Fluorescent bulbs emit two to three times more light than traditional incandescent bulbs and are an inexpensive indoor gardening light option. The best fluorescent lights for indoor growing depend on the type of plants you are growing, how much space you have and how much you are willing to spend. To determine what the best fluorescent lights are for you, consider where your plants grow in their natural environment and select indoor fluorescent lighting that mimics that outdoor lighting. Avid indoor gardeners may have several different types of fluorescent lights.
Standard Fluorescent Lights
Standard fluorescent lights are best for starting spring seedlings or growing cool weather vegetables year-round. Some plants that thrive under standard fluorescent lights are spinach, leaf lettuce and herbs. When using standard fluorescent lights for indoor growing, keep the bulbs no more than 4 inches from the plants. According to Home Harvest Garden Supply, standard fluorescent tubes have an average life span of about 20,000 hours, which is 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
Full-spectrum Fluorescent Lights
According to Gardener's Supply Company, full-spectrum fluorescent lights offer a balance of cool and warm light that most closely replicates natural light. Full-spectrum fluorescent tubes provide natural lighting by emitting every color of visible light in the spectrum and a small amount of ultraviolet light. They are ideal for most plants, including seedlings, houseplants and herbs. Most full-spectrum fluorescent lights offer lighting similar in strength to the sun at noon. Full-spectrum fluorescent lights are generally more expensive than standard fluorescent lights and last about 24,000 hours.
Compact Fluorescent Lights
Compact fluorescent lights are a relatively new development in fluorescent lighting technology. Compact fluorescent bulbs are designed with reflectors that focus the light of the bulb toward the plant. According to Jason's Indoor Guide to Organic and Hydroponics Gardening, every inch of the compact fluorescent bulb surface is a source of light. Compact fluorescents can be used for propagation, but are also useful in growing larger plants. They are especially effective for growing a variety of plants with different lighting needs. Compact fluorescents typically last about 10,000 hours, but because of their efficiency, they draw less electricity.
High Output Fluorescent Lights
High output fluorescent lights, often referred to as T5 fluorescents, produce twice as much light as standard fluorescent lights. High output fluorescent lights are ideal for tropical plants and in tight vertical spaces. They are popular for indoor gardening because they disperse light evenly over a large growing area. Most high output fluorescent tubes last about 10,000 hours.