How Much Direct or Indirect Sunlight Do Aloe Vera Plants Need?
Are you thinking of adding Aloe Vera to your indoor or outdoor garden, but want to know what type of sunlight it needs? There are a few things to consider, such as full sun, partial shade, and fully shaded locations. Then there are types of sunlight such as indirect, or direct. In this article, gardening expert Emily Horn walks through everything you need to know about this popular succulent's sunlight needs.
So you’ve decided to welcome Aloe Vera into your home as your next houseplant, but you aren’t quite sure what their sunlight requirements are. Not to mention, some of the terminology around sunlight needs for plants can be a bit confusing. While these popular houseplants are fairly easy to care for, understanding their sunlight needs is critical.
There’s full sun, partial sun, and partial shade. Then you have direct sunlight and indirect sunlight. It’s no wonder new plant owners often get confused as to where they should place their plants.
So if you’ve recently added an Aloe vera plant to your indoor houseplant collection, or you’ve planted one outdoors, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dig a little deeper into Aloe’s sunlight needs and what you can do to set your plant up for growing success.
Aloe prefers to be in a location of full, indirect sunlight. “Full sun” is considered any amount of sunlight greater than 6 hours in length each day. Indirect sunlight occurs in a brightly lit location where sunlight does not shine directly down on the plant. Rather, the sun passes through window curtains, blinds or the aloe sits slightly back from a window to prevent direct exposure. Direct exposure to sunlight can cause the leaves to sunburn and dry out faster than usual.
Natural Habitat For Aloe
Aloe vera is a succulent plant that is native to dry, arid, desert-like climates. The mature size of the plant is about 24” tall, but can grow bigger if growing in a perfect spot. Due to its height, aloe can be considered an understory plant, meaning it typically grows underneath larger desert specimens.
Since it grows under big plants such as Desert Ironwood or Mesquite, aloe would be receiving filtered light that comes down through the fine leaves of these desert companions.
Growing under this type of light allows the aloe to receive the correct amount of light to prevent stretching but not too much light which would result in sunburning.
Full Sun/Partial Sun
First, let’s look at the difference between full sun and partial sun. The definition of full sun is 6 or more hours of sun. The light intensity of the sun is what dictates whether or not a location is considered full sun.
Usually, full sun is achieved in a southern exposure, although east and west can also provide full sun locations. Full sun can be achieved in blocks of time too. If you have an east-facing window, the 3 hours of sun in the morning your east window receives, plus the later afternoon evening western sun may be enough light to achieve adequate light.
On the contrary, partial sun, which is the same as partial shade, is sunlight exposure anywhere between 3-6 hours. This can be found in east and west-facing windows primarily.
For succulents that don’t need direct sunlight, a north window location should be avoided. Although north windows are very underrated when it comes to houseplants…we’ll save that topic for another time.
You may have a south-facing window that is blocked by trees, a patio umbrella, a swing set, and so forth. During the summer months, this might not provide enough sunlight.
On the flip side, during the winter when the tree has lost its leaves and the umbrella is tucked away for the season, you may have the perfect spot. So you may need to move your aloe plant to different locations in your home as the seasons change.
Direct Light/Indirect Light
Now that we know the differences between full sun and partial sun, it’s important to distinguish between direct sunlight and indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight is a location where the sun’s beams directly come through a window, resulting in a notable sunny spot in the house, a coveted spot of our dog year round.
There is no breaking up of the sun’s rays, no shading, no rays being deflected, fractured or scattered before reaching the plant tissues. Very few houseplants can tolerate being under direct sunlight the entire day. It’s simply too much light intensity. And during certain seasons, the light intensity is so high, that it can actually be harmful to your plant.
Indirect light starts off as direct light from the sun. However, the difference from direct light is that something breaks up the light rays prior to them reaching your plant.
In the greenhouse, we have a special coating on our glass that actually breaks the light into tiny particles rather than direct rays, giving the plants inside a more even light level and keeps ‘hot spots’ from forming.
Most likely your windows at home do not have this special coating. But they do most likely have either blinds, curtains or some sort of window covering that does break up sunbeams as they come into your house.
This is what your aloe is going to prefer; a location with indirect light. By living in a location of indirect light, you will prevent leaf scorching and spotting associated with direct sunlight.
Symptoms of Too Much Light
Deserts get a huge amount of sunlight and we know that aloe vera is native to desert locations. So it’s fair to assume that aloe would prefer as much light as it can get right? Well yes, but it’s a fine line between ideal light and too much light.
Remember that this plant does need full sun. And aloe needs indirect light. But when placed in a location that receives direct sun, for extended periods of time, the sunlight can cause more harm than good.
If an aloe receives too much light, especially direct light, the aloe plant will get a sunburn. And if you’ve read any of my other aloe posts, you’ll know that I find aloe getting sunburn ironic to the fullest extent.
Symptoms of sunburn include reddish/brown to gray colored leaves, the tips of the leaves may turn brown, and irregular shaped spots may also show up on the leaf surfaces. The leaves may start to droop or fall over.
Unfortunately, some of these same symptoms are characteristic of watering issues too. So it is important to investigate one potential cause at a time in order to eliminate reasons for leaf color changes.
Symptoms of Too Little Light
When grown under lower than optimal light conditions, aloe vera will begin searching for better light. The process is known as etiolation. When aloe is not getting the amount of light it desires, the stems of the plant will begin stretching out, seeking additional light.
The intentions are good, higher light would result in a better likelihood of surviving. But the downside to the over stretching is that the stems are weakened. Weak stems are more prone to breaking due to plant cells lacking strength.
Another symptom of aloe growing under low light conditions is the yellowing of the leaves. Because sunlight plays an essential role in photosynthesis when the chlorophyll in the chloroplasts inside the plant’s cell does not receive enough light, they can’t make enough food.
Instead of being their normal green color, they appear yellow. This is a common problem many new aloe owners deal with.
Acclimating to the Outdoors
During the summer months, you may want to take your plant outdoors. If you choose to do so, be sure to acclimate your aloe plant to the outside environment gradually to prevent any leaf damage from happening.
The total amount of time it takes to acclimate your aloe outdoors will vary depending on your specific environmental conditions. But generally speaking, 7-10 days is enough time for your aloe to adjust to its new summer home.
On the first few days, place your aloe in a shaded area, away from any direct sunlight. After day three, start exposing your aloe plant to a bit more sunlight, preferably early morning or early evening to prevent exposing your tender plant to the harsh midday sunlight.
After the sixth day, move your plant into more sunlight. By the 10th day, your aloe plant should be adjusted to living in the outside world, ready to take on more of the elements and sun, but again, keep the aloe out of direct sunlight. Filtered sun is best even under outdoor conditions.
Knowing the different terminology when it comes to sunlight requirements will help you tremendously when determining the best location you have at home for your aloe vera plant. Just remember that if your aloe is not currently living in its preferred location, it will try and tell you what is wrong by showing you symptoms in its leaf tissues.
Aloe is a forgiving plant, so if the first place you try is not ideal, try a new location, and be patient to see what the outcome of a new light level will bring. Growing plants indoors is often an adventure of trial and error. And this low-maintenance plant is a great test pilot for you to learn the ins and outs of houseplants.