By Erin Marissa Russell
Do you need to know exactly what “bright indirect light” means for your houseplants? Look no further. We’re ready to tell you everything you need to know about bright indirect light so you can keep your collection of houseplants happy and healthy.
Most of the houseplants in your care will thrive in bright indirect light. However, do your research or check for specifics on the seed packet, plant tag, or online product description as there are plenty of plants with different sunlight needs you may encounter.
Bright indirect light recreates conditions under the tree canopy where plants receive lots of light, but it is filtered through the foliage of the trees above. Bright indirect light is also called “filtered light” or “diffuse light.”
The phrase “bright indirect light” causes many people to think that the sunlight never directly strikes the plant. But this is simply not true. If your plant prefers bright indirect light, it likes the light either filtered as through a curtain or the leaves of trees outside or indirect, received after bouncing off of another surface.
Sunlight in the morning and sunlight in the afternoon aren’t quite the same. Plants whose leaves are tender to sunscald may do well with a few hours of bright sun in the morning, while the afternoon sun will scorch their leaves. If an area gets a few hours of direct sunlight in the morning before the sun has climbed to its height, it can still be considered to get bright indirect light—if it gets indirect light for most of the day. This condition can also be called partial sunlight.
Most of your houseplants will do quite well in this kind of light, as long as direct light comes in the morning. Of course, every plant is different, so do some research into the specific variety of plant you’re trying to grow to determine how much direct sunlight it can tolerate.
Plants that are too far away from a window won’t benefit much from the light it provides unless the plants are varieties that thrive in no light or low light conditions. Even just five or six feet from a window drastically reduces the amount of sunlight the plants will get. Just because the sunshine lights the area, or you can see the sun with your eyes, doesn’t mean it provides enough light for plants that need bright indirect light.
For best results, find a window that will give your plants bright indirect light, and arrange the plants on the window sill or as near as possible to the window. Of course, windows that are very large provide more light than smaller windows, and a room with many windows in it has more light than a room with just one window, so adjust accordingly.
If a window provides bright light that is direct, instead of indirect, you can adjust it if your plants need bright indirect light. Just adding blinds or a lightweight curtain is enough to filter the light and transform it into bright indirect light.
There are a few different ways to determine how much light different areas of your home are getting. Of course, you can make a visual inspection and carefully track where the sun is throughout the day and how much light different rooms are getting, but this is not an exact measurement.
There are apps you can download on your phone to assist you, but their measurements are not exact, either. However, both these techniques can give you an approximate idea of where you can find bright indirect light in your home.
The best tool to use if you’d like to take exact measurements of the sunlight in your home is a light meter. Set your meter to measure the light in footcandles. Low light ranges from 75 to 200 footcandles, medium light from 200 to 500 footcandles, high light at 500 to 1,000 footcandles, and very high light more than 1,000 footcandles.
Light of 800 to 2,000 footcandles will suit your houseplants that need bright indirect light. Because the amount of available sunlight varies from day to day, and the available sunlight changes depending on the time of day, take measurements at different times and on a few different days to get an idea of where the best light is in your home.
There’s one final way to determine whether you have bright, indirect light on your hands, and it’s probably the easiest test to perform. Hold your hand up and look for a distinctive shadow that is a bit blurry around the edges. Unlike low light conditions that don’t cast distinct shadows, or the clear-edged outline of the shadow you’d see in bright direct light, the distinctive shape with blurry outlines shows you are in bright, indirect light. Bright, indirect light will cause you to cast a shadow (although not the dark, clear-edged shadows of direct light) and is enough to read by.
Rooms that have no windows are only suitable for houseplants that need bright indirect light if you’re able to add artificial lighting. Fluorescent lights or LED grow lights can be used to create the bright indirect light your houseplants need to thrive.
Which side of the house your windows face can give you a hint as to the type of light they’ll provide. Of course, keep in mind that the amount of light a particular room gets will vary by the time of year and even the time of day. When the weather is overcast, the clouds get in the way of the sunlight that would normally reach your rooms.
- North-Facing Window: North-facing windows don’t normally receive direct sunlight. In fact, they may not receive enough indirect light for your plants that need bright indirect light to flourish. If you want to keep plants in these rooms, consider using fluorescent lights or LED grow lights, or you can try adding a mirror across from the window to bounce light back toward your plants.
- South-Facing Window: You may get bright indirect light from a south-facing window if it is shaded. If the window doesn’t get shade from nearby trees or structures, you can filter the light for plants that need bright indirect light by installing sheer draperies. If the window is shaded or filtered, place plants close to the window. If it’s unshaded, move the plants 3 to 5 feet back from the window, so that they aren’t quite in the path of the sun’s rays through the windowpane.
- East-Facing Window: Plants that prefer bright, indirect light will do well in east-facing windows. They don’t need to be scooted back from the windowsill, nor do you need drapes. The window will receive direct sunlight in the morning, when the rays are not as hot as later in the day. By the time the sun starts to amp up, rooms with east-facing windows will be receiving bright indirect light.
- West-Facing Window: Follow the directions for unshaded south-facing windows if your window is an unshaded west-facing window or an unshaded southwest-facing window. The afternoon sun tends to come in bright and hot to west-facing or southwest-facing windows, so move plants back three to five feet from the window itself or add sheer draperies.
Just performing an inspection of your plants every now and then can give you clues as to whether they’re getting enough sunshine—or whether they’re getting too much.
Plants that aren’t getting enough sunshine may look yellow, have a dull appearance, grow leggy and lanky, or drop leaves.
Plants that are getting too much direct sunlight start with burned, scorched parts on foliage that gives way to a bleached appearance. The plants will turn in on themselves instead of striving outward. You can read more about sunscald, when sunshine burns plant leaves, in our article How to Recognize and Prevent Sunscald in the Garden [https://www.gardeningchannel.com/how-to-recognize-and-prevent-sunscald-in-the-garden/].
Now you’ve learned everything you need to care for houseplants that need bright indirect light. To recap, bright indirect light:
- Measures between 800 and 2,000 footcandles
- Produces a shadow of a distinct shape that has blurred edges
- Consists of sunshine that has bounced off of an object
- May consist of filtered light (that comes through the tree canopy or a curtain)
- May consist of partial sunlight (when a room gets a few hours of direct morning sun followed by bright indirect light)
Since most houseplants thrive in bright indirect light, now you’re most likely prepared to care for the majority of your plant collection with precision. You’ll be cultivating rooms full of healthy, vigorous plants in no time.