Indoor Plant Lighting: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need!

Have you ever found yourself scratching your head, wondering how to make heads or tails of those suggested plant care instructions that come with your new indoor plants?

Suffice it to say, it can be overwhelming, especially with this hobby’s different terminology. What in the world does Medium Lighting mean anyway?

We’re not cooking a steak!

Indoor Plant Light Guide

The good news is we have the exact guide you need to help cut through those vague, cryptic care instructions.

The team at the Garden Bench Top has put together an easy-to-understand guide on Indoor Plant Lighting designed to help you master the first of the three LAWs of becoming a successful and thriving plant parent.

In this guide, you will learn about:

  • The role of light for indoor plants and why it is one of the three LAWs of plant parenthood.
  • different types of lighting
  • ways to identify the type of lighting in other parts of your home
  • windows and the impact of their direction on the light

So grab a coffee and get comfortable – because you’re about to take one step closer to elevating your indoor plant collection to the next level.

credit: tenor

Easy Reference Indoor Plant Light Guide

As part of our goal to make your life easier as a new plant parent, we’ve collated an infographic for all those indoor plant light references resources, and plant labels used.

Make sure to bookmark this page for future reference when you start to build your indoor plant collection.

Indoor Plant Light Guide Infographic

Indoor Plant Lighting: The First LAW of Plant Parenthood?

At the Garden Bench Top, we aim to help you become a confident and thriving indoor plant parent.

To achieve this, we strive to educate new parents in mastering the three LAWs of plant parenthood:

  • Light,
  • Awareness, and
  • Watering.

This guide will focus on lighting to increase your appreciation for its importance and role in your new plant baby’s growth.

Let’s look at why lighting is so vital for indoor plants.

Lighting is Food for Indoor Plants

Light is the primary fuel source for indoor plants to produce energy through photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis and cellular respiration comparison vector illustration. Biological process explanation in day and night. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, sugars, minerals and water system explanation scheme.
Photosynthesis and cellular respiration comparison vector illustration. Biological process explanation in day and night. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, sugars, minerals and water system explanation scheme.

Rather than giving you a scientific explanation with chemical symbols and formulas, let’s tackle this concept with an analogy of making breakfast.

Imagine you’re making your favorite breakfast in the morning. You need some ingredients, right?

Lighting for plants is like those essential ingredients for your breakfast. Plants need specific types of light to grow and stay healthy, just as we need food to energize ourselves and keep our bodies functioning well.

So as a new plant parent, it’s important to provide your babies with enough light and give them a delicious meal every day.

Without enough light, they won’t be able to grow correctly and begin to develop common indoor plant problems, like becoming leggy, developing yellow leaves, or being malnourished.

Growth and Development

Snake plant by window for natural light

Without sufficient light, plants cannot produce enough food to sustain their processes, such as photosynthesis, chlorophyll production, and phototropism, leading to weak or stunted growth.

To help us explain, let’s build on the breakfast analogy we used earlier.

Think of it like this: You know how a hearty breakfast gives you the energy to tackle your day?

Well, light does the same thing for plants! It helps them grow and develop by providing energy for creating leaves, stems, and a robust root system.

Are you beginning to see the importance of light for your plant baby?

Vibrant Colors and Saturation

Let’s now focus on how light plays a crucial role in creating those vibrant colors we all adore in our plants.

As we have already established, light provides plants with energy, which they use to grow, develop and create food.

Inside the leaves, there’s something called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll makes up all those vibrant shades of green we love seeing in our plants.

With sunlight, chlorophyll works its magic through photosynthesis to produce food for the plant.

Remember that each plant has its own taste in light โ€“ some prefer bright indirect light, while others crave lower light conditions.

As you learn more about your new green friends’ needs and preferences (the AWARENESS part of the three LAWs of plant parenting), you’ll become a master at keeping their colors vibrant and vivid.

Sunlight for Your Indoor Plants

As a light source, nothing beats natural sunlight.

If we think of light as food, sunlight would be categorized at the premium gourmet end of the (light) spectrum. Pun intended ๐Ÿ˜œ

And there are several reasons why sunlight is the best.

