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Light requirements houseplants

Just like us, some plants love to be in the sun, and others prefer a place with a little more shade. The light requirement of your plant is very important because it determines how your plant looks and how fast it grows. The location of a plant also affects its watering, so there are a lot of factors to take into account!

How much light does my plant need?

Understanding how much light your houseplant needs can be simple if you know where it naturally grows. Does it come from tropical forests where it's shaded by large trees and gets lots of dappled light? Or is it native to dry desert areas where it's used to lots of direct sunlight? Of course, we can't exactly turn our living rooms into a rainforest or a desert, but we sure can try to mimic those conditions as much as we can!

You can also learn a lot about what kind of light a plant prefers by looking at its leaves. Their appearance can give you good clues about the lighting conditions they like.

  1. Are your houseplant leaves dark green, light green or variegated? Generally, plants with darker green leaves are better adapted to low-light conditions. This is because they have more chlorophyll (which gives leaves their green colour) to maximise the photosynthesis process even under low light. On the other hand, plants with lighter or variegated leaves often require more light, as they have less chlorophyll to absorb light for photosynthesis.
  2. Are your houseplant leaves large and thing or small and thick? Plants with large, thin leaves typically need less light as they have a larger surface area for photosynthesis, and they are often found in shady forest undergrowth. Plants with small or thick leaves, on the other hand, are generally more adapted to handle higher light conditions. Thick leaves often indicate a succulent or desert plant, which is adapted to handle intense sunlight and conserve water.
  3. Are your houseplant leaves glossy or shiny, or matte? Glossy, shiny leaves may indicate a plant that can handle higher light conditions, as the reflective surface can help dissipate excess light and prevent burning. Matte or fuzzy leaves often indicate a lower light preference.
  4. Do your houseplant leaves have holes (fenestrations)? Plants with lots of leaf slits or fenestrations (like Monstera deliciosa) have evolved in understory environments with limited light, so they tend to do well in partial shade or indirect light.

Expert tip! Houseplants are pretty flexible when it comes to light! If you've got a plant that loves full sun, chances are it'll also be okay with some indirect light. And those plants that prefer indirect light? Some of them are just fine with a bit of low light too. It's always a good idea to check your plant's care guide to see what light conditions make it happiest. Then, play around with different spots in your home and watch how your green friend responds.

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How to choose a perfect spot for my houseplant?

Now that you know what lights your houseplant needs, where should it go in your home? How can you tell if that spot is enough for it? We'll tell you everything! Start by taking a good look around your house. Go through it at different times of the day. Observe how the light changes. Pay attention to how bright it is, where it falls, and how long it lasts. To get a better idea of how much light there is, you could use a tool called a light meter.

Expert tip! Light conditions change through different seasons. In winter, when days are shorter, many plants need to be close to windows for more light. But in the spring and summer, when the sun is stronger, these plants should be moved away from sunny windows.

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Generally, houseplant light requirements can be categorised into three easy-to-understand categories:

1. Full sun (direct)

Putting your plant in a sunny place, but what exactly is meant by a sunny place? A sunny place for a plant is a place where your plant gets up to 5 hours of sunlight. This means sunlight will directly reach your houseplant leaves. With a curtain between, there is no direct sunlight anymore. This is often a location in front of a window facing south, west or east with a distance of up to 2 metres.

Expert tip! Store-bought sun-loving plants are often grown in special, less sunny conditions. If they move to a bright location too quickly, they can get shocked. Therefore, gradually expose your new plant to increasing sunlight over a week or two rather than placing it in full sun immediately.

Not many houseplants can thrive under full sun as this is really intensive and harsh. So, keep in mind that too much sunlight can burn the plant. Of course, sun cream won’t do the trick on your darling. Make sure that you place your plant a little further from the window when you see signs of burning. Symptoms of burning can be brown spots or dry leaf edges.

A sunny position naturally has an influence on the water requirements as well, as these will increase. In fact, it is comparable to people; at tropical temperatures, we also need more litres of water.

2. Partial shade (indirect light)

One of the trickiest descriptions when it comes to light requirements is partial shade, partial sun, medium or indirect light. There are many names for it! You’ve probably come across these names when reading care guides, as this is a requirement for many plants. But what does that really mean?

Indirect light, also known as partial shade, refers to a situation where a plant is not exposed to direct sunlight but instead receives diffused light that is less intense. Many tropical houseplants prefer indirect light because they are native to tropical rainforest environments, where they grow beneath the canopies of larger trees. In these environments, the plants receive light that has been filtered through the leaves of the canopy rather than direct sunlight.

In your home, indirect light is typically found near a window but out of the direct path of the sun's rays. For example, a plant placed a few meters away from a south-facing window or near a north-facing window would receive indirect light. East or west-facing windows can also provide indirect light when there are some curtains. A curtain can filter sunlight and turn direct sunlight into indirect sunlight.

