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.

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.

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

Questions? I love talking about light so feel free to email me:

help @ houseplantjournal.com

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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* !!

  3. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a
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    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?

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  4. 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.

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

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