A Hydroponic Lighting Guide
For a lot of us, we enjoy our hydroponic gardening indoors. And I have been asked many times, ‘what are the best hydroponic lighting procedures to follow’?
So what are the best hydroponic lighting procedures?
With artificial lighting in your hydroponic garden, the main goal is to mimic mother nature. Days and nights. You should plan your system based on a 24-hour day.
You should have at least 14 hours of bright artificial light and 10 hours of darkness daily.
There are various factors you must consider as a gardener trying to grow your plants indoors hydroponically, such as the intensity of the lighting, the duration of the lighting, bulb wattage, and the distance between the plant and the light source.
Lighting Fixtures For Hydroponics
Your first concern about proper hydroponic lighting is acquiring the necessary fixtures for the job.
Choosing the best lights for your hydroponic system can intimidate a beginner. There are so many options out there, and depending on the size of your garden and the type of plants you are growing, some lighting types may be better suited or more efficient than others.
There are various grow lights for indoor plants in the market. Each product will have a negative and a positive effect that you may need to look into before you purchase it.
LED grow lights
These light-emitting diode lights are by far the most popular today. Not only are they tremendous energy savers, but they will also give you up to 50,000 hours of shelf life. They produce the full spectrum of light that is perfect for photosynthesis. These lights also produce much less heat.
Incandescent lamps and bulbs
In today’s world, these are ‘old-fashioned’.These are the usual household bulbs that light up your house. They are inefficient and produce unwanted high heating for your garden. Their light is nowhere near the full spectrum needed for properly growing plants. They would also be a strain on your electric bill.
These lamps are usually the go-to lighting source for hydroponic beginners. They are about three to seven times more efficient as compared to incandescent lamps, and because of that, they will be easier on that electric bill.
The bulbs in the 6500k tend to be the best for growing plants because of the higher lighting spectrum.
However, when it comes to your larger plants, you may need to place more lighting on the sides to compensate for the lack of lighting capability to penetrate the plant as high-intensity discharge lamps do.
Compact fluorescent lamps
The CFL has a longer lifespan and uses less power than the incandescent bulb. They are efficient for hydroponic gardeners on a budget because there is no need for ballast or fancy wiring. (plug & play)
Fluorescents provide the best spectrum of light for seedlings.
HID lamps (high-intensity discharge)
The HID lamp lighting has a particular bulb and an electronic ballast. The ballast starts and maintains the arc through the bulb, ensuring the lamp stays on at a regulated voltage. They are quiet and cost-effective, which means they will not shock you when the electric bill arrives.
The light produced is about four to eight times more efficient than the incandescent lamps. For these reasons, it is what has made the HID lamp the best choice for indoor hydropic gardens.
However, they were originally used in warehouses, parking areas, and streets due to their high light output. Because of this high heat output, extra ventilation will be necessary.
Schedule Your Lighting Times
The easy part of hydroponic lighting is picking out and purchasing the lights you wish to work with. The hard part is determining which plants will do their best in a hydroponic lighting schedule.
Different plants require different needs. You must figure out a custom schedule if you have a mix of these in your hydroponic garden. I am going to list some general guidelines.
Short day plants
These plants require a specific amount of artificial light time but a specific amount of darkness.
These types will require a long period of darkness to photosynthesize and produce flowers. If exposed to over 12 hours of light daily, they will not flower. Poinsettias, strawberries, cauliflower, and chrysanthemums are short-day plants.
You will have to strive for 12 on and 12 off. The short-day cycle copies mother nature for plants the flower in the spring.
Long day plants
As the name suggests, these plants need a longer “day” period, meaning that they need more light during the course of 24 hours. These are sun lovers and require up to 18 hours of artificial light daily. They include lettuce, potatoes, spinach, bromeliads, and turnips. The long-day cycle mimics the natural environment of summer-flowering plants.
These are the most flexible. They produce fruit no matter how much light they are exposed to. Some examples include eggplants, roses, zinnias, tomatoes, strawberries, and other similar fruits and vegetables.
So what do you do if you’re growing more than one plant type, and it just so happens that these plants have different lighting needs? For example, what if you’re trying to grow tomatoes in your hydroponics system but would also light to grow cauliflower, a short-day plant?
The solution: If you must mix sort and long-day plants, it is best to compromise their needs and pick a lighting schedule right in the middle, around fourteen hours of light per day. Finding a balanced timing schedule is crucial here. You cannot offer either of them the perfect conditions, so it’s best to settle for that compromise.
If you can isolate them in your growing space, that would be a win-win, but that’s rarely possible.
Needed Lighting Requirements
There are many factors to consider when purchasing a grow light. The primary factors you must consider are your budget for the lights and the cost of running them—the garden enclosure type & size, plant type, and ventilation.
A simple solution:
If you’re growing anything that needs a lot of light, having a power-efficient system pays off, so instead of using high-intensity discharge hydroponic lights, such as metal halide or high-pressure sodium lamps, you can DIY homemade hydroponic lighting with some fluorescent lamps or some red-blue led lights.
These won’t be as powerful and won’t give your plants a full spectrum of light temperatures, but they will still provide the essential light components at relatively low power consumption.
However, that’s not always the best solution.
All light bulbs produce a certain color or range of colors. The color spectrum that a light bulb produces is measured in Degrees Kelvin, which specifies the hue produced by the bulb.
Certain plants grow better under certain color spectrums. For example, most plants will grow better around the 6500k spectrum, while flowering plants will grow better in the 2700k spectrum.
The most popular wattage for hydroponic bulbs is between 400-600 Watts. Most commercial hydroponic gardeners use High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights. HID or High-Intensity Discharge Lamps are the top choices among growers.
HID lamps utilize a special bulb with a mechanical or electronic ballast. The purpose of the ballast is to start and maintain the arc through the bulb. Simply put, a ballast is needed to turn the bulb on and provide a regulated voltage to the lamp.
As mentioned before, HID lamps produce a lot of heat, so extra ventilation and proper reflector height should be considered when planning.
LED Lights for the rest of us. LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are up-and-coming and readerly available in indoor growing. LEDs are a new technology relative to other light sources used for growing.
Utilizing LEDs will save you hydroponic lighting costs on electricity, as LEDs use much less electricity compared to all other light sources.
I use LED lighting in my rather small hydroponic garden in my garage and have had fantastic results with all kinds of plant materials.
There are several benefits to using LEDs, primarily electricity savings. LEDs will provide a specific light spectrum ideal for your plants when utilized correctly.
Many hydroponic growers supplement their light systems with LEDs that produce a spectrum ideal for photosynthesis. The LED produces less heat, which may lower your electricity bill by reducing your cooling load.
DIY Hydroponic LED Lighting
Here is a simple idea from the Home Depot Garden Club® :
It is also a great idea, as shown just for stating and growing using the tried and true method of using plain old dirt!