The Indoor Garden: Let There Be Lights

The Indoor Garden: Let There Be Lights

With the right lighting, you can achieve a bounty of blooms with the flick of a switch. You can outwit Mother Nature all year long if need be.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Rachel Klein adds, "Water, fertilize, and prune your artificial-light plants exactly the same as you would plants under natural-light conditions."


Artificial lighting for your plants can be arranged anywhere--from a living room that gets morning sun to a basement that gets no sun at all. Anywhere you can install lights and keep your temperature above 65 degrees is a good enough place to grow plants. In fact, gardeners have revamped old bomb shelters into greenhouses with the help of artificial lighting.

Indoor lighting will even allow you to grow tropical plants providing you can keep the temperature above 80 degrees. Consider an indoor herb garden for all your kitchen's needs. Artificial light is wonderful for delicate plants that aren't quite ready for the challenge of life in the outdoor garden. Many gardeners begin their flowers and vegetables from seeds indoors before it is warm enough to transfer them outside. Indoor lighting will allow them to thrive.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "Reduce the number of hours of daily light in the winter for those plants that go dormant in the cold. These plants will be accustomed to having less light in the winter."

Lighting Types

Generally, you should be able to find the lighting you need at any housewares store, but online garden stores and specialty garden centers may have more tips about using artificial lighting. You need to purchase either cool white and warm white fluorescent tubes. Most plants will grow fine under either type of tube. Warm and cool refers to the color of the light waves (red or blue), not to the amount of heat produced. Special fluorescent bulbs have been developed specifically for growing plants indoors. They are a combination of red and blue light that provides an all around, even growth that encourages blooming.

TIP: Rachel advises, "When using artificial light, it is very important to keep your fluorescent tubes clean and dust-free. Replace burned out bulbs immediately."

The shape of fluorescent tubes also sheds light uniformly. Of course, you can makeover your whole basement as a plant haven and purchase more industrial type fluorescent lighting. There are even lighting systems with built in timers you can set to suit your plants needs. These are extremely beneficial because turning the lights on and off at the same time each day simulates a normal growing cycle, which can encourage healthy growth.

There are alternative plant lights that can also be purchased. In places where a fluorescent light fixture might detract from the stylish decor such as a foyer or living room, an incandescent bulb could be used above a large foliage plant.

TIP: Rachel adds, "However, incandescent bulbs used as the sole light source for a plant typically do not work well. They are more effective when used in conjunction with a south facing window or supplemental fluorescent lighting."

Fluorescent bulbs generate more than six times the light of incandesceant, making them more practical for indoor garden usage. Metal halide and sodium-vapor lamps are great for illuminating plants in large areas. Also called "high pressure discharge lamps", the strong white glow may not be applicable for standard homes, but is best for lighting up open areas like halls and atriums, as well as greenhouses.

TIP: Racjel recommends, "If you're worried about not being able to provide enough artificial light for high-light plants, consider using reflective surfaces to maximize the light your plants get. White paint or aluminum foil underneath your plants are effective and basic methods. Some fluorescent bulbs come with self-contained reflectors. Otherwise, porcelain-coated reflectors are excellent and require little maintenance. Keep reflectors clean and free of rust or dust."


With the proper lighting, you can put your indoor plantings almost anywhere. How about in an old television cabinet. Mount two 20-watt fluorescent light fixtures to the top of the inside shelf and place your plants beneath. You can even mount a two-tube 24 inch fluorescent fixture on the underside of a kitchen cabinet and place your herbal plants beneath it. Lights can be suspended by chains from the basement ceiling and add a valance to protect yourself from glare. There are many places around the house you can transform into a garden center from a closet to an unused fireplace, wherever the gardener chooses.

Once you find a place for your plants indoors and install the light fixtures, you'll need to learn how much light and at what intensity specific plants require. Plants need darkness too in order to form their buds and bloom. The type of plant will determine the distance it needs from the light and the length of time it must remain under it.


While beginning indoor gardeners may face a period of trial and error when placing their plants under the lights, there are a few general tips that may prove helpful. For one, the length of your fluorescent tubes should correspond to the length of your garden. A good rule of thumb is to provide 20 watts of light per square foot.

TIP: Rachel adds, "The human eye is a poor judge of light intensity, making it hard to measure the exact amount of light needed by your plants at a glance. Some signs that you are not providing enough light include pale green or yellow foliage, no growth, legginess, and small leaves. Light meters can be bought at home and garden centers, and are also very helpful. Fluorescent lights are brighter in the center than on the ends of the tube. Therefore, the best and brightest spot for high-light plants is directly below the center of the tube. Most plants should be located with the tips of the plants 6 to 12 inches from the light source. The intensity of artificial light drops rapidly as the distance from the light source increases."

Initially, try to grow plants which will not exceed 12 inches in height; tall plants may need additional light accommodations.

TIP: Rachel suggests, "If you are intent on growing a taller plant inside, consider using fluorescent bulbs in spotlights aimed at the base and lower leaves of the plant. Also, fluorescent tubes mounted vertically make for great side-lighting."


Finally, there are several types of plants that are known to do exceedingly well under fluorescent lighting. Beginners may wish to try some of these in order to get the hang of gardening under artificial lighting. Some wonderful foliage plants to try include Swedish ivy, bush basil and coleus. Some great flowering plants include African violets, impatiens and wax begonias.

TIP: Rachel adds, "More experienced gardeners will have great results growing orchids, African violets, and leopard plants in artificial lighting."