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While the vast majority of my bonsai trees are kept outdoors, one thing I’m tempted to do over the next few months is to propagate and grow my trees indoors. With bonsai trees, regardless of species, needing a lot of sunlight to survive, a natural question I’m asking is what is the best artificial light for bonsai trees?
The best artificial light to use for bonsai trees when kept indoors are LED, fluorescent, and HID lights. Ensure that light emits a lux range between 2000 to 4000. Use multiple bulbs of low wattage as opposed to a few bulbs with high wattage for best results.
So what exactly is the difference between LED, fluorescent, and HID lights? What are the best lighting options for flowering bonsai and does this differ from growing dense foliage? And what are the best overall bonsai tree lights in the marketplace? Keep reading to find out more!
Artificial light for bonsai trees
Easily the most important aspect of keeping bonsai trees is ensuring they get enough sunlight. Whilst overwatering or not fertilizing your tree will be damaging, failing to get your bonsai enough sunlight is the fastest way to kill your tree.
With some tropical bonsai species such as Olive needing at least 8 hours of direct sunlight in the summer months, this can sometimes be difficult to achieve – especially in places like the UK, northern Europe, and Canada where summers are seemingly becoming milder and milder.
One way in which people are counteracting this is by keeping bonsai in greenhouses, or the growing trend of keeping bonsai trees indoors.
Whilst many can grow bonsai successfully indoors, the light requirements mean that it is essential to find the best lights for your trees’ needs.
What lights to use for indoor bonsai?
As such, I got in touch with a few bonsai experts, visited my local botanical gardens, read a bunch of books, and even did a quick survey of 20 plant paladin readers to get an idea of what the best artificial light for bonsai trees was.
- Fluorescent lights, LED lights, and HID lights are the best lights to use for bonsai tree growth.
- Fluorescent lights are perfect for growing foliage, leaves, and seedlings.
- LED lights are great for reducing the need for pesticides and are cheaper to run
- HID lights resemble natural sunlight the best.
- Each of these lights has different advantages and different advantages – HID lights are great at providing adding warmth but have a higher chance of burning your tree when compared to fluorescent or LED lights.
- Aim to use multiple bulbs with low wattage as opposed to using a few bulbs with high wattage.
- Ensure that the lux range of the light is between 20000 to 4000 depending on the plant species.
Let’s explore these types of lights in more detail:
Artificial fluorescent light for bonsai trees
So first up is artificial fluorescent light for bonsai trees.
Fluorescent lights have been commercially viable for plant use since the 1930s, making them one of the best options for growing bonsai indoors.
Hopefully, the table will help summarise some of the points below:
Fluorescent light placement
2 to 4 inches away from bonsai. 8-10 inches should your leaves burn.
Best bonsai species for fluorescent light
Chinese elm, Ficus, Fukien tea, bonsai species that do not flower or bear fruit.
Time left on
16 to 18 hours per day.
Advantages of fluorescent lights for bonsai
- They have a fantastic spectrum of light – making them ideal for bonsai you grow from scratch – either through a seedling or cutting or when repotting a bonsai indoors.
- Relatively inexpensive – indoor fluorescent grows lights cost money to operate, especially when left on for more than 12+ hours per day. Luckily fluorescent lights are relatively cheap to operate when compared to HID lights.
- Not a lot of heat – Fluorescent lights also do not give off a lot of heat meaning you can keep them closer to your plants without the leaves drying out or burning.
- Great for small spaces – As these lights can be kept close to your bonsai, it means that these lights are ideal for keeping bonsai indoors in a tight space. If then you have an apartment that is limited in size fluorescent lights would be amongst the best options you can opt for.
Disadvantages of fluorescent light for bonsai
- Not ideal for flowering – If you own a bonsai tree that is not at the growing stage or is about to blossom, then the blue light a lot of these lights emit won’t be strong enough to penetrate the tree. This means your flowering bonsai such as cherry blossom, won’t flower if kept indoors.
- Small output – Fluorescent lights have the smallest yield per watt when compared to other types of light. This means that if you are propagating a lot of bonsai at the same time, less of them will survive when compared with using other types of light.
