Are You Providing Sufficient Light for your Plants?

Providing the right amount of light for your plants may be the most important thing you can do for them. This post should help you determine how much light is too much, or too little, and where to place your plants.

When considering the well being of you plants, lighting is crucial, as you will base all other care around how much light your plant is getting. In my opinion, the main reason plants die is in relation to how much light they recieved. This post is intended to help you better understand light and how your plant’s care is dependent on it.

Unlike mammals that consume food to create energy for our bodies, plants turn sunlight into energy. Therefore, light equals food for plants, and this amazing process is called photosynthesis. When you think of light in this way for them, you already start to get a deeper understanding how important lighting is.

Types of Lighting

You will notice that in all of my posts on plants and their care, I briefly go over their light requirements. There are a lot of different terms that may be confusing for some. Full sun, dappled lighting, indirect sun, and low light are all descriptions of what are required for some plants, but what does this mean?

Full sun, or direct sun, is the strongest light possible for plants. Most tropical and indoor plants can’t withstand this lighting, but succulents and cacti thrive on it. In this lighting, all the sun’s rays are shining directly onto the plant. Most full sun plants will require at least 6+ hours of full sun each day. Here in the states, South facing light is the strongest and brightest light.

Partial sun is the second strongest amount of light you could give. It usually consists of full morning sun and then afternoon shade. It typically means 4-6 hours of direct sun daily. An East facing direction will provide this light. With the sun rising in the East, you will recieve plenty of morning light with it tapering off in the afternoon.

Bright indirect light, or dappled light, is the most common light requirement for many plants. A great example would be a south facing window with a light window shade, softening the intense rays coming through the window. If outdoors, this would usually mean the light from the sun is obstructed somehow. Plants that grow on other plants epiphytically, will have obstructed light from the tree it is growing on. If plants with this obstructed view of the sun gets any direct light, it will never be for prolonged periods of time. This type of light may be 0-4 hours of direct sun daily.

Shade or low light is the lowest you can go in terms of lighting. This type of lighting typically means the plant will get indirect light but will never actually see the sun. Plants that grow underneath the shade of trees will get this lighting. Bright light will surround the plant, but it may never really get direct sunlight. Low light is not to be confused with no light. If growing plants indoors with little to no sun, supplementing your plants with grow lights is a must. Remember, light equals food for your plants. Without this vital energy, the plant will not grow.

My East facing window provides a ton of bright morning sun.

How To Determine the Light You Have

There are a few things you can use to determine your light situation. You can use a compass to determine what directions your light is coming from and you can use light meters. A lot of smart phones have compass apps in them and there are light meter apps for sale as well. I hear the light apps aren’t as accurate as the actual meter, but they do a decent job in showing you the general type of light you’re receiving.

When using a compass your direction of strong light will differ depending on what side of the earth’s hemisphere you are located. For example, in the Northern hemisphere like the United States, South facing light is our strongest direction of light. In the Southern hemisphere, like Australia and New Zealand, North is the strongest direction of light. Light still rises from the East and sets in the West, but the earth’s axis is tilted towards the North there. Therefore, most of their sunlight is received from the North, and vice versa for us in the States.

When using a light meter, light will be measured by foot candles. One foot candle equals the amount of light radiating from one candle a foot away. Most people would use a meter to determine light indoors. It is great for determining where your light hits the strongest and where it starts to taper off. Perfect for figuring out placement of plants within your home.

8,000+ foot-candles (Full sun) indicates very direct and intense light. Cacti and succulents thrive with this type of light. You can also grow Calibrachoas, Fruit trees and bushes, Salvia, Lavender, Daisies, Daylilies, Proteas, and Sunflowers to name a few. These plants love full sun as well.

800-1,000 foot-candles (Partial Sun) would be considered very bright indirect lighting. You could grow Hoyas, Orchids, Peperomia, Succulents, Aglaonemas, Money trees, Pilea Peperomioides, and Fiddle leaf fig trees. I will say most indoor tropical plants do well with this light.

200-800 foot-candles (Bright indirect light) is a level of light that is good for most indoor tropicals and low light plants. Low light plants can tolerate lower levels than this but thrive better with this lighting. You can plant Dracenas, Peace lilies, Scheffleras, Philodendrons, Monsteras, and Pothos to name a few.

50-150 foot-candles (Low light) is typical for low light plants. Very few plants can tolerate these levels of light. Even plants that can survive this low of light will do much better if given more light. Plants like, Pothos, Ferns, Snake plants, and ZZ plants will survive this light.

Light In Relation To Everything Else

In my opinion, getting your lighting right is the most important step in caring for your plant. Not only does it supply your plants with the energy necessary for growth, but it also determines what kind of soil you will use, how and when to water, and when to fertilize. Without proper lighting, everything else just will not fall into place.

If you have high light plants in low light settings, your soil will probably stay wet for too long and will most likely rot your plant. Without the sun to dry out the soil and to provide the plant with energy, it just ends up sitting wet for too long. If you have a plant that likes bright diffused light and you give it too much sun, it will burn and or die from water in the soil evaporating too quickly. The plant will quickly burn and dry up. All of these situations didn’t work out because the lighting was incorrect.

Light and Heat

For the most part, this information is pretty general when it comes to light indoors but what about outdoors? It really just depends on where you are located. Texas full sun is very different from Hawaiian full sun. The major reason being heat. Light can be deadly if accompanied with heat. Understanding a plants need for light and temperature requirements is important. Even some full sun plants may wither if exposed to intense heat.

The same is true with cold. Just because its very sunny out doesn’t mean some of your plants may be ok. Always be sure to know the temperature requirements for your plants. Keeping this in mind will go a long way.

These cacti are able to withstand intense light and heat.

Using This Information

Now that you have a better understanding of light and what it may look like, we can now apply this information. Once you have determined the type of lighting you have, you can start looking for plants that fit your specific light available. Buying a cactus because you hear they are easy to care for, will fail if you cannot provide the light. Don’t set yourself up for that kind of dissapointment.

I know it can be really discouraging if you don’t have the best lighting available in your home. A lot of people have this problem, so you are not alone. If your windows don’t produce the strongest light, there are a lot of different grow bulbs out on the market. You have choices of types of lightbulbs that will not only be functional in your home, but will also provide the much needed light for your plants.

If you have too much light in some areas, you can put up a sheer curtain on your windows to soften the intense light and heat that would burn most indoor plants. Placing plants further away from an intense window will help as well. The plant will still get the much needed light without the direct heat and intensity.

If you are new to caring for plants, do as much research as you can on plants for your current light situation. Knowing where a plant would naturally grow in the wild, will better help you understand the light it needs indoors. Start with one or two and you can grow from there. Caring for plants takes practice and patience. Being comfortable in caring for plants doesn’t just happen over night, but with time you will learn what to look for to better care for your plants.


Little Groundwork is an online oasis documenting the everyday lessons and changes involved with cultivating a greener environment. Rooted in a love for all things nature and design, Little Groundwork hopes to spark that same passion into the hearts of many. We hope that you follow along with us and together we can learn, grow, and create a greener environment.

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