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Shedding Light on Grow Lighting: Choosing the Right Option for Indoor Gardens

Shedding  Light on Grow Lighting

Whether you cultivate plant clippings inside a greenhouse, are starting plants from seeds, or are turning an indoor corner into an area to grow herbs, supplemental grow lighting can have an enormous effect on your success as a gardener. In this issue, we will shed some “light” on the ins and outs of grow lighting to help you understand the science behind and the benefits of supplementing the sunshine in your garden spot.

    1. Understanding the Importance of Grow Lighting: 

     Plants require light for photosynthesis, the process through which they convert light energy into chemical energy to fuel growth. Proper grow lighting is essential for providing the right spectrum and intensity of light that plants need for healthy photosynthesis. In indoor gardening, artificial lights mimic natural sunlight to ensure optimal growth and development.


     2. Types of Grow Lights: 

  1.      Fluorescent Lights: Fluorescent lights are popular for their affordability and versatility. They come in two types: T5 and T8. T5 lights provide high-intensity light and are ideal for seedlings and young plants, while T8 lights are suitable for smaller indoor gardens or supplemental lighting.
  2.      LED Lights: LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights have gained popularity in recent years due to their energy efficiency and customizable spectrum. LED lights emit specific wavelengths of light that can be tailored to match the needs of different plant stages. They also generate less heat, making them suitable for small spaces.
  3.       HID Lights: HID (High-Intensity Discharge) lights include Metal Halide (MH) and High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights. MH lights emit blue light, which is suitable for vegetative growth, while HPS lights emit red light, ideal for flowering and fruiting stages. HID lights are powerful and commonly used for larger indoor gardens.
  4. CMH Lights: CMH (Ceramic Metal Halide) lights are a newer technology that combines the best features of MH and HPS lights. They produce a balanced spectrum of light suitable for the entire plant growth cycle, providing excellent color rendering and energy efficiency       

    3.  Factors to Consider: 

  1.      Light Spectrum: Different plants have specific light spectrum requirements at various growth stages. Understanding the needs of your plants will help you choose the right grow lights with the appropriate spectrum.
  2.      Light Intensity: Light intensity refers to the brightness of the light emitted by the grow lights. It's essential to match the light intensity to the specific requirements of your plants. Some plants may require higher light levels, while others thrive under lower intensities.
  3.       Energy Efficiency: Consider the energy efficiency of the grow lights to minimize electricity costs. LED lights are known for their energy-saving capabilities compared to traditional lighting options.
  4.      Heat Output: Some grow lights, like HID lights, can produce significant heat. Ensure proper ventilation and cooling mechanisms are in place to prevent heat stress on your plants.
  5.      Coverage Area: Determine the size of your indoor garden and choose grow lights that can adequately cover the entire area. Consider the light spread and adjust the light height or use multiple lights if needed.

     4. Lighting Schedule:

        Establish a consistent lighting schedule for your plants to mimic natural daylight cycles. Most plants require 12-16 hours of light per day for                      vegetative growth, and a reduced light period of 8-12 hours for flowering and fruitin


What We Know About Plants and Light

Most of us remember learning sunlight is important for plant growth because of photosynthesis. Plants derive energy from sunlight in order to create their own food to survive. And yet, there is much more to this process than we learned in the third grade! Understanding some of the science behind lighting will help you choose the right grow lighting, and create the best lighting conditions for your plants.

Light and Plant Cells

Plant leaves contain cells called photons. Photons are important because, using chlorophyll, they create the energy necessary for plants to grow, make food, flower, and produce seed and fruits. The number of photons each plant depends on the amount of light it has been exposed to. Photons rely on light to grow and reproduce. The more light exposure a plant has, the more photons are produced. More photons mean faster photosynthesis, which in turn means more energy for growth functions. Grow lighting can help spur plant growth, even in gloomy winter conditions.


Understanding Spectrums

You may also remember “ROYGBIV” from your third grade science class. It stands for the color spectrums that humans can see- Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. This is called the visible spectrum. But, did you know that there are other spectrums that can’t be seen by us?

Changing the amount of red to far red exposure versus blue exposure can affect plant growth factors

Let’s start with the basics. We know that chlorophyll gives plants their green color. We also know that chlorophyll is vital to photons producing energy during photosynthesis. Now we get a bit more technical. Chlorophyll absorbs light that is part of the PAR spectrum. PAR stands for photosynthetically active radiation. This spectrum contains light that benefit plants, but can’t be seen by humans.

