4 Tips for the Best Lighting for Indoor Plants

05/01/2019 | By Sarah Kloepple

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Countless studies have shown that interior trees, herbs, shrubs, ferns and more bring happiness and improved productivity to building occupants. But those benefits mean nothing if you’re not providing the proper lighting for your interior plants.

Indoor Landscaping - Planterra“Plants use lights as food; if the plant can’t get light, it’s not going to survive,” says Shane Pliska, president of Planterra, a company that provides interior landscaping, plantscaping, living walls, holiday décor and office plant rentals to commercial facilities nationwide. “It’s the No. 1 determining factor if the plant is going to be successful indoors. Sometimes that gets lost in translation.”

(Photo credit: Geoff George)

So much so that Pliska decided to pen a comprehensive white paper, “Planterra Lighting Guide for Interior Landscape Design,” to provide insight on light measurement, natural and artificial light parameters and sources, plant placement and more.

More specifically, Pliska was inspired to write the document after a client mistakenly invested in garish purple grow light, which is mainly used by cannabis growers, instead of architectural lighting for their global headquarters.

Planterra - Indoor Landscaping“I was trying to figure out what went wrong,” Pliska says. “What it is: When you Google ‘lighting for plants inside,’ all results are dominated by the cannabis industry. On top of that, several of the lighting companies won’t necessarily talk about cannabis on the website. They dance around it and use ‘indoor growing’ as a placeholder. It’s confusing.”

(Photo credit: Tony Frantz)

To dispel that confusion, and to help facilities managers, designers and architects better sustain indoor plant installations, Pliska decided to share his knowledge with those working in the commercial sector.

(The paper does not cover growing plants, as plants installed in buildings are typically grown already in greenhouses and shade house nurseries.)

“As humans we want to be in a well-lit, natural space rather than a cave. So, I think the biggest takeaway I’ve had from looking at lighting specifically is what’s good for plants is good for people.” - Shane Pliska

Here are four key takeaways from Pliska’s lighting guide:

1. Make sure lighting is even throughout the space

Some envelope glazing technology today is so equipped for energy efficiency—multiple panes, specialized coatings, etc.—but it can filter out the proper visible light plants need. Reflective, tinted or frosted glass is found in many commercial buildings.

[Related: Living Walls Bring Beauty and Serenity Indoors]

Only frosted glass helps distribute light more evenly, and more uniform light distribution is beneficial to interior landscape installations.

Indirect natural light vs. Fluorescent light - Planterra
(Graphic provided by Planterra. Download the full pdf.)

2. Provide electric lighting—preferably white, LED light—from above.

If it’s often cloudy where you are, or when daylight is just insufficient, take advantage of artificial light for plants. It can help even out the amount of light in a space for indoor plants.

In the last five to 10 years, LEDs have become the preferred interior light source because of their versatility and energy efficiency.

“LED lighting is more affordable now, and people know more about it,” Pliska explains. “At this point for new builds and renovations, buildings have the best resources they’ve ever had in regards to providing quality light for both plants and humans.”

Timers can also be incorporated with LED technology. This means you can schedule light fixtures to operate 10-12 hours (like a full day of sun). 

3. Avoid up-lighting and indirect artificial light.

Up-lighting should be used for decorative purposes only, Pliska says. Some light fixtures might produce enough heat to damage understory foliage or plant roots. On the other end, indirect artificial light doesn’t provide the adequate amount.

Graphic showing different light sources for plants - from Planterra
(Graphic provided by Planterra. Download the full pdf.)

4. When indoor plants are lit properly, humans benefit, too.

As having access to abundant natural light becomes a bigger trend in new builds and renovations, Pliska says this not only correlates to more indoor plant installations, but producing happier, healthier workplaces.

“As humans we want to be in a well-lit, natural space rather than a cave,” he explains. “So, I think the biggest takeaway I’ve had from looking at lighting specifically is what’s good for plants is good for people.”

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