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There are many variables that affect a plant's growth. A big one is the type of grow lights you use. Using the right grow light system will have a noticeable effect on the yield of your plants. We've compiled a brief rundown of different types of grow lights to help you develop a better understanding of the types of lights available. Your local hydroponics store can help you decide which are best for any given application.
Types of Lights
There are three types of grow light systems on the market, each with their own pros and cons. Choosing the right grow light system is a key element to successful hydroponic growing. Different grow lights produce a different range, or spectrum, of colors. This spectrum is measured in “Degrees Kelvin." Different plants will grow better under different spectrums of light.
The use of incandescent lights as grow lights has declined sharply over the years, simply because they are no longer considered efficient. They also create large amounts of heat, which requires a lot of cooling. In addition, the light spectrum they produce isn't ideal for hydroponic growing. Because of this, incandescent lamps are not recommended for use as grow lights.
Fluorescent grow lights are a good choice for hydroponics. They're 3-7 times more efficient, and much cooler than incandescent lights. More efficiency means more light is produced, for less electricity and heat. Fluorescent lamps are available at your local hydroponics store in a wide range of spectrums for all types of plants.
A popular form of fluorescent grow lights are Compact Fluorescent Lamps. CFLs are an efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs for mainstream consumers. CFLs are good for smaller size grows or beginner growers, because CFLs don’t need a ballast or other rewiring. They simply screw into a light socket. Because CFLs generate light in every direction, light reflectors are typically used to redirect otherwise wasted light back to the plant. Fluorescent grow lights are not good for larger plants, since the light does not penetrate into foliage as deeply as other grow lights. Multiple grow lights both above and to the side of larger plants are used to resolve this.
High Intensity Discharge lamps remain one of the top choices for hydroponics. HID grow lights come in two types: Metal Halide and High Pressure Sodium. HID lights are normally used for lighting larger areas, such as street lighting, or parking lots. However, they are a top choice for hydroponic supplies because they have a high light output. They can be up to eight times more efficient than incandescents. These grow lights use a special bulb in conjunction with a mechanical or electronic ballast, which is needed to turn the bulb on and provide a regulated voltage to the lamp.
Electronic ballasts are recommended by a hydroponics store for a few reasons. They are more efficient and quieter than mechanical ballasts, which saves you money and reduces noise pollution. Also, most electronic ballasts support multiple types of bulbs. This means you don't have to worry about swapping out entire ballasts just to change a grow light bulb.
HID lamps produce a lot of heat, so you'll have to plan for additional cooling and careful positioning of grow lights and reflectors. A good way to test the heat output of grow lights is to put a hand just above the plant. If the heat from the grow lights is too hot for a grower's hand, then it is probably too hot for a plant, too!
Light Emitting Diodes are a new technology in hydroponic lighting. LEDs are much more energy efficient, and they use much less electricity than other grow lights, even fluorescent grow lights. LEDs have a lifespan of around 50,000 hours, which is much more than other grow lights. In addition to electricity savings, LEDs provide a very specific light spectrum that is perfect for hydroponic growing. They can also be used to supplement your current grow light systems, and can help produce a spectrum that is better for photosynthesis.
LEDs produce very little heat, which significantly reduces cooling costs. The main downside to LEDs is the large upfront costs needed to set up a LED grow light system. LED grow lights are typically more expensive than other lighting, although this is eventually recouped in energy efficiency, plant yield, and cooling costs.
Choosing the Right Grow Lights
The main factors to consider when shopping for a grow light system are budget, plant type, enclosure size, and ventilation available. Other factors, such as electricity cost, upfront costs, amount of use, and the native environment can vary greatly. Speaking to a knowledgeable technician at the local hydroponics store can help save considerable amounts of money, and it helps you increase grow yield in the long run -- a win-win for any grower!