Thriving Under Artificial Light: Houseplants Edition
It is probably the most difficult challenge for people who garden indoors to get enough light for all their indoor plants.
It’s quite normal for houseplants to require artificial light, even when they have naturally bright windows and natural light. It’s just part of the houseplant game.
However, integrating artificial lighting into a plant’s life involves much more than just turning on the overhead room light.
Are you aware that there are different kinds of light, and that some plants thrive with them better than others?
Different Types of Artificial Light for Optimal Plant Growth
Unless you have had any experience with plant lighting, the idea that there are different types of lights is not obvious. However, it’s something you need to learn so you can make the most of your plant lights. The light itself, not fixtures or bulbs, should be what we’re talking about here.
A viewer with a non-trained eye sees artificial light as white. Lights with different wavelengths are used to get different results with plants, and you can choose which color to focus on to get different results.
In order for you to learn about light color, you first need to understand the blue and red wavelengths. Without getting into a detailed lecture about how light works, you can remember a few key facts. Plants that receive red light produce flowers or fruit, while plants exposed to blue light grow leaves and foliage.
A typical light source includes both of these, and is called a full-spectrum light. Stick to this guideline when in doubt or you’re trying to accommodate a variety of plants with one light.
We’re not talking about getting real blue or red tinted bulbs, like Christmas lights, or anything like that when we talk about the color spectrum. It’s still an overwhelmingly white light, just with some shift in the wavelength.
This type of bulb is the one we grew up with, which has a fine wire filament in the middle that produces light when heated. Because they are cheap and short-lived, there is no need to use them if you have other options.
You shouldn’t be discouraged from checking out the more modern types of bulbs when you’re shopping for your plants lights. These bulbs usually come in cool or warm shades but will generate heat over your plants.
In the lighting industry, the LED bulb is currently the leading choice, as it provides long-lasting light with very little wattage used.
As an added bonus, LED lights can be a bit pricey, especially when compared to a dollar or two for bulbs.
There are a few additional options when it comes to fluorescent lighting for plants. A traditional long, straight bulb is typically used in a particular type of fixture (think office lights), whereas the spiral bulb is usually suitable for any type of lamp.
A fluorescent bulb’s color spectrum is likely to be more varied because of how it works.
It’s not as common, but halogen bulbs do exist. They produce an adequate amount of light, though not ideal for indoor houseplants. The color is leaning towards the red end of the spectrum, which will encourage flowering but not overall growth.
In addition to other bulbs or daily exposure to natural sunlight, halogens are best for supplemental lighting.
Don’t spend too much money on unique grow-lights and don’t be fooled by creative labeling. Not because they don’t have a place or aren’t valuable, but because they are just not as special as other items.
An ordinary fluorescent bulb on the blue-side of the spectrum will accomplish the same thing as “grow-lights” on the blue-side.
Which Type of Light Bulb is the Best?
There are benefits and drawbacks to each, but the most popular choice for houseplants is fluorescent lighting, since they are relatively inexpensive, can be adjusted for spectrum values, and they don’t heat up.
In addition to giving you more flexibility, the long tubes vs compact bulbs give you more lighting options when you have many plants.
Once you have decided on a color and bulb, how can you best implement artificial lighting for your houseplants?
Plants that are indoors in a room that gets plenty of light, such as a living room or business office, may not need additional lighting at all. The room lighting alone may suffice for low-light plants.
In order to give plants more than ambient light, you’ll need to place your lamps closer to the plants so they get that extra intensity. If you use a bulb type that doesn’t produce heat, such as fluorescent or LED, you can set up your lights quite close to the plants.
It’s important to remember that using artificial light isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. During spring and summer, take advantage of natural sunlight, then supplement with additional light during winter months when the sun’s lack of warmth is obvious.
The amount of window light and artificial light in your space can be varied in whatever way best suits your needs.
How Much Light Is Optimal?
Using a timer to keep your plants well lit is a great investment that does not cost much and you don’t have to worry about anything. It’s especially useful when you want to maximize the daylight hours you get in the morning by turning on the lights before you wake up.
Although you don’t necessarily have to be there when the lights are turned on or off, you should plan for timing. With artificial lighting, relying on the natural cycles of day length is not a viable option.
You can find out how much light is needed for a given plant by doing a little research.
Further complicating the matter, some plants require their light to be adjusted throughout the year to simulate the dormant period of winter. If you don’t have it, many flowering plants won’t bloom. Reduce the lighting temporarily before reintroducing it for those plants.
In addition, if you are planning on raising a batch of super plants by turning on the lights 24 hours a day, think twice. In addition to being in need of light for growth and health, plants also require a period after dark to rest and concentrate on respiration instead of photosynthesis. Leaving the lights on for a longer period than they can handle does more harm than good.
The plants that thrive best in low-light conditions are the ones that will flourish best under artificial lighting. Some suggestions are:
- Peace lily
- Cast iron plant
- Peacock plant
- Snake plant
- Sword fern
- Spider plant
It may surprise you to learn that these low-light plants are also known to improve your indoor air quality, so there is even more added value to having them in your space.
Regardless of which plants you choose, you should keep an eye on their watering. As indoor plants aren’t exposed to sunlight, they frequently consume less water than one would expect. Be sure to monitor your water use.
Pros of Using Artificial Light
The main advantage of using artificial light for houseplants is that you can make use of plants that would not have grown in your home due to a lack of light.
It is also possible to control the lighting options to facilitate your plant’s growth. The sky doesn’t have to be sunny for your plants to benefit. You can tweak your spectrums to give them an advantage they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Adding red wavelengths to indoor lighting can make it possible for you to have flowering plants that normally won’t flower under regular indoor sunlight.
In addition to the light they provide, the incandescent bulbs produce a little heat. The lights will help increase the temperature as well as the lighting level. This is especially helpful for plants that like warmer temperatures than your home offers.
Cons of Using Artificial Light
A drawback to lamps can be their cost. LEDs or CFLs aren’t as power-hungry as they once were, so this is not an issue anymore.
You can still have a significant impact on your electricity bill with a big electric light system, particularly if you continue to use incandescent lamps. LED bulbs will also cost a lot up front, sometimes more than $10 per bulb.
You could also end up with stunted or dying plants if you are dependent on electric lighting. Granted, your plants can survive for a few hours without their lamps, but if it were to continue for too long, you could end up with a power outage.
If you have too many lamps set up, there is also the risk of flooding your plants when watering. If you are a serious indoor gardener, it would be a wise move to add GFCI outlets. Even a simple mishap with a watering can near an electric light rack can cause serious electrical shocks.
In the event that you have a hard time keeping up with your indoor plants because there are not enough windows, you can use these tips to add more artificial light to your growing area.