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How to Grow Pilea with Artificial Light

As a plant parent, you’re probably already familiar with the trifecta of plant wellness: soil, water, light. We’ve talked about what the best light environment for your Pilea is in this post, and one of our recommendations was to get some grow lights if your plants are having a hard time adapting to a low-light environment.

In this post, we’ll dig deeper into what that means and how you can help your Pilea grow in artificial light.

Growing Pilea With Artificial Light

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Before we get started, let’s get one thing straight. What we’re talking about in this post is growing Pilea with the help of artificial lights, not using just artificial light. So while using grow lights is helpful for houseplants if your surroundings call for it (dark months, poor placement of windows, basement apartments, etc.), we don’t recommend placing your Pilea in a room with no windows or any other source of light, only to then rely on grow lights.

Although the light needs vary depending on what houseplants you keep, all plants require light in order to photosynthesize, thrive, and grow. The more light your Pilea absorbs, the more energy it has to grow.

Here are the answers to the 5 most common questions plant hobbyists have about grow lights.

1. What type of grow lights should I get?

If you’ve ever felt like you were wading in a sea of information when you searched for the best grow lights online, you’re not alone. A lot of the information out there is geared towards professional growers - horticulturists whose business model relies on growing vegetables (such as tomatoes and peppers), leafy greens, and herbs indoors.

For the hobbyist plant-keeper, all those details are overwhelming. In a nutshell, what you need to know is that a full-spectrum LED grow light is all you need to keep your Pilea happy during the dark days of winter.

Using LED grow lights has several advantages: LEDs are strong enough to be used industrially, yet they emit very little heat and consume little energy (compared to incandescents, for example).

2. What size grow lights do I need?

This depends on how large your setup is. If you only have a few plants that need an extra boost, then you can opt for clip-on lights which you can attach to surfaces such as tables or shelves. A tabletop light (either round or wand-shaped) is also a good option, as it’s easy to adjust and easy to move.

Larger lamps make more sense for larger plants or groupings of plants. You can find them sold as larger light panels or fixtures, and they might require drilling holes into the ceiling for safer mounting.

3.Where should I place the grow lights for my Pilea?

You should place the grow lights over your plants as this will maximize the plant surface level that the light reaches. This mimics the natural sunlight that shines from above.

When it comes to the distance between your lights and your plant, always check and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, because each LED lamp was made with a very specific angle at a very specific height. Because LEDs have a lower heat output, you can place them about 8-12 inches roughly overhead for most plants.

Keep in mind that you should adjust the distance as the plant grows and reaches towards the light.

The only way to control the light intensity at the plant level is to lower or raise the light. The higher the light, the lower the intensity, and vice versa. You can also opt for dimmable lights, but these come with a higher price tag.

If you have several types of plants under the same grow lights, try to group them according to the amount of light needed. For example, succulents like bright light, so you can place them closer to the grow lights. Plants that are tropical undergrowth (such as ferns or ivy), might like to be further away from the light. Another rule of thumb is that flowering houseplants (such as African violets or bromeliads) need to be closer, while foliage-heavy houseplants (pothos, philodendron) can be as far as 35 inches away.

Pilea plants originate in the high mountains of Yunnan Province in Southern China, so they prefer bright indirect light, which translates to a medium distance from the grow light (again, check the manufacturer’s instructions).

To get an accurate reading of the light profile in a room, we recommend using a light meter or a light meter app such as Lux Light Meter.

4. How long should I keep the grow lights on for my Pilea?

Pilea Peperomioides will fall into dormancy once it reaches a certain temperature and light: namely in the dark cold months of fall and winter. That means that it slows down its growth or even stops growing altogether. Dormancy is a necessary stage for plants that allows them to conserve energy for when the plant is ready to start growing again. Once temperatures warm up and days get longer, the plant "awakens" and resumes its growth.

So even in the winter, you shouldn’t force your plant to grow under artificial lights for 24 hours. For most plants, Pilea included, 8 to 12 hours of grow light is enough. Artificial light should not be used as a substitute for natural light from the sun, but as a supplemental light source.

5. Are there any downsides to grow lamps?

Yes, any man-made contraption meant to replace nature has a few downsides. Here are the most common warnings when it comes to LED grow lights:

Don’t bring lights too close to the plants

Although this isn’t a common occurrence, it is possible to harm your plants by putting the grow lights too close to the foliage. This triggers a defense mechanism called photoinhibition, which will cause the leaves of the plant to turn white and die.

Don’t look straight into the light

LED grow lights are designed to mimic the sun. This is what makes them effective and, at the same time, what brings about the side-effects of too much sun exposure. That’s why you should never look directly into the light, and try to keep a distance of at least 3 feet between yourself and any UV-emitting light fixture. Similarly, don’t place them anywhere near where you might be sitting every day. If the lights are close to your desk, for example, you don’t want the UV light to fall on your exposed skin for hours every day.

Don’t keep grow lights on if you’re sleeping in the same room

The blue light emitted by the grow light suppresses the secretion of melatonin (a hormone that regulates your sleep cycle), and may interfere with the quality of your sleep. Excessive blue light can also damage your vision, as the cornea can’t block blue light efficiently, and it can penetrate straight through to your retina. Of course, that doesn’t mean that using grow lights will make you blind, especially not a small in-home setup. But you need to take precautions and understand the risks before making a purchase.

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