A Complete Guide to Lighting For Your Indoor Plants + Quiz

The single most important factor for plant health (regardless of the type of plant) is lighting conditions. So many houseplants are victim to poor lighting conditions and honestly I think most of it is because people don’t understand the terminology and what that means in relation to their house.

Rubber Plant Tree in a large antique window with a Jade Plant.

What kind of lighting does my plant need?

In this post I will illuminate (get it!?) all of your plant lighting needs and the types of plants that need different kinds of light. We’re going to map it all out for you, and hopefully by the end of it, you’ll understand exactly what you need to do to keep your plant friends happy happy.

Do You Want an Accessory for a Month, or a Plant that Lives For Years?

The first and most important thing to understand about plant care (and you’ll hear me say this over and over) is that plants are real living things. If you treat them like an accessory and put them on a bookcase away from your windows, chances are that little guy is going to suffer. If you put it in your dark bathroom, it’s not going to be ok. If you put it right by your front door and the gusts of wind from the polar vortex blow on it, you’re going to have a plantcicle on your hands.

Indoor Trellis Wall with all types of plants including cacti, succulents, ferns, sanseveria, and aloe

Plants should be placed where they need to be, not where you want them to be.

(Don’t worry, we’re going to talk about finding the right kind of plant for the spot you want to fill!)

I know this because I did this! It wasnt until about a year ago that I had my eyes opened to the reason why none of my plants were surviving.

ME! DAMMIT! I was literally the problem. I was placing them where they would look cute in my house or in a photo, but not where they would actually have what they needed to survive! RIP little fellas.

Pay Attention to it!

The best best part of being a plant lady is having little guys to love and watch grow.

The first thing to understand is that because the sun moves throughout the day and the earth rotates through the year, that lighting conditions are on a constant slow change. If you are engaged (even just a little bit) you’ll notice subtle changes that take place and the warnings that something is off.

Plant Lighting Types + Best Interior Plants For Each Type

We’ve all passed 3rd grade. We know that plants need sun, water, and soil to produce photosynthesis. But how much lighting is the right amount? This my friends is the million dollar question.

The answer? As a general rule, lighting is similar to chocolate. Bigger, more, eternally. When you start with a large light source, you can adapt and adjust to make things juuuust perfect.

When you’re looking at the care info for plants there are recommended lighting conditions, but what do they mean?

Full Sun/ Bright Light/ Direct Sun

This refers to raw unfiltered sunlight and can usually be found in an East, South (depending on the time of year), or West window.  This is the type of light that if you are looking out the window from the plant’s point of view, you will see the actual sun in the sky.

Interior Jade Plant in full sun

Best Full Sun Plants

Plants that thrive in full sun are ones that love it in nature, think succulents, palms, and other sun worshipers that live in bright sunny climates. Plants that love full sun are usually quick growers and are constantly converting that light energy into food to feed their growth. Plants that flower love full sun because of the amount of energy it takes to bloom.

A lot of plants that love full sun have thick skins that can retain a lot of water.

  • Succulents
  • Jade Plant
  • Cacti
  • String of Pearls
  • Herbs
  • Citrus Tree

Indirect Light/ Filtered Light/ Medium Light

This type of light refers to light that indirectly reaches the plant. It can be through a sheer curtain, a bright north facing window, or a plant that is set back from the window a little bit. Remember our bigger, more, eternally rule for light? When you have a great source, you can filter it and work with it.

Large Mahogany Interior Plant in Office

This kind of light is often called dappled lighting and refers to the type of sunlight that plants on the forest floor receive as the sun shines through the higher trees. Indirect light has a longer lifespan, meaning direct light moves and changes throughout the day and may not have a direct path to the plant for longer than a handful of hours. Bright indirect light can last an entire day, because the plant isnt looking for the actual sun rays on the leaves. The big storefront windows at the Merc are the most ideal indirect conditions. They let in a lot of bright light but they are north facing and so the plants aren’t receiving any direct sunlight.

The Best Medium/Indirect Light Plants

The plants that love bright indirect light span most plant species. This type of light is the most forgiving and a lot of plants thrive in it.

