Bright Indirect Light “Requirements” by Plant Type – House Plant Journal

Bright Indirect Light “Requirements” by Plant Type

Famous last words heard by houseplants:

“Bright indirect light?” This spot seems bright enough.

Your interior light levels form the growth potential of the plant. Your care efforts realize that potential (watering, fertilizing, repotting). Good light is the PREREQUISITE for a plant to grow but the term “bright indirect light” fails to convey anything concrete. At worse, it makes you think just any place the sun doesn’t shine is considered indirect light. And our eyes adjust to a wide range of light levels so you will NOT feel the difference. Instead, those with huge, unobstructed windows and/or skylights are patting themselves on the back at how good they are with houseplants while those with smaller windows living between buildings are struggling to figure out why their fiddle leaf fig always ends up with 90% of their foliage lost.

Measure your light. It will explain the magic of the greenthumb.

Disclaimer: this article contains Amazon Affiliate links. Earnings from qualifying sales goes to support the work of House Plant Journal – thank you!

Step 1: Get a light meter and get to know how bright your indirect light actually is. Here are a few that I think work well:

This is the Dr. Meter LX1330B Light Meter that I’ve been using – pricing has been varying wildly on Amazon but it should be around $40-60 [US Link] [CAN Link]. An alternate model: [US Link] [CAN Link]

The Urceri light meter also works well and has the advantage of automatic range selection. The only downside is the sensor cannot be pointed away from the screen so you may need to use the ‘hold’ function (should also be around $40-60) [US Link] [CAN Link]

What about apps? Android devices do not have standardized ambient light sensor hardware and the iOS platform doesn’t give access to the iPhone light sensor, which means those apps are doing a rough calculation based on the camera brightness value. An app might be able to give you a rough idea, but a dedicated device will do the proper cosine correction for the angle of incident light (that’s what the white dome is for).

Step 2: Bookmark this page so you can look up the levels of indirect light necessary for various plants. I don’t have every possible houseplant but after reading a few of these, I think you’ll get the idea.

Commercial Light Levels: most of our typical “houseplants” are grown in greenhouses with varying layers of shade cloth.  To give you a rough idea, “50% Shade” would measure to 5000 foot-candles (FC) and “90% Shade” comes to 1000 FC – this is the strength of the sun shining through different layers of shade cloth, which is a black net-like material.  These numbers are easily searchable on the internet – I’ve included the source links where applicable. ***Don’t expect to achieve these light levels indoors from your indirect light.***

Interior Light Levels: plants can technically survive in a wide range of light levels so do not take the numbers listed here as prescriptive – they aren’t strict requirements. You should think of them as guidelines for good growth. Another consideration is that “good growth” is subjective as any plant will take the shape of its light situation – up to a certain point, it’s not entirely under your control!  These numbers are gathered from my own observations and measurements. ***Use these as guidelines.***

How to measure: from the spot where your plant is sitting, while the sun is NOT in view, you want the measurement to be above the “good growth” foot-candle reading.  Measure at different times of the day and in different weather conditions so you can get a sense for the average intensity of your indirect light. When the sun IS in view, you want the duration to be less than what is stated as tolerable – and if the sun will be in view for longer, then block it with a white sheer curtain.

Looking for a sensible and logical approach to houseplant care?

Find it here:

