How to Choose A Succulent Grow Light: A Beginner’s Guide

No matter where you live and where you keep your succulents, whether that’s indoors or outdoors, your plants will benefit from a succulent grow light.

They help brighten the darkest of places indoors, stopping succulents from etiolating, that is, from growing ‘leggy’ and deformed from their usual shape. 

Etiolation happens when succulents don’t get enough sunlight, so they try to grow towards the sunlight to improve their situation, stems and leaves stretching out of proportion, towards the light.

Here’s everything you need to know about succulent grow lights.

What’s the Difference between a Grow Light and a Succulent Grow Light?

Nothing. Succulent grow lights are grow lights. But what is a grow light?

You may see them advertised as a grow lamp or plant light, but grow lights are essentially lights which have been designed to simulate sunlight, and to help plants grow in darker areas.

Why Use a Grow Light?

While you could try growing your plants under a regular table light, standing lamp or overhead light, these bulbs don’t emit nearly enough light to help plants grow properly. 

You may picture a light as bright as the sun when you read ‘not enough light’, but that’s not quite it. Normal bulbs don’t emit nearly enough different types of light.

With grow lights, they emit different types of light, including ultraviolet, infrared, and PAR, or photosynthetically active radiation.

If you live in a dark house, and you insist on trying to grow succulents, knowing full well that they will stretch with time, even keeping them under skylights, you do need a grow light to keep them healthy.

Otherwise, your succulents will stretch and become ungainly, where some should stay compact, growing outwards instead of upwards. Some won’t ever flower unless you give them strong light, and the colors of the leaves are a shadow of what these gorgeous plants are capable of. I say this from experience. 

Some succulent plants require less light than others, such as haworthias (see also Haworthia Cooperi (Cooper’s Aloe): Types, How to Grow and Plant Care), but echeverias, crassulas, aloes, and agaves need light that mimics their natural habitats.  

This is provided, of course, that you keep succulents indoors. Some will do just fine outdoors, but not all. 

What to Consider when Looking for Succulent Grow Lights

There are quite a few things to consider when you shop around for a grow light, as every one of them are different. 

Each one of these details, covered under a different heading, will change the way your succulent plants grow.

Product descriptions can also contain a lot of jargon, which sounds good when you read it, but it doesn’t always give you a way to compare them to see which is right for you.

Let’s break it down.

How Powerful the Grow Light

Light is measured in lumens, when it comes to grow lights. This is probably one of the most significant things to look out for, as it will determine how well your succulents will  grow.

You need a light which gives off a minimum of 2000 lumens per square foot, which is a good benchmark when it comes to growing succulents under artificial light.

The Light Spectrum

As mentioned before, there are three different types of light. These help plants grow in different ways. This light is measured in nanometers, or nm, and the PAR area covers 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers.

PAR is the amount of light that plants use to photosynthesize. 

Ultraviolet light extends between 350 and 400nm, and this is the kind that brings out the red highlights in succulent leaves.

Infrared is at the opposite end of the spectrum, at 700 and 800nm. At this level, it encourages flowering in plants. 

Grow lights are available in different amounts of ultraviolet and infrared light, but what helps a succulent stay balanced in its growth? 

Well, what’s called a full spectrum white light is the best, as it contains an equal amount of both wavelengths. 

This is a good option to sustain all round growth, encouraging the plant to grow as well as produce flowers. 

A higher level of infrared light will make the succulents produce flowers, but the growth will be less noticeable, potentially putting its growth out of balance, for example.

Amount of Usable Light

What does usable light mean? Well, it’s the amount of light that plants can use to photosynthesize, in the PAR level, or photosynthetically active radiation.

If you think of that famous Pink Floyd album art, or if you shine a light through a glass prism, that rainbow which becomes visible is PAR light.

In terms of color, green light reflects back at the plant, and this is why most leaves appear green. Blue and red lights are used to photosynthesize, and this is why you’ll see quite a few grow lights with just blue and red bulbs.

The brighter the grow lights, the stronger the PAR, and the more your plants will grow. Be careful not to choose one too strong, however.

Light Color Temperature

The light color temperature is measured in Kelvin, or k. This measurement tells you how warm (which looks like yellow light) or how cool (which looks like blue light) the bulb emits.

You need a mixture of both red light and blue light in order to get a balanced rate of growth, in terms of plant growth and flower production. 

More red light will mean the plant will put more of its energy into producing flowers, and blue light will make the plant concentrate more on growing overall. 

The higher the number in Kelvin, the bluer the light, the cooler it will be. 

If you want the plant to grow, you’ll want a cooler light, around the 6500K mark. To get your succulent to flower, go for a warmer light at 3000K.

