How Much Light Do Your Houseplants Require? Here's a Guide

Sufficient light is one of the most important factors for growing healthy houseplants.

By: THURSD. | 21-02-2024 | 6 min read
Indoor Plants
Sunlight levels for optimal plant health

Are your houseplants getting enough light? Knowing the difference between indirect and direct light matters when it comes to taking care of the plants that give your home more life. In this comprehensive guide, you'll learn more about how to keep your houseplants happy by giving them the right type of light.

The Importance of Knowing What Type of Light Your Houseplants Require

Whether you're a seasoned or inexperienced gardener, nothing beats watching your houseplants thrive. To accomplish this, however, you must provide your plants with adequate light, which provides them with the energy they require to survive. While all plants require some sort of light source, the amount of light required varies by plant—your snake plant may thrive in low light, whereas your monstera requires bright indirect light.


Natural lighting and a variety of houseplants
Natural lighting and a variety of houseplants create the perfect atmosphere at home

If you're not sure where to put your houseplants, it's helpful to understand the most commonly used terms for houseplant lighting, such as direct, indirect, window directions, and more. Take note of what is coming!

Everything to Know About Direct Light

Direct light occurs when houseplants receive full sunlight with no obstructions, such as those on a windowsill without a curtain. The windows in your home that receive direct sunlight vary depending on where you live. In the northern hemisphere, a south-facing window gets plenty of direct sunlight from morning to early afternoon. A west-facing window is also ideal because it receives intense light from late afternoon to evening hours. Direct sunlight must be bright (not medium or low), as plants require maximum luminescence.


Begonia darthvaderiana receving full light
Begonia darthvaderiana receiving full light
Photo: @_wildfern


As an extra piece of information when it comes to deciding what type of lighting your houseplants need, you must become familiarized with the term 'foot candles'. How much light a specific room in your home gets is typically measured in foot-candles (ftc). A foot-candle is a measure of light intensity, or brightness and is defined as the amount of light received by a surface that is 1 foot away from a candle. There are light meter apps you can download that will tell you approximately how many foot candles a given area of your home has. For example, if you have a houseplant that needs direct light, you will want to make sure it's placed in a spot that receives more than 1,000 foot-candles.


Plants receiving what is direct sunlight
Plants receiving direct sunlight through the window
Photo: @theplantfever


How to Know When Your Houseplants Require Indirect Light

For houseplants, indirect sunlight refers to partially shaded or filtered light. According to Linda Langelo, a horticulture specialist at Colorado State University, sunlight must be filtered through a sheer curtain or blinds before reaching the plant. You can also get indirect light by placing your houseplants far enough away from a window's direct sunlight. There are three main levels of indirect lighting:

Bright Indirect Light

Bright indirect light allows houseplants to get enough light without being directly exposed to the sun's rays. To achieve bright indirect light, position the plant about 1 to 2 feet away from the window. An east-facing window is ideal for plants that require bright indirect light, as is a west-facing window (make sure the plant is not directly in the path of the sun's hot afternoon rays). Foot-candles: 500 to 1000.


A monstera plant in bright indirect light
A monstera plant placed in a spot that receives bright indirect light


Medium Light

Plants that prefer medium light can have either some direct sunlight in the morning or indirect sunlight in the afternoon. Plants near an east or west window can be set back from the window and thrive. North windows with no direct sunlight are also a good choice. Foot-candles: 100 to 500.


Sunlight exposure in a medium indirect level
Photo: @plantsbymelissa


Low Light

Plants that prefer this low light can be in a room with no windows or where the curtains are closed most of the time. If houseplants that prefer low light do get some sunlight, it should be through a north-facing window. A space with low light is like comparing it to walking into a dimly lit room. Foot-candles: 25 to 100.


A living room illuminated by low indirect light
Photo: @zynp


Understanding What Window Directions Are Best for Your Houseplants

While you may understand the distinctions between each type of light, it can be difficult to determine which rooms in your home provide the specific lighting you seek. To make things easier, the following guidelines break down the type of light your plants will receive based on which way a window is facing. (Keep in mind that these guidelines only apply to the northern hemisphere).


Decorated room with different types of plants
Photo: @plantsome_ca



The beauty of decorating indoor spaces with houseplants
The beauty of decorating indoor spaces with houseplants
Photo: @zynp


How to Know if Your Plants Are Getting Enough Light

The signs will be pretty visible. Houseplants that don't get enough light will appear leggy, which means they will have longer stems and fewer leaves. The reason for the longer stems is an attempt for the houseplant to reach toward the light source it needs. Additionally, houseplants that do not receive enough light may appear yellow. Leaves that turn yellow and stay yellow may mean the plants need more light. If the leaves turn yellow then brown or white, then they may be getting too much light.


Sunlight hitting up greenery at home
Photo: @saijastarr


What Factors Can Change Light Levels?

The type of light exposure you receive is determined by where you live. If you live in the northern hemisphere, south-facing windows will receive the brightest light. If you live in the southern hemisphere, the north-facing windows will receive the brightest light. In addition to the hemisphere you live in, the seasons can affect light levels. In the winter, the intensity of the sun diminishes and in the summer it becomes more intense. So a plant that thrives in bright light during the winter may need to be moved away from the same window come summer.


Houseplants adorning an interior spaces with little light
Houseplants adorning an interior space with low light


Now you have a handy guideline of how to position your houseplants and how much light to give them every day. With these tips, you'll be able to care for them in the best way possible.



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