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Written by: Ting Ji, updated on 07/15/2020

Plants are a great addition to any room. They look nice, they make the air fresher, and they can help to improve your mood too.

That last point is such a trope that in classic video games such as Theme Hospital, adding a plant to one of the offices would boost the happiness of anyone in that office!

So can you grow plants with a desk lamp ? Yes! The challenge, though, is that plants need specific light to thrive. This is a guide that will give you all the necessary information.

For those that are in a hurry and looking to buy a good growing lamp we suggest to check out our top pick below:

Mindful-Design hydroponic gardening kit

The best part of this hydroponic garden lamp is simplicity - compact and easy to use. It produces full-spectrum light that mimics daylight. You can easily set the timer for the lights and will alert you if the water levels are low. If you watch the water levels then your herbs and plants will grow as if you are an expert in gardening.

Growing Plants Using Artificial Light

It is possible to grow houseplants indoors. However, you will need a special kind of light to do so.

You can make a plant grow by using a desk grow lamp but a standard incandescent bulb or an energy saving light bulb probably won’t do the job.

Sunlight contains the right balance of light wavelengths to make plants bloom and artificial light usually doesn’t have the same spectrum of light waves in it.

For a plant to thrive, it needs:

Other light will get reflected. Indeed, it is the green wavelength being reflected that makes leaves appear to be green to our eyes.

Common questions

We are going to answer some of the more frequently asked questions about grow lights:

  • Can a regular light bulb help plants grow?

Yes, you can grow a plant with them, but it’s not the best idea. Their spectrum is concentrated on the warm (orange) light, so it is not ideal for foliage growth, which requires more cool (blue-ish) light.

  • Can you use a grow light bulb in a regular lamp?

Yes. If the regular lamp has the correct socket type and wattage capacity, a grow light bulb should fit into a regular lamp without any problems.

  • Is natural light or artificial light better for plants?

Nature light is always better for plants because it has a more complete spectrum than any artificial light.

Ideally, an indoor plant should still have some exposure to natural light. Artificial light should be treated as a supplement rather than an alternative. If you are growing plants indoors, it is better to have them next to the window during the day.

The Different Types of Grow Light Bulbs

Today many different kinds of a light bulbs exist so let’s take a look at them in turn:

Fluorescent Bulbs

a spiral fluorescent light bulb
An example of a fluorescent light bulb

If you want to grow houseplants then fluorescent bulbs are a good option.

They are quite affordable, and they tend not to get too hot when they are in use, either, so they can be placed fairly close to the plant. These bulbs have a long life of about 20,000 hrs and, as such, has been the popular growth light source for a long time.

Choose the tube or a bulb carefully, though. Standard tubes produce light that skews towards the blue wavelength, and that’s not what you really want.

Ideally, you should look for a full-spectrum fluorescent tube that will include cool and warm light colors.

If you’re not sure what tube to choose, pick one that is marketed as ‘cool white’ because white light will include the full spectrum. Keep the tube about a foot away from your plant’s foliage for best results.

Incandescent Bulbs

a series of incandescent light bulbs
Example of a incandescent light bulb

Regular incandescent bulbs get quite warm, and they aren’t all that energy efficient. They give off more red wavelength light than white. They only last about 1,000 hrs.

A regular light bulb can produce the necessary spectrum for plant growth. It needs to be carefully chosen to have the best effect.

It is getting hard to find these bulbs in some parts of the world because they are being phased out in favor of more energy efficient bulbs.

They burn a lot of energy, and the filaments blow more quickly than most other types. Look for something more energy efficient if you can.

LED Bulbs

a led bulb
Example of a LED light bulb

LEDs are a good choice for a grow light bulb because you can get them in almost any color.

Good quality LED has a complete spectrum, and doesn’t produce much heat and waste energy. It has a super long life of 50,000 hours; therefore, it is ideal for growing plants. Although the LED cost can be much higher than other light sources, so the initial investment is higher.

If you don’t like the color of the light that is produced by those, then you could look for more neutral LED lights as long as they have the right spectrum included.

The good things about LED lights are that they do not tend to get hot and they are incredibly long-lasting and energy efficient.

They can be more expensive to buy upfront than other varieties, but they should last for years and they generally provide the best light for growing plants indoors.

