Can Plants Grow Without Sunlight?

Can Plants Grow Without Light?

Whether you live in a cloudy region or want to grow an indoor garden, you probably realize that you need more sunlight. Most plants require several hours of sun exposure to create enough nutrients. However, many plants need less sunlight due to their natural origins.

Most plants can grow without sunlight, but all plants require light to undergo photosynthesis. Without natural sunlight, artificial grow lights can provide the specific light wavelengths that plants need to grow. Common low-light plants include: dracaena, snake plant, spider plant, & some ferns.

In this article, you’ll also learn the following info about plants that can grow without sunlight:

  • Several common plants that don’t need much sunlight (if any)
  • Whether or not plants can thrive under artificial light sources
  • Plants for overwintering in a garage

Can Plants Grow Without Light?

Can Plants Grow Without Light?

You’re probably wondering why some plants need sunlight, while others get along with artificial light just fine. 

There are many reasons that plants’ requirements vary, but one thing remains the same: They all need adequate nutrition to survive and thrive. 

And yes, all plants need light.

So, why can’t plants grow without any light?

Sunlight is the energy input that powers photosynthesis. It provides the energy that plants can use to create food (carbohydrates) from carbon dioxide and water. 

Contrary to popular belief, plants don’t use all of the sunlight they absorb. In fact, a study by MIT shows that many plants expel up to 70% of the energy they store from the sun

For this reason, plants with low-sun requirements become damaged from excess exposure.

Don’t worry, though. 

Even if you live in a place without much sunlight, there are quite a few plants that can survive without direct sunlight. 

As you’ll soon discover, artificial light provides enough energy for many indoor houseplants.

Can Plants Grow Without Sunlight?

Can Plants Grow Without Sunlight?

Many plants survive and thrive without sunlight. 

Artificial lights often provide the necessary energy, as you’ll learn in the next section. 

Outdoors, sunlight powers photosynthesis in plants. 

But indoors, LED lights and other artificial lights can yield similar results. 

For example, LED grow lights–which emit specific colors–are often used to grow plants.

There are many plants that can survive without sunlight, so stay tuned to review our list.

There’s no doubt natural light is an excellent (and often the best) source for most plants. 

Many species need filtered light since the sun is a bit too warm, though. 

If you want to dive into the science of why indoor plants can live without sunshine by using artificial light, read on.

How Do Indoor Plants Survive Without Sunlight?

How Do Indoor Plants Survive Without Sunlight?

Although some plants don’t need any sunlight, most of them need a little bit (or a lot, depending on their natural habitat). 

If you want to provide filtered, artificial sunlight for your indoor plants, there are a few options. 

These days, LED lights are an excellent choice since they’re cost-effective, readily available, and easy to use.

LED Lights

Modern artificial light sources can provide similar results to natural sunshine, but grow lights provide better results.

Specifically, you can see how regular LED lights compare to LED grow lights.

If your indoor plants need a bit of light, you can provide artificial light in a pinch. 

Remember to keep the lights at the proper distance to prevent damaging plants, and monitor the lumens (i.e., how much light the plant receives). 

Many sources claim between 300 to 800 lumens per sq. ft. is sufficient.

Not only do LED lights satisfy your plants’ needs, they can be ideal for many species. 

LED lights are designed to emit specific colors (i.e., wavelengths) of light, so you can choose lights that are optimal for the type of plants you want to grow. 

Furthermore, you can choose the color to influence the outcome. Many plants grow better with infrared and red light, combined with blue light–that’s why many artificial lights (i.e, grow lights) emit purple light, since purple is a combination of red and blue light wavelengths.

Another reason artificial lights are ideal is they’re not too warm, unlike direct sunlight. This is especially true for LED lights. 

Placing your plants near a window can cause them to scorch from the intense sunlight. 

LED lights are much cooler than sunlight, preventing dehydration and soil drying. 

With LEDs’, the combination of ideal light wavelengths and lower temperature–along with lower power requirements–are reasons why countless gardeners use LED grow lights for their plants.