Sunlight streaming through trees

Benefits of Natural Sunlight for Indoor Plants

First, sunlight has this unique full spectrum of colors your plants love. These colors play a significant role in their growth, like helping with photosynthesis and ensuring they bloom beautifully.

Plus, sunlight is really intense (in a good way!). Indoor plants need intense light to grow properly, and nothing beats the sun when it comes to intensity.

Sunlight also naturally follows a day-night cycle. This helps plants regulate their internal processes and keeps them happy and healthy. This also helps your indoor plants regulate their temperature. The sunlight warms them up during the day and cools them at night. It’s like Mother Nature’s very own thermostat!

And the best part is that sunlight is cost-effective and eco-friendly! By using natural light through windows or skylights, you’ll save money on electricity and do something good for the environment.

However, sunlight comes in different intensities, and some can harm more light-sensitive indoor plants.

Let’s explore the varying natural light strengths available in your home.

To help explain the subtle differences in sunlight intensity within the home, let’s use a visual aid. This picture of a living room with plants will provide more context.

living room with bright light and medium light

Bright Direct Sunlight

You’ve probably heard that some plants need “bright direct sunlight,” right?

But what does that mean exactly?

Bright direct sunlight means that your indoor plant is getting plenty of light from the sun shining directly on itโ˜€๏ธ

In the living room image above, the plants closest to the window on the left receive bright direct sunlight, and this is because the leaves are exposed to direct sunlight as it streams through the window.

For indoor plants, direct exposure to sunlight is intense. And is only usually reserved for those plants that endure long periods of direct sunlight in their natural environment, such as snake plants and other succulents.

Bright Indirect Sunlight

Picture this: It’s sunny outside, and you’re sitting by a window. The sun is shining brightly, but you’re sitting just slightly out of its path instead of being directly hit by those rays. The area around you is still well-lit, but no harsh beams are on your skin or furniture.

That’s exactly what bright indirect sunlight is all about for indoor plants! ๐ŸŒž

It’s a comfortable middle ground between direct sunlight (too intense for many indoor plants) and complete shade. Your plants get enough light to grow happily without getting burnt or dried out.

This is many plants’ happy places, particularly the tropical plants that we love, like Monsteras, Philodendrons, and Pothos.

The problem with bright indirect sunlight is that it continually moves around your home as the sun’s angles change daily.

Medium Indirect Sunlight

Let’s focus on medium indirect sunlight, which many plant babies will love.

Medium indirect sunlight is like giving your plants a little break from the sun while providing enough light to thrive.

With reference to the living room picture above, the plant furthest away from the window would be receiving medium indirect sunlight. It still gets plenty of natural light without directly under the sun’s intense rays.

You can also create medium indirect light by using sheer curtains or blinds on your windows to soften and filter the sunlight coming through. This helps protect your plant from getting too much direct sunlight while keeping them happy and healthy.

An easy way to check if you’ve got it just right is by looking at the shadow cast by your plant. If it’s soft and slightly blurry around the edges, you give them just about the right amount of medium indirect light they need.

examples of spaces with indirect and low light

Low Indirect Light

The last type of natural sunlight we’ll explore is low indirect light.

Low indirect light refers to spaces in your home where your indoor plant doesn’t receive much natural sunlight, directly or indirectly. There may still be some residual natural light reaching the area. However, it is very minimal.

Looking at the image above, we would consider the plants next to the stairs living in low-light conditions. Some light may be filtering down from the windows along the stairwell. However, it is only minimal.

The plant on the left of the image would be considered in indirect light since natural light can still reach the leaves.

You will find low-light spaces in hallways and bathrooms with limited exposure to windows.

As you continue your journey as an indoor plant parent, you might find some information in forums that say certain plants can handle low-light conditions (snake plants are often misrepresented as low-light plants). Just remember that it doesn’t mean they’ll be super happy and thriving in those situations.

Sure, they might put up with not having a lot of light for a while; but eventually, they will develop issues that could be better for their overall well-being.

So always consider giving your leafy friends the best home possible to keep them healthy and happy!

How to Identify Light Intensity in Your Home

Okay, you now know the difference between the natural sunlight intensities. But how can we apply this to a practical solution for your plants?

