How Much Sun Does a Polka Dot Plant Need?

The beautifully spotted leaves of the polka dot plant are the main reason people love keeping it as a houseplant. It isn’t a particularly high-maintenance plant. However, maintaining those leaves in their best condition requires giving them the optimal sunlight.

Polka dot plants need a reasonable amount of indirect sunlight. They thrive and look their best when kept out of direct light. Keep them by an east-facing window to ensure their leaves stay brightly colored. While not very dangerous, too much or too little sun can dampen your plant’s appearance.

Whether you’re living in fiery hot Texas or gloomy Seattle, this article aims to help you figure out how to give your polka dot plant the sunlight it needs without compromising the color. Just remember to keep it away from direct sunlight.

Hypoestes phyllostachya, Splash Pink, Polka Dot Plant, 3" (2.6x3.5")

What Happens When Polka Dot Plants Get Too Much Sun?

When a polka dot plant gets too much sun, you’ll notice brown spots on the leaves and burned edges. Also, the pink or red spots fade under too much sun. To keep your plant’s leaves in healthy condition and maintain the color, place it in indirect sunlight.

The original polka dot plant had green leaves with a few pink spots here and there (hence the name). Over the years, people have grown hybrids of the plant that feature different variegated leaves. Some variants are almost entirely pink or purplish. 

Read How To Propagate Polka Dot Plant

What Are Variegated Leaves?

Variegated leaves are leaves that feature more than one color. Variegation is caused by varying amounts of chlorophyll in different parts of a leaf. Chlorophyll is the green substance responsible for absorbing energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugar for the plant to grow. 

Some plants show spots or stripes of faded green, yellow, or white. Others, such as the polka dot plant, can produce vacuolar pigments that give the patches hues of red such as the original pink spots.

These reddish or pink spots cannot absorb energy from the sun, as they lack green pigment (chlorophyll). Plants with variegated leaves tend to grow slower because they cannot produce enough sugars (food).

The pink and red spots so admired in the polka dot plant get their colors from anthocyanins. The same pigment can be found in all red-hued plants and fruits.

Studies have shown that plants synthesize red pigment in response to their environment. When it comes to the polka dot plant, it decreases the production of anthocyanins when placed in direct sunlight. 

Lively Root Pink Polka Dot Plant, 4 inch in Grower Pot, Medium Care Live Indoor Plant, Pet Friendly Plant (Plant of The Week!)

In other words, placing your polka dot plant under direct sunlight for too long will lead to its colors fading. Additionally, the plant might show brown spots where direct sunlight has burned the fragile leaves.

Read Why Is My Polka Dot Plant Flowering?

What Happens When Polka Dot Plants Get Too Little Sun? 

All plants need some sunlight to provide energy. Even though the polka dot plant can’t handle too much sun, it suffers from a lack of sun, as well. 

If a polka dot plant gets too little sunlight, it tends to grow very tall and leggy. This results in long stems and less foliage, which probably isn’t the aesthetic you wanted when you got the plant. 

We’ve established that polka dot plants lose their colors and don’t do well in direct sunlight. Many people decide to go the opposite direction and keep the indoor plant in very low light situations. While it is possible for polka dot plants to thrive indoors, some indirect sunlight is still recommended for growth.

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What is Phototropism?

Phototropism is a phenomenon that occurs when plants don’t have very much sunlight. When that happens, they tend to grow towards any sunlight nearby. (That’s why seeds sprout into upright plants regardless of how they’re sown.) The roots grow away from light, while the shoots grow towards the light. 

If you place your polka dot plant in a low-light environment for extended periods, it will grow longer in search of more light. Thus, the stems look like long legs with the leaves on top. It isn’t a major problem, but it does change the visual aspect of the plant.

Of course, trying to grow your plant in complete darkness is a bad idea. The plant would die because it cannot make any food. 

Keeping Your Polka Dot Plant Indoors

There are several advantages to keeping your plant indoors. Not only do the various breeds add a pop of color to indoor spaces, but the polka dot plant is also more likely to thrive indoors. You have much more control over its environment by placing it inside. 

