How to Grow Succulents in Artificial Light

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Living in sunny Southern California, I don't have much experience with growing succulents in cold temperatures and dark winters. I'm lucky enough to be able to leave my plants outdoors year round with little or no damage from frost and low light. I realize that many of you live around the globe and are wondering what to do now that you've brought your plants inside for the winter. Maybe you have your plants in window sills, but they are still getting leggy, or maybe you just don't get any sunlight where you live during the winter months. Look no further! I'm so excited to have Ben Thorton, indoor plant growing expert, here with us today to share his knowledge on using grow lights to help nurture your beautiful garden no matter what your light conditions! 


Author: Ben Thorton

Lately succulents have become one of the most popular house plants, because they look very pretty, add a nice vibe to your house and also don’t require as much care and water as other house plants do. Because succulents are warmth and sun loving plants, many are afraid to grow succulents in places where the summer season isn’t that long. You might be surprised to know you can still grow your succulents year round even if you live in a climate where there are distinct seasons and winter months are cold and dark. Just bring them inside once cooler temperatures hit and use artificial lights to give your succulents the light they need. If you are on the fence about using grow lights or are afraid that you might hurt your plants by using them, here is a quick guide to growing your succulents indoors and under artificial lights.

Artificial lights can be defined as lights that are either used in addition to natural sunlight or lights that are used to completely imitate sunlight in conditions where there is actually no sunlight available. For humans, artificial light cannot replace real sunlight, because we get vitamin D from sunlight which is one of the most essential vitamins in the human body.  Plants are a little different, because the only thing they need from sunlight is the light itself.  When plants receive light a process called photosynthesis happens and they get the energy they need to grow. As long as you provide the correct amount of light, you are able to grow plants including succulents under artificial light as good, if not better, than you would outdoors in real sunlight. However, you still need to choose the most suitable lights and know a few things about how to use them, to be successful at growing your succulents in your home.

When choosing artificial lighting for an indoor garden there are a couple of things that you need to think about when you are making the decision. And these things are:

  • How bright and powerful is the light that the grow lights emit?

First and foremost you need to think about how bright the light that comes from grow lights will be, because this will determine how much light the plants get and how well they will be able to grow. For succulents, you need lights that will emit at least 2,000 lumens for each square foot of light. In direct sunlight at noon there are 10,000 lumens per square foot, but if you run 2,000 or more lumen bulbs for 14 or more hours a day, the plants will get approximately the same light exposure as they would in the heat of the summer.

  • How many watts the light consumes?

Another thing you need to think about is what wattage the grow lights you buy have, because this will affect your electricity bill. The more watts a light consumes, the more you have to pay for your electricity, so you don’t want to buy a light that is bright, but chews up a lot of watts, as that will be very expensive. Look for lights that are labeled energy efficient, because they will most likely have high lumen count and low wattage, giving you the best of both worlds – bright light for your plants and small electricity consumption for you.

  • In what color temperature is the light that comes from the grow lights?

Because succulents are sun loving plants, they prefer bright light over shadow which is why they also require a specific light in terms of the color temperature of the light. Color temperature is essentially the visible color that the grow lights radiate. This is measured in Kelvins.  Plants need light that is in a specific range of color temperatures to be able to give the them the light they need to grow. The optimal color temperature for succulents starts at about 5,000 Kelvins which will give your succulents cool and full spectrum light that closely resembles sunlight.

  • How much heat does the light radiate?

Lastly, it is very important to know how much heat the grow lights radiate. If they give off a lot of heat, then you could have a problem with the room where you grow your succulents being too hot, which will result in you having to spend more money on a good ventilation or cooling system. On top of that, if lights emit a lot of heat, you will also have to place your plants further from the lights, so they don’t get burned.  This can result in your plants not getting enough light. There are some common grow lights that are known to have high heat emission and some that are cool to touch even after they have been on for 24 hours. Before purchasing a grow light check to make sure it doesn’t produce too much heat. 

