How to Grow Houseplants in Artificial Light


Look for full spectrum bulbs with a mix of cool and warm wavelengths.

If you’re trying to grow houseplants indoors, you’ll find that some rooms of your house are low in natural light. Sunlight is the perfect balance of wavelengths necessary for plant growth and blooming, but you can also use artificial light to help your plants along. In fact, low-light foliage plants (such as pothos and peace lily) can grow quite nicely in windowless offices with enough artificial light.

In order to grow, plants need:

  • Blue wavelength light for foliage growth.
  • Red wavelength light for flowering and fruiting.
  • Plants have little use for green wavelengths and reflect them back, which is why leaves appear green.


Replace regular bulbs with CFLs to save energy and help your houseplants.

Types of Artificial Lights

For serious indoor growing and starting plants from seeds, you’ll need hanging tube fixtures placed right over your plants. You can buy special grow light kits that include fixtures and reflectors, but for regular houseplants you can really use any lamp or light fixture as long as you choose the bulbs carefully and place the lamps where your plants can benefit most.

Artificial lighting:

  • Fluorescent lights are by far the most economical and easy choice for houseplants. They come in tubes or compact bulbs (CFL) that screw into regular lamp sockets, and they’re cool enough to put close to plant foliage. Generic fluorescent tubes and bulbs are higher in blue wavelengths, so look for “full-spectrum” or include a mix of “cool” and “warm” bulbs. When in doubt, buy “cool white” products, since white light contains the full spectrum of wavelengths. For maximum effect, position fluorescents about a foot away from plant foliage.
  • Incandescent lights give off a lot of heat and should be placed farther away from plant foliage. Incandescent bulbs give off more red wavelengths, so they can be used to supplement fluorescent light and balance out the spectrum, especially if you’re trying to encourage plants to bloom. If you want to mix the two, try using a ratio of about one-third incandescent and two-thirds fluorescent by wattage.
  • LED lights are also a low heat, energy-efficient artificial light source. Because LED technology is so customizable, every bulb is different, so make sure your bulbs produce the blues and reds necessary for plants. Horticultural LED grow-lights produce only the wavelengths most utilized by plants, so you may want to look for these bulbs rather than buying ones for general use.
  • Halogen lights can also provide full-spectrum light, but like incandescents they put off a lot of heat and are less energy-efficient than fluorescents.
  • Horticultural grow lights are generally packaged in tubes for fluorescent fixtures. They contain the full spectrum of wavelengths needed for blooming plants such as African violets. Some gardeners find them useful when starting seeds or propagating hybrids, but others find that simple full-spectrum fluorescents work just as well.

Lighting Tip

Beware of light bulbs simply labeled as “plant” bulbs, such as these “Spot-Gro” bulbs. They’re designed to make your plants LOOK better by making them appear more green, but they’re really just tinted incandescent bulbs.

Easy plant lighting for room with low natural light:

  • Find a standing lamp with three bulbs, ideally one with moveable or gooseneck fixtures.
  • Use one incandescent bulb and two compact fluorescent bulbs of the highest wattage you can, within the safe wattage rating for the fixture.
  • Aim the lights toward your plant table. If each fixture is separately movable, then put the fluorescent bulbs closer than the incandescent, to avoid heat damage.
  • Place a mirror or other reflective surface underneath your plants, to reflect light back up onto the foliage.
  • Attach a timer set to 16 hours per day.

Further Information

42 COMMENTS

  1. I just replaced all my incandescent ceiling lights with warm white LED lignts. I have many low light plants that have done fine with the incandescents, my question is how will they do with the LEDs?

    Maxine

  2. Thank you for this tips,
    Please I want to know if I put 24/24 h light on the plants, does that affect them ?, if it doesn’t affect plants, does that continuous light can help plants grow faster than natural? .
    Best Regards, Nadjib.

