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Using Lighting in Hydroponics (Part 1)

Updated: Jun 18, 2018

Lighting products can appear very intimidating and confusing when starting up with hydroponics, however this post has been created to demystify and describe the various lighting types used in hydroponics.

By Sarah Pick

The idea of hydroponics (growing flowers, herbs or vegetables without the use of soil) is hardly a new concept.  It is believed that one of several wonders of the world “The Hanging Gardens of Babylon” were developed by applying hydroponic methods. Comparatively, artificial light has only been around for a short time but is a readily available and inexpensive due to the increase of technologies and knowledge in this field.


To use artificial light in hydroponics involves:

  • Ballast – designed to regulate the current to the lamp.

  • A shade / reflector – this aims the light to where you want it to go.

  • Lamp holder / socket – generally included with the shade or reflector you purchase.

  • A timer – this turns the light off and on and controls the degree of light the crops get.

  • A bulb or lamp

These pieces of hardware are required irrespective of what kind of bulb you are using. There are several ones out there from budget to deluxe versions. The one you buy depends on what you want to grow and what space you are employing as your hydroponic garden. Light intensity decreases with distance and therefore if you have a big area for cultivation then you will probably require a higher wattage of lamp to enable light to get to the plant. 

On the other hand with a higher powered lamp you have far more heat generated which may be difficult to control. That is why a lot of people choose to use a lower powered lamp which will generate less heat and can be managed more easily but used in a smaller area. Everything depends on preference and what you are used to. There are lots of articles that review the pros and cons of higher and lower powered lamps. Nonetheless again, it all depends upon user preference, open area and the kind of fruit/vegetable you are trying to grow.

Varieties of Lamp

There are three principal types of bulbs used in hydroponics. They are as follows:

  • Metal Halide

  • High Pressure Sodium

  • Fluorescent

These publications will take you through each, and detail how they operate and why they are put to use, in simple, uncomplicated terminology.

LED (Light Emitting Diode)

You may be curious as to why LED lights are not discussed as these are likewise available to purchase and to use in hydroponic gardens. LED lights allege to be more energy efficient and give off less heat compared to other hydroponic lamps. But, they remain a comparatively new technology and as such have some concerns that need sorting out.  A number of people have had issues getting the same penetration of light with LEDs that other lamps can provide and consequently I have made a decision not to include this technology in these articles.