Can You Grow Food Without Sunlight?

If you live in an area that doesn’t get a lot of light, you might wonder if you can grow food without sunlight.

Some food plants grow well in the shade, some need darkness, and you can grow some with artificial light. We’ll explain which foods can grow with little or no sunlight. 

Vegetables growing on a shaded deck being watered

What plants can grow without sunlight?

Several vegetables can grow in partially shaded areas. Remember, these are areas with some sunlight mixed with some shade. These vegetables include:

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Garlic
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard Greens
  • Parsnips
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Turnips

Can crops grow without sunlight?

Crops can grow without sunlight, but most plants need at least partial exposure to some artificial light to germinate. The best types of grow lights to use for plants include:

  • High-pressure sodium (HPS) or metal halide
  • Fluorescent lights
  • LED lights. 

How can I grow food indoors without sunlight?

You can use the three bulbs mentioned above – high-pressure sodium or metal halide bulbs, fluorescent lights, or LED lights. 

All plants can grow inside, but some do much better than others. Some of the plants that do the best include:

  • Broccoli 
  • Herbs – Almost all herbs grow well indoors. You can grow some herbs, such as chervil, chives, cilantro, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, sweet cicely, tarragon, and thyme, just by putting them on a window sill.
  • Beans – be sure to plant bush beans rather than pole beans if growing them indoors. Bush beans don’t need any stakes or vertical space. 
  • Salad greens 
  • Garlic Scapes – You can grow garlic scapes indoors much easier than regular garlic.  
  • Carrots 
  • Mushrooms 
  • Radishes 

What you need to grow vegetables indoors:

  • Vegetable seeds or starter plants
  • Containers
  • Grow lights
  • Potting Mix
  • Water
  • Fertilizer

What about fruits?

You can also grow fruit indoors. Container gardening is great for strawberry plants. 

Can you grow food in the dark?

Yes, you can grow some food in the dark, including:

  • Mushrooms
  • Sprouts
  • Microgreens
  • Wheatgrass

What food grows at night?

  • Mushrooms
  • Sprouts
  • Microgreens
  • Wheatgrass
  • White Asparagus
  • Forced Rhubarb

What happens to plants without sunlight? 

Plants lose their green color when they don’t get sunlight. Even non-green plants contain chlorophyll.

Chlorophyll is covered or hidden by other pigments in plants that don’t appear green, like coleus o purple leaf plum. 

Indoor plants that grow without sunlight 

  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) 
  • Cast-iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) 
  • ZZ plant (Zamioculcas) 
  • Monstera (Monstera delicosa) 
  • Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) 

Outdoor plants that grow without sunlight 

  • Parlor palm
  • Snake plant
  • Calathea
  • Bromeliads
  • Spider plant
  • Peace lily
  • Maidenhair fern
  • Sword Fern
  • Heart-Leaf Philodendron
  • Creeping Fig
  • Golden Pothos
  • Peperomia
  • Prayer plant

Can plants grow without sunlight and water? 

Most plants cannot grow without sunlight or water. If you can’t put plants outside to get direct sunlight, you can create sunlight indoors for plants.

Water, however, is essential for plant survival and growth. If you do not water your plants, they will eventually die. 

How to create sunlight indoors for plants 

You can create sunlight indoors for plants in a few different ways:

  1. Put plants near south-facing windows if possible. If you don’t have a southern window, you can also put them near a western-facing window. If it tolerates direct sunlight, place it directly near the window or as close to it as possible. 
  2. Put plants in areas where the sun bounces back. Locations, where reflected light reaches the plant, will increase its exposure to sunlight. Place the plant near an open window or a light-colored wall if you’re indoors.                          

How long can a plant survive without sunlight? 

Depending on how much light it gets typically, a plant can live between four and twenty days without sunlight.

Plants that thrive in low light can survive for 12 to 20 days, while those that thrive in full sunlight only live four to ten days.

How indoor plants survive without sunlight 

Some plants can survive in very low-light conditions. If you consider dark rainforest canopies, plants grow in that environment. Their broad, thin leaves have evolved to capture as much sunlight as possible in low-light environments. 

Can you grow plants with artificial light? 

You can use hanging tube fixtures to grow plants indoors if you’re serious about it. You can use any lamp or light fixture, provided you choose the bulbs carefully.

Make sure you do proper research to ensure you’re buying the right lights for your plants and your home. 

Fluorescent lights 

It is the easiest and most economical choice for houseplants. You can plug compact bulbs or tubes into standard lamps, and they’re safe to place near foliage. 

Better than generic fluorescent bulbs and tubes are “warm” and “cool” bulbs or “full-spectrum” fluorescent tubes. White light contains all wavelengths, so use “cool white” products to be safe. You should position foliage at least one foot away from fluorescents.

Incandescent lights 

These emit considerable heat; it’s best to avoid them near leaves. Because they emit more red wavelengths, they can balance out the spectrum and supplement fluorescent light if you want your flowers to bloom. 

If you want to mix incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, try to use a third incandescent and two-thirds fluorescent bulbs by wattage. 

LED lights 

These are another energy-efficient, low-heat lighting source. Every LED bulb is unique because of the flexibility of LED technology, so make sure your bulbs produce the colors your plants require.

Rather than general LED lights, plant growers should consider horticultural LED grow lights.

Halogen lights 

These provide full-spectrum light as well. However, the bulbs also produce heat and are less energy-efficient. There are better options besides halogen bulbs when it comes to choosing the best lights for your plants. 

Grow lights for horticulture 

Generally, they are sold in tubes for fluorescent fixtures. They provide the range of wavelengths blooming plants need. Some gardeners use them to start seeds or propagate hybrids, but others prefer fluorescent lights. No matter your preference, there’s a light available for you. 

Growing Food Without Sunlight FAQ

Can plants grow without sunlight?

Light is essential to plants – they can’t survive without it. It’s a crucial part of photosynthesis. Plants can’t get all the nutrients they need to be healthy and strong without light, and without light, photosynthesis won’t work.

All plants do not require the same type or amount of light. Some plants need a lot of warm sunlight, while others do well with just a few hours of cool light.

Can the jade plant survive without sunlight?

No, the jade plant has to have at least 4-5 hours of full sunlight every day. The plant will be able to produce enough food in a day under these conditions. It will be fine if it doesn’t receive the same sunlight every day. 

Sources: