If you’re someone who loves plants but you don’t have a ton of natural light in your home, you might start eying your LED lights to use as grow lights. Plants need light to thrive (even low light plants) and artificial lights are an excellent way to ensure they’re getting what they need. But can you just use a regular light as a grow light or does it have to be an LED grow light? And really, what’s the difference between a regular light bulb and a grow light bulb?
There are so many different grow lights, how do you even know which will work for you? Here's what you need to know about growing plants with a regular LED light (or not).
Meet the Expert
What Is an LED Light?
“LED is a semiconductor device that emits light when an electrical current is passed through it,” explains Cadoux-Hudson. “LED technology has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t until more recently that their costs have fallen significantly, and their efficiency increased, making them the preferred choice for grow lights and general lighting.”
Grow Light vs. Regular Light
Grow lights can be kind of expensive, and many people don’t really understand what the actual difference between a grow light and a normal lightbulb is.
"The main difference between grow lights and regular lights is the wavelengths of light they put out. A lot of plant lights produce a wider spectrum of wavelengths than the traditional LED or fluorescent lights put out," says Hancock. "Depending on the type of plant light, it may also be more intense (produce more lumens) than a non-plant light. But that really depends on the type of light (LED vs. fluorescent, vs. HID, etc.). And that’s where things start to get complicated when you’re shopping."
It's also important to note the difference between lights that are full spectrum and ones that aren't. Full spectrum, while not a truly technical term, refers the use of the entire spectrum of light in an attempt to mimic natural sunlight.
Do You Need an LED Grow Light?
With so many different types of grow lights available on the market it’s so hard to decide which one is best for you. So why stick with LED grow lights? “They mimic the role the sun has in photosynthesis, the full spectrum LED grow lights emit a unique spectrum across all colors including red, green, and blue to help plants accelerate in all growth stages," says Cadoux-Hudson.
When picking out a grow light you need to look for one that has a PAR spectrum (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) — this is the range of 400 to 700 nanometers that mimics sunlight and helps plants with photosynthesis. No matter what type of grow light or light you want, you need to make sure it has this.
"If you have an LED [work]shop light and an LED grow light (assuming they produce similar amounts of usable light), you’ll probably see most houseplants grow pretty similarly, especially if the LED light has a good color range," says Hancock. "But when it comes down to it, the most important thing is that plants get enough light intensity. If you have a light that provides what your plant needs, your plant probably won’t mind if it’s not a specially designed plant light or a less expensive and more utilitarian light source."
For those who are trying to be mindful of their utilities bill, whether it’s a grow light or not you should be using LED lights in your home as they are more efficient than other light choices.
Grow lights give you the chance to expand the range of plants you can grow indoors. They also help your plants grow faster or look healthier when located in places where they don't get enough natural light. The best type of light you can use is one that emits a warm color (even white can be warm!) and whose location can be adjusted. You don’t want your light too close to your plant so as it grows it’s great to be able to change the distance. Most grow lights have timers that mimic the sun’s natural light. They should be left on for 8 to 16 hours if your plant isn’t getting any light at all because of where it's placed. If it is getting some light, you can change the timing to keep your plant looking its best.