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Archive date:  January 18, 2004

Living Color in the Winter Home

Put some pizzaz in your home!

Winter is all too often regarded as a time devoid of color. Selecting colorful living additions in the home can make a drab winter much more bearable. Just because a plant is colorful does not mean it is difficult to grow. By selecting colorful flowering plants such as bromeliads or orchids, you can achieve great color without having to have a degree in botany.

Color is not limited to just flowering plants: Many plants add great color and interest due to their colorful foliage. Plants such as croton, diffenbachia, ficus, dracaena, and aglaonema are colorful, easy to grow additions to the home, without flowers.

To achieve success with most color-producing plants, sufficient light is a necessity.

Temperature and humidity are also key considerations.

Often one or more of these will be less than ideal. However, by being aware of the shortcomings of an indoor location one can usually alter them or match plants with growing conditions.

Soil and water satisfy the remaining basic needs of living plants. A good soil mix and proper watering and fertilization are important for the maintenance of attractive plants.


Light is essential for plant life processes, and optimum levels ensure healthy, long-lived indoor plants.

In general, there are three categories of light intensity for interior plants:
low, 25-75 foot candles;
medium 75-150 foot candles;
and high, 150-1000 foot candles.

It is important to match plants with locations that satisfy their basic light requirements. Many reference books provide interiorscape professionals and home gardeners with information on the light levels necessary to maintain plants indoors. A wide variety of light meters are available for measuring light intensities in indoor environments. They can eliminate much of the guesswork in selecting plants that are adapted to light levels in a given location.

If sunlight is the major light source you may determine which category your indoor location falls into by using the following descriptions.

High Light: areas within four to eight feet of large southeast and west facing windows.
Medium Light:locations in a range of four to eight feet from south and east windows, and west windows that do not receive direct sun.
Low Light: areas more that eight feet from windows as in the center of a room, a hallway or in inside wall. Northern exposures often fall into this category, even when close to the window. Many locations that receive only artificial light are also low light situations.

The intensity and duration of natural sunlight that reaches indoor locations varies throughout the year. In winter, days are shorter and the sun's path is lower and farther to the south. Therefore most plants will receive fewer hours of less intense sunlight from a more southerly angle in the winter.

However, plants growing close to an unshaded south window may receive more direct sunlight at this time of year because of the low sun angle. In summer the days are longer and the sun's path is higher above the horizon. For many plants this is the peak growth period.

Keep in mind that there are less obvious factors that affect sunlight levels indoors.

These include: the color of interior walls and floors, types of window coverings, room overhangs, outside awnings, nearby buildings and trees that filter or block incoming light.

Plants grown in correct light conditions are vigorous, compact and bushy. Color is vibrant, leaves are of normal size, and stems are sturdy. Flowering is promoted.

Plants grown at a light intensity below their optimum will have smaller leaves and less vivid color. They often grow more open and leggy and pruning may be necessary for compact form. Keep these plants drier than those in bright light and fertilize them less often.

A plant that receives significantly less than its required amount of light may survive for several months to a year, while gradually deteriorating in appearance and vigor.

When light levels are too high, plant leaves show an overall yellowing that results from the destruction of green pigment. Eventually large brown spots of dead tissue may develop. This is often referred to as leaf scorch or leaf burn.

Artificial light can be used to supplement or replace natural sunlight. Cool white fluorescent lights alone or in combination with warm light fluorescent lights are the most economical and best all-purpose lamps.

Typically a fixture holding two 40 watt tubes is positioned approximately 12 inches above the plants. Most Plants need 12-16 hours of artificial light per day for good growth. For large specimen plants, use spot or flood lights to maintain good appearance and accent the plant.

You may consider designing room lighting around your anticipated use of indoor plants.

Indirect and track lighting are very effective design features for this purpose.