garden lighting systemLight is life for the garden and its plants. If you understand how plants use light, and the many lighting options available today, you can put together a lighting system that’s right for the plants you want to grow indoors. Proper light will help sustain your plants until they are able to venture outside again.

Bright sunshine contains the full spectrum of light wavelengths from red through yellow and green to blue and violet. Plants use all of these wavelengths for photosynthesis, but red and blue are two of the most important. The blue spectrum promotes vegetative growth so young plants build robust, full foliage. The red wavelengths promote flowers and fruits.

Every plant requires light to thrive, but some plants need lower intensities than others. Native tropicals, shade-loving forest plants and houseplants like ivy and philodendron don’t need as much light as Mediterranean succulents or desert cactuses. Flowering plants of all kinds, such as orchids and gardenias, generally need brighter light to flower and produce fruit.

Immaterial of the amount of light required plants do need recess to accomplish their other functions of metabolism. Plants’ preferences for light to dark are divided into short-day, long-day and day-neutral.

Short-day plants thrive on less than 12 hours of light in a 24-hour period. Most will also need to have a stretch of even shorter days to signal them to set buds and flower. Azaleas, chrysanthemums, poinsettia and Christmas cactus are short-day plants.┬áLong-day plants need 14 to 18 hours of light per day. Vegetables and most garden plants are long day, and get pale and stretched when they don’t get enough light.Day-neutral plants like geraniums, coleus and foliage plants are happy with eight to 12 hours of light throughout the year.

Now a days there are umpteen kinds of artificial lights that will support plants indoors, from ordinary bulbs and tubes to super-efficient LED lights. Most are available in multiple color spectrums. Fluorescent tubes put out three to four times the light of incandescent bulbs for the same energy. Their color frequencies run from reds to blues, so you can mix and match to suit your preferences. Full-spectrum or sunlight fluorescents are great for all plants and for starting plants from seeds. They’re often even marketed as grow lights. T-8 and T-5 tubes need fixtures with special ballasts, but use less power and last significantly longer. Cool-white and warm-white fluorescent bulbs can be mixed in a two-bulb fixture to get a good balance of red and blue light. Metal halide lamps and mercury vapor lamps have a strong blue spectrum, high-intensity light good for developing dense, stocky foliage. High-pressure sodium bulbs emit yellow-orange light that’s better for the flowering and fruiting phase of a plant’s lifecycle.

LED or the Light Emitting Diodes is the newest buzzword in the lighting realm. LEDs are extremely energy efficient; they average 50,000 hours of useful operation, and generate very little heat, making them safe for plants and people. Spending a little extra upfront will save you at least 40 to 75 percent on your energy costs.

Regardless of the type of lighting system you intend to adopt for your garden you need to rotate your plants one or more times each week to balance the amount of light each plant receives. Replace fluorescent tubes when the ends start to blacken to keep adequate light levels for your plants. Keep sufficient distance from the light to prevent burning yet close enough to maximize the exposure.

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