Grow Lights For Your Vertical Garden: A Complete Guide

Installing a vertical garden is an easy way to grow an abundance of plants and flowers in a small space. Outdoors, your plants will have access to the sun to provide them with energy to make food. But what about if you want to grow full sun plants indoors? A grow light system solves the problem of poor to no sunlight for the indoor gardener.

Grow Lights for Your Vertical Garden - A Complete GuideGrow lights are very beneficial and incredibly easy to use. There are several different kinds of lights that are commonly used:

  1. Fluorescent grow lights
  2. LED growth light
  3. Plasma grow light
  4. HID (High-Intensity Discharge) light
  5. Metal Halide (MH)
  6. High-Pressure Sodium (HPS)
  7. Dual Arc Lights

These have different setups. The distance from your plants, the spacing of the lighting source etc. all need to be adjusted based on the type of light you're using. Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of grow light for your indoor vertical garden.

Reasons to Use Grow Lights

There are a lot of reasons that people use grow lights, including:

  • Growing plants indoors, including houseplants, flowers, vegetables, and micro greens
  • Starting seeds for spring
  • Plant propagation
  • Extension of daylight hours for plants that required long, hot days to perform at their peak.
  • A longer growing season in climates where it gets colder sooner

By using grow lights, you are effectively able to ‘outsmart’ Mother Nature and create the climate best suited to the plants that you want to grow, instead of being limited to those that are agreeable to where you live. You will be able to craft the optimal growing environment that is fully controlled by you, the gardener.

Light Spectrums Needed for Growing Plants

Light falls on a multi-colored spectrum. If you have ever used a prism to break a beam of light apart, you know that the spectrum includes red, orange, yellow, green, indigo (blue), and violet. Different colors on this spectrum effect plants in different ways.

Cool Light

Light derived from the violet and blue end of the color spectrum is cool, and ideal for plants in the vegetative stage. Use cool light for starting seeds to plant outdoors in the spring, or for propagating cuttings from other plants. Once your seeds have sprouted, the cool light will encourage compact healthy growth of the roots and foliage of your plants. You would also want to use cool lighting for non-flowering houseplants.

Warm Light

Orange-red light is considered warm light.  This is used to promote flowering and fruiting. Once your plants grow to maturity, you can change the lighting from cool to warm in order to ‘force’ the plants to bloom and encourage more blossoms and ultimately more fruit. Tomatoes especially require warm light, to produce well. Warm light can produce long, thin stalks, with minimal foliage, which inhibits the plants' ability to make food so it is important to not use it too soon.

Bulbs have numbers 2700k or 4000K this refers to warmth or coolness, the higher the number the cooler the light. Plants need warm light to produce flowers, and cool light to produce foliage. You can get bulbs with both warm and cool light, and while they will do the job, using separate lights for each of the color spectrums for the different stages of growth work best.

Types of Grow Lights

There is a whole world of variety when it comes to the type of bulbs and grow light setups available to the home gardener. The kind that you choose will depend on the plants that you are growing, your budget, and even your home decor.

1. Fluorescent grow lights

Best used during the beginning stages of a plants life, fluorescent lights are best for starting seeds, root cuttings and for early to mid-stage vegetative growth.

These types of lights are more energy efficient and don’t put out a lot of heat. T5 florescent bulbs are the most commonly used as they are the brightest of the fluorescents. They are available in many different forms and colors.

You can also get high output and very high output fluorescent which put out more light. These project more heat, so will need to be placed further away from your plants.

Tube style fluorescents are not as intense as HID. They are used for growing vegetables and herbs indoors, and for starting seedlings. Ballast is used with these type of bulbs.

A tube lighting system such as the Hydrofarm Agrobrite T5 Florescent Grow Light System is a popular choice. This product has four bulbs mounted in a fixture that can be suspended over the plants in order to provide light coverage to as much of the foliage as possible.

Compact Fluorescent Lighting (CFL)

These are smaller versions of fluorescent lighting that are the same size as a traditional light bulb and will fit in standard lighting fixtures. These have started replacing the old style light bulbs because of their energy efficiency and longevity.

Compact Fluorescent Lighting is one of the best growth- light systems for beginners. They are cheap, easily accessible and do a perfectly good job of growing most plants.

CFL lamps are made just for growing plants. They usually have a reflector to direct the light towards the plants. CFLs are available in red, full spectrum/daylight, or blue spectrum, so you can easily switch out your bulbs when your plants reach the maturity level where they need more warmth to bloom.

2. LED grow light

LEDs are made up of light-emitting diodes. This enables them to be customized to put out a specific wavelength as the diodes can each provide a different color on the light spectrum. They provide a full spectrum of color that mimics natural light, not just red or blue, which are the minimum colors needed to grow plants. Some studies suggest that green is also needed for optimum plant health.

These lights are more cost-effective than the others as they do not use as much energy to operate. They do not produce as much heat either, which makes them safer to use in close quarters. LED grow light setups are often equipped with cooling fans, which help the bulbs to last even longer.

LED grow systems are available in many different forms.

This Phlizon 600W LED Grow Light is specially designed for indoor growing. It is suspended over your plants by a chain, so it is easily adjustable, contains blue, red, and UV lights to best mimic natural sunlight, as well a switch that changes the light emissions from blue to red so you can best support your plants in what ever stage they are in.

If you are looking for something that will blend in with the decor of your home a little more, this Bamboo LED Grow Light Garden Plant Stand might be a better option for you.

This plant stand has three levels each with its own lighting which makes it great for starting seedlings or just growing plants in your living room in a tidy and attractive manner.

