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If you’ve ever randomly scrolled through plant-related content on Pinterest, I’ve sure you’ve noticed the plethora of ’10 plants that require zero sunlight’ type posts. And I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but here are the facts:
All plants need sunlight.
You already knew that. We learnt it at school. But we want a plant for our windowless bathroom. To brighten up the recessed bookshelves in the back of the living room. To fill the interior soffits in the kitchen (although light isn’t the only problem here – it’s being bothered to get up on a ladder to water).
But all plants need light. All. Of. Them.
To varying degrees, admittedly.
Plants like Calathea and ferns thrive in medium light, but they offset this easy-going regard for light by being pretty choosy when it comes to soil moisture and humidity.
Oh well, you can’t have everything.
You don’t have to give up on keeping bright light-loving plants just because you don’t have a solid glass wall on one side of your house (#goals).
In fact, too much light is probably more of a problem than not enough, unless you’re prepared to live in a house with permanently closed blinds.
Besides, there are steps to take to if not increase the amount of light in your home, then definitely optimise the light you’ve got.
So, how can we increase the light in our homes to help our indoor plants?
- Clean your windows
- Add grow lights
- Change to sheer curtains
- Rearrange your furniture
- Keep your plants clean
- Keep doors open
- Arrange your plants strategically
Clean your windows
Start with the basics.
And things that I don’t actually do myself.
Still, cleaning your windows has a massive impact on the amount of light that can penetrate them.
If you live near a busy road you’d be surprised by the amount of grime that builds up on your windows, and since it adds up over time, you probably won’t notice how gross they are until you have them cleaned.
The glass already provides a filter for the sunlight – a dirt filter just isn’t necessary.
I would recommend a window cleaner for your exterior window. Window cleaning is an art and a science, and you can get a professional to do your whole house in minutes for less than £20.
Not only will your windows be professionally clean, but you won’t need to risk falling out of your own bedroom window.
I actually don’t clean my indoor windows ‘properly’ as often as I should, but since my house is old, I always get condensation on the inside of the windows. To avoid mould I suck it up with a window vacuum, which cleans the window as it goes.
Would I recommend a window vacuum? Hard to say.
It definitely sucks up the condensation, and is great for a lazy person like me BUT it can take a bit a technique to get it to suck up the moisture from the bottom of the glass. I love mine, but I get why a lot of people are frustrated by them.
Add grow lights
I love my grow lights. I have some cheap Amazon ones and I love them. I keep my smaller Ctenanthe and Syngoniums in a recessed corner of my living room and they’re growing really well under them.
I have a whole grow light article here.
My favourite thing about these grow lights is that you can move them to whatever position you like. So if, for example, you were doing a jigsaw on the floor in the evening and needed more light, you could point them where you need them.
Betsey Begonia did a grow light video and she recommended aquarium lights. I’m yet to try the specific ones she recommended, but I can confirm that aquarium lights are great for growing plants under. I have peperomia and peace lilies in my paludarium and they’re growing like crazy.
Change to sheer curtains
This tip is for those of you with south-facing windows that are just…too much. A sheer curtain turns that bright light in to the much coveted bright, indirect light.
If curtains aren’t your thing, then a lot of blind style offer the same solution – they let a lot of the light in, but tone it down a bit, so you don’t burn your plants.
If you have a lot of bright, direct light, and don’t fancy blocking it out with window coverings, then there are plants that will tolerate that light. Just be aware that you may need to put them a few feet away and gradually move them closer.
When looking for high-light tolerant plants, look for plants that live in hot, exposed areas, rather than the more traditional, rainforest-dwelling house plants
Plants that will tolerate bright, direct light:
- Bird of Paradise
- Cacti, excluding rainforest and epiphytic cacti such as Christmas cactus.
- Some succulents
- Some palms, like Sago Palm or Ponytail palm
- Asparagus ferns
- String of pearls
- Fiddle-leaf fig
Rearrange your furniture
I have fairly bright light in my office, and I’m constantly rearranging furniture to make the most of it.
To really optimise the lay out of your home, you need to observe the light you get. For example, you may get great bright, indirect light in the corner of your room, but it’s a few feet above any furniture. Could you move a book case there to serve as a plant stand?
I struggle a bit with alocasia in my house – the rooms with the best light don’t have the humidity and vice versa.
Also, the most humid rooms are cooler. In order to best serve my Alocasia Zebrina, I moved my kitchen table (it’s only tiny) to the darkest corner of the room, and the propped it up on an upside-down ceramic bread bin.
Though the table is in a dingy corner, the area just above it gets weirdly good light, which I didn’t notice until i was cooking one day and thought I was being attacked by a monster.
Turns out that the shadows of the birds feeding at the bottom of the garden were casting shadows in the corner.
I moved my alocasia and it – well, it didn’t grow, but it stopped dying, which is the best I can hope for before Spring. There are two leaves forming though, so fingers crossed.
Keep your plants clean
This is really the same principle as cleaning your windows. If the surface of your plant’s leaves are covered in dust and lint and hair, then they won’t be able to take in as much light.
This is arguably a more effective way of optimising the light you have than cleaning your windows,
a) because more dirt accumulates on leaves than windows because windows are sheer and usually vertical and
b) cleaning your plants has other benefits apart from increasing the light.
Cleaning the leaves of your plant with a spray made up of a couple of drops of dish soap and neem oil topped up with water is also a great way to keep pests at bay.
Keep doors open
This may sound ridiculous, but it can really help! I have a dark hallway that has a small window at eye level.
I thought it was too dark to keep any plants either on the floor or on the bottom couple of shelves on a unit we have there BUT if I keep my office door open, the light there is bright for an hour or so, and then medium for the rest of the day.
The hallway is too cold for plants in winter, so they have to be moved, but I wouldn’t want doors open in winter anyhow.
And I can see more plants whilst I’m working. Bonus.
Your homework is to make a list of all the places that you want to put plants but think it’s maybe too dark.
If there’s some light, you’ll be to able to have plants, even if it means installing a lamp or grow light.
You don’t even need a specific grow light. I wrote an article here about using regular LED bulbs as a light source for plants. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing, and some plants will be fine.
Take those ‘these plants need zero sunlight’ with a pinch of salt. They’re often from interiors magazines, and feature plants that are easy to care for (poor Sansevieria being the classic choice, poor things).
Not many classic easy-care plants can tolerate low light – pothos do, I suppose, but if you want to see a lot of growth, then medium-light AT LEAST is what you want.
And I’m determined to grow a Golden Pothos with fenestrations. I get that this is the best picture but it was all I could get for free.
It’s my dream.