An indoor plant or garden can bring a real breath of fresh air to a room's decor, introducing a little bit of nature into your own personal living space. You can even grow some vegetables indoors, opening up fresh produce even to those stuck in a small city apartment. Caring for those indoor plants, however, has always been a challenge: even in well-lit rooms, many plants are not able to receive sufficient light to grow as fully as they would otherwise. To alleviate this, most indoor growers purchase a grow light.
Traditionally grow lights have been incandescent or fluorescent lamps, but in recent years, great strides have been made in LED (light-emitting diode) lamps. Even for seasoned indoor growers, the benefits and restrictions of using LED grow lights are not always clear - not the least because you have to use them somewhat differently than a standard grow light.
Chemistry at Work - Or Not
While incandescent and fluorescent lamps technically use different methods of producing light, they share one fundamental characteristic: the light produced from the lamp is essentially a by-product of a chemical reaction. In an incandescent bulb, this reaction is caused by electricity running through a filament; in a fluorescent tube, a gas is used instead. Either way, there are side effects to relying on this chemistry for your light.
First, since the light is a "waste product" of the reaction, much more energy has to be consumed by the lamp to actually generate that light. This contrasts with LEDs, which generate light directly as a result of an electrical current passing through them. Energy costs over time tend to be dramatically lower with continued usage of LED grow lights.
Second, the chemical reaction that provides light in the older bulbs also generates a significant amount of heat, as anyone who touched a light bulb as a child is painfully aware. With the amount of light necessary to grow indoors, and the ideal proximity of that light to the plants, managing temperatures so as not to scorch the growing plants can be difficult. LEDs generate almost no heat at all, making overall temperature management much simpler.
It's Got What Plants Crave
Photosynthesis can be very tricky. Different plants require different wavelengths of light at different points in their life cycles for optimal growing. Since getting the correct color on incandescent and fluorescent lamps is often more trouble than it is worth, most instead operate on a broad spectrum. This results in essentially wasted energy, as the wavelengths the plants do not require are not utilized. LEDs come in a wide variety of colors and wavelengths to allow for proper tuning and energy use with very little work.
Plants also benefit from being as close to the light source as possible. The aforementioned heating issues often prevent traditional grow lights from getting too close, just because they would burn the plants. LEDs can instead be kept extremely close to the plans, allowing them to absorb even more light and thrive.
The benefits are numerous, but LEDs do have several weak points worth considering when making a purchase. First is the much narrower angle of projection on the light emitted from them. While this aids in avoiding wasted energy, it also means that you might need more lights to cover the same amount of area. It is strongly advised you not try and purchase a stronger LED grow light and simply move it further from the plants to cover more area, as then you are sacrificing the light's greatest asset: its ability to be placed very close to the plants as they grow.
LED grow lights
are also a newer technology than standard grow lights, which means two things: first, they tend to be more expensive pound-for-pound than other options (though over time this is mitigated by decreased energy costs). Second, it can sometimes be difficult to keep up on which are the best brands and best types of LED grow lights to purchase, since what is available is changing constantly. Still, with a bit of research, an LED grow light can be simpler to maintain and a better light source for your plants than anything else this side of the sun!