Use Plant Lights to Bring Your Garden IndoorsAuthor: Kate Wilkins
Plant lights, or grow lights are artificial light sources that replace the sun's natural light. They are designed to support growing plants, and to be used indoors. Artificial planting lighting is a necessity if you want to produce healthy seedlings indoors because most homes, even those with abundant Southern exposure, cannot capture enough sunlight in the early spring to grow strong seedlings.
Plant lights use special types of light bulbs, usually fluorescent, halide, high pressure sodium, or LED, which are different from incandescent or compact fluorescent light bulbs. Grow lights are also known as grow lamps. Grow lamp bulbs emit either cool or warm light. Cool light, which is primarily in the blue spectrum, is good for promoting foliage growth; whereas warm light, primarily in the orange spectrum, is good for producing flowers and fruit. Plants do not actually use the entire spectrum of the sun's light, only the red/orange and blue ranges are necessary.
Fluorescent Plant Lights
Fluorescent plant lights are recommend for seedlings and low light plants. Fluorescents can't deliver the strong light you need to grow plants taller than six or eight inches. Fluorescent lights are a popular choice because they can get much closer to the plant than an ordinary light without damaging your plant. The closer the light source, the stronger the light, and therefore, the more benefit to your plant. Fluorescent grow lights are some of the most commonly used lights for indoor gardening. Plants grown under cool white bulbs will be stocky or even slightly stunted. If you are growing seedlings under 2-bulb fluorescent fixtures, you can usually achieve a good color balance by combining one cool white and one warm white bulb.
Within the fluorescent grow light category, there are a number of different lights to choose from including standard fluorescents, high output fluorescents, compact fluorescents and HID hybrid/High output fluorescent lights. Fluorescent lamps need a ballast to operate; it is almost always built into the fixture. The 2 lamp shop light fixtures available at the hardware store are inexpensive.
Metal Halide and High Pressure Sodium Grow Lights
Metal halide and high pressure sodium plant lights are the most efficient and productive lighting system available to take plants from seedling to maturity. Metal Halide lamps emit cool blue/green/violet light, simulating daylight. High Pressure Sodium grow lights supplement MH lighting with their warm red/orange light. Metal Halide grow lights are generally used during a plants growing cycle and HPS lights are used during a plants blooming and fruiting phase. Also used in street lighting and for industrial use, these bulbs provide a great deal of light from a small source.
Plant tops under metal halide must be kept 12 to 18 inches from the bulb or they will burn. Metal halide will support nice, healthy plant growth up to 24 inches or so, and they will reach this height much more quickly than with fluorescents.
HPS/MH setups are much more effective for growing than any other type of lighting system, LED included. The lumens per watt ratio of an HPS or MH cannot be matched by any other type of light. HPS bulbs are very efficient, producing up to 140 lumens per watt. There are two sub types of HPS lighting: one is enhanced for the blue spectrum, which is better for fruiting, and the other is red spectrum enhanced, which specific benefits flowering. HPS and HM lamps need to be used in conjunction with a ballast, a piece of equipment that controls the flow of electricity to and through the lamp.
LED Plant Lights
LED prow lights deliver only the colors of light (wavelengths) plants use most efficiently for healthy growth. This grow light uses very little energy, and still provides all the light your plants need for vigorous growth indoors. LED grow lights are a good choice if you are interested in growing indoors without a lot of hassle. Traditional grow lights generate a lot of heat and use large amounts of electricity. LED grow lights run much cooler, which not only means that you can place them closer to the plants safely, but they reduce the need to take measures to keep your grow room cool. Plants receive all the light they require without growth-stunting excess heat. In addition, your plants will suffer less from heat related root damage that can occur when hot conventional grow lights heat the soil.
LED panels have no ballasts to burn out like other plant lights. They do not run hot, just warm. LED bulbs last up to 50,000 hours and are recyclable after they finally die out. LED plant lights deliver light that is perfect for your plants, but relatively dim to people. Your plants get only the light that they really need.
If you love to grow your own plants, indoors and out, consider setting up some indoor plant lights. You can set up a tiny little system on your kitchen counter to grow salad greens and herbs, or convert an entire room to start vegetables and annual flowers for planting out in the garden for earlier crops and blooms.
http://www.outdoorlightsandfurniture.com Kate Wilkins lives around Boston, Massachusetts and writes about landscape design and gardening.