The Phalaenopsis orchid is a tropical plant, which grows in the rainforest with plenty of natural sunlight. However, it’s not the most light-demanding orchid in the orchid family (“Orchidaceae”). It’s considered as a “low light” orchid, thriving in bright shade.
‘Bright shade’ does not equal to dim conditions though; the Phalaenopsis orchid still needs enough daylight. But the plant should always be kept out of direct sun.
To mimic these conditions indoors can be a challenge to some orchid growers. The light conditions vary not only from climate to climate but also from home to home.
So do indoor orchids need artificial growth lamps? In climates with plenty of natural sunlight and the orchids in South or East-facing window, there should be enough natural light. But in climates with darker seasons, and houses that don’t receive plenty of daylight, artificial lights can be crucial to your orchids.
How do I know my orchids aren’t getting enough light?
The first thing to inspect is the color of your orchids’ leaves.
- Dark green = Not enough light
- Uneven yellowish (or red) = Too much light
- Medium bright green = Right amount of light
The leaf color is a quick indicator of your growing conditions. With uneven yellowish (or red) leaves, simply move the plant further away from the window. Just a few feet might be enough! This problem is quick to fix.
Unfortunately, the old leaves won’t turn back to the ‘normal’ color anymore, but the new leaves will grow out in the right color.
Note: While yellowish leaves indicate too much light, it’s important to remember that 1-2 fully yellow bottom leaves aren’t caused by light issues. They’re simply old leaves shedding off.
If the leaf color is dark green, then move the orchid closer to the light source. South and East-facing windows are the best. There, on the windowsill, these ‘low light’ orchids normally receive enough natural light.
But if your orchid was already placed there, or you don’t want to move it around, then it’s time to supplement with artificial grow lights. (We’ll talk about that in more detail in the next section!)
There are also other indications besides the leaf color that show the orchid isn’t receiving enough light. The other signs to look out for are;
- Slow growth
- Short flower spikes
- Few flowers in a flower spike
Your Phalaenopsis orchid can still spike even if it’s not receiving enough sufficient light. This is because the spiking is induced by a drop in night temperature, not by the amount of light. But your orchid growing short flower spikes and/or spikes with few flowers in them can be telltales of not enough light!
What kind of lights to use for indoor orchids?
When it comes to selecting light bulbs for your orchids, look out for words like full-spectrum and LED. If the package states it’s for plant growth, then great, you know it will work without question.
When it comes to colored plant growth lights, red light promotes flowering and blue light vegetative growth. (You will see many colored plant grow lights on the market) Keep in mind, however, that this kind of lights will make your whole room red or blue! 😉
You can find full-spectrum lights even in the pet shops, as they’re used for indoor reptiles and birds. (Not to be confused with infrared lamps!) I have pet birds so I have several full-spectrum lights from the pet shop – I know they work also for my orchids as the leaves and flower spikes have started to grow towards them! (Spikes and leaves always grow towards the strongest light source)
That said; normal fluorescent lights (tubes) can be used for growing orchids too. Someone told me about growing their orchids in a room with no windows at all – zero natural light! The only lights they had in that room are normal fluorescent lights, and their orchids are thriving! (I’d recommend you to opt for two fluorescent lights though – a cool and a warm one!)
Ultimately, all bright enough lights should do the job. If you can’t get special lights that are specifically made for growing plants, then opt for normal LED light bulbs. LED lights are full-spectrum (providing all colors), and as a bonus, they don’t emit any heat. Just make sure they’re bright enough! If you have a choice, pick one that says ‘Daylight’.
Light unit requirements for indoor orchids
If we want to go in more detail about the light requirements; Phalaenopsis orchids need 1000-1500 foot-candles (Fc) of light. This can be converted to Lumens (lumen = brightness/amount of light).
This piece of mathematics is useful to know as most light bulb packages mention lumen/lux – not foot-candles;
To convert Fc to Lux:
1 Fc = 10.764 Lux (or 1 lumen per square foot / 10 lumens per square meter)
To convert Lumen to Lux:
1000 Lumen = 100 Lux
Placement of the artificial lights
Once you purchase the lights, place them close to the orchids. Let’s say about 15 inches away from the plants. Make sure the lights are close enough so the light reaches the orchids, yet far enough so the heat from the lamps can’t burn the leaves. (LED lights don’t emit heat)
You can put your hand by the leaves to feel the temperature – does it feel very warm? If it feels too warm to you, then it’s too warm for the plants too. The temperatures us humans like are the same as what the orchids like.
Another way to test if the lights are too close is by putting your hand under the lights. If the outline of the shadow casts on the leaves very clearly, then the light should be placed slightly further away from the plants. You only want a blurry shadow – not a clear one.
Always keep in mind that new leaves and flower spikes grow towards the strongest source of light. So think ahead – what direction do you want your orchids to grow to? If you place the artificial lights horizontally next to your orchids, then the leaves and spikes will grow horizontally. And if you place the lights above the orchids, then the leaves and spikes will grow upright.
Once your orchids go in the vegetative stage after blooming, you will quickly see if the new artificial lights are working or not. 😊
How many hours of artificial light to give to your indoor orchids?
Firstly, determine if your orchids need extra lights only during the darker seasons (autumn and winter), and nothing during spring and summer? Or do they need it throughout the year, including the sunnier months? This will depend on your climate and house, so it’s up to you to determine this.
Mimic natural daylight hours. One piece of advice is to run the lights during darker seasons for 12 hours a day – starting when the natural sun would come up and ending when the sun goes down. This could be from 6 am to 6 pm.
You can either switch the lights on and off manually, or have an automatic timer in the lights. The automatic timer is really handy because then the lights will take care of themselves, even when you’re not at home! This, of course, is extra beneficial during holidays.
Another seasonal guideline to go by for running the lights, which I’ve come across several times, is;
- Nov-Jan = 12 hours per day
- Feb-Jun = 14 hours per day
- July-Aug = 16 hours per day
- Sept-Oct = 14 hours per day
*This recommendation is originally, I believe, by a company called “Miracle-Gro”
*Applies to seasons in Northern hemisphere (Reverse for Southern)
Orchid plant stand with lights
You can either buy a ready plant stand or make your own. It’s basically a standing shelf with normally 2-3 levels, and each level has its own light above the plants.
A plant stand can make an impressive display in your orchid room, and more so, it can solve space-issues. This way you also make sure the light reaches all the orchids equally.
Ready plant stands come with light fixtures and full-spectrum fluorescent lights, so they’re ready-set-go.
If you want to make your own stand, you need a shelf with enough space for all your orchids – not only width-wise but also height on each level. Make sure there’s enough space for the new leaves and flower spikes to grow.
You then need to add lights on each level. Go for full-spectrum fluorescent light tubes. And lastly, adding wheels to your plant stand comes in handy, so you can easily move it around if need be!
I hope this article has helped you determine if your Phalaenopsis orchids need artificial lights or not! I purposely tried to keep the topic simple, not to confuse you! Ultimately it is pretty straight-forward. And it’s pretty quick to determine if your plants are lacking enough natural light.
Whichever artificial lights you choose to buy, just always make sure to protect your orchids from heat – they only want the LIGHT, not heat! You don’t want to accidentally cause heat damage on the leaves.
Thank you for reading. If you have any comments or questions regarding the topic (or any other topic), you’re welcome to leave a comment below! And if you have any wishes for future articles, then I’d love to hear about them too!
Until next time ~ Take good care, dear orchid friends! 🌸