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As house plant caregivers, we get a bit…stuck on bright, indirect light.
We’re bloody obsessed with the stuff, believing that if we can find ourselves enough bright, indirect light, all our plants will thrive.
Aaand…it’s kinda true.
I mean SURE, they’ll still need water and humidity, but if you give a plant enough light, that’ll provide enough energy for itself to deal with a lot of issues. Increased energy will help it grow faster, grow bigger, and even deal with pests more effectively (within reason).
But what if you have too much light? If you only have big, unobstructed windows that get the sun all day, you have to think carefully about the plants that you put close to the window, especially if you live somewhere with really hot sun*.
*I know that my sun in the UK is the same sun that’s everywhere, but it’s just…not that hot here. The sun in Arizona is hot af.
What indoor plants do well in bright sunlight?
Succulents will thrive in hot sun. The hotter the better. Will they burn and look like shit? Yes, but man, they’ll grow quick.
Here in the UK, it can make a massive difference if you put your plants outside in the summer, because in many houses, you’re not going to get enough light for them to reach their full potential.*
*If you want them to. Big spiky cacti are maybe best kept small.
If you’ve been plagued with pests, you may find that the extra light really helps. My jade plant was reduced down to a stem by spider mites.
After a month or so outside, it’s really starting to thrive.
(I had to risk root rot because of torrential rain, but it was at the stage of kill or cure)
Succulents would be perfectly happy to live in a sunroom/conservatory year round. It’s usually too cold to leave house plants in all-glass rooms over winter, but succulents aren’t bothered by the cold at all.
Many of them come from deserts that get extremely cold at night, so a cold spell (with the protection of glass) won’t phase them at all. Frost will kill them, so don’t leave them outside over winter, a freezing cold, but bright spot will do just fine.
There are even some reports that the cold spell over winter can help to encourage flowering the following summer.
Fiddle-leaf fig trees
FLFs have thick, waxy, succulent leaves, which tells us that they’re not bothered by a bit of drought. A plant that isn’t fussed by being a bit thirsty is usually a-ok with a tonne of sun.
FLFs will burn if you yank them from semi-shade into full sun (a lot of plants will), so be sure to acclimatise them over time.
The caveat here is that you really need to have your watering spot on. Flfs will grow quickly (ish) in bright light BUT if you don’t water them well you’ll get those red spots of edema on the leaves.
They’re not a leaf’s death sentence, but they are a sign that your plant isn’t 100% happy, and you know how flfs are for deciding to drop dead on a whim. Try to keep it happy by watering it when the soil is dry.
Again, another plant with thick succulent leaves. Also another plant I’ve shoved outside.
Snake plants are a bit fussy when it comes to not acclimatising them properly and overwatering. Mine was badly hit by the torrential rain/shoving outside aspect (I torture my plants so you don’t have to) and the sun bleached the heck out of it.
Sun bleaching is a very real concern – my snake plant is a sickly looking whitish/yellow atm the mo BUT the new growth is coming in thick and fast.
This is the thing about full sun – she’s cruel to the old growth but the new growth is incredible.
DO NOT SHOVE YOUR MONSTERA OUTSIDE WITHOUT ACCLIMATISING IT
Monstera deliciosa can thrive in full sun, an grow big, beautiful leaves. HOWEVER if you live somewhere that is very hot and dry, I’d keep it in the shade to avoid burning leaves. There are many examples of monstera growing wild up exposed trees in bright sunshine BUT they do tend to burn and get a bit…raggy looking.
Where I live, putting plants outside is like a hack for fast growth, but always, always exercise caution.
I somehow managed to UNDER water my ponytail palm, which is a feat in itself.
If you live somewhere that’s hot and dry, your ponytail palm will likely thrive outside. I can’t keep mine outside because we have a heck of a lot of rain in the UK, and it’d probably rot in a week.
Which indoor plants shouldn’t be exposed to bright light
Basically, anything that would naturally live in the rainforest and not climb.
