During the winter, especially in Maine, plants indoors may struggle with the lack of light even if they are protected from the seasonal chill. Luckily for plant owners, there are a number of options that will help provide light for your plants to help them get through the winter.
“There are a variety of offerings for grow lights that can be purchased to help people grow their plants indoors,” said Ellie Longfellow of Longfellow’s Greenhouses in Manchester. “From small tabletop lights to overhead hanging lights, floor lamps and more, there is something for everybody’s needs.”
John Sundling, owner of the Plant Office in Portland, said that the new diversity of lights that are high-end and more design-oriented for the aesthetically inclined, like the brand Sol Tech and Modern Sprout. Some are even Bluetooth enabled.
“They make very beautiful grow light pendants that look nice in any home and the quality of light coming out of them is really great,” Sundling said. “That’s like the high end. We’re definitely starting to find the plant people are willing to invest into something that looks nice and is able to function as well.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Sundling said he is seeing bulbs that fit standard household fixtures and lamps that have full spectrum capability or are geared towards plant growth.
“That’s kind of like the newest, quickest growing group,” Sundling said. “People usually use them in like side table lamps with like a gooseneck that’s pointing downwards instead of upwards. You can get a little clip lamp that has red or blue LEDs in it for 10 or 15 bucks. Across the board, there are more and more available at all levels, kind of keeping up with the houseplant trend that we’re seeing.”
No matter what your aesthetic or price preference, here’s what you need to know about choosing artificial lights for the plants that you are growing indoors.
Opt for LEDs
Many of the lights available to use indoors for plants are LED, or light emitting diodes, which is a great choice for homeowners growing plants indoors.
“LED is a popular choice because it is very energy efficient,” Longfellow said. “They offer a good light spectrum range. They have also been found to have a longer lifespan.”
LED lights also have a lower heat output than other types of lightbulbs, which helps you to avoid burning your plants.
“Considering the type of source and generally you’re going to want to keep the lights pretty close to the plants the effectiveness drops quickly as you move away from the plants so you have to be especially careful with the heat,” Sundling said. “Given how [many] LED options we have, I don’t really recommend a halogen or incandescent.”
There are other kinds of indoor artificial lights for plants, like High Pressure Sodium (HPS), and compact fluorescent (CFL) lights. Sundling said that HPS lights are more industrial than the average homeowner would need.
“I expect to find that in agricultural situations or growing rooms,” Sundling said. “If people are trying to grow crops at home, they might look at that type of stuff. What I’m geared more towards is houseplants which don’t need quite as much light as a production facility.”
Meanwhile, when comparing LED and CFL lights, Sundling said that the biggest difference is that usually the fluorescent has a narrower spectrum of light.
“The LED is [like] a broader range of nutrients,” Sundling said. “[However] fluorescent lighting can provide light to a large amount of space, more so than the LED generally. They have been found to have energy efficiency, but not as much as the LED.”
Check the spectrum
When choosing lights, you also want to make sure that your light has the right spectrum or color of light. The light that plants get from the sun is a full spectrum of colors, but many lights that we use indoors have a limited spectrum.
Sundling said to look at the box. Metrics like “lumens” and “watts” are not all that helpful to choosing lights — the former is a measure of brightness but not necessarily effectiveness, and the latter is a measure of power consumption — but what you want to look out for is the color “temperature” of a light. This indicates the kind of light it will produce, measured in Kelvin, designated by “K,” on a scale from 1,000 to 10,000. Cooler colors have a higher K value; warmer colors have a lower value.
You want to choose a grow light labeled as “full spectrum,” but the range of color temperature that is best for your plants will depend on your goals, according to Johnny’s Selected Seeds. The cool color range — 5,000 to 7,000K — will promote vegetative growth and choose a color temperature in the warm range between 3,500 and 4,500K will promote fruiting and flowering.
Regardless of what your goals are, though, grow lights that are labeled as “full spectrum” are ideal for plant growth, though they generally cost more money. If you are not able to purchase one of those, he suggested combining a cool spectrum light with a warm spectrum light to give your plants the maximum benefits.
‘The plants want more colors of light, do everything they do to feed off the light,” Sundling said. “It gets it closer to a full spectrum without having to invest the money in actual full spectrum lights. Look for a bulb at both ends of that range.”
However, this may be easier to get away with for houseplants as opposed to other plants you may grow indoors, like herbs or short-season crops.
“In my opinion, houseplants are less specific than if you were trying to grow flowers or veggies, as those need much more care when it comes to indoor gardening,” Longfellow said. “A simple grow light can be all one needs for maintaining houseplants indoors through the winter. Some plants will benefit more from red or blue lights, while others can benefit under regular white lights. There is a big difference between what one needs for edible plants, versus houseplants.”
There is a wide range of costs when it comes to grow lights depending on which features you choose.
“Some of the smaller ones can be in the $20 range, and larger ones in the hundreds,” Sundling said. “It all depends what sizes and technologies you are looking for. Shopping around is the best way to find one that works for you when it comes to saving money.”
No matter what your budget, though, Sundling said that almost any light is better than doing nothing at all if you want your plants to survive the Maine winter.
“Something is always better than nothing,” Sundling said. “If you’re wondering if your plant will benefit from adding extra light in the winter in Maine, it definitely will.”