Houseplants Won’t Grow Under Normal LED Lights (But They Can Still Help Them Out)

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Yes, plants can grow under normal LED lights, but not as well as they could under grow lights.

Grow lights aren’t special – they’re just strong. They cram a lot of LEDs onto one unit. If you have a strong light close to your plant, it can help it grow, despite not being marketed as a grow light.

Normal LED lights do need to be close to your plants though – the closer the better (without them burning). Preferably about a foot away.

When grow lights are made, the manufacturers measure the PAR (photosynthetically active radiation), which is the type of light plants use to photosynthesise.

Normal LED lights tend to have their brightness measured in lumens, lux, or footcandles, which are all ways of measuring light that humans can see.

It makes sense because we’re buying them for the purpose of providing us with visible light BUT it’s not the right type of light for houseplants.

There are lux to PAR calculators out there, but they’re not that accurate, because different parts of light can be filtered out by different things.

What’s the difference between LED grow lights and regular LED lights?

In the layest of layman’s terms grow lights are stronger than regular house LED lights.

There’s no magical colour that they use or anything, they’re just brighter. They have more diodes and more power.

If you have very bright lights in your home that you can move close to your plants, you’ve got yourself a grow light. It doesn’t necessarily have to be marketed as such.

If your light is bright enough that it’s uncomfortable to look at, it’ll be able to sustain a plant.

But what’s the difference in terms of specs? My MarsHydro Growlight has over 20k lumens (I think, It’s not easy to find that info). A powerful LED light has, er, 2600.

2600 lumens is also very high for a lightbulb. 450 is more usual.

Can I put grow lights in my overhead light fittings?

Overhead light fittings are typically too far away from your plants to make any real difference to your plants – whether you use a bulb marketed as a grow light or just a strong, regular LED bulb.

My favourite ever Facebook post was a girl asking if she could simply put a grow light in her overhead light fitting and be done for the day. 

When someone replied saying it was too far away she replied IN ALL SERIOUSNESS 'but the sun is really far away'.

I know, but the sun is also REALLY freaking hot. And literally a great big nuclear reactor. So yeah, no, putting grow bulbs in your big light isn't worth it. 

Putting grow bulbs in lamps, however, is a great shout.

By the way, if you have a super powerful grow light, keeping it high above your plants and running it for about 14 hours a day can provide a high volume of light, which is what they need – not intensity, but volume. Grow bulbs aren’t powerful enough to have any impact at a distance.

I talk more about this in my Monstera grow light article.

Why would I need extra lights to grow plants?

It’s absolutely NOT required that you purchase extra lights for your plants.

But it can be an easy way to help your plants out, especially in winter.

Here in the UK, we’re quite a way away from the equator. The sun is even farther (by quite a long way, but we won’t get into that). Stitch that with the fact that we have a layer of brick and glass between the sun and our plants and you can understand why our plants don’t quite grow as lush as they might in their natural environment.

You don’t need grow lights, but a plant getting the correct light can not only help it grow better, but it’ll help it grow stronger, and be more able to fight off pests and diseases.

Why might you want grow lights?

You have a dark corner you’ll like to add plants to

I have a dingy corner in the back of my living room – I equipped it with a bookcase (the Fjallbo from Ikea if you’re interested) and a set of cheap grow lights (I use these ones from Amazon). Whilst it’s still too dark to have any bright light lovers, it’s great for my overgrown philodendrons and a few Calathea.

You live in a dark house

Some houses just don’t get that much light, and that’s ok. You can still have house plants, but be sure to choose your plant carefully (here are my picks for low-light plants).

I have a normal lamp with a normal bulb that I keep over my peace lily in winter. I don’t run it all day – just a couple of hours in the morning, and about four in the evening. Whilst it won’t provide enough light to help her grow, it will give her enough energy to not die, plus it kicks out a bit of heat.

normal LED light next to peace lily
she is extremely dusty

Your plants suffer in winter

Houseplants have a hard time over winter.

They typically come from the tropics, and they don’t have winter there. Not only is there less light, but humidity is also lower and it’s colder. A couple of grow lights might just help them along a bit.

We’re just coming out of winter now, and I’m pleased to say that I didn’t lose any of my plants. I wrote this post on keeping plants alive over winter if it’s something that you’re worried about or struggling with.

Often, the light from your lamps is sufficient to keep your plants alive with having specific grow lights, but they’ll need to be close. You could also put more powerful bulbs (these ones are great) in your lamps to help out.

Bear in mind that whilst LED bulbs are more expensive than other bulbs, they typically last waaaaay longer and use less energy.

