You know what they say (and by “they,” we mean millennials, basically): Pets are the new kids and plants are the new pets! And just like any pet, you want to give your lush little plant babies the proper pampering and care that they deserve.
But what if you’re a houseplant parent — is that what we’re calling ourselves these days? — who lives in an apartment or house that doesn’t quite get enough light for your little pet plants to flourish? Or, maybe you’re an avid indoor gardener who can never get enough light, especially in winter, for all the houseplants, flowers and vegetables you want to grow. Well, you’re in luck.
Indoor grow lights, which were once highly associated with (then) illegal cannabis growing in the U.S., have exploded in popularity with the average houseplant owner who just can’t say goodbye to that summer light. But there’s more to know about grow lamps than simply flipping a switch.
Plant grow lights come in a wide variety of sizes and styles (not to mention prices) to suit your houseplants and indoor vegetable gardens, so here’s the dirt on these plant life-saving devices.
Lighting is so integral to growing houseplants — heck, any plants — so you really want to make sure that they have the proper amount of light necessary to flourish. Light requirements can vary depending on the plant, of course, and some easy-to-care-for indoor plants are totally cool with very little light. But if your plant requires more sunlight than your home’s north-facing windows (or near-windowless apartment) can provide, then supplementing with some strategically placed plant grow lights can make a huge difference in whether or not your plants survive and actually thrive. This is even more true if you have outdoor plants that you bring indoors for the winter.
The two most popular types of grow lights are LED (or light emitting diode) grow lamps and compact fluorescent lights, sometimes shortened to just CFL. Here’s the quick-and-dirty on how they measure up in comparison to each other:
LED grow lights. Their color temperature can vary, but they have a finely tuned spectrum, so these grow lights are some of the best to mimic actual sunlight. They also have a long lifespan (generally over 50,000 hours) and are pretty energy-efficient, but they can be quite pricey.
Fluorescent grow lights. Often found in tube-style lamps, these grow lights can cover more “ground” than others due to their sheer size, but they may not be quite as effective as LEDs. Smaller plants, in particular, can flourish pretty well under these grow lights, however, and the lamps can have a generous lifespan of up to 80,000 hours (though it varies wildly). They also tend to be the least expensive grow lights for indoor plants.
Aside from the most common LED and fluorescent options, you may also encounter High-Intensity Discharge or HID grow lamps. These often tube-shaped lights include MH (Metal Halide) grow lamps and HPS (High Pressure Sodium) grow lamps, and they are some of the most powerful lights you’ll find on the market. MH lamps lean toward the blue light end of the spectrum, while HPS grow lights lean more toward yellow or red light.
These color temperatures aren’t unique to MH and HPS grow lamps, however; you can also find fluorescent and LED grow lamps that are exclusively blue light or red light. But the different colors aren’t for aesthetics. Here’s how the cool and warm color temperatures affect plant growth when used in grow lamps:
Blue light is the most efficiently absorbed spectrum and is therefore preferred for growing green, leafy crops and properly nurturing plants that are in their vegetative phase as it helps to establish structural growth and encourages peak chlorophyll absorption. The vegetative phase — or, the period between germination and flowering plant — is a busy time for plants as they carry out photosynthesis and gather all the resources they’ll need to sprout blooms and flowers and carry on the plant reproduction cycle. (You can think of it kind of like the plant world equivalent of “nesting” during human pregnancy.)
Red light, on the other hand, is typically the ideal choice for plants that are actively fruiting and flowering as it helps to regulate their growth and development. These grow lamps can increase the rate of photosynthesis and may even prolong flowering. Although red light is necessary for plant growth, you wouldn’t want to keep plants under red light 100 percent of the time as it would cause them to stretch and have a more elongated appearance.
Fortunately, there is a happy medium between the two. Some grow lamp manufacturers have created lamps with both blue light bulbs and red light bulbs — a combination that can successfully encourage flowering without going overboard.
You may also see references to “full spectrum” and “broad spectrum.” Full spectrum grow lights most closely imitate natural sunlight, including invisible wavelengths like infrared and ultraviolet rays. Alternatively, broad spectrum grow lights give off the same complete spectrum of light as the sun, except without the rays of UV light.
Utilizing artificial light for growing plants indoors can be beneficial any time of year, especially for plants that don’t have prime real estate near a sunny window. However, growing plants indoors can become infinitely more difficult in the winter when the days are shorter and the air may be a heck of a lot colder (so you may want to move your plants away from windowsills). Fortunately, a grow lamp provides an easy remedy.
If you’re growing vegetables indoors with lights, LED grow lights are probably your best bet. This is due to their highly customizable wavelength which allows you to easily tailor your grow light color as the plants progress from one stage to the next (without having to switch out bulbs or anything like that). Finely tuning the light regiment for your indoor vegetable garden can also help you tweak and optimize aspects like flavor, texture and even plant color!
Well, in short, yes — they absolutely can. (One of our editors and her poor burnt-to-a-crisp plant babies learned that lesson all too well.)
