Pothos Light Needs: What Your Plant Needs to Thrive*

Pothos plants are popular houseplants because of their easy care and adaptability. While they can adapt to a range of lighting conditions, there are some essential factors to consider when it comes to providing pothos with the right amount of light.

The Importance Of Light For Pothos

Pothos are tropical plants native to the forests of Southeast Asia, where they receive dappled sunlight filtered through the canopy of taller trees. They can adapt to medium and low light conditions in their natural habitat, which makes them excellent plants for household conditions.

When cultivated indoors, though, these plants need enough light in order to photosynthesize and generate the energy they require to grow and thrive.

Without sufficient light, Pothos plants become leggy and weak and may even stop growing altogether, and with direct sunlight, their leaves can scorch. The trick is to strike a balance between low and high amounts of light.

How Much Light Does a Pothos Need?

Pothos plants grow best in bright, indirect light. What does that mean? The perfect place for your plant is a window with bright light that doesn’t receive direct sunshine.

A window with direct morning light for 3-4 hours a day will work, too, but avoid a window with intense, direct afternoon light unless it is covered with blinds or a sheer curtain. Instead, aim for 12-14 hours of indirect light daily. 

If your pothos does not receive the necessary amount of light, it may stretch toward the closest light source. This can cause the plant to become leggy and weak and may even result in the plant tipping over.

Different pothos varieties may have other light requirements. Variegated varieties will need brighter light to reach their full-color potential. If they don’t receive enough light, they may revert to all green to maximize their photosynthesis. All-green pothos (Neon, Global Green, Baltic Blue) can photosynthesize efficiently, so they can handle lower-light conditions.

Direct vs. Indirect Light

Direct Light

watering a pothos plant

Direct light is sunlight that hits a plant directly and can be too harsh for many plants and cause damage to the leaves, discoloration, and stress to the plant. It’s best suited for plants that thrive in hot, sunny climates, like cacti and succulents.

Indirect Light

pothos plant with bright indirect light.

Indirect light is sunlight that doesn’t hit the plant directly, often through a window or other covering. It’s much less harsh than direct light and is generally preferable for most houseplants. 

Depending on the orientation, plants that require indirect light should be placed near windows rather than directly in front, where they can soak in the sunshine without risk of sunburn.

Determine the Amount Of Lighting That Your Pothos Is Receiving

For the best growth, look for an indoor area where your pothos will receive bright, indirect light of around 10,000-20,000 lux. You can measure the amount of lux in a room with a light meter, easily available as a separate device or as an app for your cell phone.

The hand shadow technique is another approach for gauging the level of light hitting your pothos. 

The hand shadow test involves holding your hand about one foot (12 inches or 30 cm) directly above a sheet of white paper and checking the shadow cast by your hand onto the paper in the natural light of your room. 

  • If you note a precise, distinct outline on the sheet, that area is flooded with light and is perfectly suitable for your pothos.
  • If it’s hazy or faint yet still identifiable as a hand, it’s receiving moderate light.
  • If there’s no trace of shadow whatsoever, that implies low lighting, which might not be enough for your pothos.

Supplementing Natural Light With Artificial&Nbsp;To Meet Proper Pothos Light Needs

If you suspect that your pothos is not receiving enough light from the windows, supplementing natural light with artificial light is an excellent way to ensure that plants get the optimal light for healthy growth and development. 

Metal halide lights are one of the best artificial lights for plants. They offer a complete range of illumination that resembles natural daylight and are ideal for times when there is limited light.

As an alternative for pothos, you could get by with a white spectrum LED grow light. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for pothos.

Grow lights come in various styles and types and can provide your pothos with the light it needs to grow and thrive. 

When using grow lights, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and duration of use to avoid over or under-exposing your pothos to light.

Fluorescent lighting in the home or office is not the best for pothos, but they can survive, especially if there is some supplemental natural light. 

In an indoor environment, pothos will remain small and won’t expand to the typical twelve to eighteen-inch leaf size. However, this won’t affect the natural luscious green hue with its eye-catching glossy finish.

Note: Ensure the proper spacing away from grow light is followed. Too much distance or not enough can cause issues. 

5 Signs Your Pothos Isn’t Receiving Enough Light

1. Leggy Growth

When a pothos does not receive enough light, it will stretch out to reach the sun resulting in a long, thin stem with widely spaced leaves. Longer stems, more spread-out internodes, and an overly stretched-out look are indications that a Pothos plant is not receiving enough light.

2. Small Leaves & Slow Growth

When a Pothos does not receive adequate light, it doesn’t have enough energy and resources to produce full-sized foliage. Its leaf size will shrink and will stunt its growth. 

3. Fading Variegation

If your plant is variegated like a Marble Queen Pothos and no longer exhibits its white coloring, it is likely not receiving enough sunlight and is reverting to all-green coloring.

4. Weeks Of Damp Soil

Pothos need well-drained potting soil and regular watering to stay healthy and grow. However, the soil can remain damp for weeks due to slow water evaporation when a pothos receives little light. This can lead to problems like root rot.

5. Yellow Leaves

pothos leaves turning yellow and with leaf spot

Yellowing leaves are a possible sign of insufficient light, overwatering, and nutrient deficiency.

Choosing a Window For the Best Lighting

golden pothos plant under ideal lighting

Let’s go over the different windows in a home to figure out your ideal location for pothos light needs:

  • North-facing windows: These windows do not receive direct light, making them a suitable location for a Pothos plant. The plant can be hung on or near these windows without the risk of sunburn.
  • East-facing windows: An ideal location for a Pothos plant, as they will get some direct sun in the morning. The plant will get bright, indirect sunlight for most of the day.
  • South-facing windows: These windows offer steady light, however, it is suggested to maintain the Pothos plant a few feet away from the window in order to avoid direct sunshine and have bright, indirect light.
  • West-facing windows: This is not the best location for a Pothos plant since west-facing windows receive strong direct sun in the afternoon. Position the plant away from these windows to avoid being exposed to excessive sunlight.

Can You Put a Pothos in Direct Sunlight?

Pothos can tolerate some direct light but should only be exposed for 3-4 hours daily.

Too much direct sunlight can scorch the leaves and cause the plant to become stressed. Unfortunately, sunburned leaves are permanent and will not heal, so you may want to trim off the affected leaves.

Should I Move My Indoor Plants Around Every Season?

As winter approaches, you may wonder if you should move your indoor plants around to take advantage of the changing seasons. It is a good idea. Moving your plants around every season can provide numerous benefits for your plants and yourself.

During the winter, the sun is positioned lower in the sky, meaning fewer direct rays of sunlight reach your plants, depending on your location and roof overhang.

To ensure that your plants get enough sun, you should move them closer to a window or other sources of light. This will help ensure that your plants get enough light for photosynthesis, which is necessary for them to grow and thrive.

Moving your plants around every season can help improve air quality in your home. Plants act as natural air purifiers, absorbing pollutants from the air and releasing oxygen in return. Moving them around will provide fresher air to different areas of your home. In all, a win-win situation.

Nancy Maffia
Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.