Lighting for Succulents (and other houseplants)

Houseplants can sometimes sound like an oxymoron. Plants are natural things. Nature is outdoors. Isn’t that the best place for plants to grow?

At Lazy Gardens, we understand the value of bringing the outside in and transforming an indoor space into a dream home jungle. Having greenery and plants indoors has been proven to have positive impacts on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. But what about a plant’s wellbeing?

We’ve already discussed some key pillars of plant care, such as potting and watering. But what about light? The sun follows a very specific path and sometimes our apartment windows don’t fall on it. Luckily, different plants have different light needs and we’re here to help clarify exactly what those mean.

Houseplants near window

Full Sun (Bright, Direct Light)

The recipe for plant growth is obvious. Plentiful sunlight and steady drinks of water equals a happy plant, right? Not exactly. There’s a reason some plants grow in shady forests and others in the open desert. Sun not only brings light, but also heat, which can be very intense for some plants and their leaves. Full sun means more than six hours of sunlight directly hitting a plant's leaves. Succulents and cacti love the bright hot sun which mimics their native desert climates. Best Window for Full Sun: South

Partial Sun (Partial Shade)

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. This makes it easy to achieve partial sun or shade by allowing a plant to receive morning or afternoon sun rays. Partial sun does not mean half of the plant should be in the sun and half should be in the shade. It just means the plant shouldn't be in the sun all day. Flowering perennials are an example of a houseplant that would do well with only a few hours of direct sunlight per day. Best Window for Partial Sun: East or West

Low Light

Plants need light. Even “full shade” should still leave room for an hour or two of sun, or a steady dose of low, filtered light. North-facing windows will keep plants out of the sun and satisfy shade requirements. Thinking about shaded areas (like forest floors and alleyways), plants like shrubs, ferns, and ivy come to mind as very low-light options. Certain flowering annuals can also bring a lot of color and life to a low-lit space. Best Window for Full Shade: North

Bright, Indirect Light

When Lazy Gardeners seek our advice on succulents and cacti growth, we often default to bright, indirect light as a catch-all recommendation. Full sun through a window can be very intense and damage younger succulent leaves and newly potted cacti. By moving the plants a few feet off the window, they can still receive plenty of sun while avoiding any risks of burning or discoloration. A light shade is also a great way to get bright, indirect light. Our plants will love this as they are grown in greenhouses with filtered light.  Best Window for Bright, Indirect Light: South (moved 3+ feet off of the window)

A Note On Grow Lights

Grow lights are ideal for home environments that don't receive adequate, natural light. In fact, both LED and fluorescent-based grow lights are great alternatives when there is no way to mimic a plant’s natural light cycle. It's important to note, however, that many cacti and succulents experience natural dormant periods, so grow lights are probably unnecessary to bridge the gap for low-lit winter months.

Potted Succulents on Outdoor Table

Making Adjustments

There is no one-size-fits-all guide to satisfying a plant's light needs. Just like with watering, it is important to understand that lighting isn’t an exact science and it will take some observation and testing to determine exactly where a houseplant should be placed during the day. If a plant is receiving too little light, it may begin “stretching” towards the light source and elongating its stem. It may also begin to lose its vibrant colors and turn a pale yellow, eventually losing its leaves altogether. When this occurs, try increasing the plant’s sun exposure by moving it closer to the window or shifting it to a South-facing windowsill. If a plant is receiving too much light, it will usually dry up and shrivel while also drooping in a weakened fashion. These plants should be watered and removed from their windowsill, while greatly decreasing the hours of sun exposure.

These adjustments are particularly important when the seasons change, as hot summer sun can leave plants susceptible to burning and winter will require plants be moved to the most optimal source of light in the house.

Additionally, plants on windowsills may grow unevenly or lean if one side is getting most of the light exposure. It is a good idea to rotate these plants every so often (a few weeks to a few months depending on the plant's behavior).

Proper light is key to helping houseplants thrive. The beauty of plant care is in the conversation with our plants. Listen to their needs and they will showcase their range of beauty.