Plants That Can Grow Without Natural Light

Plants That Can Grow Without Natural Light

It’s no secret that plants and sunshine go hand-in-hand. Too little sunlight can cause wilting and deterioration, but too much sunlight is just as bad

If you don’t have enough sunlight or you prefer indoor plants, you’re in luck. There are many plants that don’t need much sunlight.

Below is a list of plants that can grow without natural light:

Plants That Can Grow Without Natural Light
  • Snake Plant: Snake plants are notorious for looking like their namesake serpents. The long, wavy leaves grow quite tall. They don’t require much sunlight, but they can’t survive in extremely cold temperatures, either. Artificial light is more than enough to keep snake plants healthy and green throughout the year.
  • Spider Plant: Spider plants grow long, thin leaves with yellow-green patterns. Their name comes from the leg-like leaves, and they don’t need much sunlight to thrive in an environment. In fact, you can use artificial lights to keep spider plants healthy by producing necessary energy through photosynthesis.
  • Dracaena: This plant doesn’t need much sunlight, but it requires daily misting and frequent watering to keep the green leaves vibrant and soft. Dracaenas are a common house plant with a thick stem and full, broad leaves. Filtered light sources are often the best way to keep your Dracaenas satisfied.
  • Peace Lily: Peace lilies aren’t true lilies, but they bloom bright white flowers with enough sunlight. However, the leaves grow just fine without much light. You can control their growth by mixing more or less light, making them a naturally customizable plant. They’re capable of growing and thriving with fluorescent light, making them perfect indoor plants.
  • Chinese Evergreen: These are some of the most popular indoor plants. Favored for their pink and dark green leaves, Chinese evergreens are more popular than ever. It thrives with or without sunlight, and you don’t have to worry about watering it too often since it’s fine without much humidity.
  • Lucky Bamboo: Lucky bamboo is basically the bonsai tree version of bamboo plants. It grows vertically in water or hydrated soil. The bright green leaves add a nice touch to these beautiful plants. While they don’t need direct sunlight, they must at least have artificial light to grow and survive.
  • Japanese Sedge: This plant looks like an enlarged spider plant with many more long, thin leaves. It needs quite a bit of moisture and mulch for preservation purposes, but it can survive without sunlight. However, much like all other plants in this section, it needs artificial light sources.

Which Plants Can Be Overwintered in Garage Without Grow Lights?

Which Plants Can Be Overwintered In Garage Without Grow Lights?

Many houseplants can overwinter in a garage, but you can’t expect perennials to flower, since they require specific daylight and temperatures to trigger flowering

As long as you can keep the temperature over 40 degrees Fahrenheit, many plants will survive. 

Plants that can be overwintered in a garage include the following:

Plants That Can Be Overwintered In a Garage
  • Persian shield
  • Coleus
  • Begonias
  • Fuchsia
  • Hydrangea
  • Agapanthus
  • Some fig trees: Although they won’t grow, they can survive through the winter in a garage.

For the best results, heat your garage or keep your plants close to one another–that way, they’ll retain a bit more warmth.

If you’re interested in growing vegetables indoors, you’ll want to check out our full article on using grow lights for vegetables indoors.

They’ll stay warm if they’re near a window that gets enough sunshine–or you could use artificial light to supplement cloudy days.

In general, for overwintering plants in a garage, you’ll want to keep the temperature above freezing, since freezing can damage plant cells and tissues, killing the plant.

Conclusion

Can Plants Grow Without Sunlight?

Now that you know which plants can grow without much sunlight, you can set up a perfect indoor (or outdoor) garden. 

Remember that a plant’s needs are based on its original habitat. 

For example, many orchids naturally grow around trees; therefore, they’re not exposed to a lot of sunshine. They also need adequate humidity and temperature.

Example: Orchids
About the author

Greg Volente

Greg Volente holds a Naturalist Certificate from the Morton Arboretum, worked for The Nature Conservancy leading environmental education programs and doing natural areas restoration, and worked in the soil science research & testing lab at Michigan State University. Besides gardening, he's an avid wildflower enthusiast, and loves botanizing, hiking, and backpacking.