PlantGood GrowthMinimum for MaintenanceTolerance of Direct SunCommercial Light LevelsReferences/Comments 
African Violets400 FC200 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-1200 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/foliage/folnotes/africanv.htm
Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen, and several species)200 FC100 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-2400 FCClassical “low light” tolerant houseplant. Plant dies slowly below 100 FC and will look ugly after a year or two.https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/aglaonem.htm
Air Plants (Tillandsia – many species)400 FC200 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable3000-7000 FCmy air plant care video here https://youtu.be/sjNVLgEbvOYhttps://bromeliadsocietyhouston.org/genera-intro/tillandsia/
Alocasia (several species)400 FC200 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable2000-5000 FC (estimated based on ‘part shade/part sun’)Leaves will very likely die back. Calmly repot the base into fresh soil and new leaves may sprout.https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fp033
Anthurium (several species)400 FC100 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-2000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/anthuriu.htm
Aspidistra (Cast-Iron Plant)200 FC100 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable2000-5000 FCClassical “low light” tolerant houseplant. Plant dies slowly below 100 FC but will look fine for many months, possibly years.https://ufdcimages.uflib.ufl.edu/UF/00/08/93/74/00001/EP14700.pdf
Areca Palm400 FC200 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable5000-6000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/areca.htm
Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum)200 FC100 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-3000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/nephthyt.htm
Begonia (several species)400 FC200 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable2000-2500 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/foliage/folnotes/begonias.htm
Bird-Of-Paradise (Strelitzia)800 FC400 FC 4-5 hours direct sun is tolerable2000-5000 FC (estimated based on ‘part shade/part sun’)http://hort.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/shrub_fact_sheets/strrega.pdf
Calathea (several species)400 FC200 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-2000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/calathea.htm
Cordyline (Ti Plant)400 FC200 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable3000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/cordylin.htm
Croton (several species)800 FC400 FC 4-5 hours direct sun is tolerable3000-5000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/crotons.htm
Dieffenbachia (Dumb cane; several species)400 FC100 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-3000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/dieffenb.htm
Dracaena (several species)200 FC100 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable2000-3000 FCVery low-light tolerant – I’ve seen one last for years at 30-50 FC. It had very long, thin and dark green spindly foliage but it was alive.https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/dracaena.htm
English Ivy (Hedera helix)400 FC200 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-2500 FClower leaves will drop off – generally doesn’t look nice after a year.https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/english.htm
Hoya (several species)200 FC100 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-2000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/waxplant.htm
Ferns (Boston Fern, Bird’s Nest Fern, Maidenhair Fern)200 FC100 FC Bird’s nest fern/maidenhair fern – 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable but must keep soil evenly moist1500-3000 FCmy Maidenhair fern care video here: https://youtu.be/Q1FecMy2zXEhttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/bostonF.htm https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/birdnest.htm
Ficus (Rubber plant, elastica; Fiddle leaf fig, lyrata; benjamina)800 FC400 FC 3-4 hours of direct sun is tolerable2000-6000 FCif you don’t have at least 400 FC of indirect light, your fiddle leaf fig will lose most of its lower leaves. If you have small windows, save your money.https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/ficus.htm
Fittonia (Nerve Plant)200 FC100 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable but must keep soil evenly moist1500-2500 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/fittonia.htm
Maranta (Prayer Plant)200 FC100 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-2500 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/maranta.htm
Monstera deliciosa400 FC100 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-2500 FC (estimated based on ‘shade/filtered sun’)my detailed monstera care article – https://www.houseplantjournal.com/2017-1-25-monstera-deliciosa-house-plant-journal/https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HS/HS31100.pdf
Norfolk Island Pine400 FC200 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable5000-6000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/norfolk.htm
Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea)400 FC100 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-3000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/chamaed.htm
Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)200 FC100 FC 1-2 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-2500 FCVery “low light” tolerant – down to 50 FC, but will just barely survive and have high risk of root rot. Overall plant will gradually lose leaves and become thinner in low light. My peace lily care video – https://youtu.be/GpIsAhmWDbQhttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/spathiph.htm
Peperomia (many species)200 FC100 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-3500 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/pep.htm
Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid)400 FC200 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-1500 FChttp://www.aos.org/AOS/media/Content-Images/PDFs/GrowingtheBestPhalsPart_3.pdf
Philodendron Vines (Heart-leaf, Brasil, etc)200 FC100 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable but leaves may lose color.1500-3000 FCVery “low light” tolerant – down to 50 FC, but will just barely survive.https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/philo-hl.htm
Philodendrons (Moonlight, Imperial Red, Prince of Orange, Pink Princess, etc.)400 FC200 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-2500 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/philo-sh.htm
Pilea (Aluminum plant, cadierei and others; NOTE: Pilea peperomioides not specifically mentioned)400 FC200 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-2000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/pilea.htm
Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes)400 FC200 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable3000-3500 FCshould be cut back every few months to keep bushy, otherwise will grow leggy.https://gpnmag.com/article/culture-report-hypoestes-hippo-series/
Pothos (Epipremnum aureum, Scindapsus pictus)200 FC100 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable3000-5000 FCVery “low light” tolerant – down to 50 FC, but will just barely survive.https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/pothos.htm
Sansevieria (Snake Plant, Mother-in-law’s Tongue)200 FC100 FC 5-6 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-6000 FCVery “low light” tolerant – down to 50 FC, but will just barely survive and be at high risk of root rot. New leaves grown at low light levels will be long, thin and floppy. https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/sansevie.htm
Schefflera (Mini Umbrella Tree, Schefflera arboricola; Umbrella Tree, Brassaia actinophylla)200 FC100 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable5000-7000 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/scheffle.htm
Schlumbergera/Rhipsalidopsis (Christmas/Thanksgiving/Easter Cactus)400 FC200 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable1500-3000 FChttps://www.plantgrower.org/uploads/6/5/5/4/65545169/holiday_cactus_production_guide.pdf
Spider Plant (Chlorophytum)400 FC200 FC 2-3 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-2500 FChttps://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/spider.htm
Staghorn Fern (Platycerium)400 FC200 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-2000 FCmy staghorn fern care video here: https://youtu.be/bTM3WLwfq78http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg015
Succulents (Aloe, Echeveria, Euphorbia, etc.)800 FC400 FC 5-6 hours direct sun is tolerable5000 FCAloe and Euphorbia can stay looking mostly the same down to 200 FC; Echeveria will stretch when grown indoors after several months – it’s inevitable. You can propagate by taking leaf cuttings and stem tip cutting – they simply do not stay compact and cute forever. Here’s a video on succulent leaf propagation: https://youtu.be/laAtQf8kwEAhttps://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/floriculture/pdfs/crop_production/Cacti%20and%20Succulents_ENHFL04-006.pdf
Yucca800 FC400 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable6000-7000 FCoften confused with Dracaena fragrans (Corn Plant), which is far more low-light tolerant. Yucca will not perform well below 400 FC. https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/Foliage/folnotes/yucca.htm
ZZ Plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)200 FC100 FC 3-4 hours direct sun is tolerable1000-2000 FCoften classified low-light tolerant, ZZ plant will survive with 50 FC but will be at high risk of root rot. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep252

