Grow Lights – What I’ve learned and use

Note: These are my opinions and experiences, I am no expert and I have not been paid or incentivised to share my thoughts and reviews of any sellers, products or people mentioned in this post.

Earlier this year, I purchased a variegated monstera. It is my pride and joy and I love it. Looking after it is therapy and I cheer on every new leaf. It was living under a light in my living room for a while, and then in a brighter spot in the kitchen. But now that the sun is lower, we have a lot less sunshine in the kitchen, so I moved the plant into the spare room for the winter. Along with that came the consideration of making a greenhouse (more on that another time) and a little jungle corner.

I chose the room because it is south-west facing and gets bright light anyways, but the days are a lot shorter now that it is winter in the northern hemisphere and it seemed like adding some grow lights might be a sensible thing.

I should note here that this won’t be a scientific report but more an experience report. For a more science based approach to house plants and grow lights I suggest you head over to Darryl from Houseplant Journal.

What are grow lights and why might you want to use them?

Full spectrum swivel head LED lights.

Plants in general need 4 things to survive and grow; light, air, water and nutrients (and the right temperature for some of them). While plants in general grow well in a bright location in the house, some might benefit from artificial light. So when might you use grow lights?

  • For upping the light intensity for plants that might not get enough light in the home, especially in winter.
  • For starting any seedlings early, before putting them outside in the spring, or to encourage strong growth in young plants.
  • Not recommended, but to grow plants in a corner or place where there is no or very little natural light.

Types of grow lights

The world of grow lights can be completely overwhelming. I certainly found it to be and still give up when I look for grow lights as the choice is huge. But in general the types I came across in the UK are:

  • T5 HO fluorescent tubes which tend to provide a good intensity of light, last a long time, are affordable, and not too expensive to run (although LED are more efficient), and they do not get too hot so can be in close proximity to plants.
  • LED (Light Emitting Diode) grow lights are a good alternative as well. They tend to be more efficient, so get even less warm than the fluorescent counterpart, and are cheaper to run, and last a long time too, but can be more expensive buy. Personally I found these easier to find online than the fluorescent ones in the UK.

On another note, it is recommended to use a light metre to accurately measure your plants environment. Personally I have only dabbled with an app called Light Meter, which was free. Again Darryl has a great article on this if you want to learn more.

Full Spectrum vs Red and Blue

So you have decided what type of grow light you would like and now it comes in full spectrum or red and blue. What do you do?

If you don’t want to read everything, I have tried both. I do not notice a difference. Full spectrum seems to be as good as specific blue or red light. There are some differences if you are more into growing seedlings and vegetables and flowers. But personally I just use it for helping my tropical plants to get through the winter.

According to my research blue light in plants promotes chlorophyll production, so encourages strong healthy growth in the plant. Red light on the other hand encourages flowering and fruit production. red light should also predominantly be used on seeds and very young plants to encourage root growth.

What is great about having specific blue and red lights, is that if you see your plant becoming leggy ( it grows tall without much foliage) or it is not as vibrant anymore, you can give it blue light specifically to help it produce more chlorophyll which in tern makes it grow stronger. While if you have a plant that should be flowering, give it a dose of more red light and it should flower. I am intrigued by this and will try this with my cacti and succulents and report back.

Some succulents are growing under these lights which are more specific to growing seedlings and young plants.

So where do full spectrum lights fit in? Well they combine these more blue and red lights and you see a white light coming out of the bulbs. Some let you change the settings to be more blue or red but it won’t have the greenhouse look you might have seen.

I went for full spectrum lights in the end (after trying the blue and red ones too and not seeing a difference) because giving your plants too much of one type of light can also create problems as well as solve them. For example:

  • Too much blue light could result in Hulk look-alike plants with stunted growth but very dark green and thick stems.
  • Too much red light can actually cause the more leggy look of a plant that blue light counteracts.

So for me it made sense to get full spectrum lights.

The ones I bought are linked below. I included the red and blue version too as I experimented with this and saw no difference in terms of my plants’ growth but I will try to use them on my succulents to get the to flower.

Just a note that these are amazon affiliate links which means I do earn a small percentage if you buy any of these products (they are not more expensive for you), but of course you do not have to buy any products using these links if you do not wish to.

Things that I really like about these.

  • There are 4 swivel heads which are easy to bend and stay in position.
  • The clamp is really strong.
  • The clap system means it can be used in a variety of places. I will include some examples of how I have used them at the end.
  • The cord is really long – I never had issues reaching a plug socket.
  • The controls.
    • The lights are dimmable – great if you have limited space and the plants have to be close to the light.
    • There are 3 in built timers – BUT these only work if you have manually turned the light on (I have not managed to do this any other way)

I use these in my converted green house cabinet.
I also clamped them onto my shelving unit and use it to light up the individual cabinet squares..
the clamp is really strong. I was really impressed by this.

Which takes me to the disadvantage which is also the controls. Things I do not like so much about these are:

  • Controls. They operate using a genuine switch. You have to switch them ON. A timer plug cannot switch them ON by itself. So once the power is gone you have to manually click the switch, to turn them back on again and then enable any inbuilt timer or light setting. But as we are in a pandemic and I am just home, I don’t mind doing this. And even in more normal life I would just turn them on in the morning and then let the plug timer do its thing in the evening to turn them off.
  • Style and look. These lights are not very stylish and it is tricky to get them to blend into your decor.
  • Cables. All the long cables while useful are also a bit messy and if you have a minimalist look this could stress you out. Luckily I am about creative chaos. 🙂
This is what the switch controls look like. You can dim the lights, cycle through 3 different modes and set an in tilt timer.

EDIT: Since buying these lights and using them for the last few months, I have read some concerns from others about build quality as they are produced in China and don’t seem to be a reputable brand as such. Personally I have had no problems but other alternatives to try for a smaller budget might be aquarium and terrarium lights.

Affiliate link to the Full spectrum lights

Affiliate link to the Red and blue lights

I hope this helped a bit to convey what grow lights are and what I have learned over the last few months when I looked into them. There are some other articles I am finding around green light as well. And how this is missed in blue and red LED lights. Once I know more I will share more.

What I would like to do in the future, once I have saved some money is buy some that I can fix to the top of my greenhouse ceiling and shelves, and also experiment with my set up on my shelving units. But for now these are cheap and budget friendly and really versatile and easy to move.

I have seen some beautiful spot light ones and nice ideas of using free standing lamps with specific grow light bulbs. I might also do that. But I will let you know if and when I extend my set up.

Resources:

Artificial lighting for indoor plants

Gardening Know How: Red Light vs. Blue Light: Which Light Color Is Better For Plant Growth

Grow Lights I have tried Part 1

7 Myths LED companies tell you about grow lights

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