Grow Lights Buyer’s Guide


For someone just starting, choosing the right grow lights isn’t a walk in the park. These lights come in different styles, sizes, and prices, which can make it difficult to know which ones you need. If you don’t know which types of grow lights will make your plants thrive, you may end up choosing the wrong ones and negatively affecting the entire process.

So, which are the best grow lights for plants? Deciding which grow lights are perfect for your planting needs will depend on several factors. These include:

  • The type of plant you’re cultivating
  • The stage of cultivation (i.e., vegetative/germination phase or flowering/fruiting phase)
  • The photoperiod required by the plant

In this article, you’re going to learn the basics of grow lights and how to use them to achieve success in planting. You’ll also learn how to select the right grow lights for your needs.

Which are the Best Grow Lights?

Grow lights have several applications. They’re used for plant propagation, indoor gardening, horticulture, and food production, which includes aquatic plants and hydroponics. In most cases, these lights are used on an industrial level. However, they’ve become quite common in regular households.

If you have experience working with these lights, you may not have a difficult time knowing what will work for your specific type of plants. However, if you’re a beginner, you may struggle. All grow lights are not the same. To make the right decision, you need to familiarize yourself with these lights and understand how they work.

What are Grow Lights?

If you’ve never used grow lights before, it’s easy to assume that any lights will work for your plants. After all, isn’t light what plants require? That’s where you’d be wrong. Grow lights are different from the regular lights you use to illuminate your home.

These lights are artificial light sources, mostly electric, that are designed to stimulate the growth of plants by emitting light that’s suitable for photosynthesis. Grow lights are required in settings where there’s no natural light and areas where supplemental light is necessary.

For instance, during the winter, when the hours of daylight are insufficient, grow lights are used to increase the time the plants are exposed to light. Failure to expose plants to light will make them grow long and spindly.

Different Types of Grow Lights

Another important thing you should know when you’re shopping for grow lights are the options available and how each affects the plant growing process.

The common options on the market include:

  • Fluorescent grow lights
  • HID grow lights
  • Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH)
  • LED grow lights

Fluorescent Grow Lights

Fluorescent lighting is among the simplest ways to light up a garden and is most commonly used in a grower’s veg room. Compared to HID lights, fluorescent lights are more efficient, and they produce less heat. There are two common types of fluorescent lights you’ll get on the market – T5 and CFL grow lights.

T5 grow lights are an all-in-one lighting system. This means that they don’t require an external ballast, and they have built-in reflectors. In most cases, these fluorescent lights come with bulbs installed and may offer grow and bloom versions.

CFL grow lights, on the other hand, are either 125W CFLs or smaller 25W standard light sockets. CFL lights that are used for indoor gardening are self-ballasted, which means they are screwed to a CFL reflector and are ready to use.

When you’re shopping for the 125W CFL lights, you’ll notice that the majority of them, especially the cheap ones, have a non-ballasted bulb. The reason is that most of these lights are designed for outdoor lighting fixtures that have built-in ballast.

The simplicity and lack of heat in fluorescent lights mean that there’s less usable plant growth specific light and very minimal light penetration. For this reason, it’s best to use these lights for veg growth or as supplemental light in the flowering stage.

If you use these lights as the primary light source in the blooming stage, you may end up with lackluster results because of light penetration issues. If you have to use fluorescent lights in the flowering stage, use a canopy growing method such as a screen of green. This way, you’ll maximize the fluorescent lighting and reduce the need for light penetration.

HID Grow Lights

The two common lights under the High-Intensity Discharge (HID) grow light category are Metal Halide (MH) and High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) lamps. HID lights need a ballast, reflector/fixture, and bulb. These parts are usually sold separately, but you can get a kit where all the items are included.

If your plants are in the vegetative stage, MH lamps are the best option. They emit a blue to yellow spectrum that’s perfect for plants in this stage. On the other hand, HPS lamps are great for plants in the blooming stage. They produce a red/orange spectrum suitable for plants in this stage.