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27 responses to “Bright Indirect Light “Requirements” by Plant Type”

  1. Hello,

    we have a dracaena reflexa Anita houseplant in a dark corner of our apartment. During winter, this corner gets even darker. As we noticed that the plants starts to lose leaves, we got ourselves a LED lamp on a stand around 20 cm above the dracaena, to see if this would improve things. The lamp has 30 W and around 2900 lumen at 6500 K. Could this lamp be too bright? We’ve noticed that some of the leaves are getting brown/yellow-discolorations, but we aren’t sure if this is due to the lamp or because we kept the plant so long in darkness before getting the lamp (3-4 days ago). What do you think? Is it possible to burn a plant with articial light? Also: We are using the lamp 10 hours / day. Would this be too long as well? Are there any studies on length and intensity of led illumination for different plant types?

  2. What is the meaning of the symbol FC What does it represent. And what is the basis of the word if it is an abbreviation of a sentence

  3. This is very useful information for people who wants to really understand how to care for plants. Thanks much for the links provided. Best information I was looking for! This makes is easier to understand my plant needs.

  4. I came across your channel on YouTube and I need some guidance. Should we be measuring indoor artificial lights with PAR or LUM to get the best light for the plants during FALL/WINTER? I am reading on stuff about LUMENS at that LUMENS are measured for human eyes and not plant photosynthesis because it does not contain enough amount of red or blue. Please correct me on this. And if I were to measure the FC, how would you measure it for low/medium/high indirect light?

    • Hi Richard – I’ll probably need to make a video on this but for now, I’ll try to give you some clarity here:
      – PAR is measuring all light between 400-700 nm with equal sensitivity.
      – Illuminance is measuring all light between 400-700 nm with highest sensitivity near 560 nm (green) and falling off in a bell-curve shape.
      So it’s not quite correct to say that illuminance “does not contain enough red/blue” – illuminance is about what wavelengths the measure is sensitive to, it doesn’t contain anything.
      The real implication is illuminance measurement may not reflect “strong or weak” ***if the measured light contains very high blue or red.***

      But here’s why you don’t need to worry about this: WHITE light, such as natural light or white LED light, will have a generally balanced spectral distribution of blue, green, and red, so a higher reading of foot-candles/lux will also be a higher reading of PPFD. Basically, illuminance and PAR are *correlated* as long as the spectrum is relatively balanced (which means, the light is mostly white).

