Grow Lights VS. Fluorescent Lights: What’s Best for Plants?


There’s a lot of options available on the market when it comes to grow lights for your plants. How can you be sure you’re making the right decision? It can certainly be overwhelming. But once you know all the basics and details about the options available to you, making the right choice for your growing plants will be a breeze.

Grow lights vs. fluorescent lights: what’s best for plants? LED lights are generally superior to fluorescent light for most plants and growing situations. They are more energy-efficient and cost-effective, they don’t give off excess heat and they don’t emit mercury vapors.

Every combination of plant type and lighting situation can be a little different. Some plants will do just great in a sunny window. Others will need some supplemental light. Before deciding which grow light is best for your garden, you need to have all the knowledge you can get. Let’s start with a few basics about grow lights and their features, so you can decide what will work best for your plants. 

What is a Grow Light?

When you hear the term ‘grow light,’ you can automatically think of plant light. The two names are used interchangeably and will give you a better understanding of what exactly a grow light is used for. 

The grow light, or plant light is essentially an artificial light source that will be used to grow plants indoors. Grow lights are generally going to be electric and will either be fluorescent or LED. 

Their primary purpose is to provide light to indoor plants, allowing them to go through the process of photosynthesis which is essential for proper growth. Main uses include:

  • Giving light to plants that are placed in an area where there is not sufficient naturally occurring light for their growth. 
  • To supplement light for plants that require excessive amounts of light and can’t receive the ideal amount without a little help.

To put it simply, almost any indoor garden is going to need a grow light if there isn’t enough naturally occurring sunlight. It’s also going to be needed if you live in an area where there is a lack of sunshine, especially in the winter. 

Your grow light will be able to sustain plants even when there is no sunlight present, making them a great addition to your garden.

Understanding Light

There are a few different ways to measure light. Knowing what these terms mean and how exactly to measure a grow light will help you find what you need for your plants. We’re going to discuss the four different ways to measure a grow light:

Lumen

The simplest way to describe lumen is brightness. When looking at a lightbulb, a high amount of lumen will mean the lightbulb is brighter. Remember that the brightness we see is different from what a plant ‘sees,’ so finding the right amount of ‘lumen,’ or brightness, for your plant is key.

Intensity

The intensity of a bulb is essentially just how it sounds: it will give off a certain amount of brightness and light to the surface it reaches. For example: placing a bright bulb 10 inches from the surface will have the same impact as a dim bulb that’s only 2 inches away. 

Duration

Duration describes the amount of time a plant will receive adequate light within a 24-hour time frame. If your plant is outside, the amount of light will depend solely on the seasons. During the summer, it may receive ample amounts of light, while the winter may leave him with just a few short hours.

Indoor lighting duration, on the other hand, is a little bit more predictable. We can control how often our plants receive light by simply turning the lights on and off. Here are some tips for the duration of light:

Give them 16 hours. The best way to ensure your plant is getting the proper light duration is to leave the bulbs on for at least 16 hours every day. 

Program your lights. This is the easiest way to make sure that your plant is getting these 16 hours of light with an 8-hour rest period. That way, your plants will get the proper lighting without you needing to be in the home.

Let your plant rest. Keep in mind the importance of letting your plant ‘rest’ without any light. During the resting period, plants will use their energy to initiate further growth in the dark. For some plants, the dark period is even more critical as they use this time to promote the growth of flower buds. 

Color

The color of a lightbulb simply describes the hue of the emitted light. Grow lights will have a blend of blue, red, green, and yellow, but plants will only utilize the cool blue and warm reds of the lightbulb for proper growth.

You will likely see color described on a lightbulb as ‘color temperature.’ Don’t let that confuse you, though. Color temperature has nothing to do with how hot or cold the lightbulb is; it’s simply talking about the visual appearance of the coloring.

How to choose the right color for your plants:

  • Blue: to grow vegetables
  • Red: to grow flowers and fruits

Kelvin: The Clue to Your Lightbulb’s Color

When looking for lightbulbs, you’re likely to find the term ‘Kelvin’ written in the description or right on the box. Well, kelvin is what is used to describe the color of a lightbulb. 

  • Grow lights that have around 5000 Kelvin will have more blue hues
  • A 2500 Kelvin lightbulb will verge more on the red side. 

That being said, if you’re going to grow a vegetable, you should choose a lightbulb with at least 5000 Kelvin. If you’re growing flowers or fruits, you want to find a lightbulb with far less Kelvin, around 2500. 

Brightness is Extra Important for Seedlings

When you’re choosing a lightbulb with the right amount of color and brightness, it’s important to remember that a seedling will require far brighter conditions than a plant. 

A seedling, without the proper lighting, will not be able to grow. It will become weak and fragile and may never sprout, to begin with.

Pay extra close attention when working with seedlings. As they begin to grow and get stronger, you may be able to reduce the amount of brightness. But in the beginning stages, always make sure you’re using the brightest lights possible.

LED vs. Fluorescent Grow Lights

Now that you know what to look for in terms of color, intensity, duration, and color, now it’s time to choose what type of light is best for your garden. There are two major types of lightbulbs available on the market: fluorescent and LED. So, which one is actually better?

Energy Efficiency: LED Wins

LED is the new wave of lighting when it comes to looking for an energy-efficient solution. Energy efficiency is not only good for putting more money in our wallets with a low-cost energy bill, but it’s also better for the environment. Together, these benefits alone are enough to have gardeners switching to LEDs.

LED lights will use only a fraction of electricity used by fluorescent lights. This is why they are a more cost-effective solution, especially for larger sizes of gardens. 

Using LED lights goes beyond energy efficiency, though. They also have a lifespan over 10 times longer than the fluorescent light counterpart. This means you won’t have to worry about switching out your lights every few weeks or months, which also means spending less money in the long run. 