Here’s a list of features in table format you can use to help you identify the optimal spaces for your indoor plants:

Natural Sunlight IntensityFeatures in Home to Look For
Bright Direct Sunlight – South-facing windows (in the Northern Hemisphere)
– North-facing windows (in the Southern Hemisphere)
– Large, unobstructed windows with no shades or curtains
– Skylights or glass ceilings
– Next to a sunlit window that receives plenty of direct sunlight
– In a room that has windows on multiple sides for different aspects
– In a glasshouse or conservatory
Bright Indirect Sunlight – East-facing windows (for morning sunlight)
– West-facing windows (for afternoon sunlight)
– Nearby white or light-colored walls that reflect sunlight
– Windows covered by sheer curtains
– Light entering through an atrium or light well
– Windows with adjustable louvers to control the intensity of light
– Strategically placed mirrors to reflect sunlight deeper into the room.
Medium Indirect Sunlight – Windows partially obstructed by trees or buildings
– Rooms adjacent to brightly lit rooms (with open doors)
– Light filtered through translucent window coverings
– Rooms with clerestory windows that allow diffused light
– Spaces illuminated by tinted window films to reduce glare and brightness
– Indoor gardens or plant walls positioned near moderate light sources.
Low Indirect Light – North-facing windows (in the Northern Hemisphere)
– South-facing windows (in the Southern Hemisphere)
– Rooms with small or few windows
– Hallways and interior rooms without direct window access.
– Cozy nooks or reading corners with ambient lighting from nearby rooms
– Interior rooms lit through frosted glass doors or partitions

Window Direction: Which Window Facing Should You Use?

By now, you should be confident in identifying the spaces in your home suitable for your plant babies.

However, there is one last piece of the light puzzle we need to explain before letting you loose to play musical chairs with your indoor plants. And that is the window direction.

When deciding on your plant baby’s home, it is essential to consider the direction of the window they’ll be near. Let us explain why this matters.

So, you may have noticed that the sunlight coming through your window changes throughout the day and even from one season to another.

This happens because our planet moves around the sun and tilts on its axis. It’s like a dance that makes the sun appear to shift in the sky, affecting how bright it is and where it shines into your home.

This means that depending on the

  • time of day,
  • season, or even
  • where you live (Northern Hemisphere or Southern Hemisphere),

The sunlight streaming into your space can be different. Sometimes it’s softer and lasts for shorter periods (like in winter); other times, it’s more intense and stays around longer (like in summer).

Just keep an eye out for these changes to ensure your plant buddies are always getting the right amount of sunshine they need to thrive! And don’t worryโ€”you’ll get the hang of it before you know it! ๐Ÿ˜Š๐ŸŒฑโœจ

IMPORTANT: Now, before we get into the specific window-facing directions, the first thing you need to identify is where you live on our wonderful planet, the northern or southern hemisphere. The below explanation will explain things from someone living in the Northern Hemisphere.

But don’t feel left out if you live in the South – you must reverse the directions.

For example:

South Facing windows in the Northern Hemisphere are the equivalent of North Facing windows in the Southern Hemisphere.

Have we lost you yet?

Don’t worry – you’ll get there. Just take another big sip of coffee, and let’s get stuck in.

West Facing Windows (Northern Hemisphere)

West-facing windows in the northern hemisphere can be an excellent spot for certain indoor plants, but it’s good to know some advantages and drawbacks to make the best decision for your green friends.

Let’s dive into it with an easy-to-understand approach.


  1. Warm afternoon sunlight: West-facing windows receive lovely afternoon sunlight that brings warmth and a cozy atmosphere to your space. Many plants enjoy this kind of light, especially those that love more sun, like succulents or certain flowering plants.
  2. Longer light duration: During spring and summer, west-facing windows provide extended daylight hours, which is beneficial for many plants that need more exposure to sunlight.


  1. The intense heat in summer: One main concern with west-facing windows is the strong afternoon sun during hot summer days. This intense heat might only suit some plant types, as some delicate leaves can get scorched or wilt if exposed to too much direct sunlight.
  2. Possible uneven growth: With only one direction of sunlight, plants near west-facing windows may grow unevenly as they stretch toward the light source. To prevent this, you must rotate your plants periodically so they grow evenly on all sides.

So there you have it! When deciding whether a west-facing window works for your indoor plants, keep these points in mind and choose carefully.

