Light, Water and Air: The Science Behind Plants

28 Nov | Indoor Landscape

Understanding how your plants work can keep them healthy. And, honestly, we find it so fascinating — it’s why we do what we do! Caring for plants doesn’t take a green thumb, just understanding them better does.

Let’s start with the basics.

  • Through photosynthesis, plants can turn sunlight into sugar, which acts as energy for them.
  • They can absorb carbon dioxide and put out oxygen.
  • They can defy gravity and pull water up to their leaves.

Simply put, plants are incredible. This article will break down the science and explain exactly what makes plants flourish.

Photosynthesis Explained

In the science community, plants are called autotrophs – this means they make their own food! This is where photosynthesis comes in. To properly perform photosynthesis, plants need light, water and air.

For plants, light is food. Plant cells have a green pigment called chlorophyll, which is what allows plants to absorb light energy. Once they absorb the energy, which can come from the sun or artificial light, the light energy is turned into glucose and stored in leaf cells called chloroplast.

Next, the plant needs to break down the glucose. Just like animals, plants need to breathe. Only, plants “breathe” in carbon dioxide and “breathe” out oxygen. Once plants absorb carbon dioxide, they use it to break down the glucose.

Water is also an integral part to photosynthesis. First, water brings additional nutrients to the plant, like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Second, plants keep the leaves of the plants healthy and open which allows the plant to absorb more carbon dioxide and light.

When light, water and air are combined through photosynthesis the plant can continue to grow and be healthy!

Why do different types of plants need different levels of light and water?

Plants are categorized as needing “low light,” “medium light,” or “direct light” to survive. Why is this? It all stems from where a plant can be found natively. For example, ferns are a popular low-light plant. In nature, they’re often found on a forest floor where they don’t receive direct sunlight, so they’ve adapted to surviving on less light. Compare that to succulents that grow in the desert and are accustomed to frequent direct sunlight. The same is true for water consumption. Plants that historically grow in drier areas will require less water in your home or office.

What are the early warning signs a plant isn’t healthy?

Because light and water are so important to your plants, they’ll let you know when they aren’t getting what they need. Here are some basic signs to look for. Keep in mind that every plant is different, but these are good basic indicators to look out for.

Signs your plants need MORE light:

  1. Sparse or leggy growth. This means more stem and less leaves. Plants do this because they’re looking for more light.
  2. Plants leaning toward light sources. Again, your plant is reaching for the light! Try rotating your plant every time you water it to help even out the light distribution.
  3. Small leaves or no new growth. Remember, light is your plants food! If the leaves are small, then the plant isn’t getting the energy it needs to grow.

Signs your plants need MORE water:

  1. The soil is dry. Plants can’t get water from dry soil!
  2. The pot is light. This is a great way to tell if there is water in the soil or not.
  3. The plant is drooping. Water is responsible for cell structural support, so if your plant is drooping it’s a good sign that there isn’t enough water in the plant.

Another great way for plants to get the moisture they need is with a humidifier! If your plants have brown or crunchy ends, then this is a great option.

If this introduction to the science behind plants still hasn’t made you a plant geek convert, we can be your own personal guide for plant health. Plant Solutions can come take care of your plant wall or office plants. Learn more at


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