Having great lighting is one of the most important variables in growing healthy plants. Understanding the light your windows receive and how your location changes throughout the seasons will uncover which plants will do best in your home. With a northern exposure, you’ll be able to easily grow many tropical plants that thrive in lower light conditions. Keep reading to uncover the science behind sun intensity and find the best plants for north-facing windows that will thrive in your home.
Understanding the Sunlight from North-Facing Windows
Our sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Having north-facing windows means your home gets the full spectrum of available sunlight between sunrise and sunset, with the intensity varying throughout the day, but being strongest around noon.
Beyond the sun’s daily motion, your latitude — the distance from the equator running north and south — also plays a role in determining how much sun energy reaches your plants with a northern exposure. In the winter, the Earth’s tilt is furthest away from the sun, so you can expect much less solar energy reaching your plants. This loss of light energy is more pronounced the further you get from the equator.
This means that if you live in the northern hemisphere, your plants will likely receive much more solar energy during the hot summer months of May – August, with winters proving substantially less sunlight from November – March. For eastern windows, this dormancy means plants will also be less likely to dry out compared to western or southern windows.
Understanding your directional sunlight and how the Sun’s energy changes throughout the year at your location will help you find the best plants for north-facing windows.
Other Factors Affecting Natural Light
Understanding the direction and intensity of the Sun’s rays is important, but other environmental factors play a major role in how much sunlight actually reaches your plants. Nearby trees or buildings may block out some sunlight, reducing available solar energy for your plants. Keeping plants away from windows or closing the blinds also has a huge impact on energy potential — even if you have a bright and sunny room and only set your plants a few feet away from the window.
If you have obstacles blocking your north-facing windows, or find curtains or furniture blocking your ideal plant placement, get an inexpensive grow light to fill in the energy gap for your plants. These lights come in a variety of designs and have features like timers to make them feel as natural as the daylight cycle, so you can still find the best plants for north-facing windows.
The Best Plants For North-Facing Windows
A home with northern exposures has ideal lighting conditions for many tropical houseplants. The soft light from the north match the medium indirect lighting needs of many of these beautiful plants.
ZZ plants and Snake plants are two popular plants we’d recommend for homes receiving lots of northern light. They are readily available at most nurseries, inexpensive, beautiful and can thrive in the soft lighting conditions a northern exposure provides.
How can you tell if your plant is happy and getting enough solar energy? If your plant isn’t receiving enough light, it will show early warning signs that it needs more sunlight. Look for leaves with less intensity, growth that looks long or stringy, or a decline in new growth. All of these factors could be red flags that your plant isn’t receiving the minimum amount of light it needs to survive.
North, south, east or west — there are no bad exposures for sunlight. But understanding the science behind the natural light your home receives will make you a more informed plant parent. Be sure to read our guides on west-facing, east-facing and south-facing views if your home has rooms with other lighting needs.
And finally, lighting is just one factor in healthy plant care. Be sure to read our guides for specific plant needs.