If you live in a house or apartment with few windows and little light but still want to grow some plants, it can be a little difficult to figure out how to keep them alive. You could go for low light houseplants, but even these do need more light than some can provide.
Because I live in a low-light studio and saw other plant owners having succes with it, I started growing my own houseplants under artificial light as an experiment: no expensive grow lights, but just regular fluorescent tubes. And it’s going well so far!
Growing plants with artificial light
The fact that plants can be grown under artificial light is no secret and there are many special grow lights available. What many don’t know is that you don’t need to buy actual ‘grow lights’ to keep your plants alive (and healthy): although for larger installations more powerful lights such as metal halide or HID are recommended, you can grow smaller amounts of houseplants under regular fluorescent bulbs or tubes.
Requirements for growing houseplants under artificial light
To grow houseplants under artificial light on a budget, you can get fluorescent bulbs or tubes; incandescent lights emit most of their energy as heat, which means they can scorch your plants’ foliage. It was rather difficult to figure out what kind of fluorescent lights are needed, as sources are very inconsistent.
- It seems full-spectrum lights are best. A color temperature between 4000-6500 Kelvin is usually recommended.
- T5 lights such as these seem to be an absolute favorite among houseplant owners, vegetable growers and planted aquarium keepers and would make a good choice, though they are a little more expensive.
- Plants can be placed relatively close to fluorescent lights and especially energy-effient T5’s depending on their lighting needs, as they don’t emit a lot of heat.
- Place the plants on a reflective surface to make the most of the available light.
Because I’ve seen so many houseplant owners having succes with a wide variety of plant types grown under cheap fluorescent tubes, I decided that it was time to give it a go myself; after all, the lighting in my current home is not nearly enough to sustain any plants but those with the lowest light requirements.
I went out and bought two cheap fluorescent lights, similar to these in price and features but with slightly lower wattage. I would obviously have preferred T5 lamps but those are not cheap unless you buy them used. One of my lights is 4500K, which means yellower, relatively friendly light. The other one is bright white at 6000K. I decided to use the white one for my cacti and succulents, as I figured they would appreciate brighter light. The amount of lumen is also important but was not listed on any of the lights I found.
A bit of creativity was needed but I managed to install both lights. I placed all the plants on aluminium foil. The ones that can handle colder temperatures are placed closer to the window where they can benefit from less fluorescent and more natural light, while low light tropical plants are placed a bit farther away from both the window and the light. Plants with higher light requirements are placed as close to the light as possible.
Yes, this stuff works! Even though I basically bought the crappiest lights out there, they still proved beneficial. Because it’s Wintertime, nearly no light from outside reaches the plants right now but some of them are still putting out plenty of new growth. I haven’t been able to track progress on all plants yet; this is likely something I’ll be able to more easily see during Summertime.
Previous etiolation has halted on many succulents including Echeveria. Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’ (pictured to the right) seems especially happy and is putting out tons of new growth. As for foliage plants, they are all alive where they otherwise would have been withering away. Some are producing new leaves regularly. I expect them all to show plenty of growth during the regular growing season.
The very cheap lights mentioned here likely won’t be enough if your plants don’t receive any additional light unless you get multiple, but that would mean a high electricity bill as they are not as energy efficient as the more expensive T5 lights. However, if you’re just looking to supplement (if you do have windows but not enough light comes in through them, for example), a few fluorescent tubes or bulbs will likely prove quite helpful.
I personally plan on eventually taking the plunge and getting one or two additional T5’s despite the higher price, as my current lights are not very powerful and I feel there is still much room for even more improvement. In the meantime, I’m more than content with non-stretched plants that actually grow instead of slowly dying!
If you’re serious about growing plants under artificial light (when growing herbs or veggies, for example), you can buy a high-powered T5 lighting system here.
If you have any more questions about my artificial light experimenting or want to share your own experiences with growing houseplants under articifial lights, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!