Determine which spaces provide full, indirect, and low sun.

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Sunlight is your houseplants' primary food source, which means that the type they get really does matter. "They need light to perform photosynthesis and grow," Angelo Kelvakis, a horticulturist at Rise Gardens, explains. "Most houseplants are actually tropical, or are at least growing in an 'unnatural' environment." Therefore, the type of light your varieties receive is critical, since the inside of your home is unlikely to provide their ideal living conditions. Knowing how to determine which rooms in your house receive bright, indirect, and low light is essential if you want to ensure you're placing your greenery in the correct spaces.

Four Lighting Types

When growing a plant in your home, it is important to know the origins of the variety and to try to replicate its preferred conditions as closely as possible, notes Matt Aulton (better known as Matt In The Yellow Hat), the co-founder of Plant Proper. This can include everything from water to lighting. "With that said, we consider there to be the four different lighting conditions: Bright direct light (full sun), bright indirect light, moderate indirect light, and low indirect light," he shares.

A plant that needs bright light should be receiving full sunlight for four hours or longer throughout the day; bright indirect light involves a lot of sun, but with a buffer between the plant and the source. "This could be a sheer curtain or something as simple as a window screen," Aulton explains. Next, you have moderate indirect light, which involves exposure to indirect light for multiple hours—and lastly, there is low indirect light. "This is light that is present, but not very intense at any point of the day," he notes.

assortment of houseplants in pots
Credit: Delmaine Donson / Getty Images

Determining the Light Level

While Aulton says there is not an easy way to explain a home's sunlight conditions, there is a trick you can use to try and determine the type of lighting you have. "We like to tell people to use their hands and to check the level of the shadow it casts when placed in front of the light; this gauges the amount of light you are receiving," he says. "A very dark shadow means you have bright light. As the shadow becomes fainter, the lighting conditions become lower and lower." Even the smallest shadow, he says, means that some light is coming in. "Another variable to consider is the duration the light is present in that area of the home," he says. "Is it there all day or only coming in for a handful of hours? This can play a role in differentiating the lighting conditions."

Windows Matter

Window placement will also give you an idea about the type of light the plants situated in those rooms will receive. "The sun favors south-facing windows; plants placed there should receive bright light throughout the day," Aulton says. "East and west facing windows typically fall into the moderate sunlight category, as they receive ample light for multiple hours and then ambient lighting for the rest of the day." That's not to say, however, that there aren't extenuating factors that could impact how much light each room experiences—Aulton explains that trees and nearby structures can also influence the amount that comes through. "Each home is unique and will have its own unique lighting conditions based on its surroundings, but it is important to find a place for your plant that relates to the lighting conditions it would receive in its natural habitat," he says.

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