We can’t all live in sunny California, but that shouldn’t stop you from having plants! While we typically want to give our plants lots of sun, this isn’t always possible.
Your plants may find themselves in darker than desired conditions for many reasons. Perhaps your home doesn’t get a lot of natural light. You might live in a climate with long winters and frequent overcast days. But do these dark conditions actually have any negative side effects?
It is a fact that all plants need light to survive. Plants that are kept in the dark without any light, will not create their own food through photosynthesis. Without food, a plant cannot survive.
What Do Plants Need to Survive?
Houseplants require these main components to survive: water, nutrients and light.
Water is important for plants for a multitude of different reasons. The main importance of water for plants is that it carries nutrients from the soil to the plant. Water is also one of the components of photosynthesis, which is how a plant creates energy.
Nutrients are what a plant feeds off of to survive. The three key nutrients plants need are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Potassium allows a plant to produce chlorophyll, which gives plants their green colour and helps them absorb energy from the sun.
Light (both sunlight and artificial light) is a necessary component of photosynthesis. Without photosynthesis, a plant cannot create glucose, its main source of energy. Without energy to feed on, a plant will die.
What Will Happen to Plants That Are Kept in the Dark?
So, all plants need some sort of light in order to produce their food. Some plants thrive with very little light, such as some ferns, monsteras and pothos. Other plants like to be bathed in light, such as succulents, cacti and hibiscus.
In general, most plants need 6-8 hours of light each day. This includes artificial or natural sunlight—both do the trick! This means that a plant in absolute darkness for several days on end will not survive very long.
If you’re unsure if your plants are getting enough light, there are a few tell-tale signs. Plants in a dark room will exhibit the following symptoms.
A plant’s leaves can turn yellow for a number of reasons. If left in a dark room, leaves will turn yellow due to a lack of chlorophyll. As we know, chlorophyll is created during photosynthesis, and photosynthesis requires sunlight.
This lack of chlorophyll (or green pigment) weakens the leaves of your plant, until they eventually fall off. So, if you notice your plants are starting to get pale, try moving them to a brighter area. You should see the green return to their leaves if light was the issue.
If there is no light for photosynthesis to occur, then a plant cannot make its own food. Just like us humans, plants need adequate and regular food to grow.
A plant that doesn’t have adequate food will have very little growth. Growth that does appear will be undersized and delicate. If the plant is a blooming variety and you notice it is not flowering, a lack of light might be the problem. Gradually move your plant into brighter and brighter areas, until it starts to flower.
When a plant is left in the dark, it will try and grow in the direction of whatever light source it can find. This causes growth to be elongated, or “leggy” as it is usually referred to. These plants can appear overly tall and weak.
These leggy stems will cause the plant to lose its natural shape and definition. Leaf growth will also often be sparse, as the plant does not have the energy to produce. If you find your plant getting leggy, move it to a brighter spot. To regain the plant’s natural shape, you may have to trim back the growth and allow it to start anew.
Can Plants Grow in the Dark?
After all that, you might be shocked to know that plants actually do need periodic darkness. Plants need to have darkness at night, because this is when they regenerate phytochrome. Phytochrome production helps plants measure how long the night is. By knowing how long the nights are, plants can know when it is time to flower.
This is why you’ll sometimes hear the advice to put plants in a dark room to force them to bloom. This tactic is often used for blooming Christmas cacti and poinsettia plants.
How to Give Your Houseplants More Light
So you know plants can’t stay in darkness for long without experiencing major side effects. But what if you don’t have a bright space for your plants? Basement apartments, small windows and constant overcast weather can all be a cause for concern for plant owners. If you’re worried about leaving plants in a dark room, we have a few solutions for you.
Install an Artificial Light Source
Did you know plants don’t need sunlight to survive? Artificial light will allow a plant to photosynthesize, just the same as sunlight! There are four main types of artificial lights used to grow plants:
- Incandescent bulbs
- Fluorescent lights
- High intensity discharge (HID) lights
- LED (light emitting diode) lights
The most popular choice for gardeners and growers is LED lights. They are efficient, produce very little heat, and are very compact. They can be found as a hanging fixture, lamp, or in panels that can be installed anywhere. If your plants are suffering from low light, they are the perfect quick fix.
For growers in winter climates, these artificial light sources are very common to keep plants happy. They are also a great way to start seedlings if your climate has a short growing season.
We place plants around our house to help it look lively and beautiful. Sometimes, the perfect spot for your plant isn’t necessarily a very sunny spot. This is where mirrors can help!
Mirrors can redirect and reflect light to other areas of a room. For a corner of the room that doesn’t naturally receive light, try strategically placing a mirror to redirect the light. For optimal effect, it’s best to place the mirror in the direct pathway of sunlight. The mirror can then bounce the sunlight off its surface and towards your plant.
If you really want to increase the amount of sunlight in your room, try adding multiple mirrors. They will bounce light off each other—just keep in mind that the light gets weaker each time it reflects.
Hang Plants for Better Window Access
When plants are placed on the floor or on tables, their access to sunlight can be blocked by other furniture in your home. A great way to ensure your plants get the maximum window light is by hanging them. A hanging planter installed in the ceiling will lift your plants out of the dark and into the sunlight. This is a great solution for homes with high windows, or small spaces where plants don’t fit.
Keep in mind that some plants are better suited for hanging than others. Here are some plants that do well in hanging planters:
- Spider plant
- English ivy
- String of pearls
- Boston fern
We now know that light is a critical component of a plant’s growth and survival. It uses the energy from light to perform photosynthesis. Through photosynthesis, it creates food to nourish itself.
A plant cannot survive in a dark room, but it can survive without sunlight. If your plants are showing symptoms of a lack of light, try some of our above solutions. Whether it’s artificial light or sunlight doesn’t matter, but a light source is necessary so your plants can thrive.