The Q&A Archives: Not Enought Light for Houseplants

Question: Our house faces west and city living leaves us close to our neighbors (on both sides). All of our windows have metal awnings, we have a giant sycamore tree in our backyard (east of the house) and a giant pine on the north side of our front yard (both trees tower above our house). Houseplants do not thrive here. I feel the lighting situation greatly contributes. Do you have any remedies to this situation?

Answer: Nothing beats sunlight! But you might want to consider supplemental lighting. The important things when choosing a light source are that the bulb doesn't give off excessive heat, and that the light is as close as possible to sunlight--that is, it covers the full spectrum, containing both "cool" and "warm." (Cool and warm refers to the color spectrum, not the temperature of the lights.)

Fluorescent lights satisfy the "cool" requirement, and they are reasonably close to full sprectrum. Or you can purchase full spectrum grow lights. Because indoor lights aren't nearly as bright as sunlight, you need to be able to keep the lights 4-6 inches from the top of the plants, adjusting that as they grow. Lights should be on 16 hours a day and turned off at night. Putting them on a timer is helpful.

Most houseplants do best in bright to medium light, but some will tolerate low light. Snake plant (mother-in-law's tongue) is a good choice for low light conditions. Some other choices include cast iron plant, chinese evergreen, corn plant, dumbcane (dieffenbachia), dwarf schefflera, hearleaf philodendron, dracaena marginata, pothos, rubber plant. You might also want to try a grow light.

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