If you can only get one bulb, it’s best to go for the HPS lamp because the budding stage is more important. Garden & Greenhouse recommends using 1000W or 600W HPS grow lights.

However, you should know that both HPS and MH lamps are less energy-efficient, and they produce a significantly higher amount of heat compared to fluorescent and LED lights. Nonetheless, they have better usable light compared to fluorescent lights and they’re much more affordable compared to LED grow lights.

Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH)

CMH grow lights are the newest grow lights on the market. These lights have a broad light spectrum, and they emit UV light. As a result, their light is more similar to what you’d expect from natural sunlight compared to the HID grow lights.

CMH lights are used for SOG applications, as vegetative stage lights, and as a full supplemental spectrum in large-scale grows.

Compared to traditional MH lamps, CMH lights are more energy-efficient by 10 to 20%. Not to mention, they have a longer lifespan. These lights can last up to 24,000 hours.

CMH lights use open reflectors and are generally sold as all-in-one units. The setup consists of a ballast, bulb, and reflector, and the bulbs require a specialized socket to work properly. Most people report success using CMH grow lights in the flowering stage.

LED Grow Lights

LED grow lights are the most energy-efficient lighting option available. The best LED lights to use are the most recent high-end LED lights. If you’re using LED lights with old technology, you may not get the best results. Some have lower wattage LEDs and other issues that may affect plant growth.

The older types of LED lights will work for the vegetative stage and are perfect if you’re growing plants like herbs, lettuce, and other lower light plants. But if you’re growing plants with a high light requirement, it would be best to invest in the latest LED lights.

Why Are LED Grow Lights Purple?

Many LED lights appear purple. But why is this? The lights themselves aren’t purple. They only appear that way because of the diodes in use, which are red and blue. The combination of these colors is what produces the purple color in LED lights.

Because the red wavelength is more important for plant growth, LED lights have more red diodes compared to the blue. The ratio of red to blue in most cases is 5:1. As a result, the light will be more pinkish than purple.

Best Grow Lights and Grow Light Accessories

If you’re still confused by the many options available and unsure which grow lights are worth the investment, here are a few product recommendations you should consider. These include:

Roleadro LED Grow Light

Roleadro LED Grow Light is one of the most top-rated grow lights on the market, and it’s not hard to see why. One of the things that make this grow light stand out from the pack is the fact that it has a very low heat output. As a result, you can use it close to the plants without worrying about them being burned. Not to mention, it’s safe to touch.

This grow light also features 117 red bulbs and 52 blue bulbs. The result is well-balanced lighting that is diffused evenly throughout the plants.

Overall, the Roleadro LED Grow Light is most suitable for an area with only a few plants because it has only one panel. If you have more plants, you may have to consider grow lights with multiple panels.

CF GROW Desk Clip LED Plant Grow Lamp

If you’re into apartment gardening or your plants require only a bit of additional light, the CF GROW Desk Clip LED Plant Grow Lamp may be a worthy investment. This LED grow light features two blue LED lights, and two red LED lights, which is sufficient for additional lighting and apartment gardening.

You’ll also appreciate the fact that the neck of the lamp is adjustable. This feature allows you to adjust the light’s position as the plant continues growing. Because of its small size, it may be best for only a single plant.

Low Bamboo LED Grow Light Garden

If you prefer an all-in-one grow light garden, the Low Bamboo LED Grow Light Garden won’t disappoint. Because it eradicates the need to set up a garden, this grow light garden allows you to get started on gardening right away.

One of the best things about this garden is that it’s stackable. This means you can increase the number of plants you have as you go.

The garden includes two T5 LED lamps, and there’s a 12-inch space between the lamp and the plants, which makes it an excellent choice for both small and medium-sized plants. Not to mention, you won’t have to adjust the light as the plants grow. This grow light garden is also a great way to display indoor plants.