Grow Light Efficiency

Grow lights can vary in terms of how efficient they are, which means some will be much cheaper to run than others.

The efficiency of a grow light will determine how much heat it puts out, and how much light it emits. 

This is measured in percentages, and as you might guess, a grow light that is more efficient is better for succulents, as they need more light out of the grow lamp than they need heat.

It’s also better to get a grow lamp which doesn’t produce much heat, as more heat can mess with the growth rate and scorch the leaves, but a lamp that throws out more heat than light will be very expensive to run.

How Long Do You Want The Grow Light Running?

This is another aspect that you need to consider, and the answer will definitely affect your plants.

Different succulents need different amounts of light, and the amount of time you leave it on will obviously impact how much light the plants are exposed to.

Most succulents need at least six hours of sunlight in order to thrive. Any lower than this, and they could grow leggy, or go dormant. 

This is also worth thinking about in terms of grow lights, as some bulbs cannot be replaced. You’ll have to consider the cost as well as the environmental impact, too. 

What are the Different Types of Grow Lights?

As you’ve seen from the topics covered above, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to choosing grow lights, but there are a few more things to keep in mind.

There are different types of grow lights available, and each will provoke a different effect in your plants.

LED Full Spectrum Lights

LED lights which are full spectrum have a lot of benefits. They are comparatively cheaper to start with, more efficient to run, saving you money and electricity, and they look more like natural light.

They are newer to the grow lamp market than other types, too.

Incandescent Light

Those who are picking a grow lamp for the first time, and only need it for a single plant, may go for an incandescent light. The light is fairly dim compared to other types on this list, and you can recognize it by its warm, yellow light.

Incandescent grow lights are inexpensive to start with. Yes, to start with. Unfortunately, incandescent grow lamps convert a significant amount of energy into heat, and the amount of usable light they emit isn’t ideal. 

The heat that they put out will make the lamp hot to the touch, which isn’t ideal in any case, especially if you have cats (they are attracted to grow lights, unfortunately), children, or if you’re passing the area often. 

Incandescent bulbs are meant for spotlight lamps, so if your succulent collection has gotten a little…expensive, (can you have enough? Can you really?) you’d need quite a few lights to make things work.

Fluorescent Light

Fluorescent light is a great option for succulents, especially groups of succulents, as one bulb can cast light over the lot. 

It helps that fluorescent light is much more efficient than incandescent, and the light it throws out is full spectrum, allowing for a balanced level of growth. 

It is capable of producing up to three times the light of incandescent bulbs, while emitting much less heat.

One drawback of using fluorescent light for grow lamps is that as they become used more frequently, the light lessens in strength.

High Pressure Sodium (HPS)

If you want an extremely bright light, which can look like you’ve introduced a streetlamp into your home, HPS, or high pressure sodium, will do this. 

While it makes plants flower like no other, it doesn’t throw out enough blue light to mimic daylight, so it can inhibit growth, resulting in stretched out succulents with lots of flowers. Not really ideal.

HPS does have the benefit of being cheap to run, as well as having a long bulb life, but it’s not a replacement for daylight. 

Metal Halide (MH)

MH, or metal halide, is another bright light. It does throw out more intense light than HPS, significantly more levels of blue light, helping plants to grow properly. 

It helps that it is on a similar wavelength to natural daylight, producing UV light. 

One thing to note. You do have to be careful with metal halide bulbs, as if you let water touch them, they can explode. This is more likely than you might think when you consider that you need to water your plants. 

Also, if the bulbs are set up wrong, they will explode. This may not be the best option.

But how do you know what is right for you, and how do you use a grow light?

How to Use a Grow Light in Your Own Space

When it comes to choosing your own grow lamp for your succulents, you need to remember exactly how many succulents you have, what types they are, and exactly what you want the plants to do under this lamp.

Do you want flowers? Do you want bigger plants? Maybe both?

How many succulents you have will decide how many lights you need. Knowing what succulents you have determines the kind of grow light you need, as the amount of light needed will be different according to the type of succulents.

You need to make sure that your succulents, and the grow lamp, are placed somewhere safe. Preferably away from any high traffic areas in your house where accidents might happen, or out of reach of any pets or children.

You’ll also need to make sure that you set the grow lamp up a safe distance away from the plants to keep from scorching them.

How far away you need to place them depends on the grow lamp you choose. As a rule, keep fluorescent bulbs about 12 inches above the plants, incandescent 24 inches above, requiring further away as it generates more heat. 

If you select bulbs with more intensity, they will need to be much higher.

Most grow lamps come with a timer, so don’t forget to set this. Keep rotating your plants every few days to keep the growth constant.

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