How to use Grow Lights for Indoor Plants

One of the biggest misconceptions about indoor plants I’ve come across is that they don’t need much light. In actual fact, the opposite is true! To live indoors in our homes, and to keep providing us with lush and leafy growth, they’ll need all the light they can get.

At the beginning of my indoor plant journey, I really had no idea about plants. I just found one that caught my eye and stuck it in the corner. As I slowly started learning more, I realised how I was caring for them probably wasn’t what was best for their needs.

Giving plants as much light as possible can go against our plans to spruce up that bare corner or that dark room that needs some life added. What’s a plant gal (or guy) to do?

That’s when I discovered grow lights for indoor plants, and they’re an absolute game changer! If you want your plants to thrive, need a plant for that low-light corner or just want to grow plants indoors that normally wouldn’t (like herbs, veggies and flowers), a grow light can make it possible.

If grow lights are new to you, read on to learn specific advice on how to use grow lights for indoor plants.

How to use grow lights for indoor plants | Dossier Blog

Firstly, if you’re after more specific info on the technical side of how grow lights work, check out my post on the guide to the best LED grow lights.

If you’d like a quick grow light recommendation, this Aspect pendant grow light is hands-down my pick for indoor plants. It’s the ultimate grow light if you’re looking for something subtle yet stunning, as well as doing a stellar job at keeping plants alive! Plus, get 15% off with my code dossier22 (that’s a saving of up to $30!)

Get 15% off Soltech Grow Lights using the code dossier22 | Dossier Blog

What is a grow light (or plant light) anyway?

Plants use light differently to humans. Where we use light to see, plants use light as energy to photosynthesise and grow. A grow light is specifically designed to give plants the right type of light in the spectrum that they need for life.

Can I just use a regular light bulb as a grow light?

While some regular light bulbs may produce some of the specific light waves needed for plants, they’re mostly not effective when it comes to growing plants. This is because they’re designed to brighten our homes. With a grow light the spectrum of light they use, how powerful they are, their colours and even the design or shape of the light itself all go towards providing a plant with the maximum amount of energy they need to grow.

Some grow lights may appear to look similar to regular household globes. But keep in mind that how our eyes perceive light is very different to how plants perceive and use it.

Grow light for Fiddle Leaf Fig | Dossier Blog

How long should a grow light be left on?

How long a grow light should be on for really depends on a few factors. They include the particular light you’re using, the environment your plant is in and what you’re using the light for (eg, foliage growth, vegetables or flowering).

The light you use should come with specific instructions. But as a general guide, here’s a few tips.

  • To be effective, grow lights really need to be on for at least 8-10 hours a day. This can vary up to 16 hours, depending on the conditions. That’s why LED grow lights are so popular – when they have to be left on all day, it’s best to use an energy efficient type!
  • Always position a grow light above the plant. This replicates sunlight. Plants will naturally start to lean towards a light source, so above is always the best choice.
  • If your grow light heats up, make sure it’s not touching plants or getting too close to them.
  • Young or shade loving plants can get away with less powerful grow lights, whereas large plants and ones with big leaves that can absorb lots of light (eg Fiddle Leaf Figs) can love the benefits of a stronger light.

Where Should I Position My Grow Light?

Think about how a plant gets sunlight in nature – from above!

I’ve seen many people use grow lights clipped onto the base of the plant, as a substitute for their ceiling lights or even placed in a lamp with a shade next to the plant. While this can help your grow light blend into your decor, unfortunately it isn’t going to be very beneficial for the plant.

Grow lights need to be quite close and unobstructed to a plant for it to have any effect. And just like indoor plants can start to lean towards windows when looking for more light, they can lean towards grow lights too!

Which is why it’s best to position your grow light above your plant, to encourage it to grow upwards just like in nature.

What distance should a grow light be from my plants?

In general, plants will need to be within a couple feet of a grow light to get any benefits. The closer a light is to the plant, the higher the light intensity is.

The distance also really depends on the strength & type of light you’re using. If you’re worried, I would suggest starting off further away and bringing the light closer to see how your plants respond.

Generally, the closer a light is to a plant, the less width it covers. So if you’re only after lighting a single plant, you can put the light closer to the plant (which means more light for the plant).

If you’re lighting a few plants, consider the span of the bulb. You may need to have the grow light further away to cover multiple plants. Keep in mind that the further the grow light is from the plants, the less light they’ll receive.

Ficus rubber plant with grow light | Dossier Blog

What colour grow light is best?

You may have noticed that grow lights come in all different colours. This is because plants use different light waves for different uses, such as flowering, fruiting or general leafy growth.

