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Through the process of photosynthesis, plants transform solar radiation into the energy they need to grow and thrive. Plants that require full sun must grow outdoors and receive many hours of direct sunlight each day. Houseplants are a different story. The light inside your house does not compare to the intensity of direct sunlight outdoors. Nonetheless, many indoor plants manage just fine with indirect sunlight. The indirect natural light that pours onto a windowsill can be more than enough to feed a growing plant.

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What Is Direct Sunlight?

When it comes to the type of light plants need, the term “direct sunlight” almost always refers to unfiltered outdoor sunlight. Some indoor settings can provide direct light conditions—most notably floor-to-ceiling glass windows (ideally facing south in the northern hemisphere, or north in the southern hemisphere). Typically, however, plants that require hours of direct light grow best outdoors, either on an uncovered patio or planted in the soil.

What Is Partial Direct Sunlight?

Some plants call for "partial sunlight" or "partial direct light." These species do best outdoors in a location that is only sunny for part of the day—for instance, along the east wall of a house. This allows direct morning light to nourish the plants, while the more intense types of direct sunlight that come from the west and south will be blocked by the house. If outdoor planting isn't an option, you can also place these plants in a sunny window, where they will, by and large, receive the light levels required to survive.

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22 Plants That Require Direct Sunlight

Some plants thrive when they receive direct sunlight for all or most of the day. Others grow best when they receive some direct sunlight for part of the day—on covered patios or in east-facing windows or west-facing windows. Plants that need direct sunlight include:

  1. Citrus trees and other fruit trees
  2. Most herbs, including rosemary, mint, and sage
  3. Most vegetables (other than greens)
  4. Succulents
  5. Geraniums
  6. Begonias
  7. Hibiscus
  8. Orange bird of paradise
  9. Madagascar palms
  10. Desert roses
  11. Zebrinas
  12. String of beads
  13. Aloe vera
  14. Yucca
  15. Croton
  16. Most ficus species (including fiddle leaf figs)
  17. Norfolk Island pine
  18. Certain palms like date, ponytail, and areca palms
  19. Wax plant
  20. Spider plants
  21. Dracaena
  22. Jade plants

What Is Indirect Sunlight?

Indirect light is sunlight that either passes through a medium—a window shade or the leaves of a tree—or reflects off another surface before reaching a plant. Most indoor settings only provide indirect light. Indirect sunlight ranges from the bright indirect light of east-facing windows to the fainter, indirect light of north-facing windows. If you purchase a plant marked "partial shade," "full shade," or "low light," it will likely do well in indirect light indoors.

Shield plants that require indirect light from the harshest of the sun's rays by placing them a few inches to a few feet away from a window. Hanging a sheer curtain in a window enables you to filter out more light. Be aware, however, that all plant species, even those labeled "low-light plants," must receive at least some sunlight. You can supplement sunlight with special indoor lights designed to provide heat and ultraviolet rays. Whenever possible, though, allow natural sunlight into your space to give houseplants the nourishment they need.

19 Plants That Require Indirect Light

Outdoor and indoor plants that do best under indirect light include:

  1. Calathea
  2. Palms like kentia, sago, and bamboo palms
  3. White bird of paradise
  4. Most ferns
  5. Alocasia
  6. African violets
  7. Many ficus varietals (including rubber plants)
  8. Dragon trees
  9. Most orchids
  10. Prayer plants
  11. English ivy
  12. Schefflera
  13. Monstera
  14. Snake plants (Sansevieria)
  15. Pothos
  16. Parlor palms
  17. Chinese evergreen
  18. Peace lilies
  19. Philodendrons

Learn More

Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass Annual Membership and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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