Types of Grow Lights for Indoor Plants

Try these bright ideas for growing plants indoors.

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March 28, 2016
Grow Light

Grow Light

Grow lights can be used to keep plants healthy and thriving during winter months.

Photo by: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo by Mick Telkamp

Grow lights can be used to keep plants healthy and thriving during winter months.

There are times when a windowsill is all one needs to grow a plant indoors, but when germinating seeds, overwintering established plants or giving the spring crops a head start when the days are too cold and short to plant outdoors, using grow lights to mimic the sunlight needed for plants to grow may be the answer the eager gardener is looking for.

Sunlight is one of the essential components for plant growth. The sun fuels photosynthesis, but the right grow lights can simulate the sun's action. Although virtually any light will stimulate the growing process, not all artificial lights will provide the best conditions for growth. Some may run too hot, while others lack the spectrum of light for optimal growth. Blue light is likelier to promote plant growth while red light will encourage flowering.  Selecting the right grow lights can give the indoor gardener an edge that will pay off handsomely with healthy plants ready to transplant when springtime finally rolls around. 

Types of Grow Lights

Incandescent bulbs cost just a few dollars and are the cheapest option. Although they may do just fine for a few plants or used in conjunction with natural light in a sunny room, the heat of these bulbs requires a distance of two feet or more to prevent heat damage and should be used cautiously.

Fluorescent lights are the most popular choice for home growers. Some newer types offer a wider light spectrum for all-purpose use, but traditional fluorescent bulbs lack the appropriate range for flowering and are best suited for germination and vegetative growth. Because they produce less heat, fluorescent lights are safer, more versatile and more effective than incandescent bulbs while remaining budget-friendly.

High Intensity Discharge solutions like Metal Halide (MH) and High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights are good choices, though expensive to purchase and operate. Extremely efficient, high energy discharge throw a lot of light and the blue light of MH lights will promote vegetative growth, but produce less flowering. The red to orange hue of HPS lights are powerhouses when it comes to producing buds and flowers, but plants will be less sturdy. Used in tandem, MH lights are often used to promote leafy growth before swapping in HPS lights to encourage plants to flower.

LED (light emitting diode) lights are the new kid on the block and are finding some popularity. Emitting virtually no heat and requiring little power to operate, LEDs can be programmed to accurately simulate the 5700K color temperature of sunlight and can simultaneously produce the red and blue band spectrums needed for both vegetative growth and flowering. LED grow lights are expensive, but prices are likely to fall as the technology develops.

Grow lights are no match for a sunny day, but are a great way to extend the growing season. Select the option that best fits your budget and growing needs. Position lights carefully and, depending on the plants, leave them on no longer than 16 hours daily to best simulate ideal sunlight conditions.

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