In the environment in which you grow your indoor plants, it can be days at a time before they see natural lighting, and you wonder if standard LED lights would suffice for growth. I’ll tell you everything you need to know ahead.
Can indoor plants thrive under standard LED lighting? Indoor plants can thrive not only under standard LED lighting but in all sorts of artificial light. Plants cannot tell the difference between natural sunlight and artificial light. As long as they get the required amount of light per day, and as long as the light is bright enough, they’ll grow!
In this article, I’ll answer all your most burning questions about standard LED lighting and how sufficient it is for growing indoor plants. Whether you’re new to indoor plants or new to LED lighting for plants, make sure you check this out!
What’s the Difference Between Standard LED Lights and LED Grow Lights?
In the world of indoor plants, you’ll often hear fellow gardeners talk about grow lights. If you have standard LED lights, are these grow lights?
No, they are not.
Standard lighting–be it LEDs, incandescent bulbs, or whatever–is simply a form of illumination. When you plug in one of these bulbs, the room comes alive under its glow.
Grow lights, by comparison, are designed for both illumination and growth.
The difference is in the light color spectrum.
LED grow lights will include more than white or pale yellow light–both of which only illuminate–but red and blue light as well.
Both light colors are for far more than merely looks but for benefitting your indoor plants.
Blue light triggers indoor plants into producing chlorophyll, a primary pigment in the plant growth process of photosynthesis.
The wavelength of blue light should be between 400 and 500 nanometers for green, healthy leaves and strong stems.
Red light activates the growth of fruit and flowers, helping these grow more bountifully. This light color can also prolong the amount of time an indoor plant spends flowering.
Another difference between standard LED lights and LED grow lights is light intensity.
Grow lights, since their intended purpose is to help indoor plants grow, are usually brighter than standard LED lights, which only have the purpose of illuminating.
For more information on the difference between normal LED lights and LED grow lights I recommend you read my article, What’s the Difference Between LED Lights and LED Grow Lights?
Can an Indoor Plant Still Grow Under Normal LED Lighting?
Now that you’re privy to the differences between standard LED lights and LED grow lights, naturally, you’ll wonder how suitable standard LEDs are for your indoor garden.
They do indeed suffice, so there’s no need to worry about that!
Plants are very smart creatures. They know how and where to allocate their energy and how to indicate to you that they need better care.
Yet plants, in all their infinite wisdom, do not have the capability of discerning between sunlight and artificial light.
Thank goodness for that! Imagine how harrowing it would be trying to keep an indoor garden alive through the winter when the sun goes down early. All your plants would die in the cold.
And what would happen to all those indoor gardeners in remote locations where the sun doesn’t shine as plentifully?
Or those who can only grow their plants in a cubicle or windowless environment? They would be without indoor plants, which is sad.
All this is to say that when you turn on a standard LED light, your indoor plants are fine with it.
The light still provides them with what they need to photosynthesize provided their light is bright enough (more on this to come), so they will grow.
Now, as for whether an indoor plant will grow faster when under standard LED lighting versus LED grow lights, that’s a topic I will perhaps delve into more thoroughly another day.
The short answer is the LED grow lights have the advantage.
The reason? LED grow lights have those red and blue lights in the spectrum that specifically trigger areas of growth.
Standard LEDs do not have red and blue lights.
Your plants will still grow, and yes, they will thrive as well. You just won’t see as much growth and perhaps not as much fast growth compared to using LED grow lights.
The rate of flowering may also be less. Your plants should still flower or produce fruit if they get sufficient lighting, but not to the same extent as the rate of flowering that LED grow lights could produce.
How Strong Should My LED Lights Be for Growing Indoor Plants?
Throughout this guide, I’ve alluded to the fact that your LED lights must be strong enough to encourage growth in your indoor garden.
Exactly how strong is strong enough, anyway?
That depends on how big your indoor garden is.
If you have 16 square feet of plants in your home or office, then for each square foot, the LEDs should be capable of producing at least 32 watts.
That’s an overall wattage of between 500 and 550 watts.
Here is a handy chart that breaks it down for you according to the square footage of your indoor garden.
|Indoor garden size in square feet
|LED light wattage
|2 square feet
|4 square feet
|6 square feet
|9 square feet
|12 square feet
|16 square feet
|20 square feet
|25 square feet
|30 square feet
|36 square feet
|40 square feet
There is yet another consideration to keep in mind as well, and that’s whether your indoor plants prefer low light or not.
For instance, lettuce likes low light, as do some types of herbs.
When growing these plants indoors using standard LEDs, then for each square foot of space your indoor garden expands, you should only use between 11 and 18 watts of light.
For a complete article on using LED grow lights for plants you should read the article I wrote, How Do You Use LED Grow Lights for Plants?
How Close Should My LED Lights Be for Growing Indoor Plants?
