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Illuminating the Lighting Dilemma

Illuminating the Lighting Dilemma

Growing tropical foliage plants inside your own home can be a rewarding hobby. Houseplants add a natural ascetic to our homes, as well as purify the air that we breathe while indoors. But many people find the process of growing and maintaining houseplants to be difficult and frustrating. Often times, your plants may struggle because you are not providing the right amount of lighting that it needs to produce its own food.

For plants, sun=food. Sure, we "feed" them when we fertilize them, but fertilizer really only supplies plants with the nutrients they need to perform daily functions like cell formation. It is a combination of sun light, water, and carbon dioxide that are the building blocks for plants to generate their own sugars to feed on. Therefore, light is essential to plants. Without it- they starve.

When we are talking about lighting for houseplants, we are always speaking in the term of indirect light. Most houseplants cannot tolerate the sun literally shinning on their foliage. Instead they appreciate filtered and dappled lighting. This indirect light can vary from very bright to low or dark. Most houseplants will thrive in bright indirect light, while there are only a few plants that can tolerate low light areas. For this reason, I want to outline just the plants that can tolerate low light.

The plant that seems to be the most tolerant of dark areas is Zamioculcas zamiifolia (let's call it a ZZ plant). The ZZ plant is a very forgiving houseplant and is your best option for those shady corners. Most species in the Dracaena family are also great, colorful options for areas that don't offer much light. Varieties like "Limelight" and "Lemon Lime" can make a nice compact show while some taller, cane varieties can offer a lot of height for a darker area. Peace lilies are a nice blooming plant that can tolerate low light, and Chinese Evergreens have some amazing patterns of variegation to brighten up a gloomy spot.

A houseplant that is not receiving enough light will begin to show symptoms of stress. Look for elongated and spindly growth. The spaces between the leaves on the stems may seem to stretch out more so and the stems may grow unusually long and "leggy", as if they were reaching for the light. Leaves may take on a pale green hue or lose the intensity of their color or variegation. Flowering plants may stop producing buds or produce very low bud counts. Any of these symptoms could be indicating that your plant is not satisfied with the amount of light it is receiving.

When you bring your new houseplant home and place it in its new spot, monitor the plant's reaction to the move for some time. Do not place it where it is touching the glass of the window as that could cause a burn on the leaf. Direct light from an exposed, west-facing window could cause scorch. Just make sure to watch for any of these symptoms so that you can relocate your houseplant to a spot with more suitable lighting. I hope this advice will help you to shine a little light on your herbaceous housemates.