What Happens to Plants That Are Kept in The Dark?

Are you thinking of adding a new houseplant to your office space, but typically don't keep the area well lit? Perhaps you want to know what type of artificial light you need to get your plant if the room it's in is too dark? Maybe you just want to know what happens when you leave a plant in a dark room for too long? Find out what happens to plants when they don't get enough light!

Dying Houseplant Being Held


Plants need light for photosynthesis, and without it, they may grow slowly or die. The process by which plants grow and turn sunlight into energy is called photosynthesis. Because plants need light to survive, you may be asking yourself, what happens if I keep my plant in the dark, or a dimly lit room?

For example, what would happen if you were to take your houseplants and put them in a dark closet? Would they die? Maybe not, but it might stunt their growth. You may also end up with withered leaves, or other problems if some type of light isn’t introduced.

Obviously, the best thing for your plant is to provide the perfect amount of sunlight, depending on the plant type. But if you can’t, there are artificial lighting alternatives you can use. Continue reading on to find out how darkness impacts plants.

Your Plant May Die

First and foremost, yes, if your plant is kept in the dark, it eventually starts to wilt and will eventually die if you don’t introduce some type of light. Plants kept in the dark will wither no matter how adaptive they are to their new surroundings.

When the plant can no longer manufacture food, it consumes what is left on the leaves and stems. And once it exhausts the options, the plant’s leaves will turn yellow with some brown dots. Finally, the leaves turn black and fall off of the plant’s branches and/or stem.

Withering Leaves

Plant With Wilted Leaves
You’ll usually notice a plant’s leaves start to wilt when they lack sunlight.

A plant may wither due to a lack of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a condition that is characterized by a  green pigment that the plant uses to manufacture food.

So when light is not available, the process of making food is incomplete, and the chlorophyll disappears. When the leaves turn from yellow to black, it is a clear indication that your plant is no longer manufacturing food.

Furthermore, it is a sign that your plant will not survive for long. At this stage, the plant becomes weak, and the stems become hard since it is drying and all water in the plant is drained.

In the summer, houseplants need direct sunlight for at least six hours a day to maintain their normal growth cycle.

Leaves Turn Yellow

Plant with Yellow Leaf
Yellowing of leaves is common for plants that don’t get enough natural or artificial light.

One of the last things you want to see is your houseplant’s leaves turn yellow. That might be due to several reasons, including but not limited to inadequate moisture, nutrition, temperature, and light.

But given that this article is about plants kept in the dark, you obviously want to learn how lack of light can yellow your plants.

Houseplants need sunlight to produce new leaves and grow properly. If they do not get enough light, they will stop growing, making them look pale or yellowish. They may even fail to flower.

That happens because plants need light for photosynthesis – without it, they start to wilt and eventually die because they will not have any food or nutrients. If left for so long, the leaves will eventually dry and fall off the plant.

The good news is that you may increase light exposure to trigger photosynthesis and help the leaves turn green again.

Stunted or Slow Growth

Slowly Growing Plant in Sun
Plants without adequate light, may be slower to grow.

Plants need nutrients to grow. But as you now know, light influences photosynthesis, which gives food to plants. That means that plants need light to grow and survive.

As such, a plant grown in complete darkness will not produce enough energy or food. And without it, eventually, the cells die because they do not get enough nutrients. Ultimately, plants grown in the dark will grow up to be stunted and underdeveloped.

The plants stay small and do not grow tall as other greener plants in the sun do. But, again, this is because they cannot make their food with sunlight as a starting point.

In addition, these plants do not have chlorophyll, which is necessary for them to get nutrients from water and air.

Instead, they depend on the natural light from the sun to make chlorophyll and get nutrients. Their leaves also do not have any green color because of this.

Plants that do not get enough sunlight will not produce food for themselves or grow tall as greener plants due to their dependency on sunlight. This happens regardless of whether they are planted outside or inside a room.

Therefore, plants need sunlight to obtain nutrients and produce food to grow tall as greener plants do. Without the sun as their starting point, they do not get any energy even if you give them soil and water until you plant them in the ground or water them often.

