Take the 2-minute tour ×
Gardening & Landscaping Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gardeners and landscapers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Because we live in southern Canada, in the late fall, my mother likes to take as much of her garden indoors as she can fit, for the winter.

She usually brings in her potted palms, a few flowers, at least one pot of each of her dozen or so types of herbs, and before moving to a smaller place, she would also bring in as many pots of tomatoes as she could fit.

She arranges them all next to the window, waters them once a week, and plugs one or two lights into a timer that is programmed to turn on just when it’s getting dark, and off just when it’s getting light.

This has always made me wonder if plants can have too much light. I tried Googling it, but all the discussions I found were about burning from too much sun (ie, too much heat/UV/etc.) That is not the issue here since the light(s) are just 13W CFLs. My issue is more with the idea that as far as the plants are concerned, it is always day and night never comes.

When I was studying psychology in University, one thing I found very interesting was the study of sleep and circadian rhythms. I’ll never forget reading about various experiments on sleep deprivation and their effects. Moreover, in my biology courses, we learned how (most) plants have a two-phase cycle: an anaerobic one (i.e. “breathing” CO2) during the day, and an aerobic one (“breathing” O2) at night. These make wonder what effects having a constant source of light would have on the plants. After all; all day and no sleep make humans something something… what about plants?

share|improve this question
Similar: gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/3260/… –  bstpierre Feb 12 '12 at 3:47
I have yet seen no evidence that continuous light is bad for any plant. That might seem a strange thing to say, but no one (including in comments to answers) has mentioned the levels of continuous light considered in the experiments. Of course, really high levels of continuous light aren't going to be good for all plants, but what about low levels? Your CFLs don't sound like high levels of light to me. It sounds plausible that you could safely have them on longer, if not continuously, but this isn't proven either, and I'm not giving opinions one way or the other here. –  Shule Jan 24 at 20:46

4 Answers 4

It would definitely depend on the plant species you are talking about. Some plants specifically thrive in continuous light. For example, in northern Alaska the day-night cycle can during the summer can become 19 hours of light (or more) and 5 hours of night. This allows people to grow giant cabbage (the record weighing approx. 127 lbs).

Some plants respond better than others. In a study they found that 24 hour light increased the growth of chickpeas under the same amount of time as opposed being grown under normal conditions. Roses experience a shorter blossoming period, but more buds were produced and blossomed. Cucumbers and corn experienced no net increase in mass compared to plants grown under normal conditions. Certain plants such as sweet peppers and tomatoes actually experience decreased growth and yields compared to standard conditions and also experienced blistering from continued light.

So truly it does depend on what plant is being grown.

share|improve this answer
Unfortunately I was afraid that would be the case. The few discussions I could find mentioned something along those lines. Sadly this answer is likely correct. Sadly because it means a bunch of research. :-( Is there a good resource to find out this kind of information? It would be really frustrating if it requires randomly searching the Internet for each and every kind of plant. (Re: giant cabbage; imagine the size of the kids in that patch!) :-D –  Synetech Feb 13 '12 at 19:33
As far as I can tell, plants that are especially sensitive to too much sun (tomatoes, some peppers) I wouldn't grow under continuous light. However if a plant isn't particularly sensitive to too much light (corn, sunflowers, cabbage) they probably would do better, or have no effect to growth in the worst case. Plants are such a diverse group of organisms that you will rarely find anything that they all share in common. –  WienerDog Feb 13 '12 at 19:39
Well like I said, sun isn’t really the issue. In winter in Canada, there is sun, but it is not particularly strong, so sun burn isn’t the problem; lack of “sleep” is what I’m wondering about, ie, “burn out ​”. –  Synetech Feb 13 '12 at 19:43
Any light, even artificial light gives off heat (infrared). Of course certain lights give off less heat than others. For the tomatoes in the study I don't suspect it was the light itself as much as it was the heat generated by the lamps. –  WienerDog Feb 13 '12 at 19:59
I did find this off of Wikipedia which may interest you. "In addition, plants also require both dark and light ("photo"-) periods. Therefore, lights may be turned on or off at set times. The optimum photo/dark period ratio depends on the species and variety of plant, as some prefer long days and short nights and others prefer the opposite or intermediate 'day lengths'." –  WienerDog Feb 13 '12 at 20:00

Moreover, in my biology courses, we learned how (most) plants have a two-phase cycle: an anaerobic one (i.e. “breathing” CO2) during the day, and an aerobic one (“breathing” O2) at night.

Wrong. There are two main cycles of photosynthesis colloquially called light and dark cycles. The light cycle requires light. The dark cycle does not require dark. It happens constantly because it is independent of light.

share|improve this answer
Correct. The dark cycle is also called Calvin cycle –  THelper Jun 19 '13 at 8:50
I won't discuss how accurate this is, but this should be a comment, not an answer. Or you could add a few words to what that implies for the OP specifically regarding plants. –  Max Feb 28 '14 at 20:07

Tomatoes and peppers are of the nightshade family; perhaps this provides a hint as to why they requires darkness.

share|improve this answer
Can you add some more detail and references to your answer? Otherwise this might be converted to a comment. –  kevinsky Dec 28 '14 at 15:29

Actually.. Here's a study that shows tomatoes do pretty well in a 24 hour continuous, but they varied the temperature and they didn't get the spotting that had occurred with 24h lighting in the past. Did better than the 16 hour light / 8 hour dark, anyways.


share|improve this answer
Welcome to the site Jamie! Would you kindly quote some of the relevant information from the link you provided? That's the best way for your answer to help people. The Help Center has instructions for quoting sources, but if you get stuck, leave a comment and someone will come along and help you! I look forward to seeing you around! –  Sue Feb 13 at 23:13

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.