Lighting Guide

Lighting Guide

There are many misunderstood aspects of plant care that make it into the seemingly arcane art that it is for some new plant owners. Push aside pests and your watering schedule because lighting is the most misunderstood aspect of care that we get a lot of questions on. If you’re a new plant parent or just someone confused by what ‘indirect light’ means, this guide is for you.

  • Direct vs. Indirect Light

Guys, this one is easier than it’s made out to be. If you can make eye contact with the sun from your window (you really shouldn’t do this even if you can), this window is receiving direct light. If you’d prefer to forgo a staring contest with the sun, pull out your compass and check the direction. The sun rises in the East and sets in the West so those are the only two possible directions that windows can be facing in order to receive direct sunlight. If your window is facing North or South, this is Indirect. If you live in a high rise or have large bay windows, you may receive some direct sunlight through your North or South exposures but generally this will not be the case.

  • Bright vs. Low Light

The picture attached to our post does a great job at depicting this concept. Plant #1 is sitting right in a West facing windowsill so he’s receiving bright, direct light. Plant #2 is sitting right near that window but it’s not directly coming in contact with the sun’s rays, therefore it is receiving bright, indirect light. Plant #3 is a bit further from that window but still in an otherwise well-lit room, therefore he’s receiving a moderate, indirect light - perfect for a Monstera as pictured here. Lastly, Plant #4 is in the hall outside of the room with that window, so he is receiving low, indirect light.

Once you grasp the difference between direct and indirect light, the bright to low scale is a tad more intuitive.

  • Which plants where?

Now that you understand the descriptors used around light exposure, it’s up to you to ensure that you have the proper lighting at your home for whichever plant you plan to buy.

As you read through our other plant guides, we break down the optimal lighting for each type of plant. If you are still unsure as to which plants will do best in your home, visit our Services section where we offer At-Home Consultations to assess which plants will do best in your home based on the available lighting.

  • Grow Lights

Grow lights are an excellent way to supplement whatever your lighting situation is. If you live in a garden unit apartment without much light coming in, grow lights may be the only option if you’re looking to bring home a plant that’s not a snake or ZZ plant. Or, you can turn a closet into your own little greenhouse with the help of grow lights.

You will find a whole array of different types and styles of grow lights online. Generally, we recommend LED varieties over incandescent or fluorescent options as they are more energy efficient and produce less ambient heat, which can burn your plants if placed too close. The other benefit to LED lights is that most provide a fuller spectrum of both violet-blue and red light, which is optimal for photosynthesis to occur.

Most LED grow lights will come in either strip or 12”x12” units and both are equally effective at providing light to your plants. LED lights can be placed as near as 6 inches from your plants but an ideal range is closer to 12-18 inches from them.

It is best to put your grow lights on a timer so you don’t forget to turn them on in the morning or off at night. Theoretically, non-flowering plants can be left under light for 24-hours a day but this can be stressful depending on your plant variety. Aim to mimic the time that sun would come up and set, or just go for a 12/12 schedule to be safe.


  • Succulents don’t need any light, right?

    • No - I don’t know where this rumor came from but it needs to go.

  • Is more light always better?

    • Not necessarily - there are a lot of plants that will show signs of light stress and scorching on the leaves if put in a light situation that differs from what they would prefer in the wild. For example, most Philodendron are quite capable of surviving in moderate light settings, but do not need more than bright, indirect light. If a Monstera were put right in a bright, West facing window, you will notice damage in its leaves over time.

  • So what light is best?

    • South-facing exposure is the best light you could hope to have. This gives you the flexibility of having lots of light coming in which not worrying about damage that can be caused by a direct exposure. North-facing exposure is also good but it will not be as bright as what comes through a Southern exposure.

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