Growing succulents indoors–Sunlight, lighting and other things to consider
Can succulents and cacti live inside? How much sunlight do they need indoors?
Succulents and cacti need a certain amount of sunlight to thrive. Plants grow by absorbing light and turning it into energy through the process of photosynthesis. Providing adequate light, when growing succulents indoors, can be particularly challenging and may need some experimentation on your part. If these plants do not receive adequate light, they do not grow properly. Overtime, succulents that do not receive enough light become weak, distorted and discolored. When not exposed to adequate light they start etoliating or stretching out to look for the sun.
So are succulents and cacti able to thrive inside? Yes. We see proof of this by the numerous succulent species that have become highly adapted to living indoors and have become very popular houseplants. Any succulent species can be kept alive indoors, but this environment may limit the way they typically grow and flourish.
Light, and receiving proper lighting, is one of the most important things to consider when growing your plants, especially indoors. When growing indoors, take into consideration the available spots and locations in your house where you can place your plants and consider the type of plant you have, its origin and light requirements to figure out where to best place your plant. Consider the amount of sun and they type of lighting the location receives throughout the day. Ideally, you want to look for a location that will give your plants enough light as well as consistent light. Indoor lighting vary depending on the amount of sunlight you get. Direct natural sunlight coming through a window is not as strong as direct sunlight outside. And the intensity of the light the plants will receive lessens the further you move it away from a window.
When speaking of different types of lighting inside the house, we typically hear these terminologies:
Bright— when we refer to bright light it means there are no curtains, blinds or drapes between the plant and the window. On the other side of the window, there is nothing obstructing the light from coming through the window such as a tree, a shrub or a sign. Bright light means the plant needs to be placed in a sunny location, possibly southern or western facing windows with bright, direct light throughout the day.
Filtered–filtered light or indirect light means bright light that is not direct, or partially screened and lightly shaded sunlight. Plants that need filtered light need bright sun exposure, preferably a few hours of morning or late afternoon sun. Generally, filtered sunlight means that the plant needs a south or east facing window. Growing your plants in filtered sun will ensure adequate sun exposure without being over exposed to sunlight.
Shady–or low light means no direct sun or other light. The light that comes through the window is blocked by an outdoor tree, a building or other objects indoors such as curtains or furnitures. Typically, plants that need shady areas also need high humidity.
It may also be helpful to know the direction the window is facing in order to figure out how much light is coming through that window. When we refer to window orientation in relation to their light intensity we usually use these terminologies:
North Facing Windows
These are those darker areas that receive low light, or are completely shaded from any direct light. These windows often give the weakest light and are suitable for shade loving plants that do not require much light. North facing windows may not be suitable for most plants in winter months.
South Facing Windows
These windows usually give the brightest, most intense light. These are for sun loving plants that need bright, direct light throughout the day.
East Facing Windows
These windows receive a lot of early, morning sun. These rays are not as intense and are beneficial for plants that need a lot of morning light, but will burn in intense afternoon light.
West Facing Windows
These windows provide plenty of afternoon and evening sun. These rays can be extreme in the summer heat. Sun loving plants can benefit from west facing windows.
Can succulents grow in the shade or low light?
Succulents roughly need at least four to six hours of sunlight to grow properly. Because of the reduced light indoors, plants mature much more slowly. Given their highly adaptable properties, succulents will survive for quite some time in the shade or low light but will not thrive. Overtime, these plants will suffer and when not given proper lighting, they may not recover. Plants that do not receive enough light will start to suffer and show signs. They will start to discolor and etiolate. They will become thin and long in appearance, and will arch and stretch towards the direction of the sun. The plants are literally reaching out and looking for more sun. Plants that do not receive enough light also have stunted growth. You will find your plants growing slower indoors, which may be a good way to control the plant’s growth if that is your aim.
Do succulents need natural sunlight? Use of artificial light
We know that succulents need a certain amount of light to thrive, but do they need natural sunlight? Some of you growers live in a climate that require you to take your plants indoors for the winter to protect them from frost, and others just do not have the outdoor space necessary for growing your plants outdoors. If your lighting situation at home is less than ideal, there are still ways to improve those conditions and help your plants get the best light possible for optimal growth. The main remedy is artificial lights. Artificial lights can be used as a supplement to natural sunlight or as the sole source of light for your plants. As long as succulents receive the right amount of light, they can survive using artificial lights because unlike humans, all they need from sunlight is light itself. Artificial lights can imitate sunlight and provide your succulent plants what they need. You need to choose the most suitable artificial light for your needs.