  3. Hi Nadjib,

    Plants need a dark rest period. They won’t grow better if there is continuous light- in fact, this can mess up their growth cycles and stunt the plant. It’s best to offer plants around 12-14 hours of light. You can get a timer for your lamps to help regulate this. Hope this helps!

    -Ellie

  4. hi,
    my tulsi plant leaves are shedding and where we leave we have no sunlight and i put the plant one week before please help as i cant see the plant dying

  5. I want to grow my grass in the garden. (Over the winter period eg November when it’s till not too cold). Will floodlights work?

    Garden is about 6m by 16m wide.

    I have four 1000w halogen floodlights. The type they have in outdoor security lights. Am I just wasting my money or will it work. If so how much is the result.

  6. Thank you for this great information! I was wondering if different plants *need* different light from the spectrum in order to survive. I have a 32w compact flourescent grow bulb (160w equivalent) by Agrosun. It is 120V, medium base, 1800 lumens, 6400K. My son showed me where 6400K is on the light wavelength. Do different plants require different wattage, lumens, K, etc.? I have some tropicals that I am trying to over winter. They are for zones 10a and 10b, and I’m in zone 7 (or 7a).

  7. Help! I read above that I should use a 3 light fixture adjustable goose neck lamp fixture for my indoor plants. Where can I buy such a thing. I have exhausted myself searching (too many to count) websites to no avail. Any other suggestions for adjustable lamp fixtures to light my Peace Lilies would be so much appreciated.

  8. Thanks for this straight forward information it was just what I was looking for. Everything else I found was NOT straightforward and seemed to be designed to sell equipment for someone operating a grow op. I now have a warm, humidified room with a five socket lamp on a timer for my houseplants to take refuge from the drafty and extreme temperatures of the Canadian Jan and Feb.
    Thanks!

  9. I have my bedroom and parlor set up with varying wattages of CFL lights so that when fully lit, they are essentially grow rooms, but with just a lamp or two lit, they are comfortable living spaces. I use a range from the CFL equivalents of three 200 watt lightbulbs, two 100 watt light bulbs and four 150 watt light bulbs. They are all in soft white. They work amazingly- my plants have no clue it’s winter- I’m still fertilizing and they are still growing! If you want to spend the money, you could replace your ceiling lights with 300 watt CFL replacements- these alone are enough for a room with three plants placed within good range of each ceiling light!

  10. Living in Scotland I need a suitable light supplement for my kaffirlime tree about 1 1/2 ft high that I just bought. Preferable a free standing one. What and where can I buy such lighting? When the sun does shine it will only get the afternoon sun.

  11. What is the best care for growing hibiscus indoor? They were outside for the summer did super well never stopped blooming, and I would like to maintain them just the same.

  12. Hey, I am playing around with plant growth and was wondering if plants can be underlit? like can the lights be placed bellow the plants shining up at them or do they have to be suspended above?

  13. Hello,

    In my new house i am planning to do a garden under ground and i need the best solution for artificial light to grow up different kinds of plants. knowing that there will be no sunlight at all.
    thank you.

  14. I have a lime tree in a large pot and it is loaded with small fruit and blooms. I will bring in the house for winter and would like know what type of light should I use?
    Thank You, Paul

  15. I have 8ft of house plants on 2 shelves of a 4′ high plant stand and several plants on the floor 5-6′ across from the stand. I would like to put in a 8ft track light with 3-4, 12 watt screw in led grow light bulbs. What distance from the plants would the lights need to be to be effective for growth? I do know there are stems for the track that would allow me to lower the track bar.
    Thank you for any information you could provide.

    MS

  16. Great article! Halogen bulbs work better than LED and fluorescent from my experience, but you have to keep them a certain distance away from the plants so that they will not catch on fire.

  17. Hi,
    I m planing for vertical farming in india .
    I’m stuck which type of light need to use to grow plant like say potato. how to apply it.
    Please provide your insight.
    Thank you

  18. If you are looking for the best LED grow light for your setup, you can look for Nova N300s Dual Spectrum 300W.

    https://www.hifigadget.com/best-led-grow-light-nova-n300s-review/

  19. My boyfriend and I are having a dispute. He says we should keep the flourescent light on the house plants all the time. I feel like we should turn the light off at night when we turn out all the other lights when we turn in for the night just like all the other lights. What do you think?

