Houseplants. It’s a funny term, isn’t it? When you think about it, it’s a bit of an oxymoron. While we like to label certain plants as ‘indoor varieties’, really – all plants are native to the outdoors.
While we love adding greenery and life to our living spaces, sometimes they don’t love living in our homes as much as we’d like them to.
Light is such a major factor in plant growth and vitality but it often goes undiagnosed when your houseplants need more light! Plants process light differently to humans. So even when our homes seem bright in our eyes, the light levels can be completely different to a plant.
It’s possible your houseplants are craving more sunlight if they are showing signs of some of the below symptoms. Read on for the eight signs your houseplants need more light, and how to solve it (without sticking them outdoors!)
1. Sparse or Leggy Growth
One sure sign that your plants are struggling with a lack of light is leggy growth. This looks like new leaves growing far apart, more length of stem between leaves and sparse, straggly, ‘thin’ plants.
When indoor plants aren’t getting enough light, they’ll lengthen their stems and branches in order to ‘reach’ for sunlight. This results in the leaves growing further apart or your plant just not looking lush and healthy.
The distance between two adjacent leaves on a plant is known as the internodal distance. A lack of light can increase internodal distance, which is generally not as nice of a look.
2. Plant Leaning Towards Light Sources
Similarly to leggy growth, you may notice your plants leaning towards windows, doors or areas with brighter light. Sometimes this means their leaves will all start to face the light. Other times, the whole plant can start to lean, branches and all! Over time, the side that faces away from a light source may look bare while the side facing the light is more full.
One way to combat this is to rotate your plants each time you water. Spin the pot around a quarter of the circumference to allow for each side of the plant to get light. However in extreme cases, the plant may be too top heavy or too bent to correct a lean.
3. Plant Producing Small Leaves
If your houseplants need more light, their new growth may be small and underwhelming. Light is a vital factor in a plant’s growth and it is so often underrated!
A plant producing small leaves is most likely lacking the energy to produce larger or full-sized leaves. Since light enables a plant to produce energy, low light is a sure cause of small leaves and foliage.
4. No New Growth
Your plant may be surviving indoors, but is it thriving? If your plant hasn’t had any new growth for months, its possible your houseplants need more light to produce the energy for growth.
In winter months, it’s normal for plants to sometimes go dormant. But if you’re not in winter and months have passed without any signs of growth, it’s a sure bet that it really needs more light.
Light is the key factor in photosynthesis, the process in which a plant creates energy for growth. A lack of light equals less opportunity for photosynthesis, equals less or no new growth.
5. Browning Leaves & Tips
Certain plants (such as Fiddle Leaf Figs) can be affected by low light with browning leaves and tips. There’s also a bunch of other reasons plants get browning leaves, including not enough water. So make sure you rule out any other causes of browning too.
6. Keeping a Plant Far From a Window
The corner of the room seems like the perfect spot for a plant, right? Wrong! Most often where we’d like our houseplants to sit isn’t ideal for their health. I learnt this after some time of having my plants in corners. As soon as I put them in front of windows, their growth took off!
There’s a huge drop off in light levels after around 2 feet from a window. While we may not notice the effects, you know who does? Your plants!
To be honest, like I mentioned above there’s no such thing as ‘indoor plants’. Indoor plants are really just normal plants that are hardy enough to handle indoor conditions, including less light. If you really want your plants to thrive, they need to be in front of or within 1-2 feet of a window.
If your house doesn’t have the space in front of windows for plants, or if it’s just not the ideal location for them, you’ll want to give them some extra care with a grow light.
7. Bringing Plants Inside for Winter
Our human eyes can’t quite compute the difference in light between indoors and outdoors. While we may think our homes are nice and bright, a plant really notices the difference in light levels. Especially if they’re used to receiving ample light outdoors.
Similarly, there’s actually less light available during winter, indoors and outdoors! Shorter daylight hours, the angle of the earth and more cloudy weather conditions all impact the light levels in winter. Add these factors to bringing your plants indoors and it’s a given that they’d love more light!
This is especially true for tropical plants such as calatheas or Fiddle Leaf Figs. In their natural habitat (usually close to the equator), there isn’t as much variation in the daylight hours at different times of year. Places near the equator often don’t even have four seasons – they just have a rainy season and a dry season.
This means that tropical plants especially are happy to have as much light as you can give them, year round. These plants can slow or stop growing during winter months because of lack of light. But they really don’t have to – if you’re able to give them extra light through a grow light, you can have them thriving and growing all year long.
8. Soil Not Drying Out for Weeks
You may think that it’s air temperature that helps the soil dry out. In actual fact, pot plant soil dries because the plant is drawing up the water from its roots! Water is another key component of performing photosynthesis. So when there’s a lack of light available to perform photosynthesis, the plant does not draw up as much water.
This results in the soil staying damp for longer, which is not good for most plants. In most plants, if the roots stay damp for too long they will start to rot or leaves will start to yellow.
While the soil not drying out can also be from a very water-retentive soil, if your plant isn’t getting enough light, that could also be why.
When you put your plant in a position with more light, you’ll notice the soil dries out quicker. You may think that’s because a well-lit area must be warmer. But actually, the plant will be using more of the water you give it! Allowing the soil to dry out faster means watering may need to be done more regularly.
9. Variegated Plants ‘Reverting’ or Dull Colours
Ok, one more! Variegated plants are generally ones that have splashes of colour through their leaves. The variegation is mostly white but you can also find pink variegated plants too. An example is the variegated String of Pearls above, which has creamy white sections.
A major sign your variegated houseplants need more light is if they ‘revert‘, or change back to the regular green plant version without any splashes of colour.
This is because green leaves produce photosynthesis. So a variegated (white, pink or coloured) leaf doesn’t have as much opportunity to photosynthesise, aka create energy for the plant. If a plant is lacking in energy (or sunlight to produce energy), it will maximise its green leaves to give itself more potential to produce energy.
Therefore, giving variegated houseplants more light can help them keep their colours! It can be a tricky balance, as some variegated plants are more sensitive to light too.
Similarly, enough sunlight will generally help keep most plants’ foliage bright instead of dull.
So, Do Your Houseplants Need More Light? Here’s what to do!
Put them Closer to a window or Door
In an ideal world, all indoor plants would love to live within a couple feet of a window or door. Even low light plants can benefit from this amount of light. If this isn’t possible or it ruins your decor plans, there’s a few other measures you can take to give your houseplants more light…
Put them in South facing rooms (If you live in the Northern Hemisphere) or North facing rooms (If you live in the Southern Hemisphere)
Rooms that face the natural angle of the sun will generally get more light than those that don’t. This can make a big difference to the light levels your plants get! Choose your lightest and brightest rooms to keep plants in. Or…
Get a Grow Light & Put Plants Wherever you Like!
Yes, there’s special lights that mimic the sun and provide energy to plants! They’re called grow lights, or plant lights. If your houseplants need more light and you can get them a good quality grow light, they’ll love you for it! AND you can basically grow them anywhere in your home. Some people even use grow lights in places that get zero natural light!
There’s now also some aesthetic grow lights popping up. So if you’re not a fan of the coloured, disco lights that grow lights generally produce, it’s worthwhile investing in a quality grow light that can be part of your decor!
This post on how grow lights work can help decipher some of the technical parts of choosing the right light for your plant, or answer some questions if you’re new to them.
Let me know if you have any more questions about providing light for your plants below!