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November 26, 2018 3 min read

One question we are frequently asked is, “what kind of light does my houseplant require?”

There is a lot of confusing houseplant lingo out there. It can be oh-so-difficult to cut through the junk advice and get straight to the good stuff.

After all, what’s the difference between high light and direct sun? What does moderate light even mean? Is that the same thing as medium light? Wait, will the plants die in direct sun?

It’s information overload, right!?

Here’s the good news. We’ve cut through the fluff and are giving you the low-down on all things light once and for all. Gone are the days of decoding the confusing light terms that are plastered all over the inter webs.

Let’s get started, shall we?

First things first: it can be tempting to begin with mapping out where you’ll put your new houseplant or dreaming about how you'll style it. Before you think about where you'll place your plant or how to properly water it… you need to think about the light conditions in your home.

Why Does Light Matter?

If you live in a basement apartment, you’re going to want different plants than your friend who lives in the house full of big windows. Why? A plant’s origin comes into play here.

While the plants at your local plant shop aren’t straight from the jungle, their great great grandfathers could’ve originated in a tropical rain forest. Why is it important for us to think about this, you ask? I promise this is helpful so stick with me here.

A fern species that originated on rain forest floors, where light is limited, will have different light preferences than the bird of paradise palm, which originated in a brightlight environment.

This “built-in” preference still applies to houseplants today and we want to mirror a specific plant’s original environment as best we can. Most common houseplants are considered tropical plants, meaning they first originated in places like Central and South America, India, Australia, or West Africa.

Many a plant blog tells you whether a specific plant needs bright indirect or low light, but it’s difficult to find how those terms are actually defined.

Keeping this in mind, let’s decode all those confusing light terms.

Direct vs. Indirect Light

First, let’s discuss the difference between direct and indirect light. Direct light indicates that sunlight is actually hitting the plant. Most common houseplants prefer indirect light, but there are a few who can tolerate direct sunlight. Some sources also label direct sunlight as high light or full sun. When you read that a plant needs high light, full sun, or direct light, it means that the plant can handle that direct sunlight. Direct light is the brightest light you could possibly give a plant. Direct/high light can be found directly in front of a window that receives direct sun for most of the day. Plants that can tolerate direct sunlight: Opuntia microdasys AGM, Crassula ovata AGM, Euphorbia trigona.

Indirect light is what most of our beloved houseplants need. This means that sunlight is NOT directly hitting the plant and its leaves, hence the term indirect. This may seem like common sense, but I don’t want to leave anyone wondering! Wink.

Bright, Indirect Light

Next up we have bright indirect light. This is the light close to a window that receives some direct sun during the day, but not nearly as much as the high light windows. Many common houseplants prefer bright, indirect light. Plants that prefer bright indirect light: Ficus lyrata, Anthurium andraeanum AGM, Asplenium nidus AGM, Monstera deliciosa, Alocasia amazonica AGM, Ficus elastica, Pilea peperomioides AGM, Stromanthe sanguinea “Triostar."

Medium/Moderate Light and Low Light

Moving right along, next in line we have Medium/Moderate light. This describes the light further back from a window that receives direct sunlight for part of the day. Medium/Moderate light can also be right in front of windows that do NOT receive any direct sunlight. Plants that prefer medium/moderate light: Oxalis triangularis, Spathiphyllum wallisii, Davilla fejeensis, Chamaedorea elegans AGM, Chlorophytum comosum, Philodendron scandent AGM, Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii AGM.

Finally, we have low light. Low light is found at the back or in the corners of rooms with windows that receive no direct sunlight. Plants that prefer and/or can tolerate low light: Epipremnum aureus AGM, heartleaf philodendron, cast iron plant, Chinese evergreen, ZZ plant, snake plants.

Keep in mind that light changes with the seasons. You may need to move some plants depending on the season to ensure that they receive adequate light.

And there you have it, my friend. Giving your houseplants the light they need isn't complicated.

Happy growing!


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