If there’s one thing seasoned plant growers and houseplants newbies have in common is knowing how important light is in a plant’s life cycle. Light is a crucial source of energy for all plants. Although the light needs vary depending on what houseplants you keep, all plants require light in order to photosynthesize, survive, and grow. And that includes your Pilea.
The more light your Pilea absorbs, the more energy it has to grow, and the faster it grows. Light is also one of the most frustrating factors that influence the well-being of a plant (right up there with fungus gnats) because you have no control over it. Think about it: you can always change your plant’s soil or adjust its watering schedule, but adjusting the light in your home is one tricky task. After all, you can’t easily change your house’s orientation or the placement of your windows.
Luckily, there are some things about light that are easier to adjust. Read on and you’ll see there’s hope when it comes to giving your Pilea the best light environment possible. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it light (ha!) and breezy, and we’ll try not to confuse you with too much technical information. But we believe it’s important to understand what to look for in terms of placement when you bring your Pilea home.
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What type of light does my Pilea need?
Pilea plants prefer bright indirect light. Here’s what this means.
Bright: refers to the intensity of the light.
Indirect: refers to the direction of the light.
Bright indirect light is found in front of west-facing and east-facing windows, and a couple of feet back from south-facing windows. Pilea plants don’t like draughts, so don’t place it in front of a window that you leave open frequently.
Here’s an easy way to check the light in your home: put your hand 2-3 inches away from the wall near the light source. If the shadow cast by your hand is soft, that means you’re in bright indirect sunlight. If the shadow cast by your hand is dark and has a well-defined contour, then chances are you’re in bright direct sunlight. However, if the shadow cast by your hand is faint, then you’re probably in a medium-light environment. And if there’s no shadow at all, then that’s a clear sign of a low-light environment. Think about it this way: if you’d get a serious sunburn in that sunlight, so would your plant.
Avoid placing your Pilea in a south-facing window, which usually gets the strongest and most direct light. In the Northern hemisphere summer, in particular, this will be too much for almost all plants except for the toughest succulents and cacti. The closer you get to the ceiling, the more the light intensity drops, so keep this in mind if you choose to place your Pilea on higher shelves or on top of your cupboard.
If you want to geek out about light and get more technical, we recommend buying a light meter - a handy tool that measures the intensity of light in your room in a unit of measurement called foot-candles (FC). If you do decide to rely on a light meter, make sure you learn how to use it, and start keeping track of the light in your home at different times of the day and in different seasons. It’s not a once-and-done kind of measurement.
Is my Pilea getting too much light?
You don’t want too much of a good thing, right? You’ll know if your Pilea is getting too much light if its leaves become brittle and sunburned. Often, the edges of the leaves will become singed and dark patches will appear on the surface of the leaf. This happens not because of too much light per se, but because of too much heat energy that comes with the light.
Moving the plant away from direct light will fix it for the new leaves, but unfortunately, there’s no way to salvage the leaves that have already been affected. Just let them be, and if the damage is too much, the plant will eventually shed the sick leaf.
Does my Pilea need more light?
Plants are amazing communicators, although, to our frustration, we don’t speak the same language. Here are a few ways in which your Pilea will tell you that it needs more light.
Leggy, elongated stems with long spaces between the leaves
This is called etiolation, and it happens when your Pilea grows more rapidly than normal in an attempt to reach a source of light.
Yellowing of leaves
This happens because there isn’t enough light for the plant to photosynthesize properly. Check out this guide to learn about a few other factors that may turn the leaves yellow.
Abnormal leaf growth
If your Pilea’s leaves remain small and weak even after they reach maturity, then your plant needs more light.
Slow growth or no growth in the warmer months
Pilea will slow down its growth spurt in the cold months (usually from October until March), but a healthy plant will resume growth once the environmental conditions (sunlight, temperature, moisture) improve. If your Pilea fails to grow in the spring and summer months, then that may be a sign that it’s conserving energy because it’s not getting enough light.
How can I improve the light for my Pilea?
Ok, so you’ve read all of the advice above and you still feel powerless because you can’t control the light in your home. Here are a few ways to try to improve it, at least until spring comes around and you get more help from Mother Nature.
It may sound like cheating, but that’s what grow lights are for - to help plants adapt to the dark days of winter. Don’t overstress your Pilea with prolonged periods of artificial light though. Your plant needs rest, just like you do.
2. Keep your windows clean and unobstructed
You can use sheer or light-weave curtains (or no curtains at all, if you’re not facing any neighbors). While we’re on the topic of home decor, we’ll warmly recommend some mirrors or reflective surfaces placed strategically in a dark room.
3. Keep the leaves clean
Too much dust can prevent light absorption. Use a soft damp cloth and gently clean each leaf making sure you’re supporting the leaf from behind - where the stem meets the leaf. Start with the top leaves and work your way down.
4. Rotate your plants so that all the leaves get equal amounts of light
Rotate your Pilea a few times a week if you want that it keeps a nice and symmetrical shape: the leaves grow in the direction of the light and tend to reach for it.
These are the basics of what you need to know to provide the best light conditions for your Pilea. Have fun growing your Pass It On plant and remember to be patient. Light changes with the seasons, but your love for Pilea will only grow!