Plant Light Basics : Our Detailed Guide
Looking for the right grow lights? If so, you’ve probably read a few articles and gone through several reviews. And now you feel more confused than ever. In this article we try to help simplify your decision. And guide you in deciding on the right light for your project by understanding plant light basics. To do this we will give you some info on your options and then try to give you the best option for the size project you are planning. If you are a bottom line type of person and don’t want to do all the reading. Then know we STRONGLY recommend you use LED grow lights for your plants. And you can pick the right one from the stack rankings on our home page. On the other hand, if you want the info so you can make your own informed decision, read on….
Plant Light Basics : Fluorescent
Fluorescent was a popular choice for growing plant indoors when they first came out and there are special application florescent bulbs that still give great lighting. However, its short bulb life and limited spectrum for the wattage has resulted in a dramatic decline in florescent except for special blooming applications.
Fluorescents have luminous efficacy that range up to 90 lm/W and have color temperatures ranging from 2,700K to 10,000K, which does not compare well with the other options currently available.
As mentioned earlier, a significant disadvantage of fluorescent that sets it way behind its competitors is a short bulb lifespan, less than 20,000 hours. Also, the light has gone bad before the bulb shows any sign of aging, so often your plants have suffered for weeks before you realize the bulbs are bad. Unless you are inheriting a free, new florescent system, don’t take the chance. Florescent special application bulbs are still used to assist in seedling and blooming and that is the place to apply them.
Plant Light Basics : New CFL
Compact Florescent Lights (CFL) bulbs are the newest florescent bulbs on the market and are smaller and more energy efficient than standard incandescent lights but have the same disadvantaged as a standard florescent light. Another disadvantage of CFL bulbs is they can be easily affected by weather conditions, especially cold seasons, meaning unheated gardens during cold weather may experience dimmer light. Additionally, dimmer switches which can soften and dim lights are not compatible with new CFL bulbs.
Also, new CFLs are not as direct and as strong as conventional fluorescent lights. Lastly, they contain mercury which is toxic for the environment.
Plant Light Basics : Metal Halide
Metal Halides are comparable to the older mercury vapor lamps, but deliver improved color and more visible light per watt. The only difference in the light bulb is it uses additives, particularly metal halide, along with argon and mercury. These particular additives allows the system to emit brighter illumination.
Although metal halide do produce high lumen output and good color rendition, these lamps are only suitable for large establishments (e.g. stadiums, arenas, and convention halls) and are rarely used for indoor gardens. Furthermore, the average life of metal halide lamps are generally shorter than other types of light in the market.
Ultra high wattage lamps range from 15,000 to 20,000 hours of useful light for plants, while lower wattage lamps are only effective for up to 7,500 hours.
Plant Light Basics : Induction/Plasma
Induction or plasma works well for nurturing cannabis because of their great light spectrum. No filaments and electrodes also means a longer life, thus frequent replacement is not needed. Induction/plasma have an amazing lifespan of up to 100,000 hours!
Despite the advantages that induction or plasma may showcase, they still come with disadvantages. Induction lights have poor light penetration into the plant canopy. If you already have MH/HPS setup, it is not advisable to replace it with induction/plasma system.
When it comes to pricing, induction/plasma are more expensive to buy compared to other grow lights. Additionally, typical plasma doesn’t have built-in cooling options making it operate at high heat. This means that you need to separately purchase a cooling system to disperse heat away from the bulbs and the plants and make them cooler.
The high power consumption and the significant heat generated by these systems make them less efficient than Led and a danger from heat for your plants and your security
Plant Light Basics : LED
Above all types of grow lights, LEDs are at this time the best available. They enable you to regulate proper heat and light spectrum to your plants and equally distribute that light to all parts of your plant. Beyond those operating aspects of LED Grow lamps, they are power efficient and low to no maintenance. Here are the top benefits of LED grow lights:
- Energy Efficiency – The biggest edge of LEDs is they run with up to 80 percent less energy compared to standard lighting systems. They only use as little as 2-17 watts of electricity which is the secret behind its amazing efficiency.
- Remarkable Lifetime – A typical LED has a lifespan equivalent to 5.7 years of continuous use! LEDs may be more expensive than competitors in the market but the big savings eventually come in the long run. Imagine 80 percent off in your lighting bills plus 50,000 hours of life span.
- Accurate Wavelengths – To optimize vegetative and flowering responses within your indoor garden. It is important for plants to experience the right spectra. For instance, blue light is responsible for the overall plant strength by promoting shortened intermodal lengths and strong stems. Red light on the other hand stimulates flowering and vegetative growth.
- Flexibility – LED fixtures can be designed or arranged, depending on your own needs, on a number of customizable options for energy savings, spacing factors, and photomorphological responses. Also, fixtures can also be utilized for inter-lighting designs and multilayer vertical systems among the plants.
- More light with less heat – A typical incandescent bulb produces heat up to 85 BTUs per hour. On the other hand, LEDs only produce as little as 3.4 BTUs/hour.
Plant Light Basics : LED Selection Criteria
Want to know the best LED grow lights? Here are the factors that you need to consider in picking the right LED for you.
Plant Light Basics : Space
Size your light system to the space you are lighting!!!! The rule of thumb to use is 20 to 40 watts of LED grow lighting per 1 square foot of plants. It is recommended to have in the range of 20 watts during growth, and at least 40 watts to initiate blooming. As a formula multiply the square footage of your grow space by the recommended bulb strength to decide on the size of your lighting system. For example in a 4’ x 4’ grow room (16 sqft) you should purchase 320 watts of good LED lighting to grow. And have 640 watts to bloom.
16 sqft x 20 watts = 320 total LED lighting watts to grow
16 sqft x 40 watts = 640 total LED lighting watts to bloom.
However, there are additional factors to include specific light spectrum requirement for some plants and for seedling vs grow vs bloom. Also, be aware there are cheap LED lights on the market that do not deliver the light to meet the specifications they claim. So only buy from a reputable, recommended manufacturer
Plant Light Basics : Spectrum
Depending on your plants’ needs, the right spectrum must be achieved. Colors of 3000K and below are known as red or warm colors. While 5000K (and above) colors, also known as blue or cool colors, are the closest thing to natural sunlight.
Red light encourages flowering. On the other hand, blue light promotes vegetative growth.
(Photo source: here)
Both red and blue spectrum are the primary lighting required to grow most plants. So they are ideal for LED systems.
Plant Light Basics : Cost
LED lights are fairly expensive to purchase. However, due to its long lifespan, efficient power use and low operating cost, and outstanding performance in growing your plants, you can actually save big in the long run.
LED prices seem to vary widely by different brands. It is important to note that while prices are not the sole basis of the quality of the product but it is a general true that “you get what you pay for.” The cost of an inexpensive LED light can be large. As the biggest cost variable in growing plants is that it takes weeks to get your plants. And if your plants do not succeed well the cost is really high!!
Plant Light Basics : Maintenance
Great news, LED doesn’t need extensive maintenance. Matter of fact, it only needs little to no maintenance at all!
Your attention can be directed on how your plants grow with the LED grow light system that you use, rather than repair or environmental maintenance issues that are a big issue for many growers.
Go to our home page for a recommendation of the top ten LED Grow Lights for your size project.