Houseplants That Thrive in Direct Sunlight


On this blog, we’ve told you about which plants to keep in partial or indirect light, but what about those houseplants that grow best in direct sunlight? You have a large window in your home or apartment that would make the perfect place to put a new plant. You’re just not sure which ones fit the bill. What plants should you gravitate towards?

Which houseplants thrive in direct sunlight? The following houseplants thrive in direct sunlight:

  • Croton
  • String of pearls
  • Dwarf umbrella tree
  • Jasmine
  • Geraniums
  • Areca palm
  • Cactus
  • Hibiscus
  • Ponytail palm
  • Jade plant
  • Papyrus
  • African milk bush
  • Money tree
  • Sago palm
  • Aloe vera
  • Sweet basil

In this informative guide, we’ll tell you the exact lighting conditions the above 16 houseplants need to grow to full size. We’ll also share watering details, since a plant that sits in the sun might require more frequent watering than those that don’t. By the time you’re done reading, you can reorganize your home or apartment so your new houseplant gets a prime spot at the window.

Let’s begin!

16 Houseplants That Love Direct Sunlight

Croton

The Codiaeum variegatum or garden croton has gotten a lot of love on this blog recently. As we’ve noted in the posts it’s been featured in, the croton has vivid leaves not unlike autumn foliage. The bright reds, fiery oranges, neon yellows, and bright greens of the croton’s leaves mingle in one pot for an eye-catching addition to your apartment or home. Sometimes, you might even see purple leaves.

When you bring your croton home, find a window that faces east or west. Then, each day, give it at least six hours of direct sun, eight hours if you can swing it. In doing so, you encourage those colors to come through as strong as ever. If you see primarily green leaves, the croton needs more sun.

With all this light exposure, the croton could use watering every day or only once a week. If the soil feels very dry, then you’ve waited too long.

The Croton is one of the houseplants on this list that I always use my moisture meter on to make sure I give it the right amount of water. If you’re looking for a great moisture meter that will also read the soil ph and has a light meter for your “direct sun” houseplants, here’s the amazon link to the exact moisture reader I use.

String of Pearls

If you’re wondering why the Senecio rowleyanus goes by the name string of pearls, just take one look at this plant. It has small bead-like growths on long vines that resemble a pearl necklace, only green instead of white. An Asteraceae family member, the string of pearls is actually a type of succulent vine, which would explain its preference for direct light. It also likes dry environments in the wild, such as those found in southwest Africa.

The string of pearls grows best in the afternoon sunlight over that morning glow, so keep that in mind when you provide this houseplant its home. It also looks best when planted in a hanging basket. This way, the vines can grow and dangle to the floor. At their longest, the string of pearls can develop three-foot vines. I found a really good deal for a 4 Pack Metal Hanging Planter Basket that included the Coco Coir Liner in the baskets here on Amazon.

You want to use cactus mix, potting soil, or another type of soil that drains when growing string of pearls. Get the topsoil nice and soaked. When it dries out, water it again.

Dwarf Umbrella Tree

You remember the dwarf umbrella tree, right? It’s become a frequent subject on this blog, and here it is again. To quickly recap, its scientific name is the Schefflera arboricola. This plant belongs to the Araliaceae family. Most people refer to it as the dwarf umbrella plant because the Schefflera actinophylla or Australia umbrella tree outsizes it by quite a large margin.

While the dwarf umbrella tree does appreciate direct light, it’s one of those indoor plants that shouldn’t be left to sit in the sun all day long. Its delicate green, oval-shaped leaves could burn if it gets too many rays, so monitor it closely. You can also follow the same watering instructions as for the string of pearls, but with a potting mix with peat moss instead.

Jasmine

If you like your indoor plants with flowers, then the jasmine is perfect for you. As part of the Oleaceae family, the Jasminum sprouts white-petaled flowers that smell like a dream. Sometimes these have orange interiors and other times they’re just pure white, but they’re beautiful either way. Jasmine grows in such parts of the world as Oceania, Australasia, and Eurasia where the temperatures get quite toasty.

If you happen to put your jasmine plant on your window on a cloudy day, that’s no problem. It doesn’t always need direct light. That said, it’s ideal if you give the jasmine at least six hours to sit in the sun every day.

You’ll have to get into a good watering schedule to tend to those pretty flowers, by the way. The soil should never dry out completely, so water the jasmine plant at least a week and the flowers should stay gorgeous.

Geraniums

From one flowering plant to another, next we’ve got geraniums. The Pelargonium belongs to a genus with nearly 200 other flowering species. These include shrubs, succulents, and perennials. Respectively, those plants are known as storksbills, pelargoniums, and geraniums. Geraniums are part of the Geraniaceae family, as the name might suggest. The flowers may encompass such hues as purple, baby pink, or bright red depending on the species you choose.

