Indoor gardening requires a different set of supplies and techniques than traditional outdoor gardening. The key is to recreate the light, water, and temperature of outdoor gardening in order to trick plants into growing as they would in a more natural environment. One key component of successful indoor growing is providing plants with adequate amounts of light. However, this can be difficult to achieve without a sunroom or copious skylights and large windows.

Gardeners skirt this challenge by creating false sunlight with the use of growing lights. But artificial lights are not all built the same and each offer a few pros and cons. Plus, in order to choose the right type of light, you must consider the needs of the plants you intend to grow. With all of that in mind, here are some things to consider when choosing grow lights for your indoor garden.

Location

Using the artificial light from grow lamps allows you to grow crops year round as space allows indoors. However, your individual situation might require anything from a supplemental light source to extend the daylight your plants already receive to full-cycle lighting in a space with no natural light. When evaluating grow lights, think about where your plants will be located and how much supplemental light they will need to induce photosynthesis.

Heat

Cherry Tomatoes in front of colorful lights

In addition to light, lamps offer varying amounts of heat. This is a careful characteristic to consider because some plants require more heat such as tropical species. Other indoor plants such as snow peas or lettuce might prefer a cool environment. Crops grown under lamps that get hot to the touch should not be allowed to come into contact with the bulbs. Hot bulbs will burn plants and ruin the crop.

Cost

Every home gardener gives some consideration to cost, and grow lights are no exception to that goal. Small bulbs can cost as little as few dollars each while large operations can run you thousands of dollars.

Spectrum

Single bulb on white background

Another consideration is the light spectrum that the bulbs provide. Without getting too technical, certain types of bulbs filter out the lights in the spectrum that your plants need. This rating can be found on the packaging of the bulbs. A 2700K bulb will be a good starting point for flowers, but is not high enough for vegetables. In general, vegetables require 6500K, which is a wide-spectrum option.

Fluorescent

Fluorescent bulbs are available in a range of sizes and wattage outputs, making them a common choice for the home indoor gardener. The long tubes are ideal for indoor garden boxes while a smaller, compact bulb can still offer some benefits. Pay attention to the output and use a light meter to test different areas around your space. For the typical household gardener, T5 fluorescents do a great job during propagation, but a T8 is required for vegetation and flowering.

LED

Plant Under Multicolored Square Light

Another popular growing light option is LED. This newer technology provides extraordinary amounts of light with very little energy required. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive to operate and can be quite compact. They are also the longest-lasting option. Note, however, that LED lights do not provide any heat. That could leave your plants to freeze in a cold garage, shed, or basement. Also the initial cost to switch over from another system can be high.

High Pressure Sodium (HPS)

You may have heard about HPS lights because HPS bulbs have been touted as the most efficient type of growing light bulb. That’s because efficiency is rated on the amount of lumens produced by each watt of electricity. So while LED lights are by far the most energy conserving, the HPS bulbs turn the energy they do use into higher levels of output (85-100 lumens per watt). That makes HPS lights a great choice for areas that receive zero natural light or for large operations that need high output to cover the crops. The big problem with these lights is that they require specialized ballasts to operate. In other words, they can’t run off your regular household electricity 110 or 240-volt source. Also, HPS lights produce a lot of heat and risk scorching plants.

Reflection

Regardless of type of bulb you decide on, it’s important to incorporate reflective devices in your design. That’s because typical grow lights fan out the light they produce, resulting in a lower lumen reading at the bottom of the grow box than at the top (closer to the lights) and also light lost out to the sides of where the crops are located. Reflection, as the name suggests, reflects the escaping light back onto your plants and maximizes the level of light they receive.

In summary, the truth is that there is no one simple answer to the perfect grow light. Consider your budget and growing needs to make the best decision for your situation.