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Do Plants Need Darkness to Grow?

Do Plants Need Darkness to Grow?

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Nobody talks about plant care without long and detailed information about light. How much, how bright, how hot, which direction and what color? It’s a huge part of growing plants indoors, without a doubt. But what about darkness?

Allowing for darkness in your houseplant plans is actually pretty important, and night shouldn’t be considered a useless or “dead” time. A lot goes on.

If you want to excel at keeping healthy houseplants, you need to understand what happens to your plants at night.

What Happens to Plants at Night in the Dark?

There is a pretty big misconception that plants just shut down and go to sleep as soon as the sun disappears. Not even close.

First of all, plants don’t sleep, at least not in the same way animals do. They just don’t operate that way. The level and type of activity change in the dark, but they never “sleep.”

The biggest change in plant metabolism in the dark is that they stop photosynthesis, because that is a biochemical process that needs light to happen. This is how plants make their food, which happens in the leaves as long as the light is shining. They expel oxygen as a waste product, which is why they are so vital to the environment and keeping people alive.

Aloe Vera In Dark

Where it gets more complicated, is that plants also respire, just like animals do. So while they are giving off oxygen from photosynthesis, they are also undergoing respiration at the same time.

They are taking in oxygen, using their “food” for growth, and giving off carbon dioxide. Many people don’t realize this is going on as well as photosynthesis because it seems quite contradictory. That’s just how nature works.

So when the lights go out, the photosynthesis stops but the respiration keeps on going. They respire all the time, night or day. All living things do.

Plants are definitely not dormant when it is dark. In fact, this is often the time when they do more growing because they have an entire day’s worth of energy stored up and ready to metabolize.

Do Plants Need Darkness to Grow and Thrive?

Plants respire and grow during the night, but do they necessarily need to be in the dark? They respire whether there is light or not, after all. Leaving them in permanent light would just give them more energy and food for growing.

While that seems to make sense at first, it’s not true. Plants do need that period of darkness for their metabolism to work properly.

They are not designed to create food non-stop, and it will do them harm in the long term to put them in this sort of situation. So, yes, plants need their darkness just as much as they need their light. Occasional bouts of excess light are fine, just not on a permanent basis.

The Importance of Darkness and Light Together

The most powerful impact that light and dark have on plants is really their relationship to each other, rather than either one alone. It’s the combination that counts.

House Plant At Sunset

A lot of activity that goes on in terms of plant metabolism (growth, flowering, fruit, going to seed) is all regulated by day length, and these stages are all triggered by longer or shorter days. It’s not the absolute number of hours that matters, it’s the change over time that the plants are looking for.

It’s called photoperiodism, and it’s the main mechanism that plants use to stay in tune with the seasons. It’s not temperature, or rainfall but how the amount of light changes over time.

Plants that flower in the spring are triggered to begin their flowering cycles when the days are getting longer (or the night is getting shorter, however you want to look at it).

And later on in the growing season, other flowers prefer to bloom in the fall, and they know it’s time to start that when the days are getting shorter. These are also known as long-day or short-day plants, respectively.

Do Seedlings Need Dark Periods to Grow?

There isn’t a lot of sun underground and that is just the way seeds often need it to be. Unlike a growing plant, seeds are very different and definitely require darkness in their own way.

A seed needs to be at a certain depth in the soil, because if it were to germinate and sprout while just sitting on the surface, there is a good chance it wouldn’t survive. It’s just not moist enough when exposed to the air like that.

Since there really isn’t anyway to biologically measure depth, seeds have adapted to using light levels instead. Therefore it won’t germinate unless it senses darkness, assuming there is also moisture present.

Seedling In Darkness

This is just a general rule of thumb, and not set in stone. Some plants will germinate fine either way, and some will specifically germinate only if there is light.

For houseplants, begonia, coleus and geranium are some examples of plants that will only do well if sown right on the surface of the soil and not buried because they need light as well. For vegetables, carrots and lettuce are in the same boat.

Can Plants Thrive in Low Light?

You may be curious about how well plants grow in the dark because you are trying to keep your houseplants thriving in low light conditions. If that fits your situation, you should first look to plants that do fine in low light conditions.

Low-Light Plants

  • Cast iron plant
  • Spider plant
  • Snake plant
  • Lucky bamboo
  • Philodendrons
  • Peacock plant
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Sword fern
  • Pothos
  • Peace lily

All of these are well-known houseplants due to their ability to grow successfully in low-light areas. They work well in dim rooms, offices or any space in the house that’s far from a window.

