How Do You Know Whether Your Plant Needs More Light or Less Light?

Your plant uses visual cues to show you whether its receiving too much or too little light. Knowing what those visual cues are can allow you to assess what your plant needs more easily.

This week we will cover exactly what the clues of too much or too little light look like. Both of these conditions can be super damaging for a plant.

Table of Contents

Clues that Your Plant Wants Less Light

  • The plant’s color is beginning to fade or wash out
  • The newest foliage is developing white or brown crispy patches
  • Leaves are turning brown and crispy, then falling off
  • The plant is wilting in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day

Plants that are receiving too much light will look unhealthy and faded. They may also have a sunburnt appearance where the color is dulled and patches of foliage are crispy and brown or white.

A plant receiving too much light may dry out extremely quickly, wilt when the sun is at its hottest, and even lose leaves.

This pink splash syngonium below shows the faded, washed out color of too much light in the first photo. In the second photo, you can see what the rich pink and green look like when given a bit less light.

Alocasia azlanii (pictured below) has developed a white burn patch in the middle of one of its leaves.

Ficus lyrata (pictured below) has a brown crispy patch from a bit of sun burn.

Clues that Your Plant Wants More Light

  • The plant isn’t growing
  • The potting mix stays wet for a long period of time
  • The new growth is smaller than the previous growth
  • The plant is stretching (etiolating) to get light or looks stretched and lanky
  • If the plant is variegated, it is beginning to lose its variegation
  • The plant is exhibiting signs of overwatering

The most common issue with houseplants is not providing them enough light. My rule of thumb: if your plant isn’t within a foot or two of a window and it isn’t doing well, try moving it closer to the window and see what happens.

The vast majority of the time the plant will begin to do better after receiving more light.

Plants that aren’t receiving enough light often grow in less desirable ways and may show signs of overwatering when the issue is really lack of light.

Light is the single most important resource a plant needs because light fuels all of the processes that take place within a plant’s cells to live and grow. Without light, a plant doesn’t have the fuel it needs to use the water provided to it.

Philodendron Burle Marxe variegata shows the change of lighting. The 1st photo is of the older variegated foliage. Second photo is the reverted leaves from less light. Third photo is the newest leaf when provided with more light.

The two photos below is of the same succulent. The first is a healthy compact plant. The second is a plant that has been light starved for some time and is stretching to try to find some sun.


When the clues get confusing

The signs that we can use to identify too much or too little light can also be signs of other issues.

For example, a wilted plant can be a sign of a plant that’s been underwatered. A wilted plant can also be a sign of overwatering and root rot.

How do you know what the problem is? We can figure out what the root cause is by observing more aspects about the plant beyond the fact that its wilted.

If the plant is wilted and the soil is soggy or smelly, it could be a sign of root rot.

If the plant is wilted and the soil is super dry, we could water the plant and see if that resolves the wilt. If the plant wilts again the next afternoon, it probably isn’t underwatering, but rather too much light.

In other words, any time we use a clue to identify what the problem is, we should support that possible diagnosis with additional observations and take note of any clues that conflict with what we think the issue is.

Do you have questions or comments? Leave them in the comments below!

Happy growing!



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