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Sunlight through window Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Does the sunlight direction matter for your houseplant?

Have you ever thought about what type of sunlight your houseplants like best? Sunlight is something all plants need in some way or another. Some plants don't need as much sunlight or can survive in low-light places. But all plants need at least some sunlight to grow and stay healthy. Sunlight gives your plant the much needed energy to grow big and strong. Some plants even use this energy to turn sunlight into purified air.

If you've followed a plant care guide before, you might have seen comments about placing a plant in "a west-facing window". If you're just starting out, this might be a confusing and you might wonder if it really matters what direction your window is facing. Why does it matter if you place a plant in a north or west-facing window?

In this plant care guide, we're going to look at whether it matters what type of sunlight exposure your plant gets and what the difference is between the four directions.

These are the four directions we're going to cover in this guide, as each distinct direction has it's own benefits:

  1. North
  2. East
  3. South
  4. West

Note about the directions

Before we begin it's good to keep one thing in mind: these directions can differ depending on where you live. For example, if you read a plant care guide written by someone in the USA and you live in Australia, you'll need to reverse the directions in that guide. So a south-facing window for the USA is similar to a north-facing window in Australia. This goes for every country that's on the northern or southern hemisphere.

In this plant care guide, I'll make sure to mention both the northern and southern hemisphere to make it easier to apply to your houseplants. Let's get started with a north-facing window!

North-facing windows

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In the introduction, I've mentioned that the north-facing window in the northern hemisphere is the reverse for the southern hemisphere. If you're in the southern hemisphere, the south-facing window will have similar light.

Northern hemisphere

Plants in a north-facing window

The north-facing window on the northern hemisphere is a window that generally doesn't get much sunlight. The sun is almost always shining from the south, so your north-facing window won't get a lot of direct sunlight. This light is perfect for plants that like low-light spots or prefer indirect sunlight. Some examples of these types of plants are: a spider plant, a ZZ plant, or a Peace Lily.

Southern hemisphere

On the southern hemisphere, the north-facing window will get a lot of sunlight, as the sun shines from the north. This creates the perfect place for those types of plants that love the sun for the longest part of the day. Some plants that do really well in this type of sunlight are Alocasias, Crotons, Succulents, and Cacti. This type of light is similar to a south-facing window on the northern hemisphere.

One note on the north-facing window for the southern hemisphere is that it gets a lot more shade in the summer than in the winter. In the summer, the sun is high in the sky, shining almost straight down. This will be great for those sun-loving plants in your windowsill, but might not give the rest of the room the light you expect to it. For this, you might want to have a look at a west-facing window.

East-facing windows

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East-facing window light Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

The east-facing window is similar in the northern and southern hemisphere. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. So what does this mean for your plants? It means that you'll get some sunlight in the morning, when the sun is at its weakest. It will give your plants just a few hours of (weak) sunlight.

This type of light is similar to the northern-facing windows, but is a little more intense in the mornings. This would be a great place for a few low-light plants that have variegation on their leaves. This variegation makes it so the plants need more light to get the same energy from the sun. The variegated parts of the leaves can't absorb the sun as well, only the green parts can.

Great plants for this type of light would be the same type of plants that like the northern-facing windows in the northern hemisphere and the southern-facing windows in the southern hemisphere.

South-facing windows

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The light coming through south-facing windows in the northern hemisphere is similar to the sunlight coming through the north-facing windows in the southern hemisphere.

Northern hemisphere

The light coming through the southern-facing window is strong light that will be there for the biggest part of the day. Plants that need a lot of sunlight to be happy, like succulents and cacti, love a place close to this window.

Because the light is coming through this window for most of the day, any room with a window like this can be used for plants of all kinds of sunlight exposure needs. If you have a plant that needs a little less light, you can move it further away from the window, where it doesn't get as much light.

This isn't something you can do in a room with a north of east facing window. The light further away from the windows in these rooms is just not strong enough for most plants. The light coming through a southern-facing window in the northern hemisphere is perfect for any room where you want a variety of houseplants.

Southern hemisphere

The south-facing windows on the southern hemisphere are similar to the north-facing windows on the northern hemisphere: they only have very limited sunlight exposure. This unfortunately limits the types of plants you can put in this room or near the windows.

Low-light plants do well in a space like this, however. You should put most plants that need a little bit more light near a window or consider moving them to a room with more sunlight exposure.

West-facing windows

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Alocasias in a west-facing window

A western-facing window is similar in both the northern hemisphere. A western facing window doesn't get any sunlight during the morning, but gets sunlight from the early afternoon all the way to sunset.

This makes it a great place for plants that need a lot of sunlight and especially strong sunlight. This is great for most tropical plants, like Monsteras and Alocasias. It's also good for those plants that you can place right up to the window and that need all the sunlight they can get, like cacti and succulents.

In a lot of plant care guides, you'll read more about western facing windows than northern or southern facing windows, because the light is much more consistent throughout the day.

In the summer and winter, you'll still get a lot more sunlight through those west-facing windows than your south-facing windows.

In the summer, when the sun is high in the sky, you'll get more shade than sunlight through your south and north-facing windows. The west-facing windows, however, still get sunlight in afternoons and evenings.


In the introduction, we've asked ourselves whether the direction of sunlight matters for our houseplants. In this guide, we've learned that the different directions of sunlight give a different type of sunlight exposure. These different types of light help you to create the perfect sunlight exposure for your houseplants and can boost your plant's growth and health.

Thank you for reading this post! I hope it helps you to keep your plants healthy and beautiful! If you're looking for more guides on specific plants, you can always request a plant guide to get a guide for the plant you have trouble with.

Tags: sun-loving

Posted on: Oct 23, 2021 Last updated on: Apr 8, 2022

Frequently asked questions

Can you use a north-facing window for plants?
Yes, a north-facing window is great for plants that can't survive in bright environments. If you're in the southern hemisphere, this window gives you a lot of direct sunlight, so choose your plants accordingly.
Can you use a east-facing window for plants?
Yes, the east-facing windows get (weak) sunlight in the mornings. This is a great place for plants that love a low-light environment.
Can you use a south-facing window for plants?
Yes, a south facing window is great for sun-loving plants, like succulents and cacti. If you're in the southern hemisphere, the south-facing window doesn't get a lot of sunlight and you can use this window for low-light plants.
Can you use a west-facing window for plants?
Yes, a south facing window is great for sun-loving plants, like succulents and cacti. Even in the winter, a west-facing window will get the most sunlight out of all the directions.

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