Grow Lights 101

How to use artificial lighting to help your plants grow!

Written by Samantha Agostino

If you live or work in a space that doesn't get much natural sunlight, and are concerned your plant babies won't survive - worry no more! 

When you incorporate an artificial light source into your set up, you'll see there's only a small difference between natural light and artificial light when it comes to plant growth. 

Though artificial light is not the same as sunlight for plants, they can help keep your plant happy and thriving in the same way as plants with natural sun exposure

If you have questions on how to use grow lights, read on! 

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What Are Grow Lights? 

Sunlight is a basic essential for plant care, but sometimes we can't always provide optimal lighting with natural sunlight. - You shouldn't let this deter you from starting a plant collection though; This is where grow lights come in!

Grow lights are typically used by indoor plant parents, as they act as a either a supplement to natural light or a full on substitute when natural sun exposure isn't an option. 

In the same way the sun helps with the photosynthesis process, so do grow lights! There are quite a few different types of grow lights that range in color and wavelength, which determines the strength of the light.

Make sure you read up on how much light your plant needs and match it with the correct color and wavelength!

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Blue lights can aid with foliage growth; Red lights can help with proper root growth and flowering!

What's The Difference Between Grow Lights and Traditional Lighting? 

When you think artificial light you may be thinking of the bulbs in your ceiling or table lamp. These however, are a little different from a grow light used for plants. 

The lights you use to illuminate your home emit narrow wavelengths and burn hot, (in other words, they're warm to the touch). These features are actually the exact opposite of what your plant needs!

Grow lights provide broad wavelengths varying in color, which are more suitable to plants and they promote photosynthesis! Some grow lights also give off relatively low heat, making them less likely to scorch your plants

Are Grow Lights Better Than Sunlight?

The short answer is no. Plants grow best in their natural habitats, so when we bring them into our home or office it's ideal to mimic their native domain. 

That being said, there are several types of artificial grow lights that mimic the sun's natural rays. Though grow lights aren't a plant's ideal source of light, they can thrive just as well! 

What Are The Different Types of Grow Lights?

Being that each type of grow light emits different colors and wavelengths, it will change the strength of the lighting, and subsequently the growth of your plant depending on its lighting needs.

There's no one size fits all model when it comes to grow lights, but you can find the type of light that will work best for the type of growth you'd like to achieve. 

There are four main types of grow lights for indoor plants: 
01. HID (High Intensity Discharge): High intensity discharge lights emit electricity through a gas-filled bulb. These tend to be on the pricier side, but work the best in terms of replicating natural sunlight. These are typically used in commercial growing facilities as they are the most efficient type of grow light.

02. Fluorescent: Fluorescent lights are long, narrow shaped bulbs that emit a low level of heat. These are one of the more popular choices of grow lights, as they are less abrasive on the eyes and the lower heat emission makes them safe for any plant. These are best used for plants in the vegetative or germination stage. 

03. LED (Light Emitting Diode): LED lights are broad spectrum lights emitting blues and oranges, and are customizable depending on your plant's needs. They give off a low level of heat making them safe for any plant, and as a bonus are super energy efficient!

04. Incandescent: Incandescent bulbs are the most wallet-friendly option of grow lights, but what they make up for in cost, they lack in efficiency. These lights are best used as a supplement to natural light rather than a substitute for the sun.  These lights tend to run on the hotter side, so they can't be placed too close to your plants.

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Incandescent lights run hot so don't keep them too close to your plant for fear of burning!

What Are The Different Types of HID Lights?  

High intensity discharge bulbs come in a variety of subtypes, but the three most used for indoor growing are: 

01. High Pressure Sodium (HPS): HPS lights emit light on the orange and red side of the spectrum. This type of lighting is best used for plants in the flowering stage. 

02. Metal Halide (MH): MH lights emit light on the blue side of the spectrum. This type of lighting is best used for plants in the growth and vegetative stage. 

03. Ceramic Metal Halide/Light Emitting Ceramic (CMH/LEC): CMH emits a broader spectrum of light, and is more or less a combination of the HPS and the MH light.

Rule of (Green) Thumb: CMH/LEC don't have as intense orange/red light so they aren't the best choice for flowering.

What Are The Different Types of Fluorescent Lights?  

Fluorescent lights are a great broad-spectrum option for plants that grow in medium to low light conditions, such as Philodendrons or Madagascar Dragon TreesThe most commonly used types of fluorescent lights are:

01. Tube-Style Fluorescents: Tube-style fluorescents are a brighter version of a fluorescent bulb. These are longer, narrow bulbs and require more space for set up. These are best used for larger grow spaces, or commercially when growing from seedlings. 

02. Compact Fluorescents: Compact fluorescents are smaller bulbs that work best for smaller growing spaces. These also tend to be the cheaper option of fluorescents, so if you're looking for a more economical choice these might be for you!

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Compact fluorescents are great for carnivorous plants and orchids!

How Do I Set Up Grow Lights?

Setting up your grow light system is fairly simple. All you need is sturdy shelving, an electrical outlet, your grow lights, and your plants/seeds!

You can use a bookshelf, wall mounted shelves, or even get your hands on a mini indoor greenhouseString your grow lights above the shelf where you'll be placing your plant.

One of the biggest questions about grow lights is "how close to the grow light does my plant need to be?" - Well the jury is still out on a definite answer to this one, but the safest bet is to keep your grow light height a minimum of 12 inches above your plant. 

How Often Should You Use Grow Lights? 

Grow lights are meant to simulate natural light, so you should keep them turned on for the 8-12 hours the sun would normally be out. The maximum amount of time you should leave them plugged in is 18 hours. 

Don't keep your grow light on 24/7, as this gives the plant no time to rest! Exposing your plant to never-ending light will interrupt its growth process and not allow it to enter its natural phase of dormancy. 

Download the Flora App for detailed guides on how to care for your specific plants!