However, this light requirement can be divided into two groups:

  1. Houseplants that love bright indirect light which means they want partial shade but don’t mind morning or evening sun as this is much less intensive. This can increase their leaf size and improve colours. This is usually right near the window.
  2. Houseplants that just love indirect light and don't want to be under evening or morning sun. They usually start curling their leaves or show signs like brown spots and brownish/reddish crispy leaves. This is usually a few meters back from the window.

Follow the care guide's instructions and experiment with light to see how your sweet green friend responds to it.

3. Shade (Low light)

People often mistakenly believe that 'shade' for a plant means it gets no light at all. Actually, even shaded plants do need light for photosynthesis, only at a much lower intensity. Shade can therefore be typified as a place that gets little or no direct sunlight but still has plenty of indirect or diffused light. For example, a place further than 3 meters from the window or in front of a north-facing window.

Expert tip! It's important to distinguish shade from partial shade - we know the line is thin and difficult to distinguish. You should look at the plant and see how it enjoys this spot. If it is growing well and developing new leaves, that's a good sign for your green friend. If, however, it has become leggy, has small leaves, and is even yellowing, it probably needs more light.

Keep in mind that many houseplants, like snake plants, ZZ plants, pothos and etc, can survive and tolerate shade pretty well, but ideally, they would like to be in indirect light or maybe even under the sun (like snake plants). Their leaves will be smaller, their growth slower, and they may look leggy overall.

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You should keep in mind that even within these guidelines, some plants might have specific light requirements. Some might do well in a wide range of light conditions, while others might not. Do you want to know how much light your beauty needs? On our PLNTSdoctor page, you will find an overview of care for each plant family. Here you can see for each family how much light they require.

Top houseplants that can thrive under full sun

It's true that some houseplants thrive in full sun, but that doesn't mean that they can't grow in bright indirect light either. In some cases, plants can thrive in both places. To prevent burning, it is important to let your new plant get used to the sun in your home and then gradually move it closer to the sunny window. Here are some houseplants that can thrive under full sun:

  1. Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) - Jade plants are succulents that can tolerate full sun and require a good amount of light to thrive. They are drought-tolerant and prefer a well-draining soil mix.
  2. Ponytail Palm - Despite its name, the Ponytail Palm is actually a succulent. It enjoys plenty of light and can handle full sun exposure. It's also quite forgiving if you forget to water it now and again, as it stores water in its bulbous trunk.
  3. Yucca Plant - Yucca plants are quite adaptable and can handle a lot of sunlight. They can thrive in full sun conditions and prefer well-draining soil.

Top plants that thrive under indirect light (partial shade)

Most plants grow best in partial shade because of the origin of the plants. Besides, half-shadowing is always good. Your plant will not receive too much, but also not too little light. Here are some easy types for the half-shadow.

  1. Scindapsus Pictus Trebie - This cutie has a beautiful heart-shaped leaf with silver-coloured markings. Okay, okay, back to the subject, its light requirements, semi-shade. In more light, the leaves of the Scindapsus Pictus Trebie will become lighter and in a place with more shadow a little darker. An easy lady to grow on hydroponics!
  2. Peperomia Pepperspot - This cool hanging plant originates from the warm, shady Amazon region. Here, many plants grow through and over each other so that they do not receive full light. This is why the Peperomia Pepperspot will appreciate a semi-shaded spot in your home.
  3. Areca Lutescens - The Areca Lutescens, also known as 'Butterfly Palm', is a true tropical plant. Its appearance gives your home real jungle vibes, but its care also clearly shows that this is a plant from the tropics. Not too much light, just a few rays here and there, so that she grows into a nice big houseplant!

Top plants that thrive under shade (low light)

You would think that everyone would love to be in the sun? Yet there are a lot of plants that really can't cope with this. On the other hand, this is also very nice, because then the shady spots in our house can be filled up. Examples of plants that can survive in low light include:

  1. Calathea Makoyana - This motile plant is also known as the peacock plant. This is because of its beautifully coloured leaves in the shape and pattern of a feather! The Calathea Makoyana likes to grow in a place with little less light so that its beautiful leaves do not become dull. It would be a shame if this beautiful leaf would discolour, wouldn't it?
  2. Spathiphyllum Diamond Variegata - The Spathiphyllum Diamond Variegata is all you need because everybody knows: diamonds are a girl's best friend! Besides that, it is very easy to take care of. It will do fine in a darker spot in the house because this special lady is used to that from her origin: the Amazon region. Would you like to bring out the variegated leaves (light stripes) in this plant? Then put her in a lighter spot.
  3. Sansevieria Fernwood Mikado - This family is known to be indestructible, except with too much water. As a desert plant, the Sansevieria Fernwood Mikado can, however, do very well in a shady spot. Be aware, however, that when plants receive less light, the colours of their leaves can change too. This spiky lady's tough tiger stripes will become less visible when in the shade.
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