If you decide to go with this window direction, remember to observe how your plant reacts and adjust its position if needed (you might even want to provide some shade during scorching summer afternoons).

South Facing Windows (Northern Hemisphere)

Many indoor plant hobbyists love South Facing windows because they provide the most light for their plant babies. However, they are not suitable for all types of indoor plants, and let’s explore the pros and cons of why.


  1. Abundant, consistent sunlight: South-facing windows offer bright, steady sunlight throughout the day. This is perfect for sun-loving plants like cacti, succulents, or many flowering varieties that need ample light to grow strong and healthy.
  2. Wide range of plant options: Thanks to the generous brightness from south-facing windows, you can grow a diverse selection of plants that thrive in sunny conditions. The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating your unique indoor garden!


  1. Too much sun for shade-loving plants: While many enjoy the sunshine streaming through south-facing windows, some prefer low or medium light levels. Placing sensitive plants (like ferns) too close to a sunny window could cause them to struggle and potentially burn their delicate leaves.
  2. Possible overheating during summer: As with west-facing windows, south-facing ones can get hot on scorching summer afternoons. This heat might be too intense for some plants, so keep an eye on them during hotter days and adjust their positions or provide shade if necessary.

East Facing Windows (Northern Hemisphere)

Let’s now focus on East-Facing windows for indoor plants in the northern hemisphere.

Windows facing an Easterly direction will enjoy the gentle morning sun, which is perfect for those indoor plants that flourish in indirect sunlight. The morning sun is not as intense and is generally welcomed by our green friends to help them warm up from the cooler nights.


  1. Gentle morning sunlight: East-facing windows receive lovely morning sunlight, which is soft and gentle on your plants. This type of light is suitable for various plants, including peace lilies or spider plants that enjoy moderate light conditions.
  2. Less risk of overheating: Since the sun isn’t as intense during the mornings as it can be during afternoons, plants are less likely to get scorched or overheated near an east-facing window.


  1. Limited direct sunlight: East-facing windows only get direct sunlight in the morning before becoming indirect throughout the rest of the day. While this is great for plants that prefer moderate light levels, there might be more for some sun-loving plants that need stronger or longer-lasting direct sunlight.
  2. Potential low-light conditions in winter: During winter at higher latitudes, east-facing windows can receive limited sunlight due to shorter daylight hours and lower sun angles. It’s essential to remember this if you have plants that require lots of brightness throughout the day.

North Facing Windows (Northern Hemisphere)

And finally, let’s look at North-Facing windows in the northern hemisphere.

Even though North Facing windows don’t receive the most natural sunlight, they do have some significant aspects for a particular set of indoor plants.

Its steady soft light and cooler temperatures make it perfect for plants that are too sensitive to direct sunlight. But want still needs plenty of natural light to grow.


  1. Consistent indirect light: North-facing windows offer constant indirect light throughout the day, ideal for plants that enjoy low to medium light conditions. Examples include pothos or various types of ferns.
  2. Lower risk of sunburn: Since these windows don’t receive direct sunlight, there’s little to no chance of your plant friends getting sunburned or suffering from heat stress near a north-facing window.


  1. Limited sunlight for sun-loving plants: If you have plants that require lots of direct sunlight to thrive, such as cacti or succulents, a north-facing window might not provide enough brightness for them.
  2. Possibly cooler temperatures: North-facing windows can be somewhat cooler than other window directions due to receiving less direct sunlight. Consider this if you have temperature-sensitive plants and keep them from cold drafts during winter.

Indoor Plant Light Guide – What’s Next?

This comprehensive guide covered everything you need to know about indoor plant lighting.

We’ve explained different types of lighting, how to identify light levels in your home, and the impact of window direction on sunlight.

And don’t worry if you’re still unsure how much light is best for your specific plant โ€“ feel free to ask away! The journey toward becoming an experienced plant owner is full of learning experiences. So have fun, and let’s grow together! ๐ŸŒฟ

Mastering the three LAWs of plant parenthood – Light, Awareness, and Watering – is essential for success.

You’ve conquered lighting, now keep up the momentum and let’s sharpen your plant parent AWARENESS instincts HERE.


References Used

  • Photosynthesis. (2023, May 21). In Wikipedia.