Where To Place Your Indoor Plants So They Thrive

Add some green in all the right places.

From improving air quality to melting away stress, the benefits of welcoming plants into your home and office are well documented. Who doesn’t want to breathe cleaner oxygen, feel happier and crank out more work? However, these positive effects can quickly spiral into despair if your beloved fern unexpectedly wilts despite your best efforts. ESTATENVY caught up with Ozzy Gámez of Plant Shop Chicago and Emily Kellett of STUMP to root out some tips on where to place your indoor plants to ensure they are living their best life.

What’s sun got to do with it?
If you don’t own a sundial, you may not think too often about where that big ball o’ fire is positioned at any given moment—but it matters a lot to your houseplants. North America is quite north of the equator, where the sun shines most directly on earth, which means that south-facing windows get the most direct rays.
Let’s break these window orientations down, shall we?
South-facing windows: Most bright direct light
Cacti and succulents need a lot of direct light because of their hometown, the desert. Putting them in south or west windows is best.
"A lot of people don't realize a cactus needs a lot of sun. But when you think about where they usually grow, in the desert with no shade, it makes sense,” said Kellett, adding that it’s easy to overwater succulents since they need their soil to fully dry before downing another drink.
More suggestions: Chrysanthemum, rock fig, jade plant, basil or other herbs
West-facing windows: Direct light in the evening, strong indirect light the rest of the day
That one tree that everyone seems to have, the fiddle-leaf fig, needs lots of light too, contrary to what you may see on Pinterest. “Photoshoots are always adding big leafy plants to add height to places where they would never be able to live,” Kellett said, adding to always prioritize the needs of the plant over where it would look best on the ‘gram. Put your fig near a south or west window for best results.
More suggestions: rubber plant, geranium, aloe vera, air plants, English ivy
East-facing windows: Direct light in the morning, weaker indirect the rest of the day
When you think of tropical plants, you may think of lots of sunshine—but they actually do well in bright, indirect light. Plants that provide ground cover in rainforests are great candidates, as are palms, philodendrons and aroids. “Most tropical plants want to look at the sky, but not directly at the sun all day,” said Gámez.
More suggestions: umbrella tree, Boston ferns, African violet, zebra plant

North-facing windows: Indirect, shady or ambient light all day

The best plants for low light are the types you see in offices—like snake plants, also sassily known as mother-in-law’s tongue.

Kellett suggested that while these hearty plants are perhaps less than drop-dead gorgeous, styling can make a big difference.“Snake plants look a lot better in a mid-century planter, like a white cylinder with wood stand, which adds height,” she said, adding that these varieties are super low-maintenance if you travel a lot or simply don’t want to think too much about keeping them alive. “As long as you have a window in the room, you can put it anywhere,” said Kellett. If that’s not encouraging, we don’t know what is.

Another low key option is the ZZ plant. Bonus: you can easily see these plants’ progress through its lime green-colored new growths. “You only need water ZZ plants and snake plants once a month,” noted Kellett, adding that the soil for both needs to dry out completely before watering again.

Note: Watch out for obstructions.

Gámez helpfully pointed out that city streets are often narrow, causing light to be blocked by other buildings. We knew there was a catch to this whole window business.

Keep in mind how far away surrounding buildings are, and check in with your plants to see if their sun is being obstructed. Gámez also noted that certain leafy trees outside your window may hog all the sun in summer, but at least they clear out of the way in the winter. How thoughtful of those trees, looking out for their indoor brethren.

Know the warning signs of light deprivation.

Kellett said that every plant is different, but in general, if a plant is light-deprived, its lower leaves will turn yellow and fall off. If it’s wilting, and watering doesn’t perk it up, it could be getting too much sun. Too much direct light could also cause brown spots on the leaves.

As far as succulents and tropicals, Gámez said to look out for new growths and leaves that are drastically smaller. If your cactus begins to look thin at the top and starts physically pointing toward a light source, it’s trying to tell you something.

Hopefully these tips “shed some light” on the ideal positioning of your indoor plants. Best of luck, and remember: you can always try again.