Indoor Plant Lighting

— Written By and last updated by

Plants provide many benefits to all of us—from appealing artistry to health, hopefully both. However, planning for enough light and selecting plants that fit different situations and environments requires careful thought. Proper lighting is essential for the long-term health and beauty of interior plants. Light plays the irreplaceable role in photosynthesis, providing the energy plants need to transform carbon dioxide and water into the simplified sugars, starches and other substances plants need.

Natural light availability, artificial light options, light timing and duration, and best natural characteristics are all aspects to take into consideration. The right plant in the right place at the right time – indoors and outdoors. Neglecting these can decrease the beauty of and increase the cost to maintain the plants over time. Being surrounded by ugly, dollar-draining plants does not increase our enjoyment level and is not a good plan.

Growing seedlings, propagating plants or growing crops, herbs or flowers for harvest each have specific lighting requirements that merit an individual article by themselves. For now, let’s look at interior plants for beautification purpose and the light that is required for them to look their best. Unlike landscape designs for the outdoors that must be mindful of room for growth, interior plant placement plans are designed for plants to be brought in at the intentional size, looking finished as soon as they’re set in place. Therefore, the light intensity that these plants need is aimed at nourishment and slow-to-moderate growth.

We want these plants to get enough light to stay healthy and pretty, but not so much that they grow too large for the space or otherwise overwhelm the room decor. Most of our interior environments don’t have enough light intensity or spectral quality to encourage a bloom in most foliage plant species, whose blooms tend to be generally unremarkable anyway. Also, the lushness of the foliage drops as the plant transfers and prioritizes energy from the foliage to the flower and eventually to the seed.

Evaluating the amount of available light—from natural and artificial sources—is vital when creating an attractive interior plant plan that will continue to function well. Some plants simply need more light than others to thrive. Be careful when mixing plants with differing light needs because that means the growth and lifecycles of all the plants have to be managed. Understand that “like goes with like” and opposites don’t do well together long term. Some will barely hang on, some will do well with just a bit of growth, and others will shoot up, grow too fast and need to removed and replaced.

With the right plant design plan, plants as well as people can be happier and healthier indoors and out. When picking plants for your design, stay away from impulse buying and going just for the “candy, candy, candy” of color. You’ll need to see your space as a system and consider light aspects including natural light, reflective coatings on windows, north, south, east or west exposures, light from above or the sides, how much for how long, etc…, as well as what artificial light can add to the equation and what kind will work best for what you want to do. For more information on developing a design that meets your needs contact your local extension agent.