What Color Light Is Best for Plant Growth?

The color of light plays a critical role in plant growth and development. Different light colors promote various plant processes that impact overall plant health, flowering, and fruit/vegetable yields. When selecting grow lights or manipulating natural light conditions, it helps to understand how light color influences plant growth.

An Overview of How Light Color Affects Plants

Plants have evolved to absorb and utilize light across the visible color spectrum. However, not all light colors are equally useful for plants. The three primary light colors that impact plant growth are:

  • Blue light – Stimulates chlorophyll production and leaf growth
  • Red light – Promotes flowering and fruiting
  • Green light – Drives photosynthesis and growth

Additionally, far-red light helps regulate plant processes like germination and flowering. Ultraviolet light has both positive and negative impacts on plant growth depending on exposure levels. Overall, a balance of different light colors that mimics natural daylight tends to optimize plant development. When choosing grow lights or manipulating natural light conditions, aim for a mix of blue, red, and green wavelengths.

Key Factors in Selecting the Best Light Color for Plant Growth

Several key factors help determine the ideal light color balance for healthy plant growth:

Plant Type and Growth Stage

  • Leafy greens, lettuces, and herbs need ample blue light to spur leafy growth.
  • Fruiting plants like tomatoes require more red light to trigger flowering and fruit production.
  • Seedlings and young plants need a higher proportion of blue light.
  • Mature, established plants can utilize more red light.

Photoperiod Requirements

  • Plants have specific day length (photoperiod) needs. Too much or too little light of any color can disrupt flowering and development.
  • Long-day plants require over 12 hours of light daily. Short-day plants need less than 12 hours.
  • Light color ratios should align with a plant’s photoperiod needs.

Indoor vs Outdoor Growing

  • Outdoor plants get the full spectrum of sunlight. Indoor plants under lights need careful wavelength manipulation.
  • Blue light penetrates deeper into plant canopies making it ideal as a supplement for dense indoor gardens.

Grow Light Capabilities

  • The specific wavelengths emitted by a grow light dictate what color balance plants receive.
  • Full spectrum white LEDs provide a mix of blue, red, green, and broader wavelengths.
  • Purple LEDs deliver concentrated blue and red light.
  • High pressure sodium (HPS) lights lack blue light. Pairing with blue LEDs creates a better balance.

Blue Light: The Key Driver of Photosynthesis and Leafy Growth

Of all the light colors plants utilize, blue light is a stand-out for its role in photosynthesis and regulating plant processes that spur vegetative leaf growth. Here’s an overview of how blue light (wavelengths from 400-500 nm) impacts plant development:


  • Blue light is second only to red light in terms of photosynthetic efficiency. The blue wavelengths chillorophyll absorbs peak around 430-450 nm. This makes blue an excellent primary light for driving photosynthesis.

Leaf Growth and Morphology

  • Blue light triggers phototropins, plant photoreceptor proteins that stimulate leaf expansion and influence the orientation of leaves for optimal light capture. This is why young seedlings under blue light develop stronger, broader leaves.

Chlorophyll Production

  • The cryptochromes and phototropins activated by blue light signal plants to produce more chlorophyll and carotenoids. These photosynthetic pigments are essential for capturing light energy.

Stomatal Function

  • Blue light plays a key role in the opening and closing of stomata pores in plant leaves and stems. Proper stomatal function allows for gas exchange necessary for photosynthesis.

Stem Elongation

  • An abundance of blue light keeps plants more compact with stronger stems by inhibiting cell elongation. This is beneficial for stocky, dense leafy greens and herbs.


  • While less critical for flowering than red light, blue light does help regulate flowering in long-day plants via its impacts on the cryptochrome photoreceptors.

Plant Immune Responses

  • Blue light is involved in activating plant immune defenses against fungal pathogens. Supplemental blue light may help reduce disease pressure for some crops.

Flavor and Nutrient Levels

  • Blue light boosts production of plant compounds linked to enhanced flavor and nutrition in fruits and veggies. Tomatoes, peppers, and leafy greens tend to be more nutrient-rich under blue light.

