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This background information will help you understand the different types of grow lights.
Grow Light Basics Lighting Terms
LED or Fluorescent? Factors to Consider
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With so many types of grow lights and systems available, it can be overwhelming to figure out which one will best suit your needs. Here's a rundown of some basics.
All green plants require light to perform photosythesis, during which special cells convert the energy contained in the light into sugars. In the process, plants give off oxygen. Ahhhh. No wonder it's so relaxing to spend time in a plant-filled room.
Plants vary widely in how much light they need to thrive — from low-light houseplants, such as dracaenas, to fruiting edibles, such as tomatoes, that need much brighter light.
Seedlings require lots of bright light, and when they don't receive enough they get weak and leggy. In most cases, even the sunniest windowsill won't provide the intensity or duration of light they need, especially in winter.
As with any specialty, it's helpful to understand the relevant terminology.
Intensity describes the amount of light that reaches a surface at given distance from the light source. A super-bright bulb that's 12" from a surface might, for example, provide the same light intensity as a dimmer bulb that's 2" from the surface.
Duration describes the number of hours of light a plant receives in a 24-hour period. We can control it by turning lights on and off or, more easily, with a programmable timer.
Color describes the visual appearence of light. Most grow lights provide a balance of cool (blue end of the spectrum) and warm (red end of the spectrum) light.
In genereral, lights that skew toward the blue end are best for vegetative growth, while those that skew toward red end are good for stimulating plants to produce flowers and fruit. Plants use little of the light from the green/yellow part of the spectrum.
Both produce full-spectrum light. However, LEDs are better for plants, the environment, and your wallet.
(Regular incandescent bulbs are not used for indoor growing because they give off too much heat and can burn tender foliage.)
The following table and Buying Guide below it will help you determine the best grow light for your needs.
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Last updated: 1/15/20
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