How can I be a better plant mom to my succulents?
September 15, 2019 12:26 PM   Subscribe

Is there an easy, effective way to supplement my houseplants’ light?

I’d like to provide a better lighting situation for my plants inside. Right now they’re outside for the summer and, aside from the ones that got eaten by the neighborhood wildlife, seem very happy. Over the winter, though they don’t get enough light and get leggy. The best natural light I can muster is a big west-facing window (picture here) in my entry. In the winter, the plants sit in front of it on the floor and assorted plant stands. Due to a big roof overhang and lots of trees, they only get a couple of hours of good sun a day. I’d like to supplement with another light source. There are no outlets in the room, but there is a pendant light pretty close to the plant hangout spot. I’d be happy to replace the light with something better for the plants (I don’t like the current lamp), but as this is the main entrance to our house, I’d like it to look nice too. Is there such a thing as a decorative MCM-style grow light? How close to the plants would I need to dangle such a light and how long would it need to be on? Or is this an impossible task? My other option is to cycle the plants in and out of our basement seed-starting-grow light setup, which they will get kicked out of come early spring.
posted by rebeccabeagle to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: pendants won't be great for plants on the floor because most kinds of grow lights need to be within inches, not feet, of the leaves. one thing I have seen plant YouTubers do is rig up an inexpensive shelving unit with LED grow lights for each level and the shelf masks the ugliness of the lights a little and crams alot in one space, and allows you to buy smaller cheaper bar style grow LEDs that can be placed closer to the plants. are your plants are small enough to fit on something like this? this won't be practical with no outlet. is there one close enough to run an extension cord along the baseboards?

if you use the pendant you have you can find LED flood bulbs like the ones recommended here, but you will still need the shelf to get your plants as close as you can to the bulb. the ones that put out the most usable energy for plants in the right wavelengths produce very very pink light that will not blend in. there is a recommendation for a GE "balanced spectrum" bulb on that page that has normal white light that is still usable for plants but I am not sure that is as efficient for your plants per watt as the pink kind, but it hits the mark on aesthetics and might be enough to supplement. you can swap out the shade around the pendant for style as long as you don't put anything between the plants and the bottom surface of the bulb
posted by slow graffiti at 3:30 PM on September 15, 2019

Best answer: You have described my only light area; shady window that's fine in the summer but the winter light kind of lacks. I have a collection of cactuses, a coffee plant and a small collection of plants who don't do great in the PNW winter. I dream of building a sunroom for all of them to eventually live in, but in the meantime I keep two 'pods of wintering' going on, both with the same LED light. The LED light itself is pretty neutral in terms of aesthetics, and the light is very bright. The light from this one is full-specturm, and not the awful magenta that some grow lights are. It is really unobtrusive, and not nearly as decorative as your light. Slow graffiti is right; you need to get grow lights pretty close to the plants. This light is real bright, but depending on the plant, they need to be about a foot or two away from the light.

House-light-pod is run off of a plug that's run to a recessed light. Not the most attractive, but I like my plants more than I dislike the look. This is where the coffee plant and other taller buddies live. I'll layer some shade-loving stuff underneath the canopy of the coffee plant, and they're all quite happy during the winter months.

The garage-pod actually lives year round, and I will rotate plants in and out of it as needed. It's actually a PVC pipe frame covered with cheap-ass mylar sheets. The heat from the lamp keeps the buddies nice and warm. This is typically where the cacti overwinter.

I started out using singular bulb-style grow lights and they were largely a rip off. The light produced just wasn't enough to keep shit alive. One of the better ones that lasted was just a generic one off amazon (which isn't available anymore). I mostly use it for sprouting small trays of seeds before they move to the garage-pod.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:07 PM on September 15, 2019

I use CFLs in generic standing and clamp desk lamps from Walmart (unsightly) as well as fluorescent bars (still not great but OK) and integrated light plant stands (pretty but $$$). My best advice, though, is to barely water during the winter. If they have less light and barely any water, most of them will just go into a sort of stasis/dormancy and then come roaring back when they get acclimated back to outside again. With more water, they try to keep growing through the winter instead and then you've got etiolation to contend with.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:49 PM on September 15, 2019

Most succulents need a significant period of full-sun or equivalent. I'd set up another grow light area in your basement and overwinter them there. You can get LED grow lights that work well and are less expensive to operate. Get a timer and mimic light/dark cycles of Spring/Fall unless you're trying to propagate or graft. Whether the plants are dormant or not is largely due to genus-specific genetics. Not watering won't do much to a succulent due to the fact that they're adapted to store so much water. The area in the photo is better suited to a lower-light tropical plant like pothos or Sansaveria.
posted by quince at 1:09 AM on September 16, 2019

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