How do you know what lighting situation you have at home? In this post, let's sharpen our understanding of light. Hurrah – plants suffering from a lack of sunlight are now a thing of the past!
Light is always a tricky topic, especially when you are living in an apartment. Too much light and the plant gets burnt. Too little light and the plant becomes etiolated or starts looking very sad. So how then do you gauge the amount of light that you have and whether it is enough for your plant?
In gauging the amount of light available, here are some parameters to consider:
Which part of the globe do you live at and which direction does your window face?
Consider if you live in the northern hemisphere or southern hemisphere. There is a huge misconception that south-facing windows have the most direct light—depending on where you are, the amount of light you have in your apartment can differ.
Depending on where you are on the globe, the amount of light you have in your apartment can differ.
For example, in places near the equator such as Singapore, both north and south-facing windows have about the same amount of bright, indirect sunlight as the sun goes above, rather than hang low in the sky. Given that it’s a tropical zone, apartment dwellers will only get about six hours of direct sunlight from their east and west-facing windows (three hours each) in a day.
On the other hand, for locations in the northern and southern hemispheres, the south and north-facing windows have the most direct sunlight respectively as the sun hangs low in the sky. East and west-facing windows fall somewhere in the middle, as the sun moves from east to west over the course of the day. The amount of sunlight will also depend on the season—you can expect more hours of sunlight in summer, and less hours of sunlight in winter.
Here’s a nifty table to help you remember, but keep in the mind that afternoon sun is a lot harsher than morning sun!
How high up is your apartment?
The higher up you live, the more access you have to natural sunlight. Conversely, the lower you live, the less sunlight you have. An apartment on the 30th floor will not have the same amount of light as a 4th floor unit.
What’s the size of your window?
The bigger the window, the more light can enter. The smaller the window, the darker the room will likely be.
What’s outside your window?
Objects outside your window will obstruct light from coming in. If there is a tree or another building right outside your window, you may only get limited light coming in during the day. Be sure to also check if there are canopies outside your house (these are very common in HDB flats in Singapore) as they can block a good amount of light.
What’s inside your window?
Curtains, hanging bags or even other plants—these items between the window and the rest of your plants can change the amount of light streaming in drastically. For example, the amount of strong direct light coming in a window can be reduced to bright, indirect sunlight by adding sheer curtains.
What’s on the window glass and the leaves?
Do not underestimate the power of dust and dirt. These can really reduce the amount of light that your plant absorbs so be sure to keep your windows and plants sparkling clean by wiping them down regularly! We recommend once a month.
What’s around your plants?
All surfaces reflect light—light coloured objects and reflective surfaces bounce and reflect light while darker-coloured objects absorb light. What is around your plants will also influence the overall light levels around it.
How far away is your plant from the window?
This concept is pretty straightforward—the nearer to the window, the stronger the light. Conversely, the further away from the window, the weaker the light. Depending on your plant’s needs, you can position them accordingly from the window.
Let’s talk application. Here are some real-life examples to help you understand better so that you can apply the same concepts to your home. For the following exercises, imagine an apartment in Singapore that is about 30 floors high.
Here are some plants in the kitchen, they are located 4 metres back from an unblocked north-facing window in a bedroom. The light enters through the door to the kitchen area. What’s the lighting situation? Given the height of apartment, distance from the window, the white walls and the fact that the bright, indirect light streams in through the door to the living room, you can safely say that it’s probably a low-to-medium light situation. Thankfully, these plants are low-light tolerant, so they do alright in their current location. Imagine what happens if the apartment was on a lower floor and the window was blocked by a tree or building. You’re right—the lighting situation will drop to low light (probably not great for most plants!).
Here we are looking at bookshelf about 3 metres from a three-quarter floor-to-ceiling height, wide, unblocked north-facing window. Aside from the sofa and tv unit, there isn’t much in between the window and the bookshelf. What’s the lighting situation? Are you thinking medium to bright indirect light? Well done! As you can see, many indoor plants love this lighting situation so there’s a good amount of them placed right here on the shelf.
Ok, one more bonus question: do you think a cactus or a tree that requires direct sunlight will do well on the bookshelf? You’re right—it’s extremely unlikely; the bright, indirect light available is simply not sufficient. Over time, the plant will start to yellow, etiolate and look very sad.
We wish there was an equation that we could share so you can save yourself the headache and trouble but unfortunately, there isn’t. So, here’s our best advice: Always ask yourself the questions above before getting an appropriate plant for the space. The next best thing to do would be monitor your plant after you place it in the new spot.
If you find that it isn’t growing, or that the leaves are getting burnt or yellow, keep adjusting its location until you find a spot where it’s happy.
Phew, this was such a long post. Was the information helpful? Let us know if you have other questions and we’ll try our best to answer them! Happy planting!