My recommendation: As I have worked with many different grow lights, I would recommend you to buy T5 grow lights because these tube shaped fluorescent lights that are 5 eights of an inch in diameter, have all the characteristics of a good grow light. You are able to purchase T5 grow lights in multiple configurations starting from two different lengths (2 ft and 4 ft bulbs) to many different bulb counts (from 1 to 12 bulbs in one fixture), different efficiency types (Normal Output (NO), High Output (HO) and Very High Output (VHO)) and different color temperature varieties (from only 2,900 Kelvins up to 10,000 Kelvins). I usually use High output (HO) bulbs, because one 2 foot HO T5 bulb will consume only 24 watts but will give out 2,000 lumens where as one 4 foot long high output T5 bulb will consume 54 watts but will give out 5,000 lumens worth of light.  If you combine one or the other length bulbs in a group of 2 or more bulbs and chose bulbs that are in the color temperature of 6,500 Kelvins, you get really efficient light that is perfect for succulents.

Although choosing the right artificial light is big part of successfully growing your plants in an indoors garden, you also need to know a few more things that will help you do even better at growing plants inside.

  • Know how high you need to hang the grow lights from your plant canopies

A crucial piece of knowledge is to know how high to hang your grow lights, because it determines how much light the plants get. Whether you choose T5 fixtures or you decide on different grow lights, you need to hang them up so that they are able to give the plants the maximum amount of light without burning the plants with the heat that radiates from these lights. I would recommend to first put any grow light at least 6 to 8 inches away from the tops of your succulents, because this will lessen the chance of your grow lights burning and damaging your plants. Later, if you find that your lighting doesn’t give out heat and is cool to touch (like T5 grow lights), you can place them closer to the succulents so they get more intense light.

  • Figure out the light cycles

A specificity of indoor plant growing with grow lights is that you need to figure out what the light cycle for the plants will be, as there won’t be sun that dictates when plants get the light. Light cycles are used to simulate the conditions of day and night for indoor gardens and you need to know your light cycles to grow your succulents faster. A general rule of thumb for growing any plants under lights is that the more light you give them, the faster they will grow and the same can be attributed to succulents. If you are overwintering the plants, then I would put the succulents at first on 20/4 light cycle meaning that I would leave the lights on for 20 hours a day and then turn them off for 4 hours and slowly increase the darkness period so the light cycle is 16/8 (light/dark). Succulents need to know when it is winter, so they can start their dormant process. If you use grow lights all year around for your succulents, during the summer you can have them on 24/0 or 20/4 light cycle for them to grow quickly and thrive.

  • Know how often to water your succulents

And lastly, watering too is a very important thing, because under watering and also overwatering your plants will damage them. During the summer, even if you are imitating summer with grow lights, you need to water the succulents normally, meaning that you water them once the soil is dry. It is a different story during the winter, even if succulents are grown indoors. During the winter or imitated winter, succulents are dormant, so they need much less water, because they are either growing very slowly or not growing at all. So how often to water succulents in the winter then? Generally, I would recommend to water them about every 2 weeks, but you will need to water them more often if the room you are growing them in is hot, because the heat will dry them out quicker. If you are not sure how often your succulents need water during the winter period, just look at the soil in which succulents are growing. In winter, let the soil dry out and then wait about one week during which succulents will absorb the water and only then will you want to water them, so they are not overwatered. 

Hope this guide to growing succulents indoors and under artificial lights will help you to grow and maintain your plants even during the coldest of winters. If you want to find out more information about growing plants indoors, T5 lights or maybe to just ask me additional questions, you can visit my website T5Fixtures, where I share my experience of how to grow plants indoors more successfully.

Added January 2017: 

For more information on growing succulents in artificial light, check out this article on Epic Gardening called T5 Grow Lights Guide for 2017!

