All About Light and Water for Houseplants

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Lighting for Houseplants

North-facing windows get no direct sunlight. They’re best for plants requiring low light or medium light. Plants in a north window may grow better if provided with some supplemental artificial light.
Houseplant Light North Window
East-facing windows get morning sun until around midday. They’re great for low-light level plants and some medium-light plants, especially those that can’t take the heat or brightness of a southern or western exposure. Medium-light lovers should be no further than one foot from the window.
Houseplant Light East Window
South-facing windows get the most light, from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. They’re a perfect place for plants that love the sun. Houseplants like cacti and succulents that need lots of light should be within a foot of a south-facing window.
Houseplant Light South Window
West facing windows don’t get as many hours of sun as a southern exposure, but they do get the sun at the end of the day, when the temperatures are warmest. A west-facing window is good for high- and medium-light loving plants.
Houseplant Light West Window
If you place your plant in the appropriate light location but start seeing signs that your plant isn’t thriving, here are some things you should check:

  • Is there anything blocking light coming in the room, such as a shade or curtains?
  • Is your plant the correct distance from the window?
  • Is it a small plant shaded by a larger plant next to it?
  • Is there a tree, awning, or building outside the window that is blocking the light?

Water

When to Water Houseplants

When to water your plant has a lot to do with what type of container it’s growing in. Here are three of the most common scenarios for potted plants:

Container with drainage holes set in a saucer:

  • Water when top 1-2 inches (3-5cm) of soil is dry.
  • Apply water until it runs out the drainage hole at bottom of pot. Discard any water left standing in the saucer.

A plain plastic pot with drainage placed inside a decorative container:

  • Water when top 1-2 inches (3-5cm) of soil is dry.
  • Water soil until water runs out the bottom of the pot.
  • Lift the inner pot from its decorative container, pour out excess water, and return pot to the container.

A pot with no drainage holes:

  • Use caution when watering. It’s better to underwater at first until you are familiar with your plant’s water needs.
  • Feel the top 1-2 inches (3-5cm) of soil with your finger, if it’s dry your plant is ready for a drink.
  • It may be best to apply water in small amounts, more frequently.

Signs that your plant is too dry:

The soil surface looks dry.
The soil surface feels dry.
Lift the pot – a plant with dry soil will be easier to lift than a wet plant.
Plant leaves drooping or wilting.
Foliage color looks pale or yellowing.
Slight curling of leaves.
Leaf tips turning brown and crispy.
Plant dropping leaves and flowers.

Signs that your plant is too wet:

Leaf tips turn brown to black.
Lower leaves turning yellow.
Base of plant is mushy.
Soil has a foul smell resulting from root rot.
The soil surface is still wet days after watering.
Mold or mildew growing on the soil surface.
Container has no drainage holes.

How to Increase Humidity

Some houseplants, such as ferns, bromeliads and orchids – just to name a few – thrive in humid conditions. Here are some tips for increasing humidity:

  • Spray-mist the foliage with water once or twice a day.
  • Keep plants away from heating vents.
  • Place plants on a tray of pebbles covered with water.
  • Place plant in a humid room like a bathroom.

Care Tips for Popular Houseplants

Click on each plant to learn more:
Aglaonema - Chinese evergreen Alocasia - Elephant Ear Aloe houseplant Anthurium, Flamingo Flower
Aglaonema Alocasia Aloe Anthurium
Arrowhead Plant - Syngonium podophyllum Calathea houseplant Croton Dieffenbachia - Dumb cane
Arrowhead Plant Calathea Croton Dieffenbachia
Dracaena Indoor fern Ficus - Fiddle Leaf Fig Holiday cactus - Schlumbergera
Dracaena Fern Fiddle Leaf Fig Holiday Cactus
Hedera helix - indoor ivy plant Crassula ovata - Jade plant Pachira - Money tree Monstera
Ivy Jade Money Tree Monstera
Parlor Palm - Chamaedorea elegans Peace lily - Spathiphyllum Peperomia Philodendron
Parlor Palm Peace Lily Peperomia Philodendron
Pilea - friendship plant Ponytail palm Pothos Maranta - prayer plant
Pilea Ponytail Palm Pothos Prayer Plant
Rubber plant Sansevieria, snake plant, mother-in-law's tongue Schefflera Chlorophytum - spider plant
Rubber Plant Sansevieria Schefflera Spider Plant
Senecio - string of pearls Tradescantia - wandering Jew Zamioculcas - ZZ plant
String of Pearls Wandering Jew ZZ Plant

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