3. HID grow light

HID, or High-Intensity Discharge, are popular for their good light output and low cost. These type of lights need a ballast to operate, which controls the wattage. The best wattage for using HID grow lights is 600W and 1000W.  Metal Halide and High-Pressure Sodium emit the most sun-like color spectrum.

4. Plasma grow light

The new kid on the block, plasma grow lights last longer than HID lights, and emit a full spectrum of colors. They also use less wattage than an HID light.  Since they are newer to the market, they are more expensive and less common that the other types of lights available.

5. Metal Halide (MH)

These lights produce more blue and violet on the color spectrum. This is very similar to the sun in spring and produces the most pleasing aesthetic for plants that are growing in your living spaces as part of the décor.

Metal Halide lights are very good for seed starting and propagation and promote strong root growth, compact leafy growth, and disease resistance.

6. High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) light

Rarely used during the whole life cycle of a plant, HPS lights are great for flowering and fruiting stages as they emit a lot of red and orange light. These are more efficient than metal halide. They are sold in a lot of different wattage, but the most efficient is 600w and 1000w.

Plants can become leggy due to the lack of blue spectrum light. Also, since HPS lights emit a yellowish color, it can make it difficult to tell if your plant is healthy.

These lights are frequently used in greenhouses, to supplement the natural blue light and help promote blooming and fruiting on hothouse plants.

One example is the iPower 600 watt Digital Grow Light System.  

It has a reflector hood to help it provide 5' x 5'  of light coverage for your plants.

Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH)

CMH lights have a more balanced light spectrum being a mixture of blue, orange and red. They are started with a pulse starter. The discharge is contained in a polycrystalline alumina casing, which is a type of ceramic material that reduces sodium loss and reduces color shift and variation compared to metal halide lights.

Grower's Choice Horticulture Grow Light is a professional CMH grow light set that provides a full spectrum of light for your plants.

7. Dual Arc Lights

A combination of MH and HPS within the same bulb, they provide both red and blue spectrum light. This is a decent solution for lighting for the full life of a flowering plant. Dual Arc Lights are not as effective as using individual color spectrum lights and changing them from cool to warm as needed by the plant.

The timing for Lighting Your Plants

Like all living beings, plants exist with a cycle of day and night in nature. While using grow lights would enable one to provide 24/ hours a day, that is not healthy for your plants. Ideally, you should time your lighting to coincide with the number of hours of sunlight in a typical day. You should aim for 12 to 16 hours of light.

Plants need around 8 hours of darkness to reset and produce flowers. Just like sleep for humans, plants become rejuvenated during this time of darkness.

If this is going to be difficult for you to manage, you can set your lighting system up on a timer. This will enable you to make sure that your plants are on a consistent light schedule that is needed for optimum growth.

This Programmable Digital Timer by Century 7 is a cost-effective solution. It can be programmed to turn your light on or off, helping to maintain the correct lighting schedule for your plants.

How to Space Your Lighting

Different kinds of bulbs need different space from your plants due to the amount of heat that they emit. You should place your lighting directly over the plants in order to mimic the midday sun. You will want to make sure that your setup has enough bulbs to provide light to all of your plants. The exact placement of your lights will be dictated by the plants themselves.

If your plants get too hot, or for some plants, the light is too direct, the leaves can burn, causing damage or death to plants. If you notice that your plants are having issues, you should adjust the positioning of your lights to correct the situation.

Lights suspended from an adjustable chain are ideal as they can be moved up or down as the plants grow and their needs change.

  • Fluorescent lighting produces the least heat and should be positioned between 3 inches and 12 inches from your plants.
  • LED lighting should be 12 inches to 24 inches from plants.
  • HID lighting can be anywhere from 24 inches to 60 inches, depending on the types of plants and the lighting system itself, as well as the wattage of the bulbs.

Grow Light Accessories

You can purchase individual bulbs, or grow light kits. These kits may contain light hoods and reflectors to help direct the light where you need it to go. You can also purchase a timer to set your light to an automated schedule, which is very helpful for getting the best growth from your plants.

MH and HPS lights also require ballasts to function. These control the amount of wattage put out by the bulbs. HPS ballast has an igniter for the sodium in the bulb. All electrical ballasts can light an MH bulb.

A switchable ballast is an HID ballast that can be used with either metal halide or an HPS of equal wattage. This enables the gardener to switch out bulbs during the growing season depending on the needs of the plants.

Keep it Safe

When dealing with electricity it is important to keep safety in mind. Different types of bulbs present their own potential safety hazards that you should be aware of.

Be sure to check your equipment periodically for frayed wires or faulty connections. These are common areas for deterioration, especially after a few seasons of use.

Keep all cords and electrical equipment away from watering systems at all times to minimize the risk of electrocution.

HID Systems can contain mercury vapor, mercury halide, and high-pressure sodium. This can pose a health hazard if the bulb breaks as mercury is highly toxic. Always make sure that these lights are secured and behind a protective lens.

LED lights can contain lead, arsenic, and other potentially dangerous substances like nickel and copper.

The different kinds of HID lights each required their own type of ballast. Make sure that you have the correct ballast for the bulb type that you are using as electrical overloads and short circuits are common with HID lights, which could result in a fire.

Fluorescent bulbs can get very hot and pose a fire hazard if they are left on for too long.  Set your lights on a timer so they are turned off for at least 8 hours every night. Your plants need this time in the dark anyway, and it will ease the pressure on your bulbs.

It is a good idea to wear protective eyewear when working around grow lights. These lights emit UV radiation, much like a tanning bed which can damage your vision.

Choose the Right Light for Growing Success

With all of the lighting options available, it is important to take your time and do the research so you can make the best choices for your indoor vertical garden. Let the information provided above be your guide to lush, beautiful foliage and bountiful flowers in your home!


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