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Yes, plants will grow under normal LED lights. Grow lights aren’t special – they’re just strong. Bright light causes plants to grow, whether they’re marketed as grow lights or not.
They do need to be close to them though – the closer the better (without them burning). Preferably about a foot away.
If you know *anything* about plants, then you’ll probably be aware that plants need light. They use it to photosynthesise – the process of turning light into carbohydrates.
In layman’s terms, plants convert light into food. And if they don’t get food, they die.
But here’s the thing. House plants live, you know, in the house. Where there is less light than there is outside.
None of this is news to you. I’m just making sure we’re all on the same page.
And sure, there are LOADS of plants that tolerate medium light conditions, but there are very few which will tolerate no light whatsoever.
Ok, there aren’t any.
No plant can live for an extended period of time in the dark. If you want information on which plants are very low light tolerant, read this post on how to navigate keeping plants in a windowless room.
Grow lights are an incredible way to be able to grow any plant you like, regardless of your lighting.
But grow lights can be pricey, and not aesthetically pleasing.
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 good normal 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 string, 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, babe, 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 them in lamps, however, is a great shout.
Why would I need extra lights to grow plants?
It’s absolutely NOT required that you purchase extra lights for your plants. There are no grow lights in the rainforest.
Buuuut the sun is like, right there.
All the time.
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 of 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 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.
If you want serious grow lights for a dark corner, you’ll want something like these Monios-L ones.
I personally haven’t tried them, but you can see the specs here, and they’re considerably more powerful than the next contender.
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).
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???!!?!1?
Speaking of winter…
Your plants suffer in winter
House plants 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 that 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).
In fact, the MarsHydro didn’t impact it at all, and it is BRIGHT.
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 house plant growers – they’re for gardeners to grow on seedlings or for people selling, er, speciality plants.
They’re designed to be hung or linked together to get the widest footprint possible. THEREFORE when looking for grow lights to eg fit on shelves, you may find yourself looking at lights designed for the underside of upper kitchen cabinets.
That doesn’t matter – all that matters is that they’re bright. If you buy a strong bulb, it won’t necessarily be marketed as a grow light because most buyers are looking for bright lights for other reasons (for cooking, or reading, or fixing stuff). These bulbs are regularly voted best grow bulb and they’re not marketed as such. They’re only 450 lumens, but people seem to like them!
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.
I’d love to include specifications, but the light companies don’t make it easy to compare. If I make mistakes here, feel free to correct me. In my opinion there are waaay too many ways to measure light. Am I joking? Kind of, but also no.
Kelvins measure thermodynamic temperature – basically how warm or cool the light is.
Lumens measure the actual light. This is what you’re looking at. As I mentioned before, My Mars Growlight has over 20k lumens (I think, It’s not easy to find that info). A good normal LED light has, er, 2600.
Do I definitely need artificial lights to grow healthy house plants?
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 plants?
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.