Summary of Blue Light Benefits

In summary, blue light offers an array of benefits for plant growth and development:

  • Drives photosynthesis
  • Stimulates leaf expansion and chlorophyll production
  • Keeps plants compact with strong stems
  • Boosts flavors, nutrients, and disease defenses
  • Triggers phototropic responses for optimal light capture

A balance of blue light is ideal for compact leafy plants like lettuce, herbs, and vegetative-stage seedlings. Fruiting plants also need blue light to stay healthy through their initial growth phase.

Red Light Powers Flowering, Fruiting, and Overall Plant Processes

Red light primarily helps trigger flowering and fruit production in plants. The red wavelengths chlorophyll absorbs peak around 650-700 nm. Red light also regulates various cellular processes involved in overall plant growth and maturation. Here is an overview of red light benefits:


  • Long days with an abundance of far-red light keep plants in the vegetative phase. A transition to shorter days with more red light triggers flowering in long-day plants.

Fruit and Seed Production

  • Red light switches mature plants into reproduction mode. This is critical for fruit, vegetable, and seed crops to reach maximum yields.

Root Growth

  • Red light encourages root system expansion and root hair development. Strong roots allow plants to take up more water and nutrients to support growth.

Plant Respiration

  • Red light is involved in regulating respiration rates and oxygen consumption in plants. Proper respiration provides energy for all plant cellular activities.

Stem and Internode Elongation

  • While blue light inhibits elongation, red light encourages cell expansion and stem lengthening between nodes. This results in taller, lankier plants.


  • An abundance of far-red light can inhibit lateral branching. Red light helps overcome apical dominance for a bushier plant form.

Disease Resistance

  • Red light boosts production of plant compounds linked to enhanced resistance against some bacterial and fungal diseases.

Fruit Nutrients and Flavors

  • Fruits ripened under red light tend to be higher in nutrients like antioxidants. Some also have improved sweetness and flavors.

Summary of Red Light Benefits

In summary, red light:

  • Powers flowering and fruit production
  • Aids root and stem elongation
  • Improves branching and plant form
  • Boosts nutrients, flavors, and disease defenses
  • Regulates respiration and numerous cellular processes

Fruiting plants need ample red light during flowering and fruiting stages. Leafy plants also require some red light for balanced growth.

Green Light Contributes to Photosynthesis and Growth

The benefits of green light for plant growth are often overlooked. While it has minimal direct impacts on plant development, green light (wavelengths around 500-600 nm) has an important role in photosynthesis. Here’s an overview of how green light helps plants:


  • Green wavelengths have the highest reflectance and transmittance within leaf tissue. This allows green light to penetrate deeper into leaves than blue or red light to power photosynthesis in the mesophyll layer.

Sugar Production

  • Photosynthesis driven by green light may produce sugars and carbohydrates more efficiently than other wavelengths. The morphology of chloroplasts may optimize them for capturing green light.

Leaf Expansion

  • Green light helps encourage leaf expansion, though not to the extent that blue light does. Broader leaves have more surface area for light capture.

Plant Biomass

  • As an aid to photosynthesis, green light contributes to greater plant biomass, which is the overall growth in tissues and structures.


  • Green light can help regulate flowering, especially in short-day plants. It may also prolong the flowering stage for some long-day plants.

Fruit Ripening

  • There is some evidence supplemental green light accelerates fruit ripening. However, more research is still needed in this area.

Complement to Blue and Red

  • Green light balances the stronger growth-regulating effects of blue and red wavelengths. It supports photosynthesis without strongly morphing plant form.

Summary of Green Light Benefits

In summary, green light:

  • Penetrates deep into leaves to aid interior photosynthesis
  • Helps produce carbohydrates and sugars
  • Boosts leaf size and plant biomass
  • May accelerate fruit ripening
  • Complements blue and red light impacts

While less critical than blue or red, including green wavelengths in grow lights or light conditions creates a more balanced spectrum for growth.