In our house we have a TONNE of extra lights – we have an Aerogarden, three aquariums, a terrarium and I run a MarsHydro 1000 grow light. It doesn’t make that much of a dent in our energy bills (we have an app that breaks down our energy usage, because of all the filters and heaters and lights etc).

marshydro 1000 grow light

Your plants need some extra tlc

It’s always a good idea to have a little hospital area or any sickly-looking plants and adding a grow light may help them to get back on their feet.

If you look at the picture above, that’s what I use my Mars Hydro growlight for, and it’s AMAZING. You’d be shocked at how quickly plants start to perk up.

You could argue that poorly plants may prefer to be in natural light, and that’s broadly true BUT you don’t want to risk burning them, chilling them (windowsills can be cold in winter), or risking any other plants on the sill.

Grow lights tend to give off warmth more than normal LED lights because they’re more powerful, which can definitely help plants, especially in winter.

If you have an old heat pad lying around (we’re forever taking in sick hedgehogs, setting up terrariums etc etc, so we actually do), pair that with a normal LED light and you’ve made yourself a lovely cosy spot for a poorly plant.

Do I need specialist grow lights, or will LED lights do?

Grow lights ARE LED lights, they’re just stronger and marketed as such.

Most grow lights aren’t aimed at houseplant growers – they’re for gardeners to grow on seedlings or for people selling, er, speciality plants.

If you just want a bit of supplemental lighting, just go for something that gets good reviews. I have some lights linked on my resources page.

However, if you want to really treat your plants to some good light, and really help them grow, you want to invest in a powerful grow light – like the Mars Hydro one I mentioned, but maybe the 3000 rather than the 1000. Hang it a good few feet above your plants, and leave it on for 14ish hours a day. The combination of distance and power increases the light volume to the plant, which is called the daily light integral (DLI).

Which lights do I recommend?

You can absolutely use regular LED lighting, and your plants will be able to do a bit of photosynthesising from it.

For example, if you have a dim corner with a ZZ plant or a golden pothos, a snake plant, then a regular lamp will do just fine.

However, it won’t be enough to keep your plant growing, especially over winter. For that you need actual grow lights.

I recommend:

You can also buy grow bulbs to fit into lamps you already own. Grow bulbs can be really good, but they’re not as powerful as grow lights.

When it comes to houseplants, we’re only interested in PAR and PPFD, which measures the presence of the specific light used for photosynthesis (PAR) and the amount of that light actually hitting the leaf (PPFD).

They’re not easy or cheap to measure. Most cheap light meters measure lumens, lux or foot candles, which measure visible light. Since plants can’t see, it doesn’t really matter how many lumens lights produce.

Do I definitely need artificial lights to grow healthy houseplants?

Noooo, but houses vary a lot, as do the parts of the world where you live. Grow lights enable you to grow plants (rather than just have them survive) in parts of your house that they otherwise couldn’t. They can really help to brighten up weird dark corners and recesses.

When should I invest in grow lights for my houseplants?

Grow lights can really help beginners because they take the guesswork out of knowing where to put plants. Most plants thrive under grow lights, because it’s more controlled than the sun – they get a tonne of energy but won’t burn (unless they’re super close).

If you don’t want to spend the money, they’re NOT a necessity, but in my opinion, they can be a gamechanger, even if you just use them to rehab the saddos.

In conclusion, you can use normal LED lights to boost the light going to your houseplants, but it likely won’t be strong enough to help them grow. It could save them from declining over the winter months though.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

50 thoughts on “Houseplants Won’t Grow Under Normal LED Lights (But They Can Still Help Them Out)”

  1. Yes, but just be careful that they don’t get too much light – grow lights can still burn your plants!

  2. This article provides details about the house plants grow under normal led lights I enjoyed reading this article and would suggest others it as well. Thank you for this article! This is really very informative for us and look forward to more such in future for all of us.

  3. I don’t mean to insult anyone, but I’m fairly certain that photosynthesis is not turning light into food… Light is necessary, yes, but it is a mechanism, if you will, that enables the plant to turn water (along with nutrients from the soil or additional fertilizer) and CO2 into glucose… This doesn’t affect the information on LED lights for growing plants, but it is perhaps a nice bit of information to know!

  4. This is not intended to be an academic resource.

    Such colloquialisms as ‘ain’t’ are there to set a more friendly tone, to encourage people to ask questions if they’d like to, and build a level of community and intimacy that you can’t achieve with more formal language.

  5. If that was the only light they were getting I’d go for something with a higher wattage, but that’s probably adequate to keep them alive (though maybe not enough to encourage growth)

  6. You have not been able to do justice to the question that you set out to address in the first place. I suggest you do some more research and back it up with data and logic, rather than mere english.

  7. In my experience, data and logic can only get you so far when it comes to living things. Experience is more useful by far.

    The question: Will house pants grow under normal LED lights? The answer: yeah, a bit.

