To understand light needs, you might want to start by thinking about what light your plant would have in its native habitat. (If you don’t know, it’s easy to find out!) Learning this is super helpful - there’s nothing that can tell you more about your plants needs.
Cacti and succulents originate in dry, sunny locations like deserts. They are going to need your south-facing windows that gets the most sun possible.
Generally, plants that are grown for flowers and fruit need a lot of sun to be able to put so much energy into producing. Imagine sunny gardens and farmer’s fields. Many of them will enjoy your south-facing windows as well.
Plants that are grown for their beautiful leaves often need less light. Many of them come to us from rainforests where they grow under the canopy of big trees. Some of these plants might like some gentle morning sun, but they need to be protected from exposure to bright afternoon sun.
Delicate tropical plants like orchids and ferns are acclimated to growing deeper in the rainforest, under more protection. Therefore, they appreciate indirect light and many can thrive even in a north-facing window.
Pro tip: choose plants that fit your existing lighting, rather than trying to change your space to accommodate your plants!
The best and most obvious way to deal with a light issue is to move the plant to an area that has the best light for it! Sometimes this could just be a few feet away from where it currently is. Of course, when moving plants, remember that they adapt to new situations slowly. You might not see evidence of the plant being happier for a while. Also, keep in mind that if you are making a big change, even for the better, to do it slowly over time so the plant has time to acclimate to the change.
Generally, the more light and heat a plant gets, the more water it needs. Vice-versa is generally true as well: the less light a plant gets, the less water it needs.
In some cases, certain plants can adapt to more light than they ideally would like if you increase the amount of water they receive. Be careful though - this isn’t the right fix for everything! For some plants more water will just cause them to rot.
Symptoms of too much light: If you notice that your plant has burned patches on its leaves, it might be getting too much light. Often the burned areas will be dry, pale white-tan, or brown mixed with white areas. Plants getting too much light might also drop their leaves.
Possible fixes: If moving the plant isn’t possible, there are some other ways to fix light issues. If you are having an issue with too much light, take a look at the chart above. For example, if you have something that wants bright indirect light and you have it in a west facing window, adding a sheer curtain will fix the issue. Sheers will let light through, but won’t let the plant get burned by direct rays.
Dark pots, walls, or furniture with matte finishes will absorb excess light. Be careful with dark pots though, in some circumstances they may absorb too much heat for the roots.
Symptoms of too little light: On the other hand, if you are noticing yellow discoloration, stunted leaf growth, elongated stems, plants that look as though they are reaching toward the light source, and/or a dull color your plant might be getting too little light. Plants getting too little light may also drop their leaves, so that can be a tricky symptom to understand. (Sometimes yellowing and leaf-dropping is also caused by overwatering -- make sure to read our upcoming blog post all about watering.)
Possible fixes: If all the windows in your house face North and you dream of growing indoor plants that need bright light, you might want to look into installing plant lights. Full spectrum grow lights are the best, but even dedicated time close to household LED lights can help.
Mirrors can be used to reflect light to areas that would otherwise be darker.
White pots, walls, furniture, and shiny finishes can increase the amount of light in a room.
Always remember that plant care is experimental! Don’t be afraid to try different things while you are figuring out what works best for you and your plants. Keep in mind that individual plants or different cultivars can have different needs depending on their biology or what conditions they were in prior to landing in your home.