Direct Vs. Indirect Sunlight

by Truman Perkins

Interview most houseplant lovers and strictly advise you that if you want to maintain your beloved succulents or other flowers/plants in the best growing conditions, you must understand the critical differences between Direct Vs. Indirect Sunlight.

The two types of light are different and will affect the performance of your plants/flowers. For instance, direct sunlight can, in some cases, be too harsh for a plant’s tender leaves, but it offers enough light energy for photosynthesis. On the other hand, indirect sunlight does not burn your plants’ tender leaves, and it also provides sufficient light energy for photosynthesis.

Although direct and indirect sunlight differs in many ways, each has its benefits as far as planting is concerned.

To understand this better, let’s dig deeper and get to define the two types of sunlight.

Direct Sunlight Defined

In simpler terms, direct sunlight (also called bright light) refers to uninterrupted lights from the sun directly to the plants or the earth’s surface. The light reaches down to the characters without any blocks or reflections. It can be very intense, so you will need to be cautious when growing your plant, as they can suffer significantly if exposed for prolonged hours.

For the best results when growing plants using direct sunlight, experts advise you to control its intensity. You can achieve this with the help of thin window coverings.

Indirect Sunlight

On the other hand, indirect sunlight refers to sunlight that reaches the plants or the earth’s surface after being “scattered” or “dispersed” by other characters into the atmosphere. The light reaches the plants as a reflection, and its intensity is a bit low compared to that of direct sunlight.

In planting, indirect sunlight refers to sunlight that reaches your plants through mediums. Such medium can range from a narrow window, tree leaves, or anything else.

If you are planter growing indoor plants and need indirect sunlight, set your window to face the East. That way, you will receive indirect sunlight throughout the year.

Note that you can set your window to face the west, but the setting will give you indirect sunlight in the mornings and evenings only.

Direct Vs. Indirect Sunlight

Sometimes it can be a bit challenging to tell the difference between the above two types of sunlight. Some people don’t know how to determine the type of sunlight their plants receive, which can be dangerous to their plants’ growth. In case you are one of such individuals, let’s help you.

Differentiating between Indirect and Direct Sunlight

The best way to determine the type of lighting you is through the “12’ O’clock Test”. To achieve this, simply:

  • Time amid noon and stand still at the spot you are trying to determine light (this should be the exact position where you intended to grow your plants)
  • Check your shadow and determine the light.
  • In this case, sharp and defined shadow indicates direct light, while weak or faint shadow indicates indirect sunlight.

What Benefits Do Direct and Indirect Lights Offer to Plants?

To determine the best type of sunlight for your plants, you have to compare the benefits they offer. That way, you will know what will suit the optimal growth of your plants.

Direct Sunlight Benefits to Plants

  • Offers Full Spectrum

One of the things direct sunlight does to plants is that it offers the entire light spectrum to absorb most helpful (the most beneficial range is red and blue).

  • Boost Photosynthesis Process

Yet another benefit of direct sunlight is that it accelerates the speed of the photosynthesis process. This holds considering that the light of high intensity – and the higher the intensity, the faster the photosynthesis process and plant growth.

Disadvantages of Direct Sunlight

  • Can Burn Plant Leaves

Although direct sunlight offers high-intensity light suitable for plants’ photosynthesis, too much of it will harm the plant foliage. Prolonged exposure will burn your plant leaves and affecting the optimal growth of plants.

  • It can Slow Down Respiration Rate.

Respiration refers to how plants use sugar produced amid photosynthesis and oxygen to offer energy needed for optimum growth.

Since direct sunlight speeds up photosynthesis, it slows down respiration rate, and this can cause the plant to starve.

Benefits of Indirect Sunlight to Plants

  • Low Intensity

Compared to direct sunlight, indirect sunlight has a much lower intensity that’s still good for photosynthesis. It creates a balance between photosynthesis and respiration, thus ensuring your plants have optimal conditions for growth.

  • Does Not Burn Plant Leaves

You will like it that indirect sunlight does not burn plant leaves as direct sunlight does. You can therefore leave your plants exposed for prolonged hours and do not worry.

Disadvantages of Indirect Sunlight

  • Does not Offer full Light Spectrum

Unlike direct sunlight that offers a full spectrum so that plants can absorb what good for them, indirect sunlight is somewhat “filtered.” It lacks some light spectrums, which some plants most need – and hence it’s not suitable for all plant types.

Direct Vs. Indirect Sunlight Comparison Table

To get a clear difference between these two types of sunlight, let tabulate them

Sunlight Properties Direct sunlight Indirect Sunlight
Light Intensity high low
Spectrum Full light spectrum Lacks full spectrum
Effects on Plants Can damage plants if exposed for prolonged hours It does not destroy the well-being of your plants
Effects on Photosynthesis and Respiration Speed up photosynthesis but delays respiration Creates a balance between photosynthesis and respiration
Illumination strong weak

The Bottom Line

As you can learn from this post, plants will do well if you expose them to the light that suits them the most. Some will do well when exposed to direct sunlight for several hours daily, while others will flourish when exposed to indirect sunlight.

You should therefore conduct some research before deciding what type of sunlight you need!

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About Truman Perkins

Truman Perkins has worked as the SEO consultant for over a decade; there he's helped so many startups and friends' sites get off the ground. Believing gardening is a natural stress reliever, Truman indulges in learning and writing about gardening in his free time. He lives with his wife, Jenny, and their twins in Detroit, Michigan.

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