  8. Need more specifics such as Wattage 9 Watt or 22 watt then what frequecy of lights is it 3k or 4k or 6.5k or a mixture some LED lights are adjustable for whoke spectrum. What is your personal experiance what wattage do you use?

  9. I’m in the middle of writing a review of a couple of units with more of that info. Just be aware – there seems to a bit of a discrepancy between grow light specs and actual results, so I prefer to go by recommendations that comparing specs.

    I’m having great results with aquarium lights – the 9k 6.5 watt Fluval cob have been great for growing Hoya in winter

  10. A lot of useful information. I know this isn’t a writing critique, but got to admit it was difficult reading past the odd sense of annoyance in the author’s voice… Lol sorry, but why ask yourself a question, then answer it with “Ugh?” If it feels begrudging, then why ask yourself and voluntarily answer? Otherwise it was pretty thorough, so thanks for the information. Interesting info about aquarium lights, and helpful pointers for a dark condo like mine.

  11. The ugh was more because it’s not an easy question to answer – so many things affect the light in your home and plants differ so much that’s it’s hard to give a concrete answer (and if you’re wondering why I bothered asking it – SEO). I have a philodendron imperial red that grows in a dark spot next to a crap lamp with a very old bulb, and it’s fine. I’d probs not suggest someone else try that though!

  12. I really like your writing style… I think it’s witty, humorous and radiates personality! I didn’t sense annoyance as one of the readers in the comments above suggest.

  13. I loved reading this article. Found it very helpful to make a decision on whether or not to go in for grow lights. Thanks.

  14. I am travelling for 17 days and i want to keep my plants alive… will a normal LED bulb keep them alive? I have good sunlight in my apartment but i have to close the shutter when travelling… thanks a lot 🙂

  15. Depends on what the plants are, but yeah, they should be fine for 17 days if you leave the light on.

  16. Hello! I loved the article, finally someone has explained grow lights in layman’s terms I am on the fence about buying grow lights because I don’t mind if my plants don’t grow much, the only reason I want to get a light for them is because in the cooler months my plants tend to stretch towards the window a little. So I am wondering if I put just a plain LED light over them, would that suffice to keep them growing upright? I don’t have a lot of money to spend on fancy grow lights lol so basic LEDs sound great if they will work!

  17. If your plants are already pretty happy where they are bar the stretching, a regular lamp should be absolutely fine. You can always add a grow bulb later on if you decide it’s not enough though.

  18. I work in a basement office and I have a pair of LED tubes that are in my old fluorescent ballast. I’d love to put something on a shelf behind me that would not instantly die. They would probably at best get no closer than 4-5 feet to the source of the light, so I’m thinking…silk ferns is probably all I can do? LOL.

  19. Oooo that’s not a lot to work with. In all conscience, not a lot would survive that, and I don’t think any plant would thrive. If I were you, I’d invest in a big, fake Monstera. Get the most realistic one you can find (bonus points if it’s variegated) and make all your colleagues envious.

  20. AWESOME! – Thanks for ‘nerding so hard on this for all us noobs! This answered so many questions, I had.
    Please let us know about the color spectrum stuff, it’s so interesting, can’t wait.
    – Thanks! –

  21. Glad you liked it! I have discovered that some plants grow fine under lights, others aren’t impressed – even though they both like the same amount of light. My Hoya grow like stink under lights but my alocasia prefer the sun. I’m really fancying getting one of those MASSIVE square lights and lighting up my plant shelves like a football stadium!

  22. It is not true, as you claim, that plants will not grow with no light. Try growing mung beans and keep them covered for a week (water them at the start and seal them in a zip bag to keep the humidity up). They will be ready to eat in a week, be nice and plump, but they will be completely white.

  23. It is not true, as you claim, that plants will not grow with no light. Try growing mung beans and keep them covered for a week (water them at the start and seal them in a zip bag to keep the humidity up). They will be ready to eat by then, be nice and plump, but they will be completely white.

  24. Hardly a house plant though is it, love? It’s a mere sprout and unless it gets light it will die.

  25. Thank you for the information. I thought I would try and grow my fuchsia, begonia, and Mandeville plants indoors for the winter. They are so beautiful, and expensive to keep replacing in the spring. After reading your post I believe I will just go with the light bulbs you suggested for my lamps. I get a fair amount of light coming in my patio doors, and window.

    Thank you again.

  26. It depends on the plant, but if it’s pretty close to the plant and kept on for a long time then it should have some effect. You probs won’t get mega growth, but it’ll keep it going

  27. If a regular LED bulb was any kind of grow light then why do my plants that open and close with the sunlight close around LED lighting right next to it? The plants don’t even register it as a light source per their response to sunlight verses LED lighting. It just doesn’t seem to make sense. Plants just do not respond to in home lighting.