I mean, you could probably acclimatise them to bright-ish light, but they won’t like it. Bright, indirect is the brightest I would try with.
The problem with full sun is it often comes with a side of no humidity (especially in winter) a lot of forest-floor plants will not like that.
Peace lilies already come with a whole host of demands – I wouldn’t anger them by putting them in brighter light than they want.
I mean, this is the same really, but add onto it that bright sun can bleach the colour out of leaves, and, er, we don’t want that.
We can probably put ferns in this category too BUT some ferns are happy to live in brighter light. I have ferns in my west-facing garden in full sun and they’re fine, but a Boston fern would likely burn to a crisp if you put it in full sun (unless you were very diligent about acclimating it).
Anything with super delicate leaves
Plants with very thin leaves, like maidenhair ferns, will wither and die really quickly.
Maidenhair ferns do like bright, indirect light though, and will do much better in it than the medium light that most other ferns prefer.
How to acclimatise plants to brighter light
In short, move them from lower light to brighter light gradually.
Weeeell it depends on how well you think the plant will do (i.e. whether you’re acclimating it to a light level it’s designed to deal with or not) but shall we say move it a foot closer to the light a week?
Bear in mind that some specimens are just…hardier than others. Whether they’re more mature or just…healthier, I don’t know, but you could have two plants of the same species and one will thrive outside and the other won’t.
Remember that morning sun is less intense than afternoon sun, so if you want to put your plant in bright, bright light, try it there in the morning first, and move it out of the intense afternoon sun.
Or you can just whack ’em in a bright spot and hope it goes ok. Just remember that sunburned leaves can’t be regenerated so you’ll either have to live with them looking grim or chop them off.
How to increase the bright light in your home
I have a whole article on increasing light indoors here, but I’ll list a few things here:
- Clean your windows. Surprisingly effective.
- Add grow lights. I have some recommendations (and mini reviews) here.
- Buy a big-ass mirror to bounce the light around.
How to shield plants from bright sunlight
But what if you have too much light?
Just be careful that you don’t block too much light and end up living in a cave like a dragon. i know it sounds like fun, but natural light has quite a large effect on our mental health.
- Buy a sheer curtain – if you have a lot of windows, covering one will dramatically decrease the light in part of the room (that you can fill with plants!) without going full dragon.
- Paint the room a darker colour – darkER not, like, black. Unless you want to. When I was a kid I convinced my mum to let me paint my room red (like, RED red) and it was like living in a tube of Ruby Woo.
- Put plants outside your window to block a bit of light. I like this one because if you keep them in pots, you can move them around if you don’t like them.
How bright light can mean different things depending on where you are/time of year
My bright light and your bright light might be totally different levels of light.
So my Monstera is sat outside at noon with the sun beating down on it and doesn’t crisp at all, whereas someone in India will have a dead Monstera on their hands.
The only thing you can do is experiment, and keep a close eye on your plants. Always, always start them off in the shade. I don’t care if you think it’s too dark.
Oh, and the sun is a sneaky bugger who MOVES. Keep half an eye on your shady spot to ensure that it remains shady all day.
There are a lot of plants that can thrive in bright spots, but if you move a plant from a dark place to a lighter one, you may see it decline a bit.
The classic one here is snake plants, because so many people recommend them as a low light plant.
And they thrive in bright light.
BUT they won’t appreciate being shifted from the recesses of your windowless bathroom into your sunroom. It’ll be too much. Will it kill them? Probably not, as long as you’ve not been overwatering or something BUT you could end up with burnt leaves, dying leaves, and just…generally looking a bit shit.
Will it come back? Yes, it should do, and pretty quickly if you keep up the light levels, and the new growth will be bigger and healthier than the old growth BUT you’ll have a raggy plant for a while.
Bright, indirect light is great for so many house plants because they come from tropical rainforests, but there are plenty of plants that come from more arid, exposed places that will thrive in bright light and a fair bit of heat.