When caring for houseplants, it’s important to provide the best possible indoor growing conditions that you can. One of the most important resources for plants is natural light (sunlight). 

Because there’s less light indoors naturally, you’ll need to learn what the best lighting spots are. For example, a West-facing window will provide much more light than a North-facing one.

4 Types of Indoor Natural Light

4 Types of indoor natural light

Bright Direct Light

Some plants can’t seem to get enough sunlight, and these are the ones that will appreciate bright, direct light. In order to thrive indoors, they will need to be placed near a sunny window. Other plants will find direct light much too harsh, and when exposed to bright light, their health will suffer.

Bright Indirect Light

Most plants prefer some nice, even, indirect light. This is provided at a certain distance from a sunny window, or near less sunny windows. With indirect light, sun-scalding will not be an issue and neither will withering and deformity from lack of light. It’s the perfect lighting environment to thrive in.

Medium Light

Medium light is also considered, by most plants, ideal. It is not too bright or too dim, giving just enough light for many species to thrive. Medium light can be found several feet away from a window, where the light is present but not bright or indirect (or yet dim). The only plants that are likely to find medium light insufficient are cacti, and plants that you want to flower.

Low Light

Most plants would prefer more than what low lighting has to offer. Many will adapt to it, though. Other plants thrive in low light conditions. Make sure you know what you have!

Why is Location Important?

Certain windows receive considerably more or less light than each other. This creates a different lighting environment around them, so it’s necessary to know what each of your houseplants will prefer. Also, keep in mind that obstructions like shrubs or trees can affect how much light is able to enter a given window.

North-Facing Window Plants

North-facing window plantsNorth-facing windows let in the least amount of light and almost no direct sunlight (North-East and North-West might get a very brief spell of it). While many plants would pine for the sunlight, shade-lovers will enjoy a north-facing spot. You can even place some right on the windowsill without risking sun or heat damage.

Some common species that prefer North-facing windows are:

  • Moth Orchid (and orchids in general)
  • Begonias
  • Devil’s Ivy (Pothos)
  • Snake Plant
  • Peace Lily
  • Sword Fern
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Philodendron
  • Calathea
  • Maidenhair Fern
  • Aluminum Plant

East-Facing Window Plants

East-facing window plants

East-facing windows are a happy-medium as far as lighting goes. They provide ample light in the morning that isn’t very harsh and shouldn’t create too much heat. This is ideal for plants that prefer a temperate environment. Just keep in mind, when placed directly in the windowsill, plants can still overheat in an East-facing window. Keep them a few feet away to avoid this risk!

Some common species that prefer East-facing windows are:

  • Echeveria
  • Jade Plant
  • Swiss Cheese Plant
  • Fiddle-Leaf Fig
  • Umbrella Tree
  • Hoya Plant
  • Calathea Plant
  • Prayer Plant
  • Boston Fern
  • Purple Shamrock
  • Goldfish Plant
  • Parlor Palm

South-Facing Window Plants

South-facing window plants

South-facing windows get the strongest, brightest light, making this territory suitable only for sun-loving species. Most plants will need to be placed at least a few feet from the window or to have shielding provided, however. Only certain cacti would enjoy being placed directly on a South-facing windowsill.

Some common species that prefer South-facing windows are:

  • Holiday Cactus
  • Aloe
  • Jade Plant
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Hibiscus
  • String of Pearls
  • Croton
  • Sago Palm 
  • Snake Plant
  • African Milk Bush
  • Fiddle-Leaf Fig
  • Rubber Plant
  • Prayer Plant
  • Chinese Money Plant

West-Facing Window Plants

West-facing window plants

For plants that need lots of light, West-facing windows are a good location. They receive plenty of direct light, from late afternoon all the way until sunset. The light is not particularly strong and is unlikely to cause sun scalding. It can still cause heat damage to plants placed directly on the windowsill, though, so it’s not recommended.

Some common species that prefer West-facing windows are:

  • Coleus
  • Jasmine
  • Cacti
  • Urn Plant
  • Zebra Plant
  • Jade Plant
  • Aloe
  • Kalanchoe
  • Hoya
  • Croton
  • Burrow’s Tail
  • Holiday Cactus
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Air Plants
  • English Ivy

How Close Should Plants Be to the Window?

Most plants will almost certainly take sun damage when placed on a windowsill. In general, a plant should be placed no closer than 2 or 3-feet from a window, and generally no further than 10-feet. This will ensure that the plant gets all the light it requires while being spared the harsh intensity and heat of direct light.

Signs of Too Much Sunlight

  • Washed-out color. Excess sunlight often has a bleaching effect on leaves (not to be mistaken with natural color fading, which occurs, alternately, without sufficient light).
  • Sun scalding. This is the plant equivalent of a sunburn, only much worse. Sun scalded leaves will sport burns or become bleached, translucent, and flimsy. Sun scalded leaves don’t always die, but they’re unlikely to fully recover.
  • Leaf curling. There are a few things that can cause leaf curling, including watering with cold water, so be sure to rule these out. Leaf curling can also be caused by excess sunlight, however. 
  • Leaf browning. If you have a plant with browning leaf tips, it’s most likely too hot or too dry. Make sure that it’s not in direct sunlight and that it has sufficient water.

Signs of Too Little Sunlight

  • Fading. As you probably know, photosynthesis is responsible for plants’ emerald color. Without enough light, the leaves begin to lose vibrancy and even any variegation they may have!
  • Leggy growth. Oftentimes, when a plant does not get enough light, its growth will become ‘leggy,’ with the stems growing longer in search of sufficient light. 
  • Leaning toward the light source. If a plant is leaning toward a light source, it’s probably not getting enough light. An exception is the African Violet, which does this naturally indoors if it is not turned at intervals (at least once a day).
  • Flowering stops. Flowering species need plenty of sunlight in order to create just one flower!

As you can see, providing the right natural light for your houseplants is simple. All that you need is a little know-how.