Light for Indoor Plants

Peace LillyQuestion: My indoor plants seem to be languishing in the dark winter weather. The leaves are dull and a lot of leaves are dropping off. Is there anything I can do to perk them up?

Answer: We have almost reached the lowest winter light conditions of the year with the winter solstice coming about December 21. Light is a key ingredient for plant growth.

It is like a recession for plants. They almost stop growing or actually lose more leaves than they replace. As long as they are producing new leaves, there is not a lot to be worried about. There are a few things which can help.

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Make sure they get the best light available. Plants which are away from windows can be moved closer. South facing windows get the most light. Make sure curtains and shades are open during daylight hours. Table and reading lamps make good supplemental light  because the light source is close to plant leaves. Lights can be left on even when there is no one in the room.

Plants accumulate dust on their leaves which filters out light. Shiny leaf plants can be washed with water or leaf shine. Fuzzy leaf plants do not like water on their leaves, so a feather duster or similar tool should be used.

Avoid over watering and over fertilization. Our tendency is to water plants on a regular schedule, such as once a week. Slower plant growth means less water and fertilizer are used by the roots. When soil stays too wet, oxygen is more limited for the roots which limits root growth. Check to make sure the soil is dry on top before watering. Reduce fertilizer by half to match the slower growth rate.

Replace high light requiring plants with those needing less light. Buy or check out an indoor plant book which gives light requirements or search on line: “low light house plants”. Indoor plants which tolerate the lowest light conditions include: Cast iron plant (Aspidistra), Peace lily (Spathiphyllum), Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) and Snake plant (Sanseveria). Also very low light tolerant are: Dracaena, Dieffenbachia, Parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) and Devil’s ivy (Pothos).

A new generation of indoor plant lights is available which give stronger light for less energy cost. Sodium and halide light bulbs used with a grow light reflector can produce sufficient light even for higher light requiring plants. Go on line under “indoor plant lights” for more information.


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