One common type of grow light produces perceived “white light.” These lights actually cast off the full range of both the visible and PAR spectrums, which looks ” white” to the human eye. These lights can vary from very stark, meaning there are higher percentages of blue frequencies, to very warm, indicating higher levels of red waves. Because these lights contain the full spectrum, they are very useful in promoting plant growth. However, isolating the colors that plants respond to the most, red and blue, can help promote faster, healthier plant growth.

Research shows that blue spectrum lighting, or cool lighting, is beneficial to help leaves and stems grow. Red spectrum lighting has been found to assist in flowering and root growth. Grow lighting that casts a pink or purple glow are giving off a blend of red and blue wave colors. These lights are known as dual band lights. This type of grow lighting is particularly helpful in shaded spaces, light deprivation greenhouses, and in medical growing.

How Much Light?

So, if the human eye can’t see the whole spectrum, how do we know if the lighting we provide our plants is bright enough (or too bright) to be efficient? Simple answer, we don’t. Which means that it is vital to learn about the plants you’re raising.

A great place to start is to ask, “What are the conditions like in their natural habitat?” Cactus prefer dry, very sunny conditions that mimic their desert homes. Tropical plants like warm, humid environments with longer periods of day light. Knowing your plant’s “roots” will point you in the right direction in terms of their lighting requirements, and you can then optimize the growing conditions you are providing.

Large scale and commercial growers use expensive instruments called quantum flux meters. However, these can be expensive for home gardeners. More affordable  (though less elaborate) light meters can help give an idea of how much light is in each area of your garden at a given time. With this information, and a careful eye to plant responses, additional tweaks to your grow lighting plan can usually be easy to discern.

What About Darkness?

Some plants cannot complete their growing cycles unless they spend a substantial amount of time in the dark. Plants like mums, hemp, and zinnias all respond to the lack of light by putting more of their energy into flowering or fruiting. Knowing whether you are growing “short-day” or “long-day” plants will help you create the best lighting conditions, as well as the best periods of darkness, for your plants.

This is why light deprivation greenhouses have become so popular in recent years. Knowing your plant’s growing cycle combined with being able to manipulate lighting to “trick” plants into cycling through their growing processes more quickly, is ideal for producing larger yields, more frequent harvests, or flowering on your schedule (such as poinsettias at the holidays).

Which Grow Lights Are Best?

There is no simple answer when it comes to choosing grow lighting. Taking into account the natural lighting available, the orientation of your growing space, the types of plants you are growing, and many other factors. For example, seedlings require a much higher volume of light to thrive. They are trying to develop healthy root systems, stems, and leaves full of those all-important photons. This requires a lot of light energy. Once your plant matures a bit, it probably won’t need as much light to grow. The best way to know exactly what kind of lighting your plants need is through observation, trial and error, and patience. Observing your plants regularly will help you adjust your grow lighting if they are getting too much light (brown, singed leaves) or not enough light (pale leaves and elongated stems).

Though there’s no one answer to the question of which grow lights are best, we do have some guidelines and recommendations for where to start when choosing supplemental lighting and fixtures.

We recommend:

• At least four 54-watt fluorescent tubes for seed starting; full spectrum vs. blue or red spectrum is up to you.

• If you choose full spectrum bulbs, look for “cooler” lighting that has a higher percentage of blue waves. These bulbs will be marked as 6500K (kelvin) and promote better foliage.

• MH, or metal halide, lamps provide more of the blue/green spectrum, are great for growing leafy plants like cabbage or peppers.

• HPS, or high-pressure sodium, lights are recommended to promote flowering in plants because of their higher red wave intensity

• Seek guidance from an experienced greenhouse expert whenever possible

We want you to know:

• T5 grow lights are high output lights that are affordable and readily available. They commonly used in both hobby and commercial greenhouses.

• LED bulbs are more energy efficient than fluorescent lights.

• Quality is important. Spending a little extra on lighting now, will save you a lot of money (and frustration) in the future. Invest in high-quality grow lighting and fixtures whenever possible.

• Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of lighting and lighting combinations. Just make sure to observe your plant’s reactions to the lighting changes.

• We are available to help you choose the best grow lighting to meet your growing needs.

Now that you know a little bit more about how plants are affected by light and spectrums, you may be ready to add some supplemental grow lights to your growing space. If we can help, give us a call at 1-800-531-4769, or visit our website, and let our team help you find the right grow lighting to create an ideal environment for your plants.

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