Halogen Bulbs

a halogen light bulb on a white background
Example of a halogen light bulb

Similar to incandescent light, halogen light has a sunlight-like spectrum and is more energy-efficient than incandescent light.

It lasts up to 4,000 hours, but still generates considerable heat and concentrates more on the warm light spectrum. It is not ideal for all growth stages.

Horticultural Bulbs

Horticultural-Light-Bulb
Just one example of a horticultural light bulb

Specialized horticultural lights are the most advanced light source for growing plants.

They usually come with a particular light spectrum, like a red light for flower growth or blue light to grow leaves. They are professional products for large farms that aim for high yields and performance but can be expensive.

If you are only looking for small scale indoor gardening as a hobby, it is unnecessary to use professional horticultural light.

How much light do plants need to grow indoors?

Lux level

The quantity of light is measured by the unit ‘lux’. 

One lux is defined as the light from one candle at one-meter distance spread over 1 square meter.

foot candle comparison
Example of one lux

Plants have different light requirements. Sun-loving plants usually need at least 25,000 to 50,000 lux to do well, while shade-loving plants need only 2,500–10,000lux.

Direct sunlight is approximately 100,000 lux, and indirect sunlight gives approximately 20,000lux. Overcast sky gives approximately 2,000lux.

Comparing to natural light, the home light source produces much less light(up to 5,000lux). Therefore, many indoor plants still need to be placed near the window to have their daylight and augmented with artificial light for maximum growth.

Below is a table of how much light is required for each plant type and how they can be grown at home with artificial light:

Plant type
Typical plant
Light requirement
Indoor growing method indoors
Direct sunlight plants
Aloe Vera, Jade plant, Sago palm, African milk bush
20,000–50,000 lux
Near South/west facing windows, or near east/north windows and supplemented with artificial light
Bright indirect light plants
Bromeliad, English Ivy, Dracaena, Maidenhair Fern
10,000–20,000 lux
Near East/north windows and supplemented with artificial light
Low light plants
Dumb Cane, Parlor Palm
2,500–10,000 lux
Near East/north windows or under artificial light
Deep shade
Cast iron plant, Snake plant and Chinese evergreen
500–2,500 lux
Away from windows(in a windowed room), or under artificial light

Hours of light

Different plants also need different hours of light exposure.

Plants can be categorized into a few different types:

  • Long-Day
  • Short-Day
  • Day-neutral

Long-day plants require 14 to 18 hours of light; if they don’t receive enough, they get pale and leggy.

Short-day plants, such as chrysanthemums, kalanchoe, azaleas, and begonias, need less than 12 hours of light per day.

Day-neutral plants, including foliage plants, geraniums, coleus, and African violets can usually thrive with 8 to 12 hours of light all year-round.

Usually, the plant’s foliage will tell you whether they are receiving enough light.

A mid-green color to the foliage indicates the plants are receiving the correct amount of light. In contrast, a bleached appearance, yellow-green foliage, or stunted growth means there is too much light. When the foliage becomes a dark green, it means too little light is received.

Plants need light to grow, but they also need some darkness.

While it’s dark, the plants will respirate, and this is just as important a part of the growing process. If they don’t get rest, then they will not thrive properly.

Plant type
Hours of light
Examples
Long-day plants
14-18 hours
Vegetable seedlings, garden flowers, cacti, hybrids
Day-neutral plants
~12 hours
Foliage plants (ex. ferns, hostas), geraniums, coleus, African violets
Short-day
12 hours or less
Chrysanthemums, kalanchoe, azaleas, begonias

If you want to grow plants using a desk lamp then it is important that you pay attention to this lighting issue.

You cannot simply buy a plant and change your bulbs, then forget about it.

Think about light as being another form of food, because that’s exactly what it is to a plant. We eat, they photosynthesize – and photosynthesis uses light.

It’s a good idea to invest in a timer for your lamp so that it will be turned on and off to the right schedule.

This may mean that you have the light on even when you’re not using the room, but don’t worry too much about that. Desk lamps, especially LED ones, do not use very much energy at all.

desk lamp with a white grow light for plants
red light growing lamp

If you really want the ultimate in convenience, there are ‘smart garden’ tools that you can get, including pots with a lamp above them and a reservoir with a mister.

