Without using grow lights, maintaining an indoor garden can be tricky, especially if you don’t have access to a lot of natural light. Even if you have plenty of windows with your plants lined up against them, certain species still may not be receiving the amount of light they need to really flourish. Window panes dilute natural sunlight and moving them even a short distance from the glass amplifies that dilution.
There are many species of plants that are very needy when it comes to the sun and will beg for more hours of light per day than even your largest south facing windows can provide. Grow lights are the perfect option for anyone who does not have access to very much direct sunlight or for anyone growing plants that require a lot of natural light.
How Grow Lights Work
Plants use a process called photosynthesis to convert light energy to food. Some plants can thrive in low lighting while others require direct, natural sunlight to flourish. Different types of plants may also require different amounts of sunlight throughout the day, some needing only 8 hours a day, others needing up to 18 hours per day.
Certain plants will grow best under different wavelengths of light and this could vary throughout their life cycles. The light from the blue end of the spectrum will help with foliage growth while light from the red end is needed for flowering and fruiting plants.
Grow lights are designed to offer the full spectrum of light to your plants so they can photosynthesize and thrive as if they were receiving the same wavelengths of light from the sun. Different grow lights can offer different ranges of the spectrum so depending on what you’re growing, your lighting needs may vary.
Types of Grow Lights
Incandescent light bulbs, the typical bulbs used in lamps and other fixtures around your house, give off more of the red wavelength and can be used to provide a little bit of light for your plants. However, they aren’t generally very powerful and cannot provide enough energy for more than a couple of plants. They also give off quite a bit of heat and should not be placed too close to your plants. Incandescent lights are cheap but they aren’t very efficient and may burn out quickly when being used to provide long hours of light to your plants.
Fluorescent lights are much more efficient than incandescent lights and they’re cool enough to leave a little closer to your plants. Most fluorescent lights are higher in blue wavelengths so it’s best to look for full spectrum bulbs, or use these lights in combination with some warmer lights, such as incandescents. Fluorescents are great for vegetables, herbs, and seedlings but these lights are still usually only powerful enough to provide energy for a couple of plants at a close range.
Light-emitting diodes, or LED lights, are low heat and are energy efficient. LED lights are available in a variety of spectrum ranges so if you are buying standard LED lights, be sure to look for the ones that give off both the red and blue wavelengths necessary for ideal plant growth. There are full spectrum LED lights available that are designed specifically as grow lights so you may want to look for these when setting up your indoor garden.
High-intensity discharge lamps, or HIDs, a type of electrical gas-discharge lamp. There are different types of HID lights, including metal halide (MH) and high pressure sodium (HPS). The MH lights emit more blue light, making them better suited for foliage and plant growth. The HPS bulbs give off more red light, making these best for the fruiting and flowering plants. Dual arc lights combine HPS and MH lights in the same bulb in order to provide both spectrums of light to your plants.
How to Choose the Right Grow Lights
Intensity and Color
Choosing the right grow lights will depend mostly on what you are growing and how big of on indoor garden you plan to grow. The less powerful lights, like incandescent bulbs, are great for low light houseplants or can be used with fluorescent lights at a closer range for a very small number of plants. Larger gardens or gardens with sun loving plants may require some of the stronger bulbs such as HID or LEDs.
Lights with Timers
Plants, and their sunlight needs, can be broken down into 3 categories.
1. Short-day plants need less than 12 hours of light per day.
2. Long-day plants require 14-18 hours of light per day.
3. Day-neutral plants need about 8-12 hours per day.
If your schedule doesn’t allow you keep a watchful eye on how much sunlight your garden is getting, it may be beneficial to purchase grow lights that are equipped with a timer.
Decorative Grow Lights
Your main reason for having an indoor garden may be the lovely decor they provide. If this is the case, it’s a good idea to look into some decorative grow lights so you can give your plants all the light they require while still maintaining a beautiful ambiance. Grow lights could just be a light in any old fixture, or they could be a lovely addition to your home.
Your Options for Grow Lights for Indoor Plants
Many of us live in a house where natural sunlight is a rare commodity. Grow lights are a great way to supplement the natural light you do have or replace it completely in windowless rooms. There are plenty of options available, regardless of your budget, space, or style preferences. Certain house plants may require very little light while other high maintenance species want constant attention from the sun. Assess the needs of your indoor garden and if you think you’re leaving your little green friends in the dark, shed some artificial light on them.
To explore different grow light options, check out our list of Top 15 Best Grow Lights for Your Indoor Plants.