  28. Plants that live in darker environments will register it as a light source, and plants that need bright light will need a proper grow light. Some plants respond to home lighting (if it’s close enough), others don’t.

  29. People were trying to be helpful (because a grow light in an overhead light is probs just a waste of money) but she got snarky because that wasn’t what she wanted to hear so people retaliated. It was funny but you maybe had to be there.

  30. I loved your article, informative and fun, I read it from start to finish just because I enjoyed your writing style ! Am now off to spend loads of money on lights, and too many plants.

  31. A lot of useful information. This is really very informative for us. Found it very helpful to make a decision on whether or not to go in for Led grow lights. look forward to more such in future for all of us. Thanks for this article.

  32. I was searching online for a good and knowledgeable article to read regarding indoor-grown herbs and other plants. I found it interesting although it seemed to contradict a few comments I’d read in other articles. However, I hit a brick wall when the author patronized one of her readers who’d commented about the distance of the sun in comparison to lights we might install or place over our plants in this statement, “My favourite ever Facebook post was a girl asking if she could simply put a grow light in her overhead light fitting and be done for the day. When someone replied saying it was too far away she replied IN ALL SERIOUSNESS ‘but the sun is really far away’. I know, babe, but the sun is also REALLY freaking hot. And literally a great big nuclear reactor.”

    “IN ALL SERIOUSNESS” when you ridicule your readers for sincerely asking questions who might not have similar awareness about something, you demonstrate a huge lack of respect, compassion, and courtesy for them. In essence, you’re telling your customers to ‘go away’ if they don’t know what you know. However, if they did know what you know, you wouldn’t have real readership in the first place.

    If that wasn’t enough, your unnecessary use of the “f” word with other swear words are definitely off-putting, per this section, “People will tell you (I used to be one of them – sigh) that grow lights can’t be more powerful than the sun and TECHNICALLY it’s true. But the sun burns plants. Sometimes pretty much to death. Grow lights CAN burn plants, but you can adjust the position of the plant and you’re done. The sun MOVES. ALL DAMN DAY. In a thrilling opposite move, the sun sometimes seems to completely fuck off. Sometimes for months at a time (yes winter, I’m talking about you). I know it’s still there enough to keep me alive but what about my rubber plant???!!?!?”

    Like another reader, I stopped reading at that point and instead took up reading a few of the comment. When you provide a way for people to comment, then you discredit their feedback with insults and explanations that don’t help (and without any apologies), you alienate your readers.

    I’m sure that you don’t care what I think, but I decided to post anyway in part to acknowledge those readers whom you offended or diminished. Maybe, like a plant, one day you’ll wake up and “see the light” and recognize the “darkness” of your words. I looked back again and saw the year was 2020, so perhaps you were struggling with Covid, or perhaps you were trying to be funny. However, if you were trying to be funny, this wasn’t the context for it.

    I had clicked on three more articles to read (of yours), but I will not be reading them and hope you will consider how your words might negatively impact people before you go “scorching” anymore readers.

  33. I have so many thoughts on your words. So many. But the one sentence that sticks out is ‘however, if you were trying to be funny, this wasn’t the context for it.’ This is my website, on which I write in my writing style. This is the perfect context for it.

    I’m also a bit concerned that you think my words are dark…they’re really, really not. Like, at all.

    Also, I didn’t scorch my reader. I scorched someone on Facebook. AND I’D DO IT AGAIN.

  34. I love love love this article.

    You have answered all my questions, without me even asking them and did so with intelligence and wit.

    I chuckled a few times, nodded then made notes which piqued hubbies interest and he took a peak. He immediately started searching for bulbs for our lamps and for suitable grow lights for my many -and when I say many I mean more than I care to confess to – houseplants and self made terrariums (including a “Marsarrium” for my space mad hubby) and yes, I know, there are zero plants on Mars – yet – but, a little artistic licence goes a long way 😉

    It was in fact a light for his Marsarrium, which sits beside him in our dark late Victorian/early Edwardian living room that does not detract from the decor that led me to stumbling across this witty and informative piece.

    So, £170 later and we think we have all we need ordered and on their way, that is until I show him the two terrariums I am working on for our matching chest of drawers in our equally dark bedroom 😉

    Keep on writing and keep on being you and don’t forget, those who hide behind the title “anonymous” are the sort who sit behind their keyboards looking to bring others down because they have nothing else to do.

  35. One more comment, an apology to the person titled anonymous, it was actually the person referenced as “Scorched” who clearly has nothing better to do than bring others down – anon, please forgive me if you read this. J

  36. Thank you for your lovely comment and omg I want a Marsarrium! I’m gonna put an Alocasia Flying Squid in it – it’s definitely an alien species.

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