Everything you need to know about Indoor gardening with grow lights: What are grow lights? What type should I buy? How do I use them?
All About Indoor Gardening with Grow Lights
In a space with no sunlight, bring the light directly to your indoor jungle with light bulbs designed just for plants. Perhaps you live in a house or apartment without enough sun coming through the windows to grow the plant you want. Maybe you are looking to supplement the lower sunlight levels in the wintertime.
Here is a full guide to choosing and setting up grow lights to give your plants the artificial sunlight they need to thrive.
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What are Grow Lights?
Grow lights are an alternative for natural sunlight, replicating the energy of the sun with minimal usage of electricity. NASA has been studying the use of grow lights since the 1980s, optimizing lights to grow plants indoors during deep space missions. However, this technology is not just for farms, scientists, and astronauts. The popularity of grow lights has led to more accessible and affordable varieties that anyone can set up in their own home. Modern use of grow lights spans to aquarium enthusiasts, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) treatment, and all forms of agriculture and houseplant growth.
Full Spectrum Lighting
Before walking you through the three categories of grow lights, it is important to cover this key feature: full spectrum lighting. “Full Spectrum” means that all the ideal wavelengths of light necessary for plants are included, best imitating sunlight. Not all light is created equal, and certain wavelengths have different benefits for growing plants.
Red and blue are key players in a full spectrum bulb. Red encourages bloom and leaf growth, while blue stimulates root growth. Full spectrum lights may look white but can also be pink or purple, due to the combinations of visible red and blue. Even if you cannot tell a difference when looking at the lighting, the wavelengths make all the difference. You may be surprised how much science and physics goes into each light bulb. Luckily, we will keep it simple.
Types of Grow Lights for Indoor Plants
Here are the three main categories of grow lights, with benefits and disadvantages.
- Fluorescent Lights (CFL)
Fluorescent lights are the spiral shaped light bulbs popularized in the mid-1970’s. At first, CFL bulbs were considered cutting edge and praised for their eco-friendliness compared to their incandescent predecessors. Fluorescent bulbs to this day are affordable, consume low electricity, and only generate a small amount of heat when running.
Although CFL bulbs can be advantageous for indoor plants, there are some setbacks. For one, CFL bulbs have mercury in them, so there are legitimate concerns about toxins leaking from the bulbs when accidentally broken. In addition, not all CFL bulbs are made equal. Most fluorescent bulbs on the market are not in the optimal full light spectrum to encourage plant growth. So, you as a consumer will need to do your due diligence to ensure the CFL lighting is in the correct spectrum for growth.
- High Pressure Sodium Lights (HPS)
Originally created for street lights, High Pressure Sodium Lighting is an old-school technology still around to this day.
Most HPS bulbs are not full spectrum. Instead, they commonly lie on the red spectrum, encouraging bloom and leaf growth. This can either be an advantage of a disadvantage depending on your goals. If you are a florist or a cannabis farmer, then you may want red spectrum bulbs to control when your plants will grow flowers. Otherwise, we recommend full spectrum HPS lights for general plant growth.
HPS bulbs can do the job but have setbacks. First, they are incredibly energy demanding. Plugging in these HPS systems directly into an outlet is simply not enough, so you will need to invest in a ballast to provide ample electricity. Second, these power-hungry bulbs generate a significant amount of heat. They are still effective for plant growth, but the disadvantages make them a less popular option.
- Light Emitting Diodes (LED)
Light bulbs that are in the LED category are by far the most popular. Just as household LED bulbs are highly efficient, LED grow lights consume minimal electricity with maximum brightness. Most, if not all, LED grow lights are full spectrum, with some offering control over red vs blue lighting. LED bulbs also emit less heat than their HPS and CFL counterparts, overall optimized for indoor growth.
The one downside of LED growing light systems is the upfront cost. Since LED technology is both relatively new and wildly popular, new growers are often discouraged at the high price point. The good news is, however, that the cost savings in electricity pay off this investment in the long run. If you plan on using your plant lighting system for years to come, then LED is absolutely the best option.
How to Use Grow Lights
Once you have selected your lighting, the next step is to set up your grow light system.
The amount of grow lights to purchase will depend on your needs and your situation. If your goal is just to supplement the light for plants in darker rooms, you may only need one or two grow bulbs to achieve the results you want. If you are converting a supply closet into a plant oasis, you may need 700-1000 watts of grow lights to convert a windowless room into a vessel for plant growth.
Another important component is where to place the grow lights. This depends on the type of lights you purchased. If you purchased grow bulbs, then you will need to find a socket to screw them into, just like with household light bulbs.
Most grow light systems are all-in-one, where all they need is to be mounted and plugged into the wall. Most likely, you have purchased an overhead grow light system which needs to be hung up. If this is the case, carefully hang your grow lights from a ceiling mount, or hang the lighting system from a shelf. If you have purchased light bars that work in unison with each other, be sure to link every light together with the cables provided. There are so many light setups and designs on the market, each as unique as the one before.
At first, it may be an overwhelming transition to set up an artificial sunlight system indoors. There is a learning curve and lots of decision that go into each setup, which can seem overwhelming at first. Don’t worry, we are here to support you every step of the way!
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