Accessories You Should Consider

Most grow lights come with the accessories you need to set them up. But if yours doesn’t include accessories, consider the list of accessories below.

How Much Energy Do Grow Lights Use?

Any grower that has used traditional grow lights will tell you that electricity is one of their ongoing expenses. HPS and HID grow lights have a higher light intensity and use the most energy. LED lights are the most energy-efficient. LED lights use about half of the electricity HID and HPS use.

The amount of energy your lights use will depend on factors like which type of lights they are, how long you keep them on, and how often you use them.

The Michigan State University cost calculation procedure can help you estimate the amount of energy your grow lights use and how much you should expect to pay in electricity bills.

How Far Should Grow Lights Be from Seedlings?

Apart from knowing the best grow lights for your plants, it’s also important to know the correct placement of the lights when you get them. A slight mistake in the placement may not only affect your plants’ growth but also cause them to burn if the light is too close.

The best way to place grow lights is to place them above the plants to mimic natural sunlight. However, don’t just place it over the plants at any distance and call it a day. Each grow light has different placement requirements depending on the amount of heat it emits.

Place incandescent grow light bulbs at least 24 inches from the plants. LED and Fluorescent grow lights can be placed at least 6 and 12 inches from the plant, respectively because they have a lower heat signature.

As your plant continues growing, you’ll need to keep adjusting the grow light distance to ensure your plants don’t burn. It’s also a good idea to consult your specific light model for instructions on placement. In most cases, this information is included in the manual.

How Long Should Grow Lights Be On?

Every plant is unique and requires different amounts of light. The science of botany categorizes plants into three categories depending on their daylight requirements – short-day plants, long-day plants, and day-neutral plants.

  • Short-day plants: These plants will thrive in less than 12 hours of light per day. Examples of such plants include azaleas, begonias, kalanchoe, and chrysanthemums. In most cases, these plants require even shorter days before they set buds and flowers.
  • Long-day plants: These plants require 14 to 18 hours a day. Most seedlings for garden flowers and vegetables are in this category. If these plants don’t get enough light, they tend to become pale and leggy.
  • Day-neutral plants: These plants are satisfied with 8 to 12 hours of light all year round. Examples of plants that fall in this category include African violets, coleus, geraniums, and foliage plants.

Plants’ requirement of both light and darkness is what is known as photoperiodism, and it’s crucial for the flowering process.

But how is darkness essential for the plant growth cycle? During the day, the light from the sun or the grow lights enable the plants to produce energy in a process known as photosynthesis. At night, the plants break down this energy for growth and flowering – a process known as respiration.

If you’re not sure how much light to expose your plants to, the easiest way to find out is to consult the seedlings’ packaging. If the information is not available, you can find out from the nursery where you bought the seedlings.

Just remember not to leave your grow lights on for 24 hours. No one likes working 24 hours a day – not even plants!

Best Plants for Grow Lights

Now that you know the different types of grow lights and how to place them for the best results, you’re probably wondering what the best plants for grow lights are.  The best thing about grow lights is that they can be used to grow various types of plants.

Some of the best plants for grow lights include orchids, houseplants, some vegetables, and crops. You can also use grow lights to grow herbs and salad greens in the wintertime. However, if you’re planning to grow anything using grow lights, especially fruits or vegetables, it’s best to consult the nursery to find out if the particular seedlings you have would thrive with grow lights.

Get Your Money’s Worth!

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when choosing grow lights. To recap, find out your plants’ light requirements. Then, consider the different types of lights available on the market and decide which one is most suitable for the plants you’re growing and your energy needs.

Don’t forget to explore different models and compare features. It may also help to read customer reviews to get an idea of what to expect. With this approach, you should be able to find the best grow lights!

Eyerly Family

The Eyerly Family is a family of 8 that loves gardening. Over the past several years we have been applying what we learn about gardening to our own 16x16 raised back yard garden. Our garden is very prolific and we grow a wide variety of vegetables which we love to eat! Click here to learn more about the Eyerly Family.

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