  • Palms (Kentia, Bamboo, Rhaphis)
  • Ficus (Fiddle Leaf Fig, Rubber Plant)
  • Pilea
  • Monstera
  • Hoya
  • Aralia

Low Light

Before we start talking more about low light plants, I feel the need to clarify one thing really quick. There is no such thing as a low light plant, all plants love and need light to survive. So when we talk about low light plants, what we really mean is a plant that dies slower in low light.

Living Room with Green Velvet Couch and Sanseveria Plants

Just like the bright and medium light plants, let’s take this visual out to nature. Plants that do well in low light conditions are either very sensitive to too much light (think of how many ferns were being crushed as Edward ran through the forest around Forks) or have very thick and waxy leaves and can hold onto a lot of water.

If you keep a plant in low light conditions just know that it’s not going to thrive. It might stay alive, but it’s probably not going to grow a lot.

The Best Low Light Plants

Just because a plant is low light does not necessarily mean that it is low maintenance. Ferns are a great example of medium-low light plants. Their fine leaves cant handle a lot of sun (especially direct sun!) but they always need to have moist soil and they are constantly shedding.

  • Some Ferns
  • ZZ Plants
  • Sansevaria (Snake Plant)
  • Cast Iron Plant

What type of lighting is in my room?

A Cosmo Girl style quiz to figure out what your room’s lighting personality is!

Does the room have more than one window or light source?

a) Yes, there are multiple windows or skylights
b) No, there is only one window
c) No, there are no windows but natural light still comes into the room from other rooms.
d) No, there is zero natural light in this room

Would you consider the window to be big?

a) Yes, the window is very large
b) The window is average size
c) No, the window is very small
d) There is no window

Is there something outside of the window that is blocking the light? (Another building, an awning, a large tree etc.)

a) No there is nothing that is blocking the light coming in the window
b) Yes, but it is far enough away or sheer enough that the light still comes in.
c) Yes, it definitely reduces the amount of light that is coming inside the room.
d) There would be if I had a window, but because I don’t have a window I dont know how to answer this question correctly.

What direction is the window facing?

a) East, West
b) South
c) North
d) Again, no window.

On the chart below, where is your plant placed in relation to the window?

a) Orange Section
b) Yellow Section
c) Brown Section
d) White Section (aka in a room with no windows)

*Please keep in mind that all windows are different and lighting conditions change with the season.

Mostly A’s- Kimmy Schmidt

This room is full of potential! It’s sun-shiney light just cannot be contained!! You can grow pretty much anything in that space, in fact it’s potential is so bright that you might even need to intentionally tone it down with sheer curtains. Just dont make it too dark, we dont want another Mole lady in our midst. Just keep in mind that some plants don’t love direct sun and to plan accordingly.

Mostly B’s- Coach Eric Taylor

This room might not be perfect, but dang it we’re going to harness all of our Panther spirit and make the best of it. This room is considered medium light. You can grow almost anything in here, even plants from different sides of the track will find common ground and rise to the occasion. This space is great for difficult to handle plants (like your Fiddle Leaf Fig aptly named Tim) Keep your drapes open and the plants in close proximity to the window  and you will be just fine!! Clear Eyes Full Hearts Can’t Lose!

Mostly C’s- Karen from Mean Girls

The lighting in this room is the equivalent of making out with your cousin and thinking its fine because he’s your first cousin. This room is considered low light and left to it’s own devices will slowly kill your plants. Make sure to keep the drapes open and the plants as close to the window as you can. Channel your inner ESPN and if your plant is looking a little sad, keep in mind that it’s mobile and can be moved around. If you feel like your plant is looking a little sun starved, move it to a new room and give it a chance to get healthy again.

Mostly D’s- Demogorgon

Hi. Please sit down. Friend, let’s decide together that you are not going to bring a life plant into the Upside Down ok? There are lots of great fakes that you won’t murder, but if you bring a plant in here it has a zero percent chance of survival. It will get all rotted and slimy (especially if you keep watering it!) and die a slow death where it can hear you trying to bring it back but there just isnt hope once it’s crossed over.

Still having lighting related questions? Leave them below and I’ll answer!

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