South facing Windows plants

A south-facing window is an excellent place to keep indoor plants, as long as you keep the right types of indoor house plants and take steps to protect them from extreme direct sunlight.

The bright natural light of southern exposure provides plenty of energy for plants that like south facing windows. But, you must remember that the glass of the window may magnify the heat to dangerous levels.

In this article, we share the merits of a south-facing windows for indoor gardening.

Related Reading: Growing Plants With Artificial Light

Kentia palm set back from the South Facing Window – glass image Alesia Kazantceva

We also provide tips for reducing the potentially damaging rays of direct sun on plants and for choosing the best houseplants for south facing window locations. Read on to learn more.

Know Your Space Lighting and Temperature

Before you add plants, get to know your south facing window. Watch the movement of light in your house for several days to see how it illuminates the space.

It’s smart to actually document the flow of bright light by using your phone to take pictures that you can refer to when making your plant selections.

Monitor the room temperature at various times of day as well. This knowledge will help you make good plant selections.

It will also help you design a setup that makes the best use of your space.

Protect Your Indoor Plants From Excessive Heat And Light

When plants have to use up a lot of energy to protect themselves against extremes in light and temperature, they cannot thrive.

For this reason, you should take care to set up ways of shading your plants, especially during the summer months.

Provide them with good ventilation during the times of day when the heat and light are too much for even the toughest members of your collection.

Plants’ leaves and the roots can become overheated and die from too much sun exposure.

In fact, the interior temperature of a pot of soil in the direct sunlight can reach as high as 137 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s why it is so important to provide shade for both your plants and their pots. Here are five good ideas you can implement.

#1 – Protect plant roots by double-potting. Keep your plant in its own container set inside of a decorative container. This helps your indoor garden look nice, catches drips and insulates plant roots against temperature extremes.

#2 – Equip your window with blinds so that you can open and close them and make minute adjustments throughout the day to shelter your plants just the right amount.

#3 – Use a lightweight curtain or fabric screen to allow some bright light in and reduce the temperature slightly. You can set up your screen or draw your curtain during the hottest part of the day and then remove it when the heat of the day passes and the sun is not so punishing.

#4 – Shade your south window with a sheer curtain at all times to provide indirect, bright light and gentle warmth. This will allow you to keep more delicate warmth and light-loving specimens, such as African violets or the deceptively dainty, clover-like Oxalis (Shamrocks), or kitchen window plants.

#5 – Use a half curtain to allow direct light in the top of the window but shade the bottom portion.

This will allow you to grow more sensitive plants (low light) in the lower portion of the window and full sun houseplants in the upper portion.

South Facing Window Plants – What Kinds Do Best?

To choose good plants for your southern window, it’s important to understand how plants work.

Plants’ leaves allow them to take in light. They also allow water to evaporate from the plant.

The more light and heat around a plant, the more water it will lose. Too much water loss adds up to burned leaves and dead plants.

For this reason, plants with big, soft leaves are not typically good choices for a southern window.

Cactus and succulents are excellent candidates to thrive as windowsill plants because they are naturally adapted to do well in a desert setting. (see pencil and prickly pear cactus)

This is especially true of barrel-type cactus that does not actually have leaves. 0

The skin of the cactus provides a minimum of surface area for water to evaporate.

Thorns also help protect cactus from excess sun. When a cactus has lots of thorns, very closely spaced, they provide the plant with shade.

A cactus with lots of thick, hairy thorns, such as “Old Man Cactus” (Cephalocereus senilis) can do very well in a high light setting.

Succulents, such as:

  • Sedum Burro’s Tail
  • Aloe Vera plant and Aloe Juvenna
  • Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum)
  • Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii)
  • Coral Cactus (Euphorbia Lactea Cristata)
  • All types of Echeveria plants
  • Rat Tail Cactus
  • Echinopsis cactus plants – Echinopsis mamillosa
  • Mimicry plant (Pleiospilos)

… and many others enjoy life in a southern window.

You don‘t have to stick entirely to a cactus and succulent window garden, though.

Many herbs can thrive in a south-facing window, and if you want to try your hand at indoor veggie gardening you couldn’t pick a better spot for some indoor, winter-time veggie gardening.

Try your hand at growing hardy, attractive winter greens (kale, chard, rapini) or almost any kind of lettuce.

Herbs such as chives, thyme, chervil, mint, rosemary plants, and parsley all do very well when grown indoors in a bright, sunny window.

