Fluorescent lights are an inexpensive way to bring your garden inside during the winter or to cultivate specialized tropical plants indoors in cold climates. Fluorescent lights only put out a relatively low light intensity, so plants that require very high levels of light might not be a good choice. Choose plants that can tolerate or would naturally grow in shady conditions when grown outdoors for the best results when planting under fluorescents.
There are many different orchids available that do well under fluorescent lights. Many low to medium light level hybrids have been specially bred to be grown under artificial lighting. Usually they are short plants, under 10 inches, so many different orchids can fit in to a small space and so that the light has the ability to penetrate to the base of the plant. Good low-light plants include Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, and jewel orchids. Medium-light choices include miniature Cattleyas and miniature Oncidinae intergeneric hybrids.
Avoid plants that need a significant day to night temperature variance in order to set flower buds. This can be difficult to replicate in homes where the temperature stays stable all the time. Place the plants as close to the tubes as possible without touching them, and make sure they get a regular day length of about 12 hours.
Having an indoor herb garden year round is becoming more popular as the trend toward organic gardening and ethnic foods continues. Many people prefer the fresh herb flavor over dried store bought herbs. Most common herbs can be grown under fluorescent lights all year or only during colder months when they could not live outside.
Popular herbs to grow indoors include rosemary, basil, thyme, parsley, and even chives. Place the herbs as close to the tubes as possible without letting them touch and make sure they get at least 10 to 12 hours of light per day.
Some hobbyists say that the popularity of African violets has increased commensurately with improvements in fluorescent lighting technology. These are perfectly compact plants that grow under normal fluorescent lighting intensity. They are easy to care for and easy to bloom in normal household temperatures, and a single or dual tube light fixture is enough to raise several different plants in one growing space. Place the plants about 12 inches from the tubes and give them 12 to 17 hours of light each day.