  20. I have seen many questions on quantity of lighting fixtures required. Some of them are suggesting the use of low wattage LEDs, wattage values in the 10s or 20s. This size of lamp and wattage will not produce sufficient foot candles (measure of light on a surface) to be effective. Typical house plants require 1000 foot candles, something you will not get with the low wattage LED and LED sources on tracks. Outdoor lighting in direct sunlight is somewhere in the 10,000 to 15,000 foot candle range. And typical office or retail lighting levels are typically less than 100 FC. So to better understand this, assume you have a two lamp fluorescent shop light (4ft long) lighting your plant stand and all the light from the fiixture ends up on that stand. You would have 6000 lumens (two 4ft lamps) divided by the area of the stand, say 12″ X 48″ shelf (4 square feet), so your FC would be 6000/4=1500FC. In reality about half the light never gets to the plant shelf so you are likely to have 750FC on your plants. That would probably work, but it is a long way from two or three grow bulbs shining on your plants.

    Just my two cents worth. Good luck.

  21. I have some succulents that were outside all summer but it’s cold enough now I has to being them inside. We don’t have any windows in our home thay allow enough light I’m the house to keep the plants happy and they’re staring to die. Do I need a certain type of bulb foe succulents?

  22. I have a black pine tree in front of my house. The tree is about 6 foot tall and
    it is shaped like a bonsai . It is not getting enough sun because there is a big
    Japanese maple tree that is preventing the pine from getting enough sun.
    Will artificial light work for outdoor plants too ?
    The pine is in a big planter box and it is too heavy to move to another location.
    Please help me . I don’t want to lose my beautiful plant.
    Thank you.

  23. Hello, i am currently trying to grow some herbs in my room. I only have Incandescent bulbs as well as some LED bulbs operating at 5000k. What bulb should I use or should i just go buy a florescent light bulb?

  24. Here’s a simple answer for anyone that needs info on indoor lighting for their houseplants. You need a full visable color spectrum of photons for the plant. Plants use all wavelengths people do, however the ratio is inverted. Human eyes need mostly greens yellows. Blues are too bright and reds are too dim. Plants rely mostly on high reds and blues, and use a small amount of yellows, greens, UV, & far red, but plants do need them for non-photosynthetic needs. Use a warm and cool led if you don’t want to buy a full spectrum grow bulb. More brightness will result in more growth. LED’s use the least amount of electricity, but are not the brightest. This info is for lighting your home, not running a green house. As far as I know, CFBs for homes are no longer being manufactured or sold by Walmart type of stores.

  25. I have north facing balcony where Sun light is restricted specially during September to April when Sun goes south. I feel the plants need to be supplemented with some full spectrum light for say 12 hours. Can you suggest suitable electric bulbs (or lighting system) for the plants to grow lush and produce fruits and flowers?

    warm regards / rangarajan

  26. Hi,
    I am from Guwahati, Assam and planning to start-up a plants store (150 sqft) in city can you suggest me for lighting systems for better growth of plants.

    Thank you with regards

    Sd/- D K Borah

    • Hi, DK,
      TodaysHomeowner.com features home improvement advice from the nationally syndicated TV show “Today’s Homeowner” and its experts.
      We don’t offer information on individual home builders, repairers and suppliers, but we encourage checking your local phone listings for this information.
      Thanks for your question, and good luck!

  27. Hi,
    I currently have 4 x MR16. GU5.3 bulbs in my ensuite bathroom. I have plants in there and there is no window so just wondering What the best type of bulb is? I’ve spent a lot on the plants and domestic earners them ring.

  28. I have four standard two light four foot long LED fixtures. I want to start seeds under them. Will it work? Do I need to get some other tubes to use? John

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