These will keep the plants watered for you at the right rate, as long as you remember to refill the reservoir.

How reliable this is will depend on how humid/warm your rooms are and the plant that you choose. There’s still no substitute for human knowledge when it comes to tending your plants!

a smart garden desk lamp growing plant kit
A example of a simple smart garden kit with a lamp

Light Spectrum And Color Temperature

Plants primarily use blue and red light for growth, but research has shown some species perform best under the full spectrum that is similar to sunlight.

While natural light varies in color temperature throughout the day, artificial light has a static color temperature. If you want to promote a particular growth stage, it is recommended to choose a full spectrum light with a specific color temperature.

The general rule is to choose a full spectrum grow light with a color temperature in the blue range (5,000 – 7,000K) that will promote vegetative growth.

To promote fruiting and flowering, choose a color temperature in the red spectrum (3,500 – 4,500K).

The correct position of the light source

Keep the right distance!

To grow plants at home, it is better to use lamps with adjustable arms so that you can move the light source away from the plants as they grow taller.

It is recommended to keep the light source at least 3″ away from the top of the plant if you are using an LED or fluorescent lamp and 6″ or more for incandescent or halogen lights. Keeping a light too close runs the risk that the plant is ‘burnt’ by the heat from the light source.

An excellent way to test: Sticking your hand above the plant under the light, you should not feel warmer than under the sunlight.

Another important aspect is to keep the right light intensity.

The light source also needs to be at the right height so that the right amount of lux level is achieved on the foliage. There are a few lux meter apps available for mobile phones.

More serious growers can invest in a lux meter to get the accurate lux level reading above the plant. Most importantly, the light intensity needs to be consistent. Also, make sure to purchase a broad beam light to cover the whole planting area.

What Plants Will Grow Indoors?

Most plants can grow indoors if you get the right bulb for your lamp.

Grow lights can help to start seeds so that you can plant them outside once they are stronger seedlings.

You can grow herbs indoors so that you can enjoy a fresh harvest even in the winter, and you can get thriving, vibrant houseplants with the right spectrum of light too.

showing bunch of spices and herbs
picture with a bunch of different house plants

Choose Low Maintenance House Plants

If you are someone who doesn’t know a lot about gardening, or someone who is rarely at home, then you should choose a plant that is fairly low maintenance.

Aloe, Spider Plants, Snake Plant, and Lavender all fit the bill in terms of not needing a lot of specialist care.

Spider plants, however, grow very quickly and you may end up needing to re-pot them, or ending up with offshoots that you can give away to your friends and family.

Once you get the hang of those ‘easy’ plants you can start looking at others that need a bit more care.

Remember that even supposedly ‘hard to kill’ plants such as cactus can still wither if they aren’t looked after properly.

Make sure that they get the right amount of light and the right amount of water.

Many people over-water cacti or forget that it is possible for a succulent to become damaged from too much sun exposure.

So, don’t put your cactus on a windowsill, and if you’re exposing it to a desk lamp instead, make sure that the light isn’t too harsh or too close to it so that the leaves don’t get damaged.

Product Comparisons

Here you will find 3 products that we recommend for easier plant grow. They are very convenient for first time plant growers and for experienced ones also.

Brand
Type
Light
Power
Timer
Dimmable
Price
Mindful Design
Adjustable Arm
Multi-Spectrum LED
14W
Click Here
Elaine
Goose-neck Clip-On
Sun-like Full Spectrum
45W
Click Here
Amsuns
Goose-neck Clip-On
Full Spectrum
10W
Click Here

Product recommendations:

1. All in one indoor garden system by Mindful Design

mindful design brend of a plant growing lamp

This is a great lamp for plants!

The product is a simple and compact system complete with white LED light and water system.

It is ideal for someone who wants a nice looking small patch of indoor green with low maintenance.

The product produces 4000K full-spectrum white light similar to natural daylight. It can substitute the lack of daylight for indoor plants.

It is an easy to maintain system with an automatic timer to allow you to set up when the light will be on and off. It also alerts you if the water is too low. Once set up, all you need to do is keep an eye on the water levels.

The white light and the product’s compact design fits great into any home environment. The product would look particularly great in the living room or kitchen.

