If you’re like me, you're looking for new sources of light to grow plants. On many occasions, I’ve researched and tried to use regular house light bulbs, Christmas lights, floodlights, and other forms of lights to see what I can grow. All methods either burned the plants or did virtually nothing for them. Never did I look up from my computer at the office and realize those thin tubes of lights in the ceiling are great for plants! Now, the same fluorescent bulbs used to light a room and grow plants are slightly different. If you get the right ones, however, you’ll be on your way to a successful grow!
Why Fluorescent Lights?
Fluorescent lights are great during the vegetative stage of plants, or for growing smaller vegetables like lettuce, herbs, and leafy vegetables. Blue LED’s are tricky to perfect, and MH bulbs tend to use a lot more energy than the plant needs. Fluorescent bulbs fall right in the middle of the two, which is great for plants to get them going from a young age. Because it has a primarily blue spectrum like the LED’s, fluorescent bulbs do a good job vegging plants. Unlike LED’s that try to kick-start the vegetative state, fluorescent bulbs are more powerful and can pass through some tough foliage when hung at the right height. Got it! What’s the “T5” mean? Are there any other “T’s” and if so, what are the differences? There are two important things to look at here. “T” is for the type of fluorescent bulb that is being used: tubular. The “5” is used to show the diameter in 1/8’s of inches. This means that a T5 light will have tubular fluorescent bulbs and will be 5/8” in diameter. “But those aren’t as big as the ones I’ve seen,” someone asked me while explaining this aspect. That’s because there are so many out there. T5’s are known to be more efficient. They one of the newest styles of fluorescent lighting out these days. There are also T8’s (8/8” or 1”) and T12’s (12/8” or 1-1/2”), all with their benefits and shortcomings. Alright, we’ve gotten that out of the way. So what can I grow with these lights? There are a few uses for these types of systems. Because they offer a limited spectrum, you are limited in what you can fully grow. For example, you would not be able to grow flowers (and in turn, fruit) because those plants need to bloom. They have stocks that need to be grown to their full potential, and fluorescents cannot do that. However, leafy plants like spinach and lettuce, as well as spices and herbs, have no problem growing to harvest with fluorescent lights. They just sprout right out of the ground and grow out- not up for the most part (like fruiting plants will). Another great thing about fluorescent lighting is that because it has a great vegging spectrum you’ll be able to grow seedlings and keep clones growing until they are ready to be transplanted into a bigger or different medium. Any last points to give me before I start growing with T5’s?
- A well adjusted and properly run T5 fluorescent fixture will help a couple of plants vegetatively grow up to 10-12”; 2 or 3 T5’s can grow those same plants up to about 2’ tall
- Energy does not always mean exposure light; it also means exposure to heat. Because T5’s don’t give off a lot of heat you’ll want to keep your lights no more than 4” above your plants without the plant touching the light and blocking the light from the rest of the plant(s)
- Be sure you have the room! These light fixtures are about 4’ long, so you’ll need more room than LED’s and just enough (if not a little more) room than an HID kit
- There are “Standard” and “High Output” fluorescent bulbs out these days. Be sure that you choose the correct T5 when looking for fluorescent lighting.