Grow beets and carrots just for the greens.

When you grow them in containers indoors, the roots don’t develop, but the greens can be trimmed and used just like spinach all winter long.

Many dwarf fruit trees, lemon tree plants for example also do very well placed near a large window with southern exposure.

Think about growing your own miniature oranges, lemons or other citrus fruit.

If you prefer to stick with ornamental plants, you can create a lovely south window garden with a varied collection of plants ranging from Oleander bushes to the many and varied types of Geranium plants and Pelargoniums.

Some very hardy, sun-loving choices include all sorts of:

  • Varieties of Dracaenas
  • Everblooming Gardenias
  • Different Types of Colorful Croton Varieties
  • Bright Cordyline plants (Hawaiian Ti)
  • Palm trees – Kentias, Rhapis & Chamaedorea (Bamboo palm) and many more
  • Brassavola Nodosa – “Lady of the Night” Orchid (read about my first encounter)
  • Radermachera – China Doll Plant

Related Reading: Top Houseplants For Low, Medium and High Light Indoor Conditions

Good Choices And Good Plant Care Add Up To Happy Plants

You can use your south-facing window to create a paradise of plant life to enjoy all year round.

Take the time to research the plants you have in mind to be sure you can provide the care they need.

Decide how you will protect them against the excessive sun when you need to.

Get everything set up before you purchase any plants. Refer to the tips presented here to set up and enjoy your southern window garden.

Houseplants For Direct Light: Keeping Houseplants In A South-Facing Window

If you are fortunate enough to have sunny south facing windows, you can grow a nice variety of houseplants, including many flowering houseplants that you would not be able to grow elsewhere.

Plants for South-Facing Windows

Many people would be shocked to find out that Sansevieria are actually good houseplants for direct light. These plants are commonly labeled as “low light” plants, but this simply means that they tolerate low light. This doesn’t mean that they REQUIRE low light! These plants will have sturdier growth in direct light and may also occasionally reward you with a spray of fragrant white flowers.

Many succulents will thrive as south-facing window houseplants. Among commonly available succulents that you can grow here include:

  • Aloe
  • Echeveria
  • Kalanchoe
  • Jade Plant
  • String of Pearls
  • Lithops

Many Euphorbias are available and do well in bright light conditions, such as African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona) and crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii). Of course, there are many more varieties of succulents and all of them will grow well in south-facing windows. One thing to remember about succulents is that if you don’t give them enough direct sun, they will experience etiolation. This simply means that they are producing weaker, stretched out growth from insufficient light.

Many types of herbs will grow well in a sunny window. Choose rosemary, parsley, chives, mint and basil as good candidates to grow in a sunny window for your cooking use.

Flowering Houseplants for Direct Light

Hibiscus are wonderful houseplants in a south-facing window. You can’t beat the floral show of a hibiscus indoors and the flowers come in a variety of colors. Pinching the plants back periodically will keep them bushier. Be sure to regularly fertilize your hibiscus for the best show of flowers and choose a good bloom booster fertilizer.

Among other flowering houseplants that you can grow in a south window include the bold bird of paradise, with its large foliage and exotic flowers, and the climbing bougainvillea that you can train to grow around your window. Bougainvillea produce flower bracts in a variety of colors including white, yellow, pink and purple.

Gardenias are also suited to growing in a southern window, but they are trickier to grow indoors than most houseplants. They require plenty of direct sunshine and high humidity in order to do their best. Their delightfully fragrant white flowers may be worth the extra effort.

Other plants that will thrive in a south exposure window include:

  • Geraniums
  • Orchids
  • Hawaiian Ti plant
  • Citrus plants
  • Cactus (most types)

Is sunlight through a window direct light for your houseplants?

Some houseplants need direct sunlight and others need indirect, but what does that really mean? We set out to discover if the plants we were growing in “direct” light were truly getting the rays they need. Here’s what we found.

Is light through a window considered direct sunlight? It depends. If the sun’s rays directly hit the plant – such as through a south-facing window – this is considered direct sunlight. If the sun is bright but the rays don’t directly hit the plant, this is considered indirect light.

The definitions for direct and indirect sunlight can be a little confusing when dealing with indoor plants. Let’s take a deeper look at how light works when it’s filtered through windows.

Direct vs. Indirect Light Indoors

Most varieties of houseplants require indirect light, which is why they’re optimal for growing indoors. Succulents, cacti, croton, and a few other varieties may tolerate direct light. But for the most part, indirect light wins for growing plants in your home.