- Not beneficial for fruiting bonsai – Similar to bonsai that flower, bonsai that bear fruit also require red light to produce seeds and fruit. With the vast majority of bonsai species either flowering, fruiting, or producing seeds this limits the number of trees you can grow with fluorescent light only.
- Outdated – finding traditional lights that are 100% fluorescent is becoming more and more difficult with LED lights becoming the more popular way to run and grow an indoor bonsai.
- Larger-sized bonsai don’t benefit – Finally larger sized bonsai grown indoors such as two-hand, four-hand, and larger bonsai won’t benefit from these lights for regular maintenance and growth.
What bonsai species work best with fluorescent light?
Bonsai species such as Chinese Elm, Ficus, and Fukien Tea are the best species to keep indoors when using fluorescent lights. Bonsai that has been repotted or planted recently also work well. Avoid bonsai species that bear fruit or flowers.
Why are fluorescent lights not good for flowering or fruiting bonsai?
Sunlight has a wide variety of light falling into a spectrum.
Bonsai trees need both red light and blue light to grow successfully.
Blue light is essential for healthy leaf and trunk growth whereas red light is ideal for fruiting and seeding trees.
Fluorescent lights traditionally are fantastic emitters of blue light. Using fluorescent light then is ideal for species of bonsai that do not bear fruit such as Chinese elm.
Most modern fluorescent lights however that are used specifically for growing will also have the ability to make red light meaning that you should have no issue in using these lights
Where to place fluorescent light when keeping bonsai?
As fluorescent lights do not give off a lot of heat, and won’t burn your bonsai, these lights can be kept fairly close to your bonsai.
Aim to keep fluorescent lights 2 to 4 inches away from your bonsai. If your bonsai is smaller, such as a fingertip size then aim for 2 inches. Should your bonsai be slightly larger, such as a two-hand bonsai, opt to keep the lights 4 inches apart.
If your bonsai leaves are getting burned at this distance then move the light back further to 8 to 10 inches.
Bulb and power requirements for fluorescent lights when keeping bonsai?
Artificial fluorescent lights should be kept at 6500 Kelvin to produce ample foliage growth and 5000 Kelvin at other times of the year. Aim to have 2 to 3 bulbs as opposed to blasting your tree with one bulb
How long should you leave fluorescent light bulbs on when growing bonsai?
Fluorescent light bulbs should be kept on between 16 to 18 hours per day to ensure your bonsai tree gets ample light. Ensure however you do not keep fluorescent light on for a full 24 hours.
Trees too have an internal body clock and stopping fluorescent light from coming on 24 hours per day will mimic the natural cycle of day and night.
Best fluorescent light for bonsai
So now you know what fluorescent lights are, what exactly is the best fluorescent light on the marketplace?
In my opinion, there is no better fluorescent light bulb than the Senua 300W Dual Spectrum bulbs – you can grab it here (link takes you to Amazon)
One of the reasons why I think these bulbs are so great is that not only do they cover the blue light that all fluorescent lights do, they also cover the red light meaning that these lights can be used for flowering and fruit-bearing trees.
On top of this, these fluorescent lights come with a 100% money-back guarantee and can be applied on both a hanger and a CFL reflector.
Speaking of which, if you want to use fluorescent light, unlike other light types such as LED’s, you will have to use this in conjunction with a hanger or reflector which you will have to purchase separately.
Artificial LED light for bonsai trees
Next up, and easily my favorite light that I like to use for growing indoor bonsai is LED lights.
LED indoor grow lights have skyrocketed in popularity over the past 20 years, reducing energy costs by 60%, being the most energy-efficient light bulb you can use when growing your bonsai indoors.
LED light placement
10 inches away for 50-watt bulbs. Closer if bulbs are weaker or further away or closer if bulbs are stronger.
Best bonsai species for LED light
All bonsai species.
Time left on
16 to 18 hours per day.
Advantages of LED lights for bonsai
The main advantages of using LED lights to grow bonsai trees indoors are:
- Longer life – One of the major benefits that LED lights have compared to fluorescent and HID lights is that they are very long-lasting. LED lights can last between 10,000 to 70,000 hours depending on the brand you opt for.
