Plants need three things to grow healthy and strong; soil, water, and of course, light. When growing indoors, lighting is often the one that gets the most questions from both beginners and seasoned gardeners. One area that has a lot of misinformation is artificial lighting and how it compares to natural light. Today, we’ll look at the differences between these lighting sources, and how you best utilize each one for your garden.
Why Plants Need Light
You may have taken a science class at some point that covers photosynthesis, which discusses how plants use chlorophyll to absorb light and then break it down into the various compounds needed to create the beneficial sugars that feed them. When combined with the proper soil for nutrients and water to keep them hydrated, the result is a healthy plant.
Light has other benefits as well, depending on the wavelength or color spectrum it creates. The blue end of this spectrum encourages the growth of foliage and the red colors promote flowering and fruiting on certain plants. Different plants need different color spectrums, so you need to consider carefully which ones the plants you’re tending need to ensure proper growth. You can also use this to encourage different types of growth in the same plant.
Benefits of Sunlight
One of the best features sunlight has to offer is that it emits a wide range of wavelengths, which you may have noticed if you’ve ever used a prism. That rainbow of colors that show up in the crystal and on the ground as the light passes through exist naturally in the sun’s rays. Since plants need either/both red or blue wavelengths, sunlight can give all your plants the ones they need at the same time.
The sun also moves across the sky the same way every day, so you can adjust your plants as needed outside or in your windows to give them the perfect amount of light, regardless of how much each one needs.
Another benefit of sunlight is that it costs absolutely nothing to use it. The sun gives your plants the light they need to survive for free just by existing in the sky. No other light source can compare to this. For these reasons, most gardeners look to maximize their use of sunlight first, and turn to artificial lights only if needed.
Drawbacks of Sunlight
Despite all of the benefits sunlight has to offer, there are some drawbacks to relying on it alone. The main one is that sunlight isn’t always possible to use, depending on where you live. For the colder climates, the days get shorter and light intensity drops resulting in limited light and colder temperatures. This makes it impossible to grow certain plants outside and requires a different light source to help indoor plants thrive.
Depending on where your home is, you may get limited natural light in your yard or windows, which makes it difficult to give your plants the right amount of light needed to survive, even for those that require low light conditions.
Can Plants Grow in Artificial Light?
One of the first things new gardeners want to know in the sunlight vs artificial light debate is whether or not the latter source is even an option. The easy answer is yes, plants can grow in artificial light, though you need to be careful how you use it. In fact, there are plenty of gardeners who use only artificial light, so it’s certainly not an issue when done properly.
Artificial light has one main benefit over the sun since you can use it all the time without worrying about seasonal or weather changes. You can place your artificial lighting anywhere you have room for it and the plants you’re tending to.
You also have more control over how much light your plants are getting, as well as the type of light you’re using. There are a few bulb choices to choose from, depending on the type of plant you’re growing. Fluorescent lights, either tubes or bulbs, are popular since they last a while and stay cool, so you don’t need to worry about overheating your plants. LED lights are energy-efficient, last the longest of any light bulb, and are cool to the touch, so are also a great choice.
Incandescent bulbs are another good option when it comes to the lifespan of the bulb, though they do run hot, so you need to keep them at least a foot away from your plants. Halogen and horticultural lighting may seem like the top choice, due to the full light spectrum they offer, but they produce a lot of heat and are the most expensive. This makes them impractical for many hobbyists.
Drawbacks of Artificial Light
Though there are different options available for artificial light, they don’t all offer the same widespread light spectrum as sunlight. Fluorescent and LED lights often only emit blue light, while incandescent bulbs produce red wavelengths, so choosing the wrong one can affect your plant’s growth. The halogen and horticultural bulbs offer both, but the price of the bulbs may not be in your budget.
As well as the light spectrum issues, artificial light can be costly since you need to purchase the bulbs and pay to run them, which can add a fair amount to your monthly energy bill, especially for those plants that need high light conditions.
Do Plants Grow Better in Sunlight or Artificial Light
When comparing sunlight vs artificial light, both have their benefits. Sunlight offers a wider wavelength for all the colors your plants need to survive. It is also available almost all the time at no cost to you.
Artificial light gives you more freedom in terms of available space, plus you can use it all year long rather than searching for the proper conditions and light levels for specific plants. It is costly, though, and few bulbs offer the full color spectrum the sun emits naturally.Rather than choosing one over the other, many gardeners use a combination of sunlight and artificial light for the healthiest plants possible. This gives them the best of both worlds while eliminating the drawbacks for healthy plants year-round.
At the end of the day though, either source is perfectly fine as long as you’re proving enough light to your plants. Either one is a great option, so do what works best for your and your plants.