To put it simply, LED grow lights are the smarter and more efficient choice

Lower Cost: LED Wins

There is no denying that LED grows lights are more expensive initially. LED grow lights are more expensive than fluorescent lights and have a higher price tag in terms of the overall installation. This can have a big impact on whether or not an individual buys LED lights. 

While LED lights may be more expensive right off the bat, a gardener should consider the following:

  • LED lights are more energy-efficient, and therefore will lower your energy bills.
  • LED lights last longer. Since they do not have to be switched out as often, you’ll have to purchase new lights far less often.

If you think about how often you will have to buy new fluorescent lights, you’re already spending more in the long run. That’s not even mentioning how much higher your energy bill will be compared to using LED lights. 

If you’re willing to spend a little more upfront, you will be saving money in the long run with LED lights. Don’t let the initial price tag scare you away from going the LED right.

Less Heat Emitted: LED Wins

One of the many downfalls of fluorescent lights that aren’t talked about as often is the heat emission. Too much heat around your plants can have quite a negative impact, so ensuring that there isn’t an excessive amount of heat is imperative for your plant health. 

The thing about fluorescent lights is that they emit heat in all different directions, while an LED light offers more directional light and heat. With an LED light, you can rest assured that there won’t be any excess heat being emitted onto your plants, and the light will focus solely on the plant below it. 

If you want to make sure that your plants are growing safe and strong without being plagued with too much heat, LED is going to be your best choice. This is especially important for larger-sized gardens where too much heat and no directional light can cause quite a large amount of plant stress.

Nontoxic Option: LED

It’s no secret that fluorescent lights aren’t ‘good for you,’ but a lot of people don’t know why. Fluorescent light bulbs transport their electricity using mercury vapors. And if you’re unsure about mercury, it’s a heavy metal that is toxic to human health and the environment. 

With the toxic mercury vapors found inside of fluorescent lighting, it’s no wonder why many have turned to LED lights to keep themselves and their surroundings safe. 

Think about it: a lightbulb that emits mercury and has to be specially recycled to reduce the amount of environmental impact doesn’t sound like the type of light you would want around your garden.

LED grow lights; on the other hand, do not use mercury to operate. They are completely non-toxic and do not cause damage to the human body or the environment. Being the safer option, they are the best choice for ensuring that your garden is being given the healthiest light source possible (aside from the sun, that is).

The Best Choice for Your Garden: LED Grow Light

The benefits of using an LED light are insurmountable. Not only do you not have to worry about an extra high energy bill, but they’re safer for the environment and will last much longer than traditional fluorescent lights. Some of the key features you will find with LED lights include:

  • It’s a safer option. LED lights are completely non-toxic and won’t emit any unwanted vapors into the air. This is great for humans and the environment alike.
  • It’s more cost-efficient. While it may have a heftier startup cost, LED lights are cheaper in the long run. You won’t need to worry about switching your LED lights every few weeks, and their energy efficiency ensures a cheaper electric bill every month.
  • You pick your color. LED bulbs to come in both red and blue colors, which means you can give all of your plants exactly what they need when they need it most.
  • They are great for all stages of plant growth, whether you’re dealing with the seedling stage of the flowering stage.
  • They won’t overheat your plants. Your LED light won’t emit excess heat or light, which means your plants will never have to succumb to overheating or receiving far too much light.

The Downsides to LED Lights

Just like everything else in life, nothing is perfect. Even the LED grow light that touts its competition still has a few negative points, including:

  • Startup costs are high. Even if you’re saving money in the long run, if your budget can’t commit to the high start-up costs, then you’ll likely see this as a negative.
  • The options can be overwhelming. There is a huge variety of LED grow lights on the market, which can actually make it more challenging to find what you need. Make the wrong choice, and your plants will suffer eventually.
  • The chips found in LED grow lights are heat sensitive. If you don’t buy a high-quality LED grow light with a built-in heatsink and fan, it will likely fail over time and will need to be replaced.

Are Fluorescent Lights Ever a Good Option?

There’s been a lot of negativity thrown at the fluorescent light bulbs; but does that mean there are no benefits to using them? Even fluorescent lights serve their purpose in the plant growing world. Here are a few reasons why you might actually want to consider using a fluorescent bulb:

  • They are the best option for encouraging vegetative growth. Let’s face it: the fluorescent light bulb is tried and true, and truth be told it’s an excellent choice for getting through the first stages of plant life. 
  • They’re cheap. If you’re a beginner or just a hobbyist and want to save your money, then you might want to use a simple fluorescent light. They’re super cheap, and the upkeep is simple, making them a cost-effective solution for someone who isn’t running a large-scale operation.
  • There’s a variety of options to choose from. Fluorescent light bulbs come in a multitude of different sizes, shapes, and even wattage, so finding the light that is perfect for your plant is far easier.
  • They’re easy to use. An LED light may be difficult to set up, as most of them will need specialty fixtures and sockets and other technological skills. The fluorescent light, on the other hand, is a cinch to put together. You can use it just minutes after purchasing with no ‘extras’ involved.
  • New fluorescent lights are being made to handle all stages of plant life. The fluorescent light used to be the go-to for the vegetative state, and that was it. However, they are coming up with new brands that will offer superior lighting for the plant in all stages of life.

Fluorescent lights aren’t all bad, but they shouldn’t be used excessively. Be careful when using this type of light bulb as breaking it will release the mercury into the air.

Conclusion

Choosing a grow light for your garden is a difficult decision, and you want to make the right choice. For almost all situations, an LED light is going to be the best option as it is safer, energy-efficient, and will cost you less money in the long run. There are a time and place for fluorescent lights, though, so do your research before buying. 

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