- Healthier plants – LED lights have limited heat and limited harmful wavelengths of light. This means your bonsai won’t burn or damage from excessive light, making them healthier than plants grown with other lights.
- Energy-efficient – LED lights are notorious for saving your money when compared to other light sources. Typically they use around 60% less light than other lighting setups and can drastically reduce your energy bills.
- Full-spectrum – Probably the most important aspect of LED lights is that they have the full spectrum of light – both red and blue, meaning they can be used for all species of bonsai at different stages.
Disadvantages of LED lights for bonsai
LED lights also have a few disadvantages including:
- Smaller coverage – LED lights will typically provide less coverage of light on your bonsai than other lighting setups. Use a few LED light rigs to get even coverage for your tree.
- Expense – Whilst some LED lighting setups can be purchased on the cheap. The truth is a good quality LED light for your bonsai can add up.
- Light pollution – LED lights produce a variety of colors including sharp blues which can cause injury to the human eye if you are exposed to this light for too long.
- Changing color with age – Whilst these lights have a longer lifespan than other types of light. These lights do sadly tend to change color over time, especially if you opt for a cheaper LED setup.
What bonsai species work best with LED light?
As LED lights are capable of reaching the full spectrum, containing both red and blue light, all types of bonsai can benefit from being grown indoors with an LED light. Chinese elms, Olive, Jade, and Focus, in particular, react well to being kept indoors with LEDs
The only caveat to this however would be if the bonsai species you are trying to grow indoors does not do so easily.
Where to place LED light when keeping bonsai?
As a starting point, LED lights should be placed 10 inches away from your bonsai tree. if using standard 50 watt LEDs. If using 100 watt LEDs this should be doubled to 20 inches and if using weaker LEDs it should be halved to 5 inches.
It may take a bit of trial and error to find out the exact position that works best for your tree, as factors such as the size of your tree and the species of your bonsai will all need to be considered.
As a good rule of thumb, however, the larger the tree, the further back the LED lights should be.
As mentioned, LED lights do not burn hot and so should you need to move these close to your bonsai, you can rest assured that they will not burn your tree.
Bulb and power requirements for LED lights when keeping bonsai?
Any LED lights purchased for bonsai should have a mix of red and blue light bulbs. These lights should, as a minimum, have 30 watts. The lights should be kept in red light when growing fruit and flowers and blue light when growing foliage and propagating.
How long should you leave LED lights on when growing bonsai?
LED lights should be kept on for about 16 hours per day for ample bonsai growth. It is important to ensure your bonsai gets 8 hours away from LED lights to replicate the natural daily cycle. LED lights that are of lower wattage can be left on for up to 18 hours per day.
Best LED light for bonsai
Whilst there are a ton of options on the marketplace, the best-LED light you can opt for would have to be the AQOTER Grow Light – you can grab it here (link takes you to Amazon).
There are a few reasons why I recommend this LED for bonsai.
First, it is adjustable and comes with an adjustable tripod meaning no matter the size of your bonsai, this light setup will have you covered.
Secondly, this LED light setup is lower wattage than other LED light setups meaning that it can be kept closer to your tree.
This lighting rig also has the full spectrum ensuring that it will work for pretty much any bonsai.
Finally, it is relatively inexpensive making it ideal for those of you on a budget.
Artificial HID light for bonsai trees
Finally, we come to HID lights.
HID lights are the most powerful lights that you can use for bonsai and have unrivaled light penetration when compared to both LEDs and Fluorescent lights.
I, however, can’t recommend these as a good option for a lot of you as they have a large amount of heat and use a lot of power making them inefficient to use as an artificial light for bonsai trees.
HID light placement
20 to 30 inches away from the bonsai
Best bonsai species for HID light
Time left on
12 hours per day
Advantages of HID lights for bonsai
The main advantage of HID lights are:
- Unrivaled light penetration – The major benefit of these lights is they best resemble the natural presence of sunlight making them able to penetrate bonsai deeper and stronger than other trees.
- Can be used outdoors – As these lights are so powerful, they can even be used outdoors in greenhouses or colder climates when sunlight may not be a year-round occurrence.
- Great at promoting leafy growth – these lights can penetrate leaf growth better than the other light sources, making them ideal for creating great bonsai ramification.