      The only situation where you will run into a major discrepancy is with purely blue and red light. Your illuminance value will be very low but a PPFD reading will be high. But since there is no real benefit to using purely red/blue light compared to white light, this is of no practical concern.

      As for correlating FC reading to low/medium/high indirect light? I don’t. If you look at the “Commercial Light Levels” column, there’s nothing below 1000 FC, which means *ALL* houseplants will grow extremely well if you can get indirect light levels to be as close to 1000 FC as possible. Realistically, they’ll grow nicely in the 400-800 FC range, acceptable in the 200-400 FC range, and just survive if it never gets higher than 200 FC: that’s my take if you’re looking for my version of broad categorizations. High, medium, low are meaningless.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Hi Darryl!

    Thank you so much for constructing this. It’s been an amazing resource as I’ve started getting into growing and collecting some pretty plants.

    I’ve recently acquired a musa ae-ae. Any lighting tips for that one? TIA

    Mason 🙂

  6. Hi everyone, I’m really impressed by the useful information here which are illustrated in simple ways so everyone even inexperienced person can understand.
    My name us Dr.Raghda Ramadan, I’m specialized in overcoming indoor air pollutants using green plants, specially in closed workplaces where we spend more than 8 hours daily leading to many side effects of being unattached to nature.
    I wish we can cooperate in some workshops coz I’m very willing to encourage people grow green plants in their spaces either home or work .

  7. Darryl, I love your book, and this list is so helpful. Any idea of the light requirements (specifically how many hours of direct sunlight tolerated) for tradescantia zebrina?
    Have made some adjustments of various plant locations after reading your book, and am seriously considering getting a light metre to makes sure all my plants are getting what they need. Thanks for sharing your learning!
    Sincerely,
    kmilne

    • Thanks, Kelly! T. zebrina grows well in “shade” outdoors, which means up to 3 hours of direct sun is fine – remember that the gardening definition of “shade” does NOT mean complete absence of direct sun, it means less than 3 hours of exposure time. If you’re growing this plant indoors, just put it in your biggest *and* sunniest window.

  8. Darryl this table is amazing 😍 thank you so much for doing this 🙌!! I’d love to see a new column with the average amount of hours per day needed to achieve that Good Growth.

  9. As a product manager getting into houseplants, I love this! Read your book too and it’s the best houseplant book I’ve read so far.

  10. How many hours in a day does a Ficus (I recently got a large rubber plant) need at least 400 fc to keep up maintenance? Likewise, how many hours in a day does it need 800 fc for good growth?

  11. What is the minimum time the plants (moth orchids) need to spend in the light for it to be considered enough… have only limited shelf at the window and might have to start rotation thing … also can’t leave it open whilst the orchids are there as I am worried that the draft will kill them .

    • The range of light intensity/duration varies a lot. If you want orchids to flower around once year, I’d say they need to be exposed to at least 200-400 FC for at least 6 hours a day. An hour or two of direct sun would be great as well. That’s going to be as close to your biggest window as possible. As for the draft – if there is one, you should have it fixed for the sake of your heating/cooling bill.

  12. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a
    comment is added I get four e-mails with the
    same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks!

    • We’re very sorry for the emails! We only recently had our website re-done and so we’re still figuring out the issues.

      Is there any link within the email that says “unsubscribe”?

      When I look on the commenting part of the page, I don’t see a checkbox that says “Notify me when new comments are added.” but rather, only one that says “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.” – was that the one you checked?

      Please let us know. We’ll do our best to help!

  13. I have referred back to this list SO many times I’ve considered turning it into a sortable list by light levels. Please keep adding to it *begs sweetly* !!

  14. This is some very nice information and I happen to have some cheap chinese light meter, hopefully it gives me at least some idea of the light levels I have. But I was just wondering how long do the light levels have to be above or within those light levels? I mean how many hours in a day is enough of say, 100 FC to achieve minimal growth? That’s something I didn’t quite understand.

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