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Trying to find the right amount of sunlight for your houseplants doesn’t have to be a chore, even with vague language regarding “full sun” and “indirect sunlight” or “low light.” Follow this guide to demystify the terms and benefits of natural light for your houseplants and help them thrive.
All plants require sunlight to photosynthesize, and these levels of sunlight tend to vary based on the plant. Some plants, especially succulents, will get sunburnt if exposed to direct sunlight, while others will not receive any damage. Other plants may need lots of sunshine and grow leggy if left in the shade. An overexposed plant will sustain damage to the affected leaves, turning them a shade of rusty brown. Underexposed plants will appear paler and thinner than usual.
Gardeners tend to use similar language when describing light levels for succulents, houseplants, and outdoor plants alike. Each term regarding light levels typically pertains to natural sunlight. However, many gardeners mimic sunlight with UV lamps during darker months, similar to their plant’s natural light requirements.
Bright, direct sunlight means your plant is in full view of the sun (hence the alternate title, “Full sun”). Plants in need of full sunlight are often tropical plants or desert plants designed to thrive in areas where shade is relatively scarce, and their leaves are less likely to burn under harsh afternoon sunlight and work best in bright homes. Houseplants that thrive in bright, direct sunlight include the Aloe Vera, Agave, and Paddle Plant.
Arguably the most popular light level among houseplants, bright, indirect sunlight is the next step down from full sun. Under this lighting, your plants still receive plenty of sunlight, but this sunlight is filtered to prevent harsh UV rays from burning the leaves. Ideal for plants that need lots of sun but have tender leaves, this light condition fits many houseplants, including succulents. Some houseplants that do best in bright, indirect sunlight include the Snake Plant, Rubber Plant, Swiss Cheese Monstera, and Silver Pothos.
Plants in need of medium sunlight levels tend to prefer partial shade during the afternoon hours. These plants also fall in between the bright, indirect, and low-light areas– they’ll do well in either. Most medium light plants naturally grow under trees, so they receive filtered light throughout the day, but not to the same extent as plants that need bright, indirect sunlight. Most medium-light plants are great for groundcover under trees or the corner of a bright room. Some excellent medium-light houseplants include the Christmas Cactus, English Ivy, and Bella Palm.
Unlike the rest of the plants on this list, low light isn’t always an ideal condition for houseplants. Typically, low light plants also do well in medium light and make for excellent groundcover underneath a particularly verdant tree. Low light plants are also known for their hardiness, as they can thrive just about anywhere. Some of our favorite low-light plants include the Curly Spider Plant, Peperomia, and Calathea Dottie.
So, now that you know what these different light levels are, it’s time to apply them to your home. Depending on which direction your windows face, your light levels will change. For example, bathroom houseplants typically rely on a single window for natural light. Depending on the location of this window, a bathroom may have less light than other rooms. To find the best plants for each room in your home, pay attention to your window positions:
North-facing windows tend to let in the least amount of sunlight and are best for low to medium light plants. Since the northern side of your home stays relatively shaded throughout the day, this location is best for plants with sensitive leaves and your hardier varieties. If you have an east or west-facing window in the same room as a north-facing one, you’ll have more options for houseplant choices and where to place them. In a room with only north-facing windows, try to avoid putting your plants in the corners of the room on the window-side.
South-facing windows get lots of light all day long, but this light isn’t the best for every plant. Ideally, houseplants that require bright, direct sunlight (and some that like bright, indirect sunlight) do best in these locations. For plant placement, keep your more sensitive plants away from where the sun will shine between noon and 5 pm– that’s when the sunlight is strongest.
With full access to the gentle morning sun, east-facing windows are ideal for plants needing bright, indirect sunlight. While the room won’t necessarily be as bright as one with south-facing windows, east-facing windows allow direct sunlight in the mornings. The morning sun is far gentler than afternoon sunlight, and plants with sensitive leaves may prefer longer hours of indirect light throughout the day instead of a few hours of very harsh sunlight.
West-facing windows give houseplants access to the afternoon and evening sun, which is great for plants needing a few hours of bright, direct sunlight or bright, indirect sunlight. However, placement is essential for houseplants with your west-facing windows. In the summer, your west side will receive many hours of harsh, direct sunlight, which isn’t ideal for plants needing indirect light. When placing your houseplants in a west-windowed room, keep them away from direct light in the summer as best you can.