- Cheaper cost – Whereas a good LED setup can cost hundreds of dollars, an HID setup can be relatively inexpensive to purchase.
Disadvantages of HID lights for bonsai
The main disadvantages of HID lights are:
- They get very hot – These lights do not have any form of temperature control and can very easily burn the leaves of your tree if not placed correctly. As such, these lights have to be kept quite far away from your bonsai to get any real benefit, which is not ideal for people living in small spaces.
- High operating costs – HID lights are a lot less energy efficient than other types of lights. This means that they cost a lot of money to run and are not energy efficient.
- No ability to adjust – Unlike LED lights, these lights cannot adjust the brightness meaning they have an intense light 100% of the time.
- Take time to heat up – Unlike other lights, these lights take a while to get hot and get the major benefits from them, meaning you have to leave them on for longer.
- Hard to find the right size – These lights are typically used in laboratories, factories, or other controlled environments, and so using these for personal bonsai use and finding the right size can prove difficult.
- Burnout – these lights do not last very long due to the heat and the bulbs will often burn out much faster than other light varieties.
What bonsai species work best with HID light?
As HID lights are incredibly bright, they work well for bonsai species with leafy canopies and citrus fruit-bearing bonsai. As such cherry, lime lemon, and orange tree bonsai all work well under HID light conditions.
HID lights can also work well for succulents, such as Jade which can thrive in high heart conditions.
Avoid using HID lights however under more delicate bonsai, younger bonsai, smaller bonsai, or bonsai trees that have been newly planted as the high heat will cause them to try out
Where to place HID light when keeping bonsai?
HID lights should be kept between 20 and 30 inches away from your bonsai tree. A good rule of thumb is 25 inches for most one-handed-sized bonsai trees. Avoid moving HID light closer than 20 inches which will cause your tree to burn and dry out.
Bulb and power requirements for HID lights when keeping bonsai?
To help mitigate the intensity and brightness of HID lights, use a lower wattage light as possible. 150 watt HID lights are typically the lowest available.
How long should you leave HID lights on when growing bonsai?
As HID lights are so intense, they should be kept on for no longer than 12 hours per day. This will ensure the lights do not get too hot that they will burn your bonsai, but also replicate the daily cycle the tree will need.
Reducing the amount of light will also help you save on the running costs of these lights.
Best HID light for bonsai
As mentioned, I can’t recommend HID lights when it comes to keeping bonsai as I find they burn too brightly and hot for the average person growing a bonsai indoors.
If however, you are a professional one HID lighting setup that I found and recommend would be the Sun System Grow Light – which you can buy here (link takes you to Amazon).
This system plugs directly into the mains meaning you won’t have to worry about any wiring.
Its light bulbs are also lower wattage when compared to other systems at 150 watts meaning whilst it will be intense, you won’t have to worry about the excess energy drainage as you would for other HID lights.
Finally, it has 16000 lumens of light, making it ideal for those of you with larger bonsai collections.
What is the best artificial light for bonsai?
So now we know the differences between the different artificial lights for bonsai, which one is the best option.
The best light source for keeping bonsai is LED lights. These are relatively inexpensive, provide the full light spectrum, are cheap to run, energy-efficient, and most importantly are adjustable, meaning they are the best option for bonsai trees of all species styles and sizes.
Whilst I’ve recommended one of my favorites LED lighting setups, I wanted to make sure I gave a few other recommendations depending on your skill level.
As such, I’ve compiled my top 5 artificial lights for bonsai trees below in more detail.
Best overall artificial light for bonsai trees
The best overall light for bonsai trees is my earlier recommendation for the best-LED light the AQOTER Grow Light – you can grab it here (link takes you to Amazon)
As mentioned, it has a fantastic full light spectrum, adjustable tripod, and even has a timer to make sure you do not leave your lights on for too long.
It also comes with a remote control allowing you to monitor the lights when you are not in the same room and comes with a full training guide on how to use it.
Best artificial light setup for small-sized bonsai
Those of you living in small spaces such as an apartment and growing a bonsai tree can find yourself between a rock and a hard place.
You are tight on space and most lights take up a lot of room so what do you do?