If you notice your geraniums haven’t quite bloomed as expected, it’s likely because you’re not giving the houseplant enough light. If you change the lighting conditions and still see little flower growth, check how often you fertilize. Doing so too often can hinder this flowering plant. Once you get the fertilizer schedule down, keep your geraniums out in the sunlight for four to six hours every day.

Use drainable soil and feel an inch deep with your finger to tell if the plant needs water. The soil should feel dry, but ideally not bone dry.

Areca Palm

You’ll see a few palm trees on this list, with the first the areca palm or Dypsis lutescens. This tree has other monikers such as the butterfly palm, yellow palm, and golden cane palm. The long fronds of this Arecaceae family member grow lush and wide, filling your home with beauty. You can also find the areca palm in South India, Madagascar, and the Philippines.

For the areca palm to grow that wondrous foliage, it’s best to angle it near a window that faces west or southward. Doing so will bring out the yellow colors that make people call this palm the golden cane. This is one instance where a houseplant yellowing isn’t a problem and actually something desirable.

In the warmer months, maintain slight soil moisture by watering more often. When the temperatures turn cool, allow the soil to dry out more, extending how frequently you water your areca palm.

Cactus

As one of the best-known succulents, the cactus has roughly 1,750 species and 127 genera. Its name comes from kaktos, a Latin word derived through an Ancient Greek term. Kaktos refers to a “spiny plant,” which seems pretty fitting to us.

Depending on which type of cactus you choose for your garden or home, some can develop stunning flowers. If yours does, then it will need lots of direct sunlight for at least four hours every day. Windows that face east or south should provide adequate warmth and light for your indoor cactus.

Remember, as a succulent, you can get by without watering your cactus for a lot longer than other houseplants. Weekly watering will keep the plant healthy and strong, but make sure you cover the soil in water for best results.

One more thing I’d like to mention while we’re discussing cacti is how easily they propagate. I have roughly five new cacti this year because I used a few cuttings from my healthiest cactus to grow entirely all new plants.

While rooting hormones aren’t necessarily needed when propagating most cacti, I did apply a tiny amount of rooting hormone to the batch I’m referring to just to increase their chances of successfully taking root and it really paid off.

Hibiscus

While we think of the hibiscus as a lovely tropical plant, they have a nickname that’s a lot cuter and maybe not so beachy: the rosemallow. That’s because this gorgeous flower is part of the Malvaceae family, which includes other mallows, more than 100 species. They grow best in tropical and subtropical environments. Hibiscus flowers can cover a whole range of hues, including pink, red, and yellow.

Don’t get careless when growing your hibiscus at home. Just because they like warm weather doesn’t mean they need hours upon hours of bright sunlight. Instead, about two hours each day will do it. For your efforts, you’ll be rewarded with the above-mentioned lovely flowers that will surely brighten up your apartment or office.

Also encouraging growth is a regular watering schedule. As the temperatures go up in the spring and summer, water the houseplant every day. When the season cools off, cut down on how often you water, as overwatering can lead to hibiscus death.

Ponytail Palm

You may recall our introduction to the ponytail palm from a recent blog post. In case you missed it, the ponytail palm goes by the scientific name Beaucarnea recurvata and grows natively in parts of Mexico. It’s in the Asparagaceae family. Most importantly, they’re not real palm trees.

They still grow like true palms would, enjoying the brightness of direct sunlight. Indirect sunlight won’t hurt them either, but you may notice a hindrance in growth rate compared to a ponytail palm left in full sun.

The ponytail palm doesn’t have a stringent watering schedule, either. Up to two inches of soil can dry out entirely before you need to bother watering this houseplant again. When you do, make sure you get the soil nice and soaked.

Jade Plant

It’s a good idea to have a jade plant in your indoor garden since people also refer to it as the money plant and the lucky plant. It’s popped up on this blog before, but we’ll briefly cover it again. The jade plant is also a succulent that grows in parts of South Africa. People around the world will use it as a houseplant, probably because it’s supposed to bring those people luck. At the very least, its flowers add appeal to your home.

Each day, your jade plant will need four hours in the sun, but feel free to give it more if you can. Windows pointing south ought to suffice. Make sure you do know which variety of jade plant you’re growing though. Some, especially with variegated leaves, prefer indirect light and shouldn’t be left in the sun for long.

You can wait at least two weeks, sometimes as much as three weeks in between watering sessions for your jade plant. It is a succulent, after all. Let the soil dry out at least two inches before you water the indoor plant again.

Papyrus

No, we’re not talking about the font here, but rather, the papyrus or paper reed plant. This aquatic flowering plant, referred to scientifically as the Cyperus papyrus, is in the Cyperaceae family. It grows in the wild in Africa, doing well in environments with shallow water and swampy vegetation. The papyrus plant has long stems that sprout smaller palm-like blades.

In offices at or at home, you can tend to your papyrus by keeping the thermostat no lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You also have to provide direct light, the more the better for this houseplant. If you notice the leaves have yellowed, it’s either due to the lighting or the temperature, so check both and fix as needed.

