids are epiphytic in their native habitat, growing on trees and rock formations, instead of directly in the ground. The orchid family (Orchidac...

Aluminum Pilea

Learn how to care for the Aluminum Pilea. The small, but fast growing Pilea cadieri originates from rainforests in Vietnam. One of over 200 specie...

Maranta

Learn how to care for most varieties of Maranta. Maranta is the type-genus of Marantaceae, and is named in honor of Bartolomeo Maranta, an Italian ...

Calathea

Learn how to care for most varieties of Calathea! Calathea is a genus of neotropical rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plants; members of which are ...

Fiddle Leaf Fig

Learn how to care for most varieties of Fiddle Leaf Fig! Ficus lyrata is a species of evergreen tropical tree native to the tropical lowlands of we...

Rubber Tree

Learn how to care for most varieties of Rubber Tree! Ficus elastica is a species of evergreen tropical tree native to southern China, Southeast Asi...

Parlor Palm

Learn how to care for the Parlor Palm! Chamaedorea elegans, also known as the Neanthe Bella Parlor Palm, is one of our favorite true palms. Parlor ...

Monstera

Learn how to care for most varieties of Monstera! Monstera are species of evergreen tropical vines/shrubs that are native to Central America. Monst...

Dino Plant

Learn how to care for most varieties of Dino Plant! The Dino Plant, also known as the Selaginella lepidophylla, is an ancient rosette-forming herb ...

Norfolk Island Pine

Learn how to care for most varieties of Norfolk Island Pine! The Norfolk Island Pine hails from Norfolk Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean...

Oxalis

Learn how to care for most varieties of Oxalis! Oxalis is the largest genus in the family Oxalidaceae and represents about 800 of the 900 species w...

Golden Pothos

Learn how to care for the Golden Pothos! The Golden Pothos, or the Epipremnum aureum, is native to Southeast Asia. It has the reputation of being o...

Pencil Plant (Euphorbia)

Learn how to care for the Pencil Plant! The Pencil Plant or Euphorbia Tirucalli is a succulent native to South and East Africa. The plant’s namesak...

Moon Valley Pilea (Pilea Mollis)

Learn how to care for the Moon Valley Pilea! The Moon Valley Pilea or Pilea Mollis is native to Central and South America. Its common name, Moon Va...

Majesty Palm (Ravenea Rivularis)

Learn how to care for the Majesty Palm! The Majesty Palm is a robust, tropical palm with graceful, feathery fronds that originates from Madagascar....

ZZ Plant

Learn how to care for the ZZ Plant! The Zamioculcas zamiifolia – or ZZ plant — is a tropical perennial native to Eastern Africa that has become pop...

Ripple Peperomia

Learn how to care for the Ripple Peperomia! The Peperomia genus has over 1000 species, but only a dozen or so make for good houseplants. The Pepero...

Philodendron ‘Silver’

Learn how to care for the Philodendron ‘Silver’! The Philodendron ’Silver’ is native to South America and has the reputation of being one of the ea...

Jade Plant

Learn how to care for a Jade Plant! The Crassula ovata (or Jade Plant) originates from South Africa. The word crassus in Latin means “thick”. The n...

Haworthia

Learn how to care for the Haworthia! The Haworthia is a miniature succulent native to South Africa, and is one of the easiest houseplants to care f...

Philodendron

Learn how to care for the Heartleaf Philodendron! The Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum) is an evergreen perennial vine, native to Tr...

Bird’s Nest Fern

Learn how to care for the Bird’s Nest Fern! Native to tropical regions such as southeast Asia, Australia, east Africa and Hawaii to name a few, Bir...

Canela Tree

Learn how to care for the Canela Tree, AKA the Cinnamon Plant! The Canela Tree, also known as the cinnamon plant, is related to the culinary cinnam...

Rex Begonia

Learn how to care for the Rex Begonia! Rex Begonias are admired for their fabulous foliage. The cultivar offers a wide range of colors, textures, a...

Peperomia Plants

Learn how to care for most varieties of Peperomia! The Peperomia genus has over 1,000 species, but only a dozen or so are suitable as houseplants. ...

Peperomia Obtusifolia (Baby Rubber Plant)

Learn how to care for the Peperomia Green (or Baby Rubber Plant)! The Peperomia Obtusifolia is a succulent-like variety of Peperomia, originally fo...

Arrowhead Plant

Learn how to care for the Arrowhead Plant! The Arrowhead (Syngonium podophyllum) is native to the tropical rain forests in Central and South Americ...

From A to ZZ Plant

A common houseplant that’s easy to grow sounds like the perfect plant, right? The ZZ Plant may very well be the perfect plant, known for its adapti...

Between Two Ferns

Ferns are fabulous. They are amongst the first plants on earth to form a vascular system, allowing them to tower over mosses and grow to heights ne...

What’s My Name: Plant Nomenclature

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Shakespeare knew names were important. They can tell us a lot of information about something, or som...

Introduction to Bulbs

Not the electric kind you twist, but the ones you bury into soft, warm soil, lovingly water, and check in on (maybe a little too often), in hopes a...

Pick A Peperomia

Resembling the fan-favorite rubber plant, just tinier, Peperomia are plants in the peppercorn family, Piperaceae. Peperomia make great houseplants,...

Our Top Low-Maintance Houseplants for Under $20

Not only can indoor plants transform a room’s aesthetic, but they also have the ability to boost mood, increase creativity, lessen stress, and filt...

Word On The Bird of Paradise

Unusual, gorgeous, tropical. If you’ve ever mistaken a plant for a bird, or vice versa, you may have encountered a Bird of Paradise plant. Let’s ta...

C is for Calathea

Calathea (Calathea spp. and hybrids.) is a genus of neotropical rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plants; members of which are referred to generally...

Pilea peperomioides

Sure, money doesn’t grow on trees, but the Coin Plant / Chinese Money Plant (Pilea peperomioides) is worth spending some time on.

A is for Aroids

Take a closer look at this amazing yet common houseplant.

Hot in Here: Humidity 101

If you’ve ever experienced a New York summer, you might describe it as humid. The blankety, moisture-filled air that makes morning commutes sticky,...

Fiddle Me This: Caring for a Fiddle Leaf Fig

Fickle, froufrou, fancy. The trendiest plant in the game is of course, the Fiddle Leaf Fig. Flip through any home decor mag or scroll down design-y...

What To Do When You See Mushrooms and Fungi in Soil

For millions of years, plants have been BFF’s with microbes found in soil, forming strong, intricate relationships. Plants interact with both bacte...

How to Learn Which Plants Are Compatible Together (AKA Allelopathy)

Plants lead inner lives that are full of #drama. In short, some plants do not get along with other plants. This is called allelopathy and instead o...

The Hole Truth: Monsteras

Big or small, prickly or smooth, a plant’s characteristics makes them beautiful and unique. They way they look can tell us a lot about them. Here, ...

How-To: Pick a Planter for Your Plant

Say perfect plant planter three times fast. Choosing a planter is not nearly as hard, once you know what to look for. Hint: read on to find out how...

Inside, Out: How-To Bring Indoor Plants Outdoors

Transitioning your indoor plants to the outdoors is not easy. Outdoor plants require extra attention and commitment—much more so than indoor plants...

Plants 101: Succulents

In The Sill's plant beginners series, we introduce some of our favorite plant types like succulents, explore where they come from, and share how to...

Plants 101: Epiphytes and Air Plants

The Sill seeks to educate and inspire all plant lovers. In our plant novice series, Plants 101, we introduce some of our favorite plant types, expl...