If the sun’s rays shine directly through the window and land on the plant’s leaves – this is direct sunlight. Most areas in your home, except for south-facing windows, receive indirect light.

Put your hand in between the window and the plant during the hottest part of the day. Do you feel the sun’s rays directly hitting your skin? If so, this is direct sunlight.

Indirect light is when the sun’s rays are reflected off something else first before hitting the plant. An area of indirect sunlight will be brightly lit, but there won’t be direct contact with the sun’s rays.

Importance of Direction

You can control the amount of direct or indirect sunlight your house plants receive by placing them in a window facing the appropriate direction. Understanding the location of windows in your house is the best way to know where a plant should live for optimal growth.

South-Facing Windows: Direct Sunlight

The light that enters through south-facing windows is the strongest and brightest. This is the place for any plant that requires “direct” sunlight indoors. Plants in southern windows receive full sunlight from the time the sun rises until it sets in the evening.

South-facing windows can become quite hot, however, so plants that can’t tolerate full or direct sun can scorch or burn during the summer months. Flowering plants typically require lots of sun to produce blooms and thrive in southern exposure.

Always read the care instructions for your specific plant. Don’t assume just because it blooms that it will be okay in a south-facing window. Some flowering plants – such as Peace Lily – prefer lower light for most of the year.

West-Facing Windows: Direct & Indirect Sunlight

West-facing windows provide direct sunlight for part of the day, although not as long or as intense as south-facing windows. Plants in Western windows receive about four to six hours of bright, direct sunlight each day. The light is considered indirect during the morning and early afternoon hours.

Direct sunlight in west-facing windows begins in the mid-afternoon and lasts until the sun sets in the evening. The intense afternoon sun raises the temperature in west-facing windows, so plants that scorch easily may need to be placed a few feet away from the glass.

East-Facing Windows: Direct & Indirect Sunlight

East-facing windows get a strong dose of direct sunlight in the early morning hours, followed by indirect sun later in the day. Plants that require moderate, bright, indirect light perform best in Eastern windows.

Although the morning sunlight in Eastern exposure windows is direct, it’s much less hot than the midday or afternoon sun. This makes scorching or burning of leaves less likely. East-facing windows provide an ideal light situation for most types of house plants, except for very low-light plants.

North-Facing Windows: Low Indirect Sunlight

Rooms with north-facing windows NEVER receive direct sunlight. Instead, they provide a cool, shaded area of indirect light perfect for ferns and other plants with low light requirements.

During the winter months, even low-light plants may need supplemental lighting in north-facing windows. Or simply move your plants to a sunnier spot until spring. North-facing windows receive the least amount of light, so keep an eye on plants grown here to make sure they’re getting enough sun.

Plants that require direct or bright sunlight should never be grown in north-facing windows. There won’t be enough light for them to thrive.

Filtering Direct Light Through Windows

Can you turn direct sunlight through a window into indirect sunlight? Yes! If necessary, it is possible to filter direct light and turn it into more indirect light for your plants.

If all you have available is a south-facing window, for example, but you want to grow moderate- or low-light plants, try these tips:

  • Place a sheer curtain over the window. Use a curtain that allows the sun to shine through but filters out some of the harsh rays.
  • Move the plants a few feet away from the window glass, allowing them to bask in the bright sun without being hit by the direct rays.
  • Apply a window film that blocks UV rays. These easy-to-apply films block out 45 – 85 percent of sunlight heat in the summer, creating a more hospitable environment for house plants. As a bonus, they can also save on energy costs to heat and cool your home. to see the one we recommend on Amazon.

Related Questions

Do plants need direct sunlight or just light? Again, it depends on the variety. Most houseplants thrive with at least four to six hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. Some sun-loving plants – like succulents and cacti – can handle direct sunlight, while other types require only low levels of light.

How do you know if your plants aren’t getting enough sun? They’ll become leggy with pale yellow or green leaves, growth will slow or stop, and flowering plants will no longer flower. Variegated leaves may turn a solid color, and the spaces between leaves will be larger than normal.

We’ve also written an in-depth article on determining if your plant is getting enough sun to fully answer this question.

Pick Your Houseplants

Most ferns, including the Foxtail Fern, prefer a moist environment and indirect light.