Can Plants Survive in Artificial Light?

And don’t forget that you don’t have to settle with the light levels that nature has given you. Artificial light can be just as good.

Any bulb that is labeled as “full-spectrum” is a good choice for keeping your plants lit up, and you can decide for yourself if you want to go with incandescent, fluorescent, LED or halogen bulbs. Some are more expensive, but then they last far longer and can be cheaper in the long run.

If you’re concerned about power usage, stick with modern LED bulbs. They use the least amount of electricity.

Various Light Bulbs

If you want to experiment a little, go for cool (blue) light for more lush foliage, and warm (red) light for more blooms on a flowering plant. Just don’t get overwhelmed by spectrum choices, or the need to get professional grow lights.

Standard household lights will work just fine, though you might want to place them closer to the plants than your usual ceiling light fixture. A floor or table lamp can be a better choice to give the plants brighter and more direct exposure.

Your artificial lights will work more efficiently for your plants if you include a timer or two to your plant table set-up. That way, you can ensure your plants get a nice long day of light when necessary and they aren’t reliant on having people remembering to turn the lights on (or off).

As we mentioned earlier, some flowering plants need changing light levels in order to bloom, so you have to keep that in mind if using artificial lighting. It’s not enough to set a timer and leave the plant to do its thing. It will survive well, just won’t be stimulated to flower.

You will have to adjust the day/night ratios on your own to mimic the changing seasons. It might take a season or two to get the hang of it, but it the effort can be worth it when your plant bursts into color for you, even in the winter.

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Friday 15th of April 2022

Thanks for the info. I got some indoor grow lights and I was wondering if I should leave them on or not. I knew some plants like snake plants did CAM photosynthesis processes at night but was not sure about all. I think I will just mimic nature. Can't go wrong with that. :)

Here is a wiki page on CAM photosynthesis your readers might like.


Friday 8th of January 2021

Hey there Lisa, hope you answer me as soon as possible because I'm confused about some light period methods of mine. To avoid of overheating my LED lamp, I've set the timer 45 min. light, 15 min dark period for a day. What do you think about this idea? Is it right for plant or not?


Monday 11th of January 2021

Hi Leonard, It's best to mimic the sunlight hours to keep your plants happy. I would keep the LED lamp on during daylight hours and have it turn off during dark hours. LED lights usually create much less heat than other types of lamps and good quality LEDs are made to dissipate the heat created within the bulbs. However, if you have a safety concern with your lamp, you might check the manual or reach out to the manufacturer to see if they have any info on overheating.



Friday 25th of December 2020

Actual scientific data would be helpful to support your claims. Plants are ALWAYS exposed to some degree of darkness. It’s not like the ground shines. Plants are opaque. On one level or another, there is always a degree of darkness. I mean… ever heard of roots? For the vast majority of plants, up to half or more of the entire biomass spends its ENTIRE LIFE underground… in the dark… there are certainly metabolic processes within the greater kingdom of plants which require the foliage to experience distinct ratios of light to dark… but… to just say that ALL plants need daekness…makes it sound like the person writing an op-ed on bottany… has absolutely no business writing an op-ed on bottany…

Will Rutkowski

Monday 20th of December 2021

@Aaron, she got you hard dude. What science do you offer to support your b******* attitude. Your basic spelling or lack of leaves anyone to wonder. About the education or knowledge you have on any matter as well as this. Loser !!


Thursday 21st of October 2021


Actually knowing how to spell “botany” would help support YOUR claims. 🙄


Thursday 16th of July 2020

Hi Lisa!

I'm in the process of installing a container garden on the roof deck of the apartment building that I live in, but management installed these strings of patio lights that turn on automatically at night. This is the product:

Do you think that they will emit too much light? or should it be ok...?

Thank you so much for your attention to this.



Wednesday 31st of July 2019

Does solar lights that are for your plants outside , does it hurt them at night?

Lisa | The Practical Planter

Friday 2nd of August 2019

Hi, Jeffery!

For the most part, many plants will not be affected by a solar light on at night. The amount of light that is cast off is not enough to contribute to photosynthesis. That being said, there are some plants that may not like it. I would give it a try, and if you are seeing negative effects on the plants, that particular plant may not tolerate it well. Good luck!