For people, sunlight can be an excellent thing. It’s even more the case with houseplants, which often need plenty of direct sunlight to process into chemical energy. But how much bright light is enough light, anyway? Is there a point at which direct sunlight becomes a more significant detriment than it is a benefit?
If you own houseplants, you may have noticed that no matter how much light you seem to give your favorite plants, they can struggle. The temptation is to do more sun and water. Yet, the full sun isn’t always a good idea for all houseplants. Here’s what you’ll need to know to help diagnose whether your houseplants need to be in direct sunlight or not.
Is Direct Sunlight Bad for Plants?
Is direct sunlight terrible for your plant? That depends. What are you growing? Is it aloe vera? Calathea? Croton? Chinese evergreen? For most plants, you see advertised as “houseplants,” indirect sunlight is typically best. But for other plants that usually come from tropical areas requiring high humidity, don’t be surprised if direct sunlight is more the norm.
Light conditions in a house typically consist of two phases: indirect natural light and direct natural light. (Note: we’re ignoring artificial light for our purposes here). During the summer months, you’ll notice indirect natural light lasting throughout the day, giving you plenty of bright indirect light.
Direct sunlight can fall on a balcony, especially if you have a south-facing terrace in the northern hemisphere. Indirect sunlight is what you’re likely experiencing now—the sun isn’t blasting in your face, but its reflections are there somewhere, helping to light up the room.
How is Direct Sunlight Different from Indirect Sunlight?
For some houseplants, direct sunlight can be a bad idea for some plants. The reason is that direct sunlight is very different from indirect sunlight. To understand this difference, consider how different it can feel in the shade on the beach or being right under a hot noon sun. Plants experience this, too.
Do the Heat and Humidity Play a Factor?
Many plants familiar with direct sunlight are also comfortable with high humidity. This connection between light and humidity reflects their more tropical origins. But if you don’t have a greenhouse handy, you can find that the plant’s balance between direct sunlight and dry air is a harsher environment.
The truth is, the amount of sunlight a plant should get will depend on the plant, and typically its origins. For example, a subtropical plant isn’t going to flourish in the extreme north for obvious reasons. However, here are some tips for growing tropical plants in a temperate climate.
For flowering plants, you may be surprised that it’s often the warmth or indirect light of the sun that causes them to unfurl rather than direct light exposure.
What Houseplants Can Tolerate Direct Sunlight?
Direct sunlight refers to keeping a plant directly near the light in a window, where the sun can beat down right on it. For example, tropical plants may look great, but it can be rare to make good houseplants because of their unique humidity and sunlight needs. Here are some common houseplant species that can handle direct sunlight:
- Sago palm: Though attractive, this plant is poisonous to children and pets. That’s why tucking it somewhere where it can get direct sunlight (but not be exposed to children or pets) is a better idea than making it a centerpiece somewhere directly in the middle of your home.
- Jade: As long as you keep it moist, the jade plant can handle plenty of direct sunlight if you need to leave it by the window.
- Snake plant: A snake plant is one of the most recognizable houseplants there is. And despite the name, it has an attractive look that’s ideal for keeping near windows. And luckily, it’s capable of handling the light there.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera is an outside or direct sunlight plant, but because it’s sturdy enough to handle the indoors, many people include it as a houseplant as well
- Areca palm: Good for large entryways where you need to fill some visual space, the areca palm can handle open doors and direct sunlight all day long without missing a beat. It is, after all, a type of palm.
Additional Cheat Sheet on Popular Plants Regarding Sunlight
- Bird of paradise: tolerate direct sunlight
- African violets: tolerate
- Bromeliads: avoid too much exposure to direct sunlight
- Pothos: avoid direct sunlight
- Orchids: wants direct sunlight
- Hibiscus: enjoys direct sunlight
- Ficus: avoid direct sunlight
- Dracaena: avoid direct sunlight
Is Light Through a Window Considered Direct Sunlight?
Technically, you can use a window to turn direct sunlight into indirect sunlight. For that reason, even if there are plants that prefer indirect sunlight, you can keep them by a window and let them get plenty of sun, and the plants will generally tolerate it well. A west-facing window, for example, will be way indirect sunlight in the morning, while it will be more direct but not fully direct at night.
However, there may be areas of your house where there are more places to get direct sunlight. For example, you may have windowsills and balconies that get plenty of natural sunlight throughout the day. And because houseplants make such incredible decorations for these areas, you’ll want to double-check that the houseplants you use can handle all of that light.
In summary, some plants can thrive with direct sunlight while others not so much. However, just like any plant, you need to know what works best for them might not work for others. Get the right potting mix, organize the low-light plants from the direct sunlight plants, and learn how to avoid overwatering are all excellent ideas to keep your plants alive and healthy.
Ultimately, direct sunlight can be a good thing—but also too much of a good thing. Use this blog post as a reference when considering if your plant should receive direct sunlight or not!