Ultraviolet Light Can Be Harmful or Helpful

The ultraviolet (UV) light band sits just outside the visible light spectrum. UV wavelengths from 100-400 nm have varying effects on plant growth depending on the intensity. Low UV levels can benefit some plants. But excessive UV exposure creates stress. Here is more on UV light interactions with plants:

Low Level UV-A Exposure

  • Longer wavelength UV-A around 315-400 nm has some benefits at low intensities. It helps regulate plant growth, flowering, and immune responses.

High Level UV-B Exposure

  • Higher energy UV-B around 280-315 nm causes cellular damage to plants. Leaves exhibit burnt tips and margins under intense UV-B.

Inhibits Stem Elongation

  • UV exposure results in shorter, stockier stems. Excess UV leads to stunted seedlings, so protection is needed for young plants.

Alters Flowering Responses

  • Too much UV disrupts photoperiodic flowering. But low UV-A enhances flowering in some short-day plants.

Improves Flavors and Scents

  • Stress from UV exposure increases production of flavor and fragrance compounds in edible plants and flowers. But extremes damage crops.

Enhances Disease Resistance

  • Low supplemental UV increases concentrations of defensive plant compounds that fend off fungi and insects. But too much UV weakens and damages plants, leaving them vulnerable to pests.

Summary of UV Effects on Plants

In summary, UV light can be summarized as:

  • Excess UV-B causes leaf and cellular damage
  • Low level UV-A enhances growth, flowering, and disease defenses
  • UV inhibits stem and seedling elongation
  • Intense UV reduces yields and crop quality
  • Short UV exposures can boost flavors and aromas

UV light requires careful control for plant benefit. Excessive UV is harmful. But brief, low-level UV exposure can be helpful.

Far-Red Light Plays a Role in Flowering and Shade Tolerance

Light in the far-red band from 700-800 nm has regulatory effects that shape plant morphology and development:


  • High far-red light keeps plants in the vegetative phase. Reducing far-red allows flowering long-day plants to blossom as days shorten.

Shade Tolerance

  • Plants grown in shade absorb more far-red light filtered through canopy leaves. This keeps shade-tolerant plants vegetative.

Stem Elongation

  • Abundant far-red light can make plants leggy as stem cells rapidly elongate. This causes weaker, lankier growth.


  • With less far-red, plants exhibit more lateral branching for a bushier form factor. This allows for fuller growth in full sun.

Seed Germination

  • Buried seeds often germinate in response to a reduction in far-red light exposure as they emerge from soil.

Summary of Far-Red Light Effects

In summary, far-red light:

  • Inhibits flowering in long-day plants
  • Triggers shade avoidance elongation
  • Reduces lateral branching
  • Can inhibit seed germination
  • Filtered far-red keeps shade plants vegetative

While not vital as a supplemental light, managing far-red exposure by limiting shade mimics outdoor growth conditions.

Optimizing Light Color for Different Plant Types

Taking the impacts of each color described above into account, here are some tips for selecting LED grow lights and tailoring light conditions to optimize growth for different plant categories:

Leafy Greens and Herbs

Leafy plants need ample blue light. Look for full spectrum LEDs with a high proportion of blue wavelengths or combine cool white and blue lights. Avoid HPS lighting lacking in blue.

Fruiting Plants

Aim for grow lights with strong blue and red spectral output. HPS with supplemental LEDs can work well. Maximize red exposure during flowering and fruit ripening stages.

Seedlings and Young Plants

Provide very high blue light levels. Warm white or full spectrum LEDs work well. Avoid intense red light that can overly accelerate growth. Shield from UV.

Succulents and Cacti

These drought-adapted plants grow best under a high proportion of green, yellow, and red light. Limit nitrogen to prevent excessive leafy growth under blue light.

Flowering Plants

Increase blue and red light exposure to encourage prolific blossoms. Avoid far-red dominant light that inhibits flowering.

Light Color Recommendations by Growth Stage

Here are some guidelines for adjusting light color balance as plants progress through key growth phases:

Germination Stage

  • Emphasize blue light to spur cotyledon opening and early photomorphogenesis. Limit red light exposure.

