All houseplants need some light to survive. Plants harvest solar energy and turn it into sugar they can burn to grow and flower. Without sunlight, your indoor plants will soon wither and die.
Will plants survive indoors without sunlight? No, they won’t (at least not for long). They may survive a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of plant. Some will live longer than others. But in the complete absence of light, all houseplants will eventually die.
However, plants can live under artificial lights if you have no natural light available. They don’t necessarily need sunlight, but they do need some kind of light. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at why your plants need light and what happens to them without it.
Why Plants Need Sunlight
Light is the most important variable when it comes to growing happy, healthy houseplants. Although we often think of plants using fertilizer or nutrients from the soil as “food,” this isn’t the whole picture. Plants derive most of their energy from light.
While they do use nutrients from the soil, they also need food than can only be manufactured from sunlight. Plants use sunlight (or full-spectrum light from artificial plant lights) in a process known as photosynthesis. You may remember this from grade school, but here’s a reminder.
During photosynthesis, special cells in plant leaves known as chloroplasts absorb light and convert it to energy. Plants that prefer high light contain more chloroplasts in their leaves, which are arranged in thick layers. Plants that prefer low light have fewer chloroplasts in thinner layers.
Every plant – regardless of light preference – needs regular, daily exposure to light. Some need more than others. But without any at all, plants eventually drop their leaves and die completely. They basically “starve” to death without the essential element of sunlight.
What Happens to Plants Without Sunlight?
Without sunlight, plants cannot manufacture the food they need for energy. They can survive for a while using the sugar, starch, or complex carbohydrates they have stored in their tissues. But eventually, these stores run out and the plant dies.
How long a plant can live without sunlight depends on how much energy it has stored. There’s no way we can really measure this as houseplant growers. But in general, most plants will starve to death within a few weeks of being deprived of light – some much sooner.
Growing Houseplants Without Sunlight
If you don’t have any natural light in your home (or wherever you’re trying to grow plants), you still have options. Houseplants grow quite well under artificial lighting. However, a cheap household light bulb won’t do the trick. You need lights specifically made for growing plants.
When I first started growing plants in dark rooms of my house, I thought I’d have to spend a fortune on special lights. Then, I thought I’d have to spend countless hours figuring out how to use them. But I was wrong! Growing plants under lights is super easy with today’s technology.
I’ve recently been using this light from Amazon, and my houseplants LOVE it! They are growing faster and producing more foliage and flowers than ever before. I love that it has an automatic timer, so once you set it up you don’t have to touch it again.
It was relatively inexpensive at around $40, it has full-spectrum light, and the four adjustable heads cover a large area. Plus, it looks really pretty when it’s turned on (see picture below)!
Plants That Grow Without Sunlight
I know I said that no plants can grow without sunlight. And that’s true of houseplants, garden plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers. However, there is one type of plant that can grow without sunlight or artificial light. Well, it’s sort of a plant.
Mushrooms are actually a fungus, not a true “plant.” They can grow, live, and even thrive without any outside light. Many types can grow in absolute darkness.
Because they aren’t true plants, mushrooms don’t create energy through photosynthesis. They don’t have leaves and chloroplasts, and they don’t need light to manufacture food. Some types of mushrooms require a bit of dim light to produce fruiting bodies, but some need none at all.
Will Plants Survive Indoors Without Sunlight?
No, plants will not survive indoors without sunlight (or some kind of artificial plant light). Unless you want to grow nothing but mushrooms in your house, you’ll need to figure out a way to provide some light for your plants.
If you have at least low light (such as that from a north-facing window), there are numerous houseplants you can still grow. If you can’t obtain artificial lights right now, just work with the natural light you have. Here are some posts that might help:
- 10 Best Indoor Plants for Dark Rooms
- 6 Best Indoor Palms for Low Light
- 8 Best Indoor Trees that Actually Thrive in Low Light
- 25 Best Plants for North Facing Windows
In my experience, the absolute best houseplant for true low light conditions is Chinese Evergreen. It is one of the only true low-light plants out there, and it’s super easy to grow. If you have a bit of natural light in your home (even if it’s not much) try growing Chinese Evergreen!
Here are some frequently asked questions related to plants surviving indoors without sunlight that you might find helpful (plus my answers to them).
How do You Keep Indoor Plants Alive Without Sunlight?
If you don’t have any natural light in your home, you can still grow houseplants and keep them alive. Just get some artificial plant lights! I know. I was skeptical at first too. But now I’m so glad I started using them. I live in a dark house and these lights have been a savior for my plant babies.
With supplemental lights, you can grow almost any kind of houseplant you want without worrying if you have enough light from a window. There was a time when I was only growing low-light plants, but now I grow flowers, succulents, bromeliads and more!
See “Growing Houseplants Without Sunlight” above for more information on how I’m using artificial lights to grow beautiful houseplants in my dark house.
How Long Can Indoor Plants Live Without Sunlight?
It depends on the type of plant and how much energy it has stored. Some can live much longer than others without sunlight. In general, most plants will begin to die within 1 – 2 weeks. Some plants with high light needs may start to drop leaves and decline after only a few days.
Plants that tolerate low light conditions may hang on a bit longer, but they too will eventually die without light.
Can Plants Survive Without Direct Sunlight?
Yes. In fact, most houseplants prefer bright, indirect light instead of direct sunlight. Although plants need some light to live (and some plants need a lot of light to thrive), it doesn’t have to be direct sunlight. Many plants grow well in filtered light from an east- or west-facing window.
Some low-light plants can even survive in north-facing windows (like Chinese Evergreen and Snake Plant). If you aren’t sure if you have direct or indirect light in your home, check out my post: Is Light Through a Window Direct Sunlight for Houseplants?