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Grow Lights Vs. Fluorescent Lights

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The terms grow light and fluorescent light are often used interchangeably. Many grow lights are fluorescent lights, making comparisons between grow light vs. fluorescent light confusing. However, there are several categories of grow lights, and some fluorescent bulbs are not intended to be used only with plants. When gardening indoors, compare advantages and disadvantages of light systems to select the best choice for your plant's needs, your budget and your home decor.

Types of Grow Lights

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Grow lights range from elegantly styled and expensive to plain and functional. Some offer heat. Grow lights include fluorescent bulbs, metal halide and high pressure sodium lamps. The light spectrum produced by halide lamps is more beneficial to vegetables, while sodium lamps are a better choice for flowers. However, because sodium lamps do both jobs well, they are often the choice for indoor gardeners. Grow lights can also use fluorescent light bulbs. Fluorescent grow lights use less electricity and generate less heat that halide or sodium lamps.

Types of Fluorescent Lights

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Fluorescent light bulbs are less expensive than those marketed as grow lights. Fluorescent lights that are not designed specifically for plant use may not be attractive, but they are cheap and practical for starting seeds and encouraging plant growth indoors. Tubes are commonly available in 2 foot and 4 foot lengths in both cool white and warm white varieties. Warm and cool tubes are often used in combination, one of each bulb per fixture. Fluorescent fixtures can be suspended with small chains over plants and adjusted as plants grow.

Plants and Light

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Whether you are using grow lights or fluorescent lights, you must meet the lighting requirements of the specific plants you want to grow indoors. Indoor plants should receive from 12 to 14 hours of supplemental light each day if they receive some natural light, and 16 to 18 hours each day if they don't. Reflective surfaces or bulbs containing reflectors help plants receive adequate light. Using white paint or aluminum foil in the growing area makes both grow lights and fluorescent lights more effective. Space plants far enough apart that they do not shade each other.


Style may be a factor in determining which type of lights you choose. Fluorescent shop lights are not attractive to everyone. Grow lights may be available in a wider variety of styles. For plants on display, consider the look you are trying to achieve as well as the light requirements of your plants when selecting lighting.


Grow lights are generally more expensive than fluorescent lights. Shop around at home improvement stores, nurseries and online to evaluate different styles and prices.

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