What are grow lights? Grow lights are artificial lights designed to imitate the sun’s rays in order to help stimulate plant growth through photosynthesis. Grow lights are used as supplemental light when there is not enough sunlight coming in, or as the main source of light for the plants. Different grow lights are designed to either mimic the light spectrum of the sun, or to provide a color spectrum that is specific to the needs of a particular plant. Outdoor sunlight conditions are ideally replicated indoors by having grow lights with varying color spectrums, temperatures and lumen output or intensity. Choosing a grow light for your needs can be a daunting task. There are different types and varieties out there.
When choosing an artificial light or grow light consider these factors:
You need to figure out how bright the light is coming from the bulb. Plants need to get a certain amount of light for photosynthesis to occur. For succulents, you need lights that emit at least 2,000 lumens per square foot.
The greater the watts the light consumes, the more it costs on your electric bill. Look for energy efficient bulbs that will give you the brightness that you need at a lower cost.
Sunlight naturally contains the full spectrum of light. Like plants growing outdoors, indoor plants grow well under full-spectrum bulbs, which imitate natural sunlight and provide a balance of cool and warm lights. The optimal color temperature for succulents is at least 5,000 kelvins which will give your succulents full spectrum light that resembles sunlight.
Heat and Duration
It is important to know how much heat the light emits. Too much heat and your plant may burn, too little and your plant does not receive enough. How hot the light also determines how far or close you want to place your plant from the light and how many hours to leave your plant under the light.
Led vs. Fluorescent
Both produce full-spectrum light. Fluorescent light offers a remedy to low light but require higher energy usage. LED lights use half the electricity and lasts longer than fluorescent bulbs.
When using a grow light consider the following:
It is important to figure out how to position your plants under the light. If you are using a simple grow light, placing your plant between 3 to 6 inches from the lamp is generally a good place to start. You need to of course consider the plant’s tolerance to light and heat. Your aim is to give your plants as much light as possible and to reduce the waste, while not harming your plants at the same time. If your grow light has a hood, move your plants a few more inches away from the lamp as hoods reflect light and heat and may burn your plants.
You can use a plug-in timer to setup your grow light. Turn the light on or set the time to turn on in the morning around sunrise. Leave the light on for about 12 to 14 hours per day for plants that receive low to medium-level sun exposure during the day. For plants that receive very little to no natural light, set it or leave the light on for 16 to 18 hours a day. If you have multiple succulents and cacti, give them enough space in between for light to reach the lower branches of the plants.
Succulents kept indoors need to know when it is winter, so they can begin their dormant stage, and when it is summer, where they need more light to grow. If you use grow lights all year round for your succulents, you need to increase the light and duration in the summer months and decrease light and duration during winter months.
When growing indoors under grow lights, you still need to follow the same basic watering guidelines as you would for succulents grown outdoors. During the summer, you need to water the succulents when the soil feels dry, at least an inch or two if you stick your finger in the soil. Water less during winter months if your are imitating winter conditions indoors.
Make sure all plugs and cables are working properly and you do not have any loose wires. Keep water away from any electrical lights and cables. To be on the safe side, you may need to unplug the lamps before watering your plants. Keep pets and little children away for safety reasons.
If you are unfamiliar with grow lights, monitor your succulents closely. Always monitor your succulents closely after changing lighting conditions to see how they react. Adjust the light and move the plants as needed.
If you are thinking of purchasing a grow light, please check out my resource page for recommendations.
Best Succulents for Low Light
Most succulents prefer bright, indirect light. Some succulents can still thrive even if your lighting condition indoors is less than ideal. Below are some succulent species that can do well in low lighting conditions.
Native to South Africa, Haworthias are a large genus of dwarf succulents. Some haworthia species closely resemble aloe vera in appearance and can be mistaken for one. These plants form rosettes of varying shapes and sizes depending on the species. Some form clusters and some are solitary. Most have thick roots. Many species have thick, tough, fleshy leaves that are usually dark green in color; and others have softer, plump leaves with translucent, glassy surfaces through which sunlight can penetrate for photosynthesis. Most haworthia species will grow well in low light, but will look their best in a bright, warm environments. When grown in low light, be very careful not to over water the plant. Over watering under low light conditions can be detrimental to the plant.
Rhipsalis is a cacti genus native to the rainforests of South America, the Caribbean, and Central America. While most people think of cacti as requiring bright sunlight and dry conditions, rhipsalis species do not thrive in direct sunlight and very dry soil. These plants are commonly grown indoors. They do best with morning sun and full shade in the afternoon. In its native habitat, rhipsalis receives plenty of protection from the sun’s rays with surrounding dense, overhanging tree branches. They are also more accustomed to higher humidity than most cacti. Rhipsalis is not drought-resistant and regular watering is needed. However, overwatering is to be avoided as it can cause root rot. One of the most popular rhipsalis species is the Rhipsalis Baccifera or Mistletoe Cactus. These plants require shade to partial shade and grow well indoors.