By Cindy Haynes
Iowa State University Extension

Winter is the best time to appreciate houseplants. As the snow is falling outside, gardeners live indoors nurturing their houseplants. New gardeners, however, often find houseplants overwhelming. Since there are thousands of different types of houseplants to choose from – how do you choose which ones work best for you? Follow the same process used for selecting outdoor plants.

Site selection
The key to plant success is placment in an appropriate site. Outside, hostas perform best in some shade and daylilies prefer mostly sun. Houseplants are the same. The key difference is that the indoor “site” often refers to a particular window or exposure. Plants like ferns, begonias and African violets prefer indirect light, while cacti and succulents (aloe, jade, Old-man cactus, etc.) prefer direct light. Indirect light can be found in north-facing and some east-facing windows, whereas south-facing and west-facing windows have more direct light.

Other site characteristics to consider are temperature and humidity. Is the site cold during the winter or hot because it is near a heating register? How humid is the area during the winter or summer? Most houseplants are native to the tropics, so they prefer to be away from drafty windows or doors. In fact, many houseplants can be easily damaged by temperatures below 45-50 F. Most houseplants also prefer moderate to high levels of humidity. Since Iowa homes are not typically humid in the winter, some special houseplants benefit from placement on humidity trays (pebble trays) or near a humidifier.

Another important consideration when selecting a houseplant is knowing how much maintenance it will take to keep the plant thriving. For example, in my home the cacti and succulents are performing the best. This is because they are placed in a southern window with plenty of direct light daily. These plants also work best in my home, because I tend to forget to water them regularly. Knowing that I have a tendency to underwater my plants, I have selected plants that will tolerate – even thrive with these site and maintenance conditions.

Making the Match
What plants match your home and maintenance conditions – you might ask? This is where you get to do a little research. There are several wonderful books available that will tell you which houseplants like which conditions. Gardening books are filled with beautiful, colorful pictures. So even if you don’t know (or couldn’t begin to prounouce) the scientific name, you can find a few plants that you like that meet the conditions of your home.

Show these pictures to someone at a local garden center or florist and you are well on your way to filling your home with plants. If they don’t have or can’t get what you are looking for – they can easily suggest some alternatives. If this is still too overwhelming to start, check out the list of some of the most commonly available indoor plants. Many of these are easy to find at garden centers or florists.

Direct light usually means at least some bright light – often from a west or south-facing window. Plants that prefer indirect light will be more successful in a north or east window. For moisture, plants that like it dry will need to dry out considerably before watering again. For plants that like it moist, letting the top of the soil dry out too much could result in wilting or death. Always check the top of the soil to determine when a plant needs water.

There are four photos and one table for this week’s column.

3 Sun-Loving Plants for South Facing Windows

Many indoor plants are desired for their ability to grow in the dark corners that are abundant in many office complexes. Most indoor plants prefer bright, yet indirect light because their tender leaves will scorch and burn with direct light. However, every now and then there is a full length, south facing window that needs a tough plant to soak up all that sun. If you are in need of some sun loving indoor plants, here are three that will thrive in a south facing window.



Crotons have waxy, broad leaves with colorful variegation. There are many different varieties with different colors on their leaves. They can become brilliant red, burgundy and yellow as they mature. Crotons love bright light and their colors intensify when they are exposed to high light levels. Crotons also like evenly moist soil and will wilt easily if they are too dry. If crotons begin to drop their leaves, the humidity level of their environment are too low. Misting the plant once or twice a week can help compensate for low humidity. Crotons prefer temperatures to remain around 70 degrees.


Bird of Paradise

Bird of paradise flowers are spectacular. True to its name the flower resembles the head of a tropical bird. While the flowers are bright and colorful, the foliage is also attractive. The leaves are broad and deep green. Bird of paradise plants will last for many years. They should be replanted every year when they are young to provide adequate space to grow. After about 5 years of growth, the plant will need to be root bound to produce flowers. The soil should be kept evenly moist through the spring and summer growing season and then allowed to dry between waterings in the winter. Misting will also help the plant stay healthy throughout the growing season.



Jasmine is a pretty vine that produces small, delicate, white flowers for most of the year. The flowers are numerous and give off a lovely fragrance. While this plant can grow up a support it is not a requirement. It can be pruned and maintained in a small bush shape as well. In addition, it will look stunning as it cascades from hanging baskets. Keep the soil moist, but be careful not to over-water. In the spring and winter months, the plant will require less water. Jasmine thrives in direct light, especially during the summer growing season. Alternatively, in the winter it does not require as much light.