You don’t need to water the papyrus per se because it should sit in a water-filled container. Make sure the container always has some water, enough to cover the pot’s base.

African Milk Bush

Yet another succulent, the African milk bush in the Euphorbiaceae family may have existed as far back as 1875. That was the first time someone wrote about it, at least. While some people refer to the African milk bush as the Synadenium grantii, its real scientific name is the Euphorbia grantii. It thrives in high altitudes and warm, tropical environments like those in Uganda, Kenya, and Malawi in Africa.

There’s no limit to the sunlight the African milk bush can receive. Seriously, the more, the better. At the very least, limit its exposure to a half days’ worth of sun. Partial, indirect sunlight in small quantities (like a few hours) aren’t a bad idea for this houseplant either.

Let the first inch of soil dry out before refreshing your African milk bush with water. You want to then ensure the soil gets moist but not wet or soggy.

Money Tree

Now, this may be a bit confusing, but the money plant and the money tree aren’t the same thing. Instead, when referring to a money tree, you really mean the Guiana chestnut, a houseplant we’ve discussed before. The Pachira aquatica has a braided, twisted stem and lovely leaves in a long teardrop shape. It likes swampy South American environments.

Give the money tree lots of sun and some partial shade every now and again. It is possible to overdo it on sunlight, and your houseplant will let you know when it’s reached that point. If your money plant has yellow leaves, then give it a bit more shade. You could also accidentally water the plant too much or expose it to too many temperature changes and cause leaf yellowing that way.

On the note of watering your money tree, you want to really watch how much you do it. Gardening experts advise between two and three waterings per month. That’s it. Not per week, but per month. If you overwater your money tree, you could kill it, so be careful.

Sago Palm

We told you there’d be a handful of palms on this list. The last one we want to cover is the sago palm or Cycas revoluta. It’s a Cycadaceae family member that’s a gymnosperm species. It grows in the Ryukyu Island and other parts of Japan, especially southern areas. As the name may have clued you in, the sago palm gets used in the production of a type of starch known as sago. This is made by taking the pith or center of the stems of palm trees and making a meal of it. The dish has a spongy texture.

While the fronds of a sago palm won’t grow as voluminous indoors as they would outdoors, your tree will get its biggest in direct sun. Make sure the tree does get some shade, as constant sun will stress out your sago palm. You could also end up accidentally torching the delicate foliage with the harsh rays.

As your sago palm grows, water it about weekly, maybe on a two-week basis. Make sure you dig out a dirt mound known as a berm that’s at least two inches for the palm. Then, water as needed.

Aloe Vera

Unsurprisingly another succulent, not only does the aloe vera plant add a certain appeal to your indoor garden with its uniquely shaped leaves, but it’s got medicinal uses as well. If you’ve ever used aloe vera cream or gel for a bad sunburn, then you know how soothing this indoor plant can be.

Your aloe vera plant will do best if you give it at least six hours in the bright sun every day. You can even leave it there for eight hours, so set it up before work and them move it into some shade when you get home. West and south-facing windows suit the aloe vera plant best.

Make sure you use soil mixed with sand for your aloe vera. Then, get on a three-week watering schedule during the hotter seasons and into autumn. Douse in water but don’t oversoak. Only in the winter should you cut back on watering your aloe vera.

Sweet Basil

Our last pick for a houseplant to grow in direct sunlight is sweet basil. Also referred to as Genovese basil, this belongs to the greater basil in the Lamiaceae family. Not only does basil look great, but you can harvest it and eat it as well. It has a lovely scent and a bright flavor likened to anise.

You’ll get the most basil to harvest if you let this indoor plant sit in the sun for six or eight hours every day. Southwest or south-facing windows should let the sunrays filter in at just the right angle. Some shade, like the natural shade that comes in during the afternoon, is fine for the sweet basil.

When you water this houseplant, make sure the bottom of the plant is damp but the top stays dry. Use drainable soil and water it only once every week and you should have fresh herbs to add to your food year-round!

Related Questions

Is sunlight through a window considered direct sunlight?

Yes, sunlight through a window is direct sunlight, but watch what you have in the window. For instance, if it’s curtains and they’re relatively sheer, your houseplant isn’t getting direct sunlight anymore. Instead, that’s filtered, medium, or dappled sunlight. You want nothing between the window and your plants for them to absorb full, direct sun.

Is it bad to water plants in direct sunlight?

You may have heard the old wives’ tale that giving your houseplants water when the sun is at its brightest can damage the leaves. It’s not true. A group of scientists even did a test to prove otherwise. By watering their indoor plant in the afternoon, the scientists discovered that water droplets did not cause any adverse effects to the leaves like originally thought.

That said, the brighter and stronger the sunlight, the faster water evaporation will occur. Your plant could get thirstier sooner during afternoon waterings than if you watered it first thing in the morning or after sundown. While it’s up to you when you water your houseplant, do keep all this in mind going forward.  

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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