Did you know when you buy a tropical plant/houseplant, it has spent a significant amount of time being acclimated to better endure a low light situation? Why? Because it needs to be ready to live in the low light levels in our homes and offices. Our environments are much darker than those where the plants are grown in Florida or California.
What does “being acclimated” entail? Tropical plants are just that –tropical. They are grown in subtropical and tropical areas such as Florida, California, Hawaii, and parts of South America. So, as you know, if you live in a northern area such as Michigan as I do, the intensity of the sunlight in a tropical climate is a bit different than ours. If I flew to Florida and went outside without sunscreen, I would burn to a crisp. Though the plants are coming FROM the intense sunlight to our low light homes and offices, the reaction can be comparatively the same. The plant will be shocked and there will be consequences. Instead of burning, the plants react by dropping leaves or having stunted and/or lopsided growth as they reach for the light. Plants that are struggling are also more susceptible to diseases and pest infestations. Houseplants need to be acclimatized by the grower for just those reasons.
How is a plant acclimated?
Plants destined for northern climes are placed under shade cloths that block a percentage of the light while they are growing. After speaking to a horticulturist at Costa Farms, I discovered that aglaonemas, peace lilies, and ZZ plants are grown under 80% light-blocking shade cloths, pothos under 73%, and crotons, fiddle leaf figs, and majesty palms under 63%. They become accustomed to living in lower light levels and so struggle less when they come to live in our environments. Granted, a plant that is properly acclimatized may cost a bit more, but in the long run, it is worth it for the plant to be happy and healthier.
While researching this subject, I read a great lighting guide for indoor plants written by Shane Pliska of Planterra. Planterra is an award-winning interiorscape company. Though this white paper was written for professional interior plant professionals and architects, I found much of the information pertinent to our home environments.
Shane points out that plants for interiorscapes are installed to look finished from day one. Therefore, the end goal is for the plant to sustain and have slow to moderate growth. Therefore, it is important to pick the right plant for the lighting situation that one has to work with. The goal is not to have the plants take over or grow like crazy. We may want that in our homes when the plant is young, but we do not want our plant to outgrow the area we have for them. It is so sad when a plant becomes too large and we must decide what to do with it. On the other hand, we also do not want our plants to reach for the light or gradually decline because we chose the wrong place for the plant.
One thing I learned is that windows have different kinds of glass. Rarely do we have clear glass any longer and most have some kind of glazing or coating on them for energy efficiency. I hadn’t thought about it, but this affects the amount of light our plants receive through the window.
I’m especially glad Shane mentioned window orientation. That is the first thing I inquire about when someone asks me for a plant recommendation. Which way does your window face? Many people have NO idea, which boggles my mind. North, south, east, or west? It is important to know because this will be an indication of whether you will need a high, medium, or low light plant.
What if you don’t have many windows?
If you don’t have many windows or they receive very little light because of mature trees, or light-blocking buildings, there is always electric light. Shane gives you the low down on lights of all kinds as there are many to choose from. Lights should be placed above your plants and for the best results, they need to be on at least 10-12 hours per day. Whereas uplighting looks nice, it does nothing for your plant. I have plants growing on light stands and use a timer, so they get the same amount of light every day. After you have decided how much light you have from all sources, Shane has included lists of plants for low, medium and low light situations.
We all need a little green
My favorite part of the paper is this, “A plant is like the canary for the modern workplace (home). If there is enough light to support plant life, there is enough light to support a healthy and productive environment for people, too.” My motto in life is “we all need a little green in our lives.” It’s true. If you have plants, you are going to be happier and more productive. It is a proven fact.
Check out the Planterra Lighting Guide for Interior Landscape Design by Shane Pliska and you will find some great information about lighting that will lead to success when determining the amount of light you need for the plants in your home.