Worth the Effort

While these plants can be a little tricky when it comes to water and humidity, the beautiful display they present is well worth the extra effort. Keep in mind that containers placed in full sun will dry out very fast and you may need to adjust your watering schedule or consider a sub-irrigation system. You can confidently place these three sun-loving plants in south facing windows where many other indoor plants can’t tolerate the intense light.

What are your favorite indoor plants for locations with exposure to full, direct sun?

As I write this, I’m chewing on a spicy little arugula seedling that I grew from seed within the last couple of weeks. Considering that it’s hovering around freezing outside right now where I am, and we’ve already had a couple of snow flurries, I hadn’t expected to be chowing down on fresh greens unless I’d bought them from the grocery store, where they’ve been marked up exponentially as out-of-season luxuries. How did I manage to coax these sweethearts into growing, then? The answer is actually quite simple, and surprised me as well: south-facing windows.

The idea came to me when I was researching Earthships with my husband; now that we’ve moved into our own home, we’re looking at the possibility of upgrading our house with earth-bermed, passive-solar features. These buildings take full advantage of south-facing windows to grow a great deal of food indoors, year-round, and reading about them made the creaky little wheels in my cranium spin with something like this:

My house has south-facing windows.

There is a ledge beneath those windows.

I have vegetable and herb seeds.

I also have small pots and planters.

I… could use those pots to …grow… the seeds… near the windows.

Once the thought formed itself fully, I ran to dig out my gardening supplies. Soil was harvested from the garden outside and left near the windows for 24 hours so it could warm up, and then it was then some arugula seeds and some water and left to do its magic. As we only get about 8 hours of sunlight these days, I’ve been putting a desk lamp over the sprouts for an extra 2 hours every morning and evening to boost the sprouts’ growth, but the sunlight’s been doing most of the work. I’m certain that the arugula would grow without the lamp’s extra input, as the seeds I’ve planted around it are thriving just as well, sans lamp—parsley, basil, oregano, and a lettuce mix are all popping up like crazy, and I’ll be starting some kale soon as well.

Related: How to Make Your Own Green Terrarium

If you’re fortunate enough to have south-facing windows in your home and you’d like to try growing some food plants over the winter months, observe the light that comes in for a few days to see how it moves around the inside of your space. It would be ideal to document the light flow with photographs so you can make notes about which indoor areas get the most light over the course of the day, as that will help you determine which plants to grow via which method. In the past, I’ve had great luck with upside-down pop bottle planters for indoor winter gardening, as they can be suspended from curtain rods to hang at various levels to maximize their exposure to sunlight. In fact, if you hang them between the window glass and a white curtain, the fabric will reflect light around your plants for even greater light absorption.

Related: How to Extend Your Garden’s Growing Season with Cloches and Cold Frames

Hardy winter greens such as rapini, chard, kale, and even most lettuces can thrive in weaker light, as can herbs like parsley, chervil, mint, rosemary, thyme, and chives. As seedlings are rarely available in wintertime, start your seeds in pots beneath lamps to kick-start the growing process, and once the seedlings are 3-4 inches tall, you can either transplant them into the upside-down bottle planters, or thin them into separate pots to place on a window ledge. (You don’t need a special lamp for this process, by the way; I just use an old desk lamp with a frosted 60-watt bulb in it.) Remember that lettuces, kale, cabbages, and the like all need a fair bit of space—think of the average size of a head of lettuce—so even though a single lettuce seedling might look sad and lonely inside its own pot, it’ll grow to fill that space very, very quickly. Take care not to over-water these greens either, as too much will rot their roots.

Heat-and-light-loving plants will not thrive in the weaker light that winter has to offer, even if it streams through your windows rather enthusiastically. If you’re really keen on growing tomatoes and peppers in the depth of January, then go for miniature varieties and hang/place them in the warmest, sunniest spot possible—they might not yield much in the way of fruit, but you might have a bit of luck with them. Speaking of luck, if you find that one interior wall of your house gets a significant amount of direct sunshine every day, you’re quite fortunate indeed. If you wouldn’t consider a living “green wall” to be unsightly, consider growing beans or peas against that wall! A surprising number of climbing bean/pea varieties can thrive in partial shade, so they can thrive quite merrily with a full day of pallid winter light. Should you be interested in growing these, rig a lattice up against that sunny wall and secure a long, narrow planter box or eaves trough at the bottom of it to plant your seeds in. As they grow, they’ll climb that lattice to create a lush living wall that just happens to produce food for you as well.

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