Growing plants and vegetables can be a rewarding hobby and a great way to ensure a steady supply of herbs and greens. Cultivating plants outdoors usually gives gardeners more room but comes with problems. It takes a lot of work to keep outdoor plants free of insects and diseases and protect them from the weather.
Growing indoor gardens eliminates these issues, but most gardeners need to invest in grow lights unless they own solarium or greenhouses. Indoor lighting does a poor job of supporting photosynthesis and is not designed to supplant the sun. Before investing in any grow lights, it is important to understand how they work and to choose the right type for each crop.
What Are Grow Lights?
According to Wikipedia, a grow light is “an artificial light to help plants grow. Grow lights either attempt to provide a light spectrum similar to that of the sun, or to provide a spectrum that is more tailored to the needs of the plants being cultivated.” There are lights designed to suit a range of uses. For example, lights available at Agron can fall into different categories and various models within those categories. The primary three categories include:
- High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lights. These powerful lights can be expensive. They need special light fixtures, use a lot of electricity, and give off quite a bit of heat.
- Compact Fluorescent (CFL) Lights. Good for starting seeds, houseplants, and other modest light needs. A good fit for small spaces.
- Light-Emitting Diodes (LED) Lights. More expensive than fluorescent models, LED lights also use less power. They are well-suited for growing larger quantities of plants.
Are Grow Lights Expensive?
The amount of money each grower will spend on grow lights depends on their needs. A small kitchen garden with decent sunlight will do well with inexpensive CLF styles, while a big garden might need more powerful LED lights. Whatever type of lighting growers use, it pays to invest in the best quality that fits the budget. Inexpensive, poor-quality lights may have to be repaired or replaced, which cancels out any savings. The best option is to select durable lights that provide enough light for their intended purpose.
One step that simplifies the process is consulting a professional chart that breaks down costs. For example, Urban Vine provides a detailed graph that compares various grow lights and breaks down the costs associated with four different types.
Lights are sold in budget, mid-range, and high-end versions. Beginning growers might want to stick with simpler lights at first since high-end grow lights include advanced features. Accessories are another cost consideration. Lighting setups may require high-quality power cords, smart power strips, grow tents, and light movers and hangers.
Consider Plants When Choosing Lights
Per Technology.org, it is also essential to consider the needs of plants when buying lights. The best way to do that is to research plants’ needs and determine the best environment for each crop. Different types of lights can impact plants, and plants may react differently to varying conditions.
Since various colors also impact plant growth, it is essential to check each light’s color spectrum. Violet-blue light is in the 400-520 nanometer range and supports photosynthesis and growth. Red light falling into the 610-720 spectrum is best for budding and flowering. Many LED lights provide both types of color spectrums.
Calculate the Distance Between Grow Lights and Plants
Before choosing lights, gardeners also need to determine their available space. That means measuring the space available for plants and lighting and calculating the amount of room between them. The size of a room impacts factors such as the required light intensity and lighting position. Once growers have determined which lights are right for their needs, they can consult grow light distance charts (also known as PAR vs. distance charts) to learn how to hang fixtures correctly.
Gardeners must consider their information sources when following distance recommendations since not everyone provides the same guidance. It is best to find professionals who have grown the same crop growers are planting. They should also choose experienced growers.
Consider Heat When Buying Lights
Lights give off heat, and heat is a major consideration when choosing and placing grow lights. There are scientific reasons why specific lighting produces more or less heat, but the critical thing for growers to be aware of is that efficient lights will produce less heat, which is a good thing for gardeners. That is because high heat may burn plants and reduce yield. Grow lights that produce high infrared radiation also produce less of the visible light plants need.
Growers must research the heat signatures of the lights they choose since LED, CLF, and HID have very different heat outputs. Determining how much heat that lighting generates keeps plants healthy and makes it possible to estimate how warm the growing environment will get. Growers can then decide whether they need to add cooling features like fans, ventilation, or heat pumps.
Growers Need to Look at Specs
Once gardeners have evaluated their available space and chosen lighting with acceptable heat generation properties, it is a good idea to become familiar with terms describing grow lights’ technical specs. Light manufacturers’ metrics to measure power consumption and light intensity are measured in lux, lumens, PAR, and watts. While suppliers will explain how each value affects buyers’ lighting choices, growers should be familiar with the meaning of the following basic terms:
- Watts represents a unit of power consumption.
- Lumens measures light emitted from one light source.
- Lux determines how much visible light will fall on a surface.
- PAR coverage references the color spectrum of usable light that a grow light emits.
It is possible to grow everything from houseplants to crops indoors, but the process nearly always requires the use of grow lights. Before buying lights, beginning growers should familiarize themselves with grow light categories and costs and learn how each works. They should also consider the plants they will cultivate, determine available space, and calculate the amount of heat various lights produce. It is also good for gardeners to become familiar with grow light specs.