If you’re looking to supplement a grow light for your indoor plants (aka leafy, green growth), I would suggest a full spectrum bulb. A full spectrum grow light will provide plants with the full range of light they need (and if you find a white one, they look much more appealing that the coloured ones)!

A full spectrum grow light is therefore great for common indoor plants such as Fiddle Leaf Figs, Philodendrons, Calatheas, Peace Lilies, Palms and more.

Other popular grow light colours are red, blue and red & blue together. Red light is great for flowering, while blue helps with vegetative growth. However if a plant gets too much of one colour, its possible they can grow a little deformed or out of shape.

Grow light on pendant cord

So, What Grow Light Should I Use for my Indoor Plants?

For green, leafy indoor plant growth or to keep your plant babies alive through winter (or in darker homes), choose a full spectrum LED white grow light. These can be a little tricky to track down, so I personally recommend this Aspect pendant light from Soltech Solutions.

There’s two sizes, a small and a large which have two different levels of light/power output. The small is best for low & medium light loving plants that are small in size. Pick the large size light if you’re growing larger indoor plants or would like the option to hang the light higher over a group of plants indoors.

Plus, Soltech have kindly given a discount code for my readers! Use the code dossier2021 to get 15% off your grow light.

Using a timer for grow lights

Seeing as grow lights need to be on for at least 8-10 hours a day, you may want to invest in an automatic timer. Using a timer will automatically turn the light on and off at whatever times you set for it.

These days, it’s even possible to get timers that are controlled by an app, making it possible to turn your grow lights on and off from wherever you are! This is helpful if you’re out and forgot to turn it off at night, or if there’s a storm on its way and you don’t want them left on.

When we bring plants into our home, they become part of our decor and part of our lives! Not only do they clean the air and provide us with joy, but in return I’ll bet you want to lavish them with care to see them thrive in your home.

There’s (almost) nothing better than seeing your plant babies grow lush, full and healthy within your care. Grow lights provide us with the ability to do just that.

Plants can often show symptoms of suffering in low light. So if you’re not sure if they indoor plants need more light, read this post on 8 signs your houseplants need more light.

Let me know if you have any questions on grow lights and I’ll be happy to help! I also share a lot of plant tips over on Instagram – come join me!

This post contains affiliate links.

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14 Comments. Leave new

  • Thank you! I have noticed that most grow light bulbs only shine in one direction, with half the bulb obscured by a cover or something. I’m wondering if I could put a grow light into a floor lamp with a drum shade as long as the plants sit directly below it? The light they would receive would not be filtered through a lampshade, but it would be light reflected down by the lampshade, since the light emitted from the bulb would be directed upwards. Is reflected light from a grow light bulb sufficient for growing plants?

    • Hey Melinda, I would think that you would lose a lot of the power and effect of the grow light by doing it this way… Ideally the light will be shining directly on the plant from above. It might be worth getting a floor lamp where the bulb faces downwards? 🙂

  • Jason M. Rashid
    April 10, 2021 5:24 pm

    One of the best and comprehensive articles on how to use Grow Lights for Indoor Plants, I am bookmarking it so I can read it again. Thank you, You really inspired me to learn more.

  • Hello! This was really helpful, thanks! I’m trying to make a grow light fit with my decor and tight budget. Would placing one or two grow lights in paper lanterns be a problem? It’d be for a few low-to-medium light plants.

    • Hey Camille, as long as the lanterns don’t obstruct the light from directly hitting the plants I would think it would be fine. The aim is for the grow lights to shine directly on the plants rather than through a shade. Just be sure that your lights don’t heat up inside the paper too!

  • Hi there! Do you think one of those special light bulbs for reptiles would work for plants as well?

    • Hi Sue, I don’t know a lot about lights for reptiles but I believe they are more for regulating the heat/temperature in a reptile’s space than providing the full-spectrum of light that plants need. Most grow lights shouldn’t give off heat as it can risk burning the plant and it’s more about the specific light waves they give off which plants use. Hope that helps!

  • Is the light from grow lights harmful to human eyes or skin?

  • Do you have a link to the light in your photos?

  • You are an amazing lady with all the amazing tips. I love your work! Thank you 😘

  • Hi. I just bought a grow light for my FLF. Do I need to gradually build up how much time the light is on? I know FLFs are finnicky and this is my first one. I know mine needs more light, but I don’t want to overdo it.

    • Hey Claudia, you shouldn’t need to build up to using the grow light. As long as its no closer than a foot from the plant, there shouldn’t be any issues with burn 🙂

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