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Growing Your Plants with Artificial Light

Winter is just around the corner, which may have you wondering how to take care of your plants during the shorter days! Artificial light (aka grow lights) might sound like an appealing option to keep your plants thriving, but picking one can be challenging. Fluorescent, LED, incandescent, lumens, watts, spectrums… Oh my!

Excellent news: choosing artificial light for your plant doesn’t have to be that complicated. Keep reading for the top tips!

growing your plants with artificial light
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Understanding Your Plants Growth and Artificial Light

Since you’re reading this blog, chances are: You’re an artificial light newbie. So let’s delve into some basics! Depending on your goals, artificial light can either supplement or replace natural sunlight. That means it’s essential to understand what the sun does for your leafy friends:

  • Photosynthesis: This process produces the sugars your plant needs for energy!

  • Photoperiodism: Likely, this term sounds unfamiliar! What is it? The ratio (or cycle) of light/darkness your plant needs. (You can’t stay awake 24/7!)

  • Warmth: The sun creates that summer heat many plants flourish in.

  • Consistent growth: Scraggly, leggy plants are a result of low light.

Done right, and your artificial light will provide the same benefits to your plants! But let’s get one thing straight: Plants need their dormancy cycle to stay healthy. So you shouldn’t purchase artificial lights in the hopes of pushing your plant’s new growth all winter long! And, grow lights shouldn’t be kept on 24 hours a day.

For Beginners…

So, you just want to “dip your toes in” without a ton of research and headache? Here’s the most effortless setup for you:

  • Select a tolerant plant. For example, African Violet plants are renowned for their Artificial Light growing abilities!

  • Purchase or repurpose a household lamp. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. A desk lamp with a metal shield will reflect the light downward onto your plant for the best results.

  • Install a “Cool White” fluorescent CFL bulb. You know, one of those crazy spiral-looking bulbs!

  • Maintain a 12-inch plant-to-bulb distance.

  • Keep your light on for 12 hours a day. That means 12 hours of darkness.

About Artificial Light

Get ready for science class, kids! Natural sunlight is broken down into different components, called “Spectrum.” While there are plenty of Spectrums out there, the two most beneficial to your plants are:

  • Blue light, which helps with the development of foliage.

  • Red light, which contributes to healthy stems, flowers, and fruit.

“White light” or “Full Spectrum light” comprises all the Spectrums, including Blue and Red, making it the most suitable, multipurpose Artificial Light for growing plant life. Plus, you won’t have to worry about staring at too much Blue light, leading to insomnia.

Buying Bulbs

Wondering about the different types of bulbs? There are three main contenders out there:

  • Fluorescent bulbs: These come in tubes or the (more common) curly CFLs. They are great energy conservers and don’t put out a lot of excess heat.

  • LED bulbs: There are so many types of LED bulbs out there, finding the right fit for your plant can be a headache. If you’re new to this, purchase a “Horticultural” LED bulb, which will have all the necessary Spectrums.

  • Incandescent: These common bulbs are heavy on the Red Spectrum, put off more heat, and are less energy efficient. If you choose to use them, you should “dilute” them with Fluorescent bulbs (⅓ can be Incandescent).

  • “Plant bulbs”: Sounds like a good thing, right? Wrong. There are bulbs on the market that bedazzle your plant, making it appear more green and glorious. However, these bulbs hold no benefit. Read the packaging carefully. If you’re looking for a plant-specific bulb, search for “horticultural bulbs” instead.

If you haven’t drawn this conclusion already, Fluorescent CFL bulbs are the easiest choice. Once you gain more experience, you can switch up your bulbs and compare notes!

Watts, Lumens, and Lux… What?

Have you ever stared at a Lightbulb box wondering what on earth all this jargon means? Here are the basics:

  • Watts: The amount of energy your bulb will consume (aka the amount of electricity you have to pay for!). Low wattage is good for the pocket and environment.

  • Lumens: The amount of light that leaves the bulb.

  • Lux: The amount of light a surface receives per meter.

  • Foot Candles: The amount of light a surface receives per foot.

Note: Lux and Foot Candles measure the same thing but use a different measurement system.

Shouldn’t Lumens and Foot Candles be the same? We wish! As soon as the Lumens leave the bulb, they spiral drastically downward. How many Foot Candles do plants need? How can you optimize the amount they receive? Keep reading!

What Intensity of Artificial Light Does My Plant Need to Grow?

It’s no secret: The intensity of light plants need differs. That’s why we have labels that tell us “bright light,” “medium light,” and “low light”. How does this translate into lightbulb language?

  • Bright light: 7000 Foot Candles

  • Medium Light: 5000 Foot Candles

  • Low Light: 2000 Foot Candles

Depending on the amount of Foot Candles your plant needs, you’ll have to up the amount of Lumens your bulb projects. You can also optimize the light you have by:

  1. Keeping your bulb as close as safely possible to your plant. Read the instructions for your specific bulb. Generally speaking: Fluorescent bulbs should be 12 inches away, LEDs should be 6 inches away, and Incandescents should be 24 inches away (due to their heat level). Minimizing the distance will maximize the Foot Candles!

  2. Picking a lampshade that reflects light downward. Reflective, metal ones are the most efficient!

  3. Putting a mirror underneath your plant, which will bounce the light back up onto the leaves.

Controlling Duration

As noted, your plant essentially has a sleep cycle (photoperiodism) and will not thrive in a constantly bright environment. Research your specific plant type. Remember that some plants, like the Cyclamen and Poinsettia, are winter-bloomers and require exact amounts of light to do their thing! To keep your plants on a routine, you can purchase a handy dandy timer, which is inexpensive and easy to use.

Trading Intensity and Duration

It might sound great: say, five hours of really intense light… or 20 hours of really low light. Nope. Stop. Don’t do it. Your plant needs a routine. Yes, your African Violet (for example) needs 12 hours of 1000-1500 Foot Candles daily and 12 hours of darkness. You cannot swap the intensity for the duration (or vice versa).

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