When growing indoors, plants may not grow well in poorly-lit rooms as their photosynthesis process will fail. Sunlight helps drive this process, so try to provide as much natural light as possible if growing indoors.

When growing outdoors, ensure that young seedlings are put in a sunny spot and have their “feet” kept moist at all times until they establish themselves. 

Can a Plant Survive Without Light?

Potted Succulents
Almost all plants require light, but some plants, including succulents, require less light than others.

Some plants thrive in low-light conditions, such as succulents, while others require high indirect light. But other plants will still grow even if there is no light. Typically, a plant can survive without light if its roots attach to another plant with exposure to enough light.

That plants can grow in total darkness completely changes the game. That means that you could care for a plant just by keeping it in your windowless office or a poorly lit room.

Plants that need light to grow are called autotrophs. On the other hand, plants that thrive best in darkness are known as heterotrophs.

The latter have no chloroplasts to support photosynthesis.

But where do heterotrophs source nutrients from when they cannot make food in the sun? Oftentimes, heterotrophs depend on the soil’s decaying matter to make food.

Examples of plants that can thrive well in total darkness include dracaena, philodendron, also known as heartleaf, Chinese evergreen, and snake plant. Adiantum and parlor palms can also grow well in darkness and still maintain the gloss that comes with sunlight exposure.

Ensuring Enough Light Reaches Your Plants

Potted Houseplant in Sunlight
Keeping your plants near some partial sunlight is a good idea.

Light from outside is called natural light, and it comes from the sun. It is crucial to understand that there are different kinds of light that plants can use during each season.

That means that the color spectrum in sunlight changes depending on the time of year. For example, natural light rich in yellow and orange wavelengths will stimulate leaf growth while red and blue promote flowering.

You want to keep your houseplants near the windows or doors to ensure maximum light reaches them. Therefore, if they are in a room with several windows that get lots of sun exposure, it is likely that they will be fine.

Also, you can move your plants outside a few times a week. If you experience difficulty increasing the plant’s exposure to natural light, consider using supplemental light, as discussed below.

Providing Supplemental Light For Houseplants

Plants That Have Artificial Light
Artificial light is a good idea if you can’t get your plants into the sun.

Using the right kind of light is critical whether your plants grow, flower, or produce fruit and vegetables.

You can use either artificial or natural light to give your plants the light they need. Ideally, you want to mimic the optimal amount of time for photosynthesis and plant growth in your area.

Artificial lights are great because they do not depend on the weather or daylight. In addition, they can help maintain optimal light levels all year round, which is especially important for houseplants that need to grow at specific times of the year.

If you use artificial lighting, you will need to choose a fluorescent type with a color temperature of 6500K or higher.

Types of Lights

There are three main types of lights that you can use depending on your specific needs: high-intensity discharge (HID), fluorescent tubes, and LED. Different types have different advantages and disadvantages.

If you are choosing an HID light, they are a bit more expensive. But they also last longer than other lights because they do not require much maintenance or replacement parts.

Fluorescent tubes are very affordable. However, the bulbs should often be replaced because they burn out quickly.

LEDs are comparatively affordable too, but they do not produce nearly as much illumination. Blue and white LED plants to grow lights are also handy for growing herbs indoors because they promote the growth of specific plant compounds.

To choose a light that is right for you, consider things like wattage, lumens (the unit of measure used to quantify brightness), potential lifespan, and cost. Ultimately, it would help if you also consider parts availability if you need to replace any parts.

If the light you choose does not provide enough lumens, your plant will start to fade away and eventually die.

Light Mounting

The other thing you will need is a way to mount your light once it’s set up to be positioned in a way that provides optimal lighting for photosynthesis.

High-intensity discharge lights are large and heavy, so it is best to mount them as high up on the wall as possible.

However, if you have fluorescent tubes or LED grow lights, they are much lighter and smaller. So, you can get away with mounting them closer to the ground.

Final Thoughts

Plants need specific amounts of light at certain times of year to perform this function properly. If a plant does not get enough light, it will suffer stress and may die if the lack of light continues for too long.

Even if the plant does not wither and die, it might turn yellow or grow slowly. Be sure to move your plant to a place with enough sunlight or introduce artificial light to support photosynthesis and growth.

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