 

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echeveria 'lola" succulent via needles + leaves. read how to grow succulents, tips for growing healthy succulents, how to propagate succulents from cuttings and leaves.

I'm asked quite frequently on Instagram to share tips for growing succulents, so I decided it would be a good idea to share them here as well.  Let me start off by saying, I consider myself a succulent enthusiast, but I am by no means an expert. (Feel free to correct me anytime!) That being said, I do have a lot of plants and they are all very healthy, so I'd love to share with you what has worked for me. 

I've found that there are three main factors to consider when growing succulents: 

Soil + Water + Sunlight

Tips for growing healthy succulents, how to grow succulents, and how to propagate succulents from cuttings and leaves via Needles + Leaves.

1. Soil

What kind of soil should I plant my succulents in? 

Succulents love well draining soil.  I've been buying a Palm & Cactus mix from Lowes for sometime now and it has been great.  In the dryer summer months, I've found that my soil drys a little too quickly. If you feel like your soil is just not retaining water long enough, you can mix your cactus soil with a bit of regular potting soil to increase the water retention to your liking. Sometimes, I like to keep my plants in containers without drainage holes, such as tea cups, mason jars and baby food jars.  In this case, I will either layer the bottom of the container with pebbles or add sand to the soil to help with drainage issues.

2. Water

How much and when should I water my succulents?

There is a common misconception that succulents don't need much water.   While it's true that they can go longer periods of time without it, they will not "thrive" in a drought-like situation.  I learned this the hard way when I first started my collection.  I would go weeks without watering and my plants were not growing. They weren't dying either. My mom on the other hand, would water her plants frequently and her plants were flourishing! I decided she was on to something and began watering my plants more often. Now, my general rule of thumb is water when the soil is dry.  For me, that is about once a week during hotter months and a little less when the weather cools.  When I water, I water the soil not the plant. (I've heard that letting water settle on the leaves can cause rot, in addition to leaving unsightly markings.) I give it a good soak so that the water runs out of the bottom of the pot. (For plants without drainage holes, I don't soak. I give more of a "sip.") I see a lot of people killing their succulents by overwatering. You can avoid this by making sure the soil is totally dry between waterings.   

3. Sunlight

How much sunlight do succulents need? 

In general, succulents do best in bright but indirect sunlight.  I've found that different species can tolerate different amounts of light, but most of my plants tend to suffer in extended periods of direct sunlight.  To avoid burning and scorching your plants, keep them in a place where they get a lot of shade but still receive adequate light. My healthiest plants are outside on window sills where they are protected from direct sunlight by small over hangs. Like I said, some plants can tolerate direct sunlight better than others. You just need to experiment with your plants to see what works best where you live.  If your plants are not getting enough light they may become leggy and stretch toward the light. If your plants are stretching out or bending toward the light, you can slowly move them to a brighter spot or rotate the pot from time to time to keep them growing straight up. You might also like to propagate your leggy succulents. (See my post on Propagating Succulents for more info.) 

Tips for growing healthy succulents :: How to grow healthy succulents via Needles + Leaves

I hope this has been helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions at all. Find me on Instagram under @tawwni or @needlesandleaves or leave a comment below. 

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Propagating Succulents

Propagating succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

How to propagate succulents from cuttings and leaves.

If you’re anything like me, you probably love to have succulents in the house. I try to keep them in bright windows that get plenty of light, but sometimes they can still get leggy. This happens when a plant isn’t getting enough light and it starts to stretch out causing the stem to grow long and the leaves to become widely spaced. 

Notice the long stem and widely space leaves.

Notice the long stem and widely space leaves.

If you have a plant that is starting to become leggy like this one, have no fear!  This is the perfect time to propagate!

 

Gorgeous Succulent Plant: Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

Although this plant still looks gorgeous from the top, the lower leaves will begin to wither and fall off and soon we’ll be left with a rosette high above the soil on a long bare stem.  So before the leaves start to die, let’s pull them off and propagate them to make more plants.  Succulent propagation is easy, fun, and free!