It is a relatively small plant pot. The product’s main compartment has limited growing space for plants, so only small plants, like herbs and certain flowers, can fit into the system.

Nonetheless, it is still a great starting kit for everyone who wants to start growing plants indoors. 

Pros
Cons
Produces similar natural daylight
Small plant pot
Automatic timer
Limited dimming settings
Water level alerts
Limited customized options
Fits great in any room

2. Grow Light for Indoor Plant by Elaine

YinTatech desk lamp for growing plants

A dedicated plant light that produces full-spectrum white light similar to daylight, to supplement lack of daylight exposure for indoor plants.

It is highly customizable and adjustable, suitable for gardening fans constrained by indoor space.

This product produces sun-like full-spectrum white light which is similar to and can be a substitute for daylight.

It has added red light to increase yield and promote flowering. With various dimming options that can adapt to different plants’ need for daylight.

Also comes with 3 timing settings. Once you choose repeat at first time, it will turn on/off automatically and you don’t need to do anything. Amazing!

The product comes with a 360 degree goose-neck type to cover numerous plants of various sizes. The white light it produces is comfortable to look at the in-home environment.

This lamp can also double as a desk light which can be quite useful.

On the other hand, this lamp doesn’t allow selective blue/red light output to optimize particular growth stages, e.g, using more red like for germination and root growth, and more blue for leave growth.

Higher energy consumption than blue/red light only products are also some negative aspects of this product.

Pros
Cons
White light similar to daylight
High energy consumption
360-degree flexible design
Lack in selecting blue/red light
Many dimming options
Timer and memory function

3. Red and blue plant light from Amsuns

Amsuns gooseneck type desk lamp for growing plants

This lamp produces the critical red and blue light spectrum that promotes plants’ growth.

Ideally used as supplemental light for outdoor plants that need extra help at a particular stage, or indoor plants exposed to daylight but needed some extra ‘vitamins’.

It is ideal for someone keen on getting good gardening results and willing to make the extra effort.

The product has flexible and adjustable blue/red light working mode setting to suit different stages of plants’ growth, e.g using more red light at plants’ early stage to help germination and root growth; using more blue light at the growing stage for stronger leaves and stems.

Also has multiple dimmable levels and timer settings to suit a specific plant’s needs which is always useful.

Adjustable arms can be adapted to suit a wide variety of plants and coverage areas.

The main disadvantage is the ability that it concentrates on the blue and red spectrum only. It can’t substitute natural light. The plants still need to be exposed to full-spectrum natural light to grow healthy.

If you are looking on the aesthetic side then maybe this lamp isn’t for you. Because blue and red light may not fit well in a home environment. It is a dedicated plant light not meant to look pretty.

Pros
Cons
Flexible blue/red light modes
No full-spectrum white light; only blue&red light
Many dimmable and timer settings
Needs to be set up daily
Clip-on & 360 degree design
Aesthetically not much pleasing
Multiple uses

Questions to ask before buying a plant growing lamp

  • What plants do you intend to grow? Are you growing small herbs or medium size pots?

  • Where will your plants grow? Do you grow plants outdoors but in limited sunlight(north-facing or shadowed by buildings) or they are indoors with little daylight ?

  • What is the purpose of the plant light? Do you want to supplement daylight or use a particular light to promote seeding or flowering?

  • How much adjustability and dimming control will be needed?

  • How much maintenance do you want to take on?

  • How would the light complement your home? Would you accept red/blue light or would plain white light be preferable?

FINAL THOUGHTS

For someone who wants a pretty fresh herbs pot without much effort, a simple compact system would be a great choice.

For more committed gardeners, an adjustable white light plant light is good for plant growth in places with insufficient daylight.

If your plants have access to daylight but could use some extra help to maximize growth, the blue and red light would be a wonderful ‘light supplement’.

Whether the plants need additional daylight or a particular spectrum is an essential question. Besides, the more adjustability a product has, the more control you have, but you might not need that much.

If you love doing DIY projects then you can create your very own desk lamp by following our simple guide!

External sources:

Authors Bio:

Ting Ji

Ting Ji

Ting is an independent lighting designer living and working in London. She has successfully delivered various masterplan, landscape and interior projects all over the world. With 8 years experience working with light, she wants to create best lighting experience for the users.

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