Growing plants indoors gives gardeners and farmers an unprecedented level of control over the environmental conditions that affect crop growth. It requires some extra work, though, including setting up a good light array. A normal household fixture won’t do it. Growing healthy plants requires purchasing specialized grow lights.
Given the diversity of grow lights available on today’s market, choosing the right one can seem like an insurmountable task to novice indoor gardeners, but it doesn’t have to be. Read on to find out what growers need to know to make informed decisions.
Choosing a Vendor
Before even choosing a type of lighting, growers should look for a reputable vendor. They can find everything required to set up indoor gardens online by checking out Agron. That includes not just lights, but also nutrients, hydroponic system components, grow media, harvest equipment, and more.
Bulbs vs. Light Fixtures
Growers who are just getting started for the first time and don’t have a lot of money often start out small. They can buy grow light bulbs and use them in any normal lamp or ceiling light fixture. This solution may be cheaper, but it’s much less effective and can only be implemented on a small scale.
Purchasing specialized grow light fixtures costs more money but provides a more-effective solution. One fixture can provide sufficient light for multiple plants and ensures the light gets dispersed evenly over the entire space. Plus, cheaper bulbs don’t provide a full range of light. Specialized grow light fixtures typically reproduce the same light spectrum that’s found in natural sunlight.
Types of Grow Lights
Most light bulbs designed for household use are incandescent lights. They are very inefficient for use in indoor growing since they put out a lot of heat and are not very energy-efficient. Using regular household lights for growing just isn’t a good solution.
Instead of using household light bulbs, growers should look into compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), metal halide (MH) fixtures, high pressure sodium (HPS) lamps, or light emitting diodes (LEDs). Each of these types of lights has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, so there’s no one right solution for every grower.
Pros and Cons of CLFs
CLFs are relatively inexpensive to purchase and operate and they typically last 10 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs. They also produce comparatively little heat. The problem with CFLs is that they produce only a narrow spectrum of cool light, which is not suitable for plants in the flowering stage.
Pros and Cons of MH Lights
Metal halide lights closely mimic natural sunlight. They’re quite effective for promoting healthy growth during plants’ vegetative stages and last around five times longer than incandescent bulbs. The primary problems with MH fixtures are that they operate under extremely high pressures, which means they require special ballasts and need a few minutes to warm up after being switched on. MH ballasts and bulbs also tend to be more expensive, both in terms of the initial purchase price and ongoing operational costs.
Pros and Cons of HPS Lights
HPS lights produce warm light in the red end of the spectrum, which means they’re perfect for plants’ flowering stages. Unfortunately, they’re terrible at supporting vegetative growth. Growers who use HPS lights typically start the plants under MH ballasts or CFLs and switch the lighting over when the plants begin to flower. Since HPS lights are very energy efficient, with six times more light output per watt than incandescent lights, growers who prefer to use MH lights during the vegetative stage will find that it’s worth putting in the extra effort to switch the lighting setup over when the plants begin to flower.
Pros and Cons of LEDs
LEDs are now considered the gold standard by most growers. They can produce a full lighting spectrum that includes both red and blue light, which means they can be used throughout the plants’ various growth cycles. They’re incredibly energy efficient and produce minimal heat, which means the operational costs associated with using LEDs are very low.
Growers won’t just save money on lighting. They’ll also be able to reduce their A/C and heat sink costs. The only real downside to LEDs is that they require a greater initial investment. Those who can afford the higher price tag will find that they quickly make up the difference thanks to their much lower operational costs.
Understanding the Light Spectrum
The visible light spectrum is divided into different color ranges. Each of them plays a different role in supporting healthy plant growth. Violet-blue light encourages chlorophyll absorption, photosynthesis, and vegetative growth. Red light promotes flowering and budding.
Before purchasing grow lights, check the color spectrum. The best option is to buy a light that provides a full spectrum. That way, growers won’t have to switch out their light arrays halfway through the season.
It’s best to put the grow lights directly over the plant beds or pots. That way, the whole plant will be exposed to artificial light. Each type of light requires a different amount of clearance from the plant canopy. Those that produce more heat must be hung further away from the plants to avoid burning them. Here are a few guidelines to follow that can help growers determine what lights will best suit their available space:
- Incandescent light bulbs require at least two feet of clearance above the canopy.
- CFLs require one foot of clearance.
- MH and HPS lights must be kept 24 to 30 inches away from the canopy.
LEDs have very low heat signatures and can be placed just six inches above the plants.
The Bottom Line
There’s no way to grow plants indoors without artificial lighting or a greenhouse. It’s worth investing in high-quality lights, regardless of what type of system gardeners plan to set up and what species of plants they want to grow. Growers of all ability levels should buy lights from a reputable vendor and feel free to ask questions before making a purchase to make sure the lights will fit their unique needs.