Why Most Indoor Plants Don’t Need Direct Sunlight

* Image sources: All images used in this post are from the author

We all know plants need light and water to thrive. The more light, the better, is what we tend to assume. But not all indoor plants crave direct sunlight.

Let’s dive in and shed some light on our indoor plants’ light life.

Short Sum-Up: Direct light reaches plants without barriers, whereas indirect light is filtered or reflected. Neither type is inherently better; both are sunlight of varying intensities. Many common indoor plants thrive in indirect light, from low to bright levels, mirroring their natural environments.

Bright Indirect Light: A Better Choice for Most Indoor Plants

Direct light is light that hits the plant without any barriers, while indirect light is filtered or reflected by objects or mediums. For example, plants that naturally grow on forest floors are accustomed to indirect light filtered through the tree canopy above. Direct light is not generally better than indirect light, both are sunlight of varying intensities.

As we generally have less light indoors than outdoors, mainly due to the four walls that we humans tend to surround ourselves with, most common houseplants are naturally selected from plants that thrive without full sunlight, even in their natural habitats.

In the long history of houseplant keeping, people realized that plants thriving in indirect light in nature also do better indoors. Hence, a lot of common indoor plants thrive in indirect light, from low to bright indirect light. Among these indoor plants are Monsteras, Philodendrons, Pothos, Ficus, Hoya, Lipstick Plants, Sansevieria, and many more.

Plant Facts: Plants only use specific parts of the sunlight spectrum for photosynthesis. Curious about what color the light has that your plants work with? Check out my post to discover what kind of light plants need!

It is paramount to give each plant type the amount of light that suits it. If you are not sure how much light each of your plants needs or what spots in your home are the brightest, I can only recommend using a plant care or plant identifier app.

Often, these apps can accurately tell you what plant type you have and also figure out the light conditions in your home with the integrated light meter. Find out which app suits you best in my posts:

Different Plants, Different Light Needs

First, let’s get the most important point straight: While all plants need sunlight to grow, there is no such thing as the ideal light conditions for all plants. Plants differ in the amount and intensity of light needed.

Each plant type has evolved in a specific natural habitat to which it has adapted its metabolism and its light needs. Just like humans have different lifestyles, among plants there are also beach bums, forest dwellers, and early birds when it comes to light.

What is more, just as humans change their lifestyles with time, plants also have varying light needs according to season or age. Light needs of an indoor plant may change and each plant has a certain light range that it can tolerate.

Example: A mature Monstera in nature has climbed as far up to the tree canopy as to get a fair amount of direct sunlight, while a young, immature Monstera is used to grow in lower light conditions near the forest floor. A Monstera houseplant is quite a versatile being when it comes to light conditions.

Why Plants Also Get Sunlight In Shade

Even in shade, many of the wavelengths of the sun come through. The more sunlight is filtered by objects or mediums, the less intense the light gets. Shade can be thought of as very low-intensity, filtered sunlight.

Only complete darkness, such as at night or in a windowless room, equates to the absence of sunlight. This explains why many plants have evolved to grow in the shade in their natural habitats whereas no plant can grow in complete darkness.

Do Plants Need the Sun or Just Light?

Plants mainly need blue and red wavelengths from the sunlight for photosynthesis. If the appropriate wavelengths are reproduced with artificial light, then the plant’s photosynthesis will work, too.

Still, exposing plants to natural sunlight is always preferable. The sun supplies not only light but also heat and the natural photoperiods to which a plant’s metabolism is adapted. When utilizing artificial light, it is essential to mimic these natural cycles as accurately as possible, a task that is not easy.

Artificial light can be a good addition to natural light in very dim spots of a home or it can be used for specific growth purposes such as when growing herbs or vegetables indoors.

Tip: LED lights are cost-effective, sustainable, and work very well for some extra plant light. Find out in my post linked here what type of LED lights will work for plants and what to look out for when buying them!

Do Aloe Plants Need Direct Sunlight?

Even though Aloe plants, like Aloe vera, come from arid and scorching regions, they’re not the pure sunbathers you’d expect them to be.

Their succulent leaves are used to growing in the shade of bigger plants. When placed in direct sunlight, their leaves tend to get sunburnt.

Signs to spot burnt leaves are usually a change of color or leaves drying out. Burnt leaves turn brownish-yellowish on Aloe veras. On Aloe arborescens, the leaves turn yellow with red tips when exposed to too much heat.

Aloe plants thrive in very bright indirect light but should not be exposed to intense midday sunlight. Exposure to morning and late afternoon direct sun is fine, too.

Do Succulents Need Direct Sunlight?

Although succulents typically favor abundant direct sunlight, not all species tolerate the intense midday summer sun. In general, succulents and sunlight are compatible. However, I recommend looking up the specific light needs of each succulent species to decide on where to place it in your home.

Hot sunlight in summer can burn the leaves of certain succulents. Placing a succulent in bright indirect light instead is always a safe bet, as all succulents love lots of light but not all love direct midday sun.

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