If this sounds like your situation then I would recommend the Gooing Top LED light – you can grab it here – the link takes you to Amazon.
This light can be desk mounted – saving you a lot of time and precious space.
The overall light fitting itself is relatively small and comes with a long movable neck to ensure you can position the light in the right distance too.
This light will also only cost around $2 per month to keep on for 13 hours per day. It too comes with a full light spectrum making it ideal for all species of bonsai.
Best light setup for larger sized bonsai
Now if you’re lucky enough to live in a larger space and have larger-sized bonsai such as imperial that you keep indoors then you’re going to need some larger sized lights.
For my recommendation then I would suggest going for the MIEEMCLUX C1000 LED Grow Light – you can grab it here (link takes you to Amazon).
This light setup is ceiling mounted, ensuing you larger trees get full coverage from top to bottom.
It includes a dimmer knob allowing you to change the intensity of the light from 0% to 100% making it ideal for use with different varieties of bonsai.
This light also plugs directly into the main socket, saving you money and not having you mess around with excess wires.
Beginner-friendly artificial light for bonsai trees
If you are new to bonsai and a little unsure of the best lighting setup then it can be very easy to get overwhelmed reading through all the different lighting options.
The best light for a beginner who has maybe one or two bonsai would be a simple LED spotlight.
For my recommendation then I suggest the Phlizon 1200w LED spotlight – you can grab it here – link takes you to Amazon.
This light covers the full spectrum of light, saves a lot of energy, even compared to other LED lights.
This light also comes with a 2-year warranty and 30-day money-back guarantee, meaning you won’t have to worry as a newbie if anything goes wrong.
Best premium artificial light for bonsai trees
Finally, for those professionals out there reading this, I wanted to ensure I had an option for you.
The best professional LED light setup for bonsai trees would have to be the Advanced Platinum Series P300 – you can grab it here (link takes you to Amazon).
This light truly is the best in class, it has the highest lumen/par of any LED light and is 2 to 3 times the intensity of other LED lights.
A lot of you will want premium light for growing competition trees which can take time.
As such, this light also comes with a built-in 5-year guarantee meaning that you won’t have to worry should your light break down before your competition.
What to look for when buying an artificial light for bonsai trees?
So now you know what my recommendations are for artificial light for bonsai trees, I want to give you some pointers should you decide to do your own research, and purchase a light that I have not recommended.
- Ensure the light is adjustable – bonsai trees grow over time, even indoors, and so it is important that whatever light you purchase, it can be adjusted, either through a tripod or by moving it higher or lower from a ceiling attachment.
- Lumen number – having a light source that has a higher lumen number will make it a lot easier for you to manage the growth of your tree. Most bonsai are full sun trees so aim for your light set up to have 2000 to 3000 lumens of light as a minimum
- Full-spectrum of light – Full spectrum of light is important. Blue light ensures healthy leaf growth and red light ensures healthy flower and fruit growth, Aim for your light set up to contain both of these.
FAQs on artificial light for bonsai trees
As a lot of you are still in the process of deciding light requirements for your trees and so I wanted to answer some common questions people have when it comes to artificial light for bonsai trees.
Can bonsai grow with artificial light?
Bonsai trees can grow with a variety of artificial light such as Fluorescent, HID, and LED lighting setups. LED lights in particular can provide the full spectrum of red and blue light required for both healthy foliage development and strong fruit and flowering development.
Is artificial light bad for bonsai?
High-powered artificial HID lighting can be bad and damage bonsai trees if kept too close to your tree. Doing so can cause burns and cause your tree to dry out. Other artificial light setups such as LED lights or fluorescent lights are much cooler and pose a much smaller risk.
What kind of light does a bonsai tree need?
Bonsai require bright UV light and benefit most when being kept outdoors in direct sunlight. Artificial grow lights such as LEDs are a great option for keeping bonsai indoors so long as they contain the full light spectrum of red and blue light.
Study on artificial light for bonsai trees
I undertook 20 plant paladin readers who grow their bonsai indoors and asked them what lighting setup they used.
Here were the results:
This post was written by Fehed Nicass who has been passionate about bonsai for over 3 years