Besides the wattage of your chosen LED lighting for indoor plants, you must take into consideration as well the distance between the lights and the plants.
This information goes hand-in-hand with the wattage of your standard LED lights, as higher-wattage lights needn’t be as close to your indoor plants as lower-wattage lights.
If your LEDs produce only 200 watts or fewer, then move those lights up!
The LEDs should be at least 12 inches from your indoor plants and up to 20 inches away.
Position the lights from the top of your plant, not the sides.
For those LEDs of higher wattages, such as 1,000 watts or higher, you’re free to provide a lot more space between the plants and the lights.
At the very least, the distance should be 36 inches, but feel free to go as far as 46 inches.
Signs Your Indoor Plant Needs More Light
Okay, you think you got this whole lighting thing right, but this is your first time working with standard LEDs, and admittedly, you aren’t sure.
Well, as I said before, plants are smart, and they will tell you what they need if you only know what to look out for.
Without further ado then, here are some indicators that your indoor garden is being starved of light.
You know roughly how much your indoor plant is supposed to grow every few months or every year.
If your plant fails to live up to those growth standards, a lack of light is one of the first areas of its care that you should check.
Even though standard LED lights won’t produce growth as accelerated as using an LED grow light, you should still be seeing some growth, nevertheless.
If your plant is barely sprouting up, then you need to change your lighting situation, stat.
Assess your plant’s growth week after week after improving its lighting and you should notice much more growth.
When a plant stops growing altogether, it can be very scary stuff!
While a lot of reasons can contribute to this, such as lack of water, overwatering, and temperature extremes, know that insufficient lighting can halt your indoor plant’s growth as well.
I would double-check that your standard LEDs are bright enough for your indoor plant and that they’re positioned close enough based on the wattage.
Although renewed growth might be sluggish at first, once it’s underway, it will continue steadily and noticeably.
You’ll be able to witness your plant come to life again!
Unusual Leaf Colors
You know what colors the foliage of your indoor plant should be, so to see any colors besides those should ring alarm bells in your head.
Yellow, brown, or very light green leaves are a problem.
These new leaves are not growing as healthy as they should because they don’t have the right amount of light.
If your indoor plant is variegated, which means it has unique patterns and/or coloration, that variegation can fade from existing and new leaves as well.
This is especially problematic, as once variegation is gone, it’s gone for good!
Does your indoor plant seem to be growing on a slant? This is quite telling.
The plant is angling itself in such a way so that it can receive whatever scant amount of light is in the room.
Once you correct the plant’s lighting issue, you should notice that your indoor plant leans a lot less.
New Leaves Are Smaller Than Standard
It’s not merely that the coloration of new leaves will be stranger than usual but the size will be as well.
Now, new leaves should be smaller than old leaves to start, but they should soon grow to be sized about the same.
If your plant’s new leaves fail to reach the same size as the old ones, it’s because something in your plant’s lighting has changed that’s preventing the plant from growing to its full potential.
Ah, a classic.
Legginess is when the stems of your plant grow exceedingly long but nothing else does.
These stems have barely any leaves on them and certainly no flowers, as your indoor plant doesn’t have enough light to sustain flowers or fruit.
To the indoor gardener who doesn’t know better, legginess can be confused for growth, but it isn’t the kind of growth you want.
Trimming back the spindly bits and improving your plant’s lighting situation can remedy legginess.
Signs Your Indoor Plant Needs Less Light
Just as you can underdo it on the amount of standard LED lighting your indoor garden receives, so too is it simple to overdo it.
Whether your LEDs are far too high a wattage or you placed them too close to the plant or even both, here are some signals you need to cut down on lighting.
Just as pale green and yellow leaves are concerning, so too should your hackles be raised if you notice that your indoor plant’s foliage is mostly brown.
The browning can begin around the leaf edges at first before spreading to the entire leaf.
The poor leaves are beginning to become dehydrated, and further exposure to strong lighting conditions will only worsen the problem.
Burnt, Crisp Foliage
Should your indoor plant spend too long in bright LED lighting, then those brown leaves could become blacker and will take on a crispy texture as well.
These symptoms are reminiscent of an indoor plant that’s being underwatered because in both cases, the plant is starved of moisture.
In your case, you’re dousing your plant in so much light that it’s developed a sunburn.
Unfortunately, once these leaves fry, there is no saving them. You can trim them back and dampen your lighting to prevent future leaves from burning as well.
Drooping or Shedding
Does your indoor plant suddenly look very limp and lifeless when it was tall and proud before? Perhaps leaves are falling off left and right.
Both are signs that your plant is becoming too weak in the bright LED lighting to sustain itself. Reduce the light intensity, replenish with water, and your plant should straighten up with time.
You cannot save those fallen leaves, but you can prevent others from falling as well!