Seedling and Vegetative Stage

  • Continue strong blue light with limited red / far-red light. Increase exposure gradually as stems strengthen and leaves expand.

Transition and Pre-Flowering Stage

  • Slowly increase red light exposure while keeping ample blue light. This will encourage growth, stem and root elongation, and prepare plants to flower. Avoid excessive far-red light.

Flowering and Fruiting Stage

  • Increase red light substantially while maintaining adequate blue light levels. Red light powers flowering and fruit production. Supplement UV light can boost floral scents and flavors.

Senescence and Harvest

  • Return to higher blue light levels. Reduce red light exposure unless ripening of fruits and vegetables needs finishing. Lower overall light intensity.

Using Natural Light Conditions

While grow lights allow the most control over plant light exposure, natural lighting can be manipulated to regulate light color:

Full Sunlight

  • Outdoor plants get the entire spectrum of sunlight including UV. Avoid excessive UV for tender seedlings with shade cloth.

Filtered and Directional Light

  • Morning/evening light is more blue, midday light trends red. East/west-facing windows offer directional blue light.

Reflective Surfaces

  • Bouncing light off white, metallic, or mirrored surfaces supplements existing light. This can balance light color ratios.

Shade Cloth

  • Green shade cloth filters out more red than blue, increasing the blue light ratio for leafy growth. Black cloth blocks all colors evenly.

Tinting and Glazing

  • Tinted glass or poly films can screen out specific wavelengths, like red-tinted glazing that boosts blue light levels.

Timed Light Deprivation

  • Use covers or shading to block light and create shorter days. This initiates flowering in long-day plants.

Recap: Determining the Best Color Light for Plant Growth

To summarize key points:

  • Blue light powers vegetative leafy growth through photosynthesis and chlorophyll production.
  • Red light drives flowering, fruiting, and reproductive processes.
  • Green light contributes to photosynthesis without strongly affecting form.
  • Low levels of UV can benefit growth while overexposure causes damage.
  • Far-red light helps regulate flowering and morphologic changes.
  • The ideal light color balance shifts across the different stages of plant growth and development.
  • Outdoor conditions and grow light selections should provide a mix of blue, red and green.
  • Tailor supplemental lighting and light manipulation techniques to the needs of specific plant varieties.

Balancing blue, red and green wavelengths while managing UV and far-red light provides the best illumination for plant growth and health through all stages from seed to harvest. Careful light color management pays off with bigger yields and better quality crops.

Frequently Asked Questions About Light Color and Plant Growth

Many first-time gardeners wonder about how light color impacts their plants. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the effects of light quality:

Does blue or red light grow plants faster?

Plants grow fastest under a combination of blue and red light. Blue light powers vegetative leafy growth, while red boosts flowering and fruiting. Too much of either color alone can cause excessive stem elongation or stunted growth. For rapid, balanced growth, provide ample blue light in the 400-500 nm range along with red light from 650-700 nm.

Is colored light good for plant growth?

Full spectrum white light with a balance of blue, green and red wavelengths works best for overall plant growth. Indoor gardeners can use LEDs tuned to specific colors like blue and red to control plant form and development. Outdoors, colored plastic films can manipulate the light spectrum. In general, a diversity of light colors optimized to the plant variety and growth stage will maximize growth.

Does green light help plants grow?

Absolutely! Green light powers photosynthesis within leaf interiors and helps produce sugars and carbohydrates. While green doesn’t directly steer plant form and development like blue and red light, it contributes significantly to plant growth and biomass accumulation. Plants grow best under a combination of blue, green and red light.

Do UV lights help plants grow?

At low levels, UV exposure can benefit plant growth. But excessive UV causes cellular damage and stunted, damaged growth. UV light for plant growth requires careful control. Typically a short daily exposure under grow lights that emit some UV is adequate to reap benefits like improved disease resistance. Outdoor plants get some UV from sunlight as well.

Should seedlings have blue or red light?

Seedlings grow best under primarily blue light in the 400