This genus received its name from the flower it produces, which resembles the shape of a stomach. “Gaster” is Latin for stomach. Native to South Africa, they grow in lightly shaded conditions with plenty of rainfall. These have become well adapted to growing indoors, tolerating low light conditions. They also do well in hot, bright but indirect light. They have long, thick, grooved leaves and curved, stomach-shaped flowers. They require well-draining, sandy soils.
Schlumbergera belongs to a small genus of cacti. Native to the tropical rainforests of Brazil, they require some humidity and will not tolerate intense heat and frost. Schlumbergera species are different from other cacti in their appearance and habits. They are epiphytes, meaning they grow on trees in wet and humid regions, or on rocky grounds as lithophytes. The stems of Schlumbergera form joints that can be flat, leaf-shaped or bottle-shaped. The stems are green all year round. One of the most common varieties are the Christmas Cactus or Thanksgiving Cactus, which have become very popular houseplants for their beautiful, showy flowers. This tropical cacti does not do well on full sunlight and afternoon sun.
My cousin’s beautiful Schlumbergera or Christmas cactus in bloom
Advantages of growing your succulents indoors
Some of us may not have a choice but to grow our succulents indoors, still others prefer to grow them indoors even if they have other options. There are advantages to growing succulents indoors:
- Control growth
If you have limited space or just want a small plant, growing your succulents indoors can help control growth by slowing down the plant’s growth. Typically, due to lighting and other factors, plants grown indoors grow slower than the ones outdoors. Keeping your plants indoors in small pots or containers can also be a cost effective way to save space and help control growth, limiting your need to repot every so often.
- Protected from the cold
Some succulents are not cold hardy and will not tolerate even a mild frost. These succulents will not survive being outdoors when the temperature starts dropping to below freezing during the winter months. Non-cold hardy plants need to be protected from frost. Having them indoors saves you the trouble of moving them indoors during the winter.
- They are more visible
One reason why I like to keep some of my plants indoors is simply because I like looking at them and seeing them up close. Having things you love around you not only improves the appearance of the place, but it also affects your overall mood and happiness. Succulents make beautiful ornamental plants that can liven up a room or add to your home’s decor.
- Protected from animals and critters
Aside from pests invading your plants, you do not have to worry about little critters munching on your plants’ leaves or in some cases, deer eating your plants. You hear about stories of people’s landscapes being ruined by squirrels or other furry creatures digging up plants and causing damage. Rodents find cacti and succulents quite tasty. Keeping them indoors protects them from being trampled on, damaged or eaten.
- Control pests/insects
Succulents kept indoors are more protected from pests or insects because they are protected from nature. Houseplants can also suffer from pests infestation, but are more protected from outdoor elements that naturally harbor these pests or insects. The pests may be introduced to the indoor plant by an infected plant or soil medium. Generally, healthy plants kept indoors are less susceptible to common pests or insects that invade plants.
Having your beloved plants infested by pests can be disheartening and overwhelming, especially if you are a type of person that does not like bugs to begin with. I will discuss in greater detail later on how to deal with pests.
These are small insects with fat, teardrop-shaped bodies. They come in a variety of colors, from green being the most common. They are often numerous, and can be found sucking on leaves or flowers at the end of the stems. They also expel a lot of sugar white or honeydew, as they feed. This sugary substance can encourage the growth of black sooty mold. This can be removed with a spray of water.
These are the most common pests in succulents and cacti. They are small, elliptical insects, usually white in color. They get their name from a waxy or mealy white material they produce. Like aphids and whiteflies, these insects secrete honeydew or a sugary substance, which can promote the growth of mold. They can spread from plant to plant.
There are over a thousand species of scale, which vary in shapes, sizes and color. There are two groups of scales that commonly attack your plants: the armored scale and the soft scale insects. These insects like to eat the sap of succulents, damaging the plants and making them susceptible to diseases.
Spider mites are very small and often go undetected for a long time. The most common variety is red. Spider mites love to suck on the sweet sap from succulents. An infested plant at first becomes lighter in color and can eventually turn almost white or silvery, as the mites destroy the plant. Pay close attention to neighboring plants to catch infestations early.
These are commonly found with leafy succulents. They are small, white, flying insects that reproduce very quickly and can be difficult to control. You can see whiteflies flying from the underside of the leaves when an infested plant is shaken. Like aphids, these insects produce honeydew everywhere on your plant which promote the growth of sooty mold.
Fungus gnats are perhaps one of the most common houseplant pests. While fungus gnats are not as harmful to your plants as other pests, they can still be a pain to deal with and to get rid of. If you water your succulents too much, or if the soil is constantly moist, the gnats will be attracted to it and will start breeding.