Yes, Plants Get Sunburnt: Here's How to Protect Them

Make sure your indoor plants don't overdo it on sunlight and end up scorched and sad.

More light isn't always the pathway to healthy houseplants. Just like you, your plants can end up sunburned if they spend too much time soaking up the rays. Although you can't slather them with sunscreen, there are a few things you can do to prevent leaves from being sun-scorched.

Your plants are typically the most at-risk in the spring and summer—especially if you decide to move them outside or relocate them to a sunny window when they're used to a lower-light spot. One of the best ways to change their location without harming them is to make the move gradually. That way, they have time to get used to more sun in small increments.

Unhealthy houseplant with yellow leaves
Severe sunburns, such as on this dieffenbachia, can turn the edges of the leaves brown and crispy. CoinUp/Getty Images

How to Tell if Your Plants Are Sunburned

Just like your skin, the leaves on your houseplants will change color if they soak up too much sun. But instead of going bright red, they'll turn yellow or white. If it's a severe sunburn, they can even become a little brown and crispy around the edges. Leaves can also lose their color if you're overwatering the plant or it's not getting enough light, so how can you tell if the cause is sunburn? With sunburned plants, usually only the leaves on the top of the plant, where the sun hits, will change color. The leaves that are closer to the soil (and able to enjoy some shade from the higher leaves) shouldn't experience the same color change.

houseplant with white and yellow sunburned leaves
Depending on the type of plant and how long it was in sun, the exposed leaves can lose their color entirely or become more yellow. Dean Schoeppner

How to Prevent Plant Sunburns

Plants can get sunburned in just a few hours. Crazy, right? Fortunately, it's easy to prevent: All you have to do is know your plants' care needs, and keep them away from the bright sun if they can't tolerate it. Some plants, including certain cacti and succulents, love direct sunlight, and they'll thrive in a sunny window or outdoors soaking up the rays in the summer. But other plants, especially ones that are used to low-light conditions, are more likely to be burned if you move them into a new spot with lots of sun.

That doesn't mean you can never move your houseplants outside in nicer weather—you just need to do so gradually. Instead of taking a plant from your bathroom or a dark corner straight into bright sunlight, ease it into its new environment. Start by moving the plant to a shady spot, maybe on your porch or patio, where it'll enjoy a little more light than usual but no direct sun. Then, after a few days, try setting it out in morning sunlight for an hour or two; over a few weeks, gradually increase the amount of sun exposure. Keep in mind, if you're acclimating a plant that prefers low light over bright sun, it'll still be best to keep your plant as shaded as possible outdoors.

How to Treat Sun-Scorched Plants

If anything, it's wise to err on the side of less sunlight—once you're dealing with sunburned plants, there's not much you can do. Since the leaves won't heal and return to their normal color, your best option is to cut off the damaged leaves and move the plant back to a spot with no direct sun. If your plant's home is in front of a sunny window, you could also filter the light by adding a sheer curtain; that way, your houseplant will still get bright light, but it won't be exposed to direct sun.

Bottom line: Be careful with your houseplants, just like you're careful with your own skin. Know how much light your plants prefer, and go slowly if you want to move them to a new, sunnier spot. Remember, their sunburn won't fade to a tan.

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