It’s best to place it near a window that gets lots of bright (indirect) sunlight. Here’s what to look for:

  • an east-facing window
  • a window blocked by a tree or large obstruction
  • a window with sheer curtains

If you do not have any of these options, it’s still possible to grow your indoor plant under man-made lights. Yes, you can grow a polka dot plant in a room without windows, just as long as you have some bright lights to replace the sun.

Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) Live Indoor Houseplant, 4 Inch Nursery Pot (Diameter)

What is Bright Light? 

The standard definition of bright light is a light that allows you to read comfortably while using it. Additionally, you should see a clearly defined shadow if you obstruct the light.

Still, you may find that your plant will want to grow taller and get very leggy indoors because the light isn’t as bright as sunlight. 

A quick solution to this problem is to pinch the top two leaves of your polka dot plant once a week to halt growth upwards and encourage it to spread. The result is a more ‘bushy’ plant with lots of eye-catching leaves. 

Keeping Your Polka Dot Plant Outside

You may want to keep your polka dot plant on the front porch or part of your garden. The same rules apply when it comes to lighting and soil. Find a spot that doesn’t get too much direct sunlight, then go ahead and plant it.

Alternatively, keeping it in a pot allows you the freedom to bring it inside whenever necessary.

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Polka Dot Plants Are Susceptible to Frost

The biggest problem you might face growing this plant outdoors is the risk of frost. This is a common problem in colder climates, especially when temperatures drop below 32 °F (0 °C).

Simply put, frost is when dewdrops settle on the leaves of plants and freeze overnight. The ice crystals burst the plant’s cells and cause irreversible damage. There are different levels of frost, and at the extreme, frost can kill the entire plant overnight. Some people have tricks to revive frozen plants, such as:

  • Warming them with blankets
  • Rinsing away the frozen dew drops before the sun rises

However, it’s best to avoid frost in the first place. Keeping your polka dot plant in a large pot makes it easier to move it around as needed. 

Some plants are frost-tolerant, whereby they can survive after freezing slightly. However, polka dot plants didn’t originate in that climate. Exposing your polka dot plant to frost can kill it entirely, even the roots.

If you live somewhere like Maine or Vermont, there is a high probability of your plant dying of frost, even during the autumn or spring months. 

Remember that even if you think that there is no risk of frost, that does not necessarily mean that your polka dot plant will thrive outdoors. You will still need to ensure that it gets the optimal amount of indirect light.

Thorsen's Greenhouse Pink Splash Plant, Live Indoor Plant, Hypoestes phyllostachya, Polka Dot Plant, 6 Inches, Biodegradable Pot (Natural)

Illuminating Different Varieties of Polka Dot Plants 

We’ve mentioned the original polka dot plant with its small pink spots on green leaves. Some hybrids have entirely red leaves with a few pink, yellow, and green variegations. To be very scientific about it, you will notice that different varieties will do better at different levels of sunlight. 

When you mix and match between varieties of polka dot plants (a common practice to get more color variety), there is a risk of too much sun for some plants and too little for others. Generally speaking, there isn’t much to worry about because the range of optimal sunlight is not that wide. 

Still, to get more uniform growth between your different plants, you might consider moving them around a little bit. Rearranging your plants will give them alternating amounts of sunlight so that no one plant is exposed to less (or more) sunlight for too long. Also, if some varieties are leggier than others, it’s fine to pinch their tops more frequently. 

Assorted Polka Dot Combo - 3'' from California Tropicals


Providing your polka dot plant with the optimal amount of sunlight is essential for giving it the best care. If you want your plant to thrive, it’s best to give it lots of bright indirect sunlight. The perfect level of sunlight will preserve its colors and allow it to grow more leaves. 

Add the polka dot plant to indoor spaces or your garden for a pop of color all year-round, even without any blooming flowers. Mix and match between varieties for the best aesthetic appeal. Ensure that you protect your outdoor plants from frost and indoor plants from low light.