Sometimes this is simply a quality issue, so you’ll want to steer clear of suspiciously cheap grow lights and illegitimate sellers. Also, make sure to carefully consult the instructions that arrive with your artificial light. (And if it didn’t come with instructions, hit up your good ol’ pal Google before you even think about turning that thing on.)
Generally speaking, however, most plants need about eight hours of darkness each day, so you really can’t just “set it and forget it” unless the grow light has an automatic shutoff feature. While exposed to light, plants will continue to crank out the photosynthesis process and can get burnt out if you work them too hard. (Plants! They’re just like us!) This can damage their foliage and prevent flowering, at best. But the worst case scenario? Your little plant baby could get dried out and quite literally burn under the excessive light of your grow lamp.
Don’t let that scare you away from these incredibly useful plant accessories, though! We carefully vetted our selection of the best grow lights for indoor plants so you can trust that your plants will be in good care as long as they’re used properly.
Now that you know which type of artificial light you may need for your flowering plant, or for growing vegetables indoors with lights, our roundup should lead you to the perfect fit. With one of the best grow lights at your side, you’ll know exactly how to grow vegetables indoors — or at least be well-equipped to learn the ropes!
The prospect of growing vegetables indoors with lights can be a bit daunting for a newbie. You need seeds, soil and a good planter to start — not to mention all the ongoing light and water requirements that come after the fact. If you’re just looking to break into indoor vegetable gardening (or you want to add some self-sufficient herbs to your lineup), this comprehensive indoor gardening kit can help you grow as many as six plants at once, up to 12 inches tall. You just place water and plant food in the planter with the six included pre-seeded pods — Genovese basil, curly parsley, dill, thyme, Thai basil and mint — and the AeroGarden does all the work with its energy-efficient grow light. The herbs are guaranteed to grow (and fast), and if you love it, you can get pre-seeded pods to grow vegetables next.
This LED grow light bulb is the perfect choice if you just need to shine a spotlight on a single plant. It appears white to the human eye, but provides the red light-blue light spectrum that plants need to thrive year-round, whether they’re flowering plants, leafy greens or vegetables. You can place this LED bulb in just about any light fixture where a standard light bulb would fit, so it won’t cramp your home decor aesthetic. In fact, if you didn’t tell anyone, they’d probably never even guess that this LED bulb is actually a grow light.
Thanks to its adjustable height from 48 to 61 inches, this fluorescent grow light is the optimal choice for taller houseplants that need a little extra pseudo-sunshiney love. The sleek, modern design will blend right into your decor and, depending on the size of your plant’s foliage, it may even disappear into the corner behind it! No one would even know it’s there, sans that soft, ambient glow it’ll give off when the grow light is switched on, of course. This particular model houses a flicker-free fluorescent light, but the brand offers the same style for LED bulbs too, if that’s your preference for grow lights.
It may look like a glowing Connect Four board hanging from the ceiling, but we promise this LED light isn’t here to play games. With a smattering of red light here and some blue light there, this LED grow light is perfect for growing vegetables indoors. It has dedicated “veg” and “bloom” buttons so you can optimize the delivery of red light or blue light precisely when it’s needed in your plants’ life cycle — without having to manually switch out bulbs or fixtures. Then, you can switch on both the “veg” (red light) and “bloom” (blue light) for full spectrum coverage to encourage plant growth when your plants hit the flowering stage, making it one of the best grow lights for indoor plants.
Unlike the AeroGarden, this tabletop grow light doesn’t come with seeds, plants or even planters, for that matter. However, it does provide a well-lit space for your small plants — like short herbs and succulents — to shine and thrive. And, if you’ve got a series of decorative planters you’d like to show off, this semi-enclosed grow light will frame them for display quite nicely. Depending on the size of your plants and their respective pots, you could fit up to four under this full-spectrum light at a time. Fill it with succulents for a pretty coffee table display, or place it on your kitchen countertop to house a set of easily accessible fresh herbs.
This 4-foot-long lamp contains eight fluorescent tubes of vegetable grow lights that provide lots of blue light to lots of indoor vegetation. Whether you have a whole room dedicated to your indoor plant collection, or you’ve stepped things up to greenhouse status, this commercial-grade grow light is rated for safe operation in damp conditions. Plus, for added convenience, there’s an outlet on the light fixture that you can use to plug in more accessories, like an electronic spray mister or other automatic irrigation setup.
If you have a few small plants that could use a little extra boost from time to time, this clip-on LED grow light is a great choice as you can easily move it from one plant to another as needed. It’s also a really great choice if you’re on a budget, or just testing the waters to see if a grow light will be a good fit for your indoor plant setup. It features a bendable gooseneck design so you can position each of the two lights at the perfect angle for your individual plants. You can even keep one on while the other is off, or twist one in the opposite direction to use as an impromptu reading light.
— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.I’ve never been a minimalist. When I started college—insisting on packing “essentials” like every piece of clothing I owned and 10(!) bath towels—one parent walking by my throng of suitcases assumed my mother was moving in twins....
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