Found hiding in the dappled shade of trees in their natural habitats, Pothos plants grow best in bright indirect sunlight. In my experience, they can handle east-facing windows with some direct morning sun but will burn in midday or afternoon direct light. In this guide, I’ll run through the best lighting conditions for pothos plants to thrive indoors.
Sunlight and Pothos Plant Health
If you’ve forgotten any of your houseplants in a dark spot for a while, you’ll already know most living things on earth cannot continue living without sunlight.
When it comes to plants, sunlight is used to fuel the essential process of photosynthesis, allowing plants to make their own food in the form of sugars. Without this food, the plants cannot grow or survive and also makes them susceptible to common pothos pests and diseases.
In their natural habitats, plants have evolved to use the sunlight available to them for optimal growth. However, when you move those same plants indoors, it can be tricky to provide the right lighting conditions or match what they find outside with what you have available inside.
There are some handy terms used to describe a houseplant’s light needs that can make the process of care far simpler:
- Direct Light: The sun’s rays are directly touching the plant.
- Bright Indirect Light: The light is bright, either from a nearby window or from reflected light, but it is not direct.
- Filtered Light: Direct sunlight is filtered by another object like a sheer curtain, creating the same conditions as bright indirect light.
- Moderate Light: The plant is placed in a bright room but far from the light source.
- Low Light: Areas far from windows, but not rooms with no windows at all (no light).
In the Northern Hemisphere, north-facing windows provide the lowest lighting conditions. East-facing windows have gentle, direct morning sun, while west-facing windows have a harsh afternoon sun. South-facing windows receive direct sunlight for most of the day, depending on positioning.
You can test the light levels in your home by holding your hand between the light source and the plant. Harsh shadows indicate direct light, with the clarity of the shadow declining as the light intensity decreases. Alternatively, invest in a light meter to give you a more accurate reading.
Native Light Conditions Pothos Plants Receive
In its natural habitat, Epipremnum aureum looks quite different from the plant we grow indoors. These plants are native to the islands of French Polynesia, but they have been naturalized in tropical forests around the world. Pothos plants love humid and warm climates, and as climbing plants, you can find them surrounding tree trunks with massive leaves that can reach over 20 inches long.
Since they are tree climbers, they receive filtered sunlight through the tree canopy cover above. This is usually described as dappled sunlight, as parts of the leaves receive direct sun while others are in full shade. If the large leaves receive any harsh direct sunlight for long periods, they are prone to burning.
Signs Your Pothos Plant Is Receiving Too Much Light
Pothos plants cannot handle long periods of direct sunlight. Some moderate morning sunlight won’t do any harm, but leaving your plant in direct midday afternoon sun will have some adverse effects.
The first signs you’ll notice are in the leaves. Leaves in high light or excessive heat will quickly wilt and start to droop, usually during the peak of the sunny period. They may also curl inwards – this is a survival response to protect as much of the leaf from burning as possible.
Like humans, these plants can also experience sunburn. When exposed to intense direct light, the leaves may turn brown. The color change will appear in the parts of the plant facing the sun, rather than on the edges of the leaves or all over the leaf, indicating sunlight is the problem. Propagated pothos plants are also quite sensitive to overexposure to sunlight.
To fix the issue, either move your plant to a new spot or place a sheer curtain in front of the window to filter the sunlight and protect the foliage.
Signs Your Pothos Plant Isn’t Receiving Enough Light
Pothos plants can tolerate lower light conditions than most other houseplants. However, that doesn’t mean they will survive in no light rooms, or won’t show any signs of growth trouble in extremely low light.
Take a look at the positions of the nodes along the stems (where the leaves emerge). If they are starting to grow further apart than before, they are getting less light than they’re used to. The size of the leaves can also be an indicator, as slower-growing Pothos plants will have smaller leaves that may look diminished.
In extreme cases, the plant may stop growing or putting out new leaves altogether. The pothos leaves may drop off in response to the light stress, and the soil may stay moist for weeks on end, indicating the roots have stopped taking up water due to a lack of photosynthesis. Consider pruning your pothos plant as well to remove past prime or decaying foliage.
The Best Light Exposure
Pothos can handle moderate light and even low light if all other conditions are met. However, their preferred lighting conditions are bright indirect light for most of the day. They can even handle some direct morning sunlight for quicker and bigger growth but will struggle in any midday or afternoon direct sun.
A spot in front of an east-facing window is ideal, as they will receive some morning sun with bright indirect light for the rest of the day. However, west and south-facing windows are also an option if filtered by a sheer curtain. Pothos will survive in rooms with north-facing windows, but they will grow much slower than they typically would in a brighter area.
In winter, it’s best to move low-light Pothos plants to a brighter spot as the intensity of the light lowers. Avoid any direct sunlight (especially in hot climates) to prevent scorching in summer.
Pothos Plants Light Requirements FAQs
Can Pothos Plants live in low light?
Pothos don’t mind lower light conditions and can survive quite happily in rooms with only north-facing windows. However, although they won’t show any signs of struggle, they will not grow much bigger in low light or put out many new leaves.
Can Pothos Plants take full sun?
Pothos plants are not fans of direct sunlight. They will manage in mild morning sunlight in the early hours of the day but will quickly burn as the intensity increases in midday and the afternoon. Keep these plants in bright indirect sunlight for the best results.
What kind of light do Pothos Plants need?
These plants receive dappled sunlight for most of the day in their natural habitats. Indoors, that means they prefer bright indirect sunlight or filtered light from an east-facing window.
Will Pothos Plants live happily indoors?
Pothos is an ideal indoor plant, not only for its tolerance of many lighting conditions but also for its ease of care. Although they are tropical plants, they are not as fussy about humidity as some other houseplants and are perfect for beginner plant parents.
How do you know if your Pothos Plant is getting enough light?
You should notice consistent healthy growth in spring and summer if your pothos receives enough light. The leaves will retain their bright color and sheen too. If the light is too low, growth will slow, and the gaps between the leaves will lengthen. The leaves may also grow smaller or drop off if conditions persist.
These beginner-friendly houseplants are suitable for just about any lighting conditions, bar harsh direct sun or extremely low light. Place them in a spot with bright indirect light, and they will continue to grow their long trailing stems almost all year round.
Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.