Many gardeners seek to extend the growing season by growing herbs, leafy vegetables and flowers indoors using grow lights. In the past, growers used fluorescent bulbs to provide the necessary light for plants growing indoors. LED (Light Emitting Diode) grow lights are a fairly recent innovation, comparable to the compact fluorescent light bulbs now used for general lighting purposes in many homes.
What’s the Difference?
LED lights are energy efficient and long-lasting. Expect to see energy savings of 40 to 75 percent over regular grow lights. Also, traditional grow lights produce heat which can scorch or dehydrate plants. LED lights put out almost no heat, reducing the need for water and eliminating plant damage due to heat. Additionally, LED lights don’t require fans or expensive ballasts.
Another advantage of LED lights is that they are easily moderated to supply the type of light individual plants need. Their light output is less than fluorescents, but the type of light they produce is more easily absorbed by plants. Plants use all the colors in the light spectrum, but research has shown blue and red to be the most beneficial colors for plant growth. Some plants, such as leafy greens, thrive with a lot of blue light, while other plants, such as African violets, need exposure to more red light to flower.
LED lights cost more than fluorescent grow lights, but the cost savings over the lifetime of the bulb generally outweigh the initial cost. The savings are most substantial for growers with large indoor gardening projects, or those who plan to use indoor growing over an extended time period.
LED grow lights are most commonly available in 90 and 120 watts. The new “UFO” lights offer three band spectrums that include red, blue and orange light for maximum plant growth. Other models are flat panels with many lights. LED lights don’t require fans or ballasts. Plug them in and they are ready to go.
As of 2011, LED lights ranged in price from under $100 to over $1,000, depending on the size of the light, the wattage and the quality. While cost for the initial set-up is high, keep in mind that these lights last as long as ten years and significantly reduce energy costs.
How to Choose
First, go with a reputable vendor that offers a money-back guarantee. Avoid sources that make wild claims or use gimmicks to lure you in. Then, consider the amount of space you have, your budget and the type of plants you want to grow.
Avoid underpowered, inexpensive grow lights. Each individual light in a panel, for example, should have an output of at least 1 watt. Read the fine print to determine how many square feet the LED light will cover. For an average growing 5 x 5 growing area, you’ll need 25 square feet of coverage.
If you want to grow a few herbs in your kitchen, look for a reasonably priced kit. Also, think about what you want to grow. Leafy vegetables require less light than flowering or fruiting plants.
Before you invest in LED lights, do your homework. The technology is fairly new, but continues to improve with research and time. For the serious hydroponics or indoor gardener, LED lights are definitely worth considering. Hobbyists might choose to wait a bit longer, as technology advances and prices drop.