We don’t believe in the myth of the ‘brown thumb’ at Fifth Season Gardening. Successfully growing plants often rests on knowing the right questions to ask. In this post, we’ll explore the importance of understanding window orientation and the effect on light levels. When looking for a new house plant it is vitally important to consider your available light levels before selecting a particular variety; if a plant is not put into the light circumstance for which it is adapted, it is often doomed.
Knowing the orientation of your windows is the best way to determine whether you get direct sun only in the morning or the afternoon- or whether you’re lucky enough to have bright direct sun all day. After considering the direction, is there anything blocking the outside of your window? Would your window get bright sun in the afternoon if it weren’t blocked by a large tree?
Assuming that, generally speaking, we’d rather have more light to work with than less, here are rough guidelines for the cardinal directions in a best to worst direction for house plants:
- South facing windows are the best with bright sun all day, good for any plants with variegation or trees like citrus and banana. If a plant needs medium light, just locate it to the side (perfect for orchids) or a few feet away from the window.
- West windows get a long period of direct sun, but usually miss the hottest most intense part of the day, which can damage some plants with medium light requirements. Stromanthe thrive in this environment.
- East windows are perfect for most low to medium light requirements that smaller, table-top plants prefer. The sun is much less intense in this orientation.
- North windows limit wise choices to a small selection of house plants. In general, flowering plants, like african violets or orchids struggle to survive in any north facing window. Also, most tall plants require higher light levels, but there are a couple of exceptions, such as Dracena ‘Janet Craig’ compacta.
Consider these general tips in regards to houseplants and light levels:
- Typically plants with variegation, or color in the leaves, require more direct sun than plants with plain green leaves.
- Plants that require less light or are located in lower light, consume less water.
- Plants in bright, direct light need to be watered more frequently and typically consume more per watering.
- Generally speaking, plants that flower more prolifically typically require lots of bright, if not direct light. If you want to grow a plant that produces fruit, like a citrus tree, you’ll need a lot of direct sunlight.
- Plants should be acclimated from one light situation to another gradually to avoid stress, damage, and/or disease.
- If leaves are succulent and oversized or the plant is ‘stretching’, the plant probably needs more light. Whereas, if leaves are browning and falling off the plant may be getting too much light.
by Jason Ellis