Removing succulent leaves: Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

We’ll start by removing the lower leaves first. Be really careful when you remove the leaves from the stem.  I hold the leaf firmly and wiggle it from side to side until I feel a little snap.  You want to be sure you get the entire leaf.  If you rip the leaf, leaving the base still attached to the stem, it will not be able to grow roots or a new plant.

Succulent Leaves: Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

This is what the leaves will look like if they are properly pulled from the stem remaining fully intact.

 

After you have successfully removed the lower leaves you will be left with a small rosette on a long bare stem.  I like to call the next step decapitation propagation. Not sure if that’s the technical term, but it rhymes and we’re going to cut its head off so…

Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

I use a pair of craft scissors, but a sharp knife would work great as well.

 

Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

We now have a bunch of leaves, a stump and a cute little plant with a short stem.

Succulent and Leaves: Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

Now we wait. Before we can place our leaves on soil to begin growing new plants we must let the ends dry out and callous over.  This step is vital! If you don’t let the ends dry out and place them directly on soil they will absorb too much moisture and they will rot and die.  In addition to letting the leaves callous over, we must also let the end of the stem on the rosette dry out as well.  This could take anywhere from a few days to a week or so. 

Once you feel like the ends are dry enough, you can place them on top of some well-draining cactus or succulent soil. (Some people dip the ends in a rooting hormone, but I’ve never tried this and have had great success without it.) I’ve had the best results when keeping my leaves indoors in a window with lots of indirect sunlight.

After a few weeks you will see little pink roots sprouting from the ends of the leaves and then teeny tiny baby plants will begin to grow. I water the leaves very rarely until I start to see roots or babies appearing.  

At this point I will give the roots or baby plants a good soak about once a week or whenever I notice the soil is totally dry.  Just like with a fully developed succulent, too much water is not good. If you want to be certain not to over water, I recommend spraying the ends of your leaves with a spray bottle once a day instead of completely soaking the soil. 

Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.
Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. How to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.
Propagating Succulents: Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

I let my baby plants grow in rows like this until I start to notice the “mother leaf” starting to wither.  At that point I will carefully remove the leaf in the same fashion I removed it from the original stem, and then place the baby plant in its own pot. This can be tricky as you don’t want to accidentally remove the roots with the leaf, so you may want to play it safe and let the leaf fall off on its own.

Keep in mind, not every leaf will grow a new plant.  I’ve found that some leaves just wither away, some will take root while never growing a new plant, and some might even grow a plant, but never root. Although there will typically be a small amount of losses, most leaves will grow roots followed by a new plant.  The three leaves below were all started on the same day and all three had different outcomes.

how-to-propagate-succulents-from-leaves-and-cuttings-needlesandleaves_net.jpg
Baby Succulents: Propagating Succulent via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

I ran out of individual little pots with this batch so I just removed the leaves as they withered and left the plants to grow together like a little succulent forest.

Okay, back to that stump. Don’t worry no part of this plant is going to go to waste!

Succulent Stem: Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

Simply put this pot aside and eventually it will begin to sprout new plants from each place we removed a leaf!

Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

Now back to our original plant, the reason we did all this!  Once the stem has dried out and calloused over, simply place your plant back in a pot with well-draining cactus or succulent soil and it will grow roots again and continue to flourish! Isn’t succulent propagation amazing?

 

Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.
Propagating Succulents via Needles + Leaves. Learn how to propagate succulents from leaves and cuttings.

All of my information comes from personal experience.  I’m sure all succulents propagate differently and plants in different climates and environments require different care. This is what has worked for me and I hope it works for you! Please let me know if you have any questions.  You can find me on Instagram under @tawwni or @needlesandleaves or leave a comment below!

(The plant featured in this post is called Graptosedum 'Ghosty' and is now available for purchase in our shop.)


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