What are the best types of artificial lights to use for houseplants?


Specialized horticultural lights have become increasingly available and are most houseplant owners' choice for high intensity light with relatively little plant-scorching  heat. They are expensive compared with some other options, but reliable and very long-lasting. These LED (Light-emitting diode) bulbs can be purchased from many different vendors but you will get the most guidance from a horticultural supplier or plant nursery. Standard LED lights are not designed for plant growth; look for full-spectrum grow bulbs specifically designed for horticulture.

There are other options. Amongst traditional types of artificial light sources, fluorescent high intensity (T5) bulbs offer high output efficiency (low watts are needed to produce high light value) and relative economy. They give off low heat so they can be positioned near plants and are generally easy to set up in flexible configurations. They offer enough light for sun-loving plants.

Standard Fluorescent bulbs (T12) on the other hand, are weaker in intensity and a good option only if your light needs are modest, for instance when  starting seeds or supplementing naturally available light. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL's) can fit in a traditional light fixture and are best for very limited light needs.

Incandescent bulbs do not provide the specific spectrum or intensity of light suitable to plant growth and are inefficient in conversion of electricity to light energy.

A second type of specialized horticultural light, HID  (High Intensity Discharge) bulbs, are mostly used in commercial growing environments. Two types of HID bulbs, each requiring a different fixture, are frequently used together. HID high pressure sodium is low spectrum and best for flowering. HID metal halide is high spectrum, supporting leaf growth. They are powerful and energy efficient, but give off too much heat and take up too much space for most home environments.

Read more about using artificial lights for houseplants in our Guide.

Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service


  • Last Updated Feb 12, 2022
  • Views 13
  • Answered By Leslie Coleman

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