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Most growers have multiple objectives in mind when planning an indoor grow. Drafting scenarios to achieve higher yields, increase SUGAR levels, or simply to improve the overall health of a plant is an integral part of their hobby. This element of strategic planning involves the challenge to link knowledge of different scientific fields and to match those findings to a technical solution that helps to achieve predefined goals. Besides dedication and passion, it is the willingness to learn that differentiates good growers from future experts – so let us try to grow the royal way and learn what it takes to cultivate plants of exceptional quality. Today, we are looking at fundamentals of physics, and learn how the light spectrum affects the growth of a plant.
The sun emits energy in the form of solar radiation including gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, and even radio waves. Life on Earth is only possible because the ozone layer blocks this radiation, and reflects most of it back into space. This filtering process only allows wave lengths between 300nm and 1100nm to reach our plants and an even smaller portion of this light is visible to us. It is often referred to as the light spectrum, color spectrum or visible spectrum, and ranges from 380nm to about 750nm.
When shopping around for a grow light, you will likely come across the term “colour temperature”. This is essentially a way to describe the light appearance provided by a bulb, and is measured in Kelvin (K).
Colour temperature doesn’t mean the physical temperature of your light, but the degree of warmth or coolness of a light source—the “visual temperature”. When a light has a higher degree of Kelvin, it has a more blueish appearance. Thus, we call it a “cool” light. On the other hand, a bulb with a lower degree of Kelvin emits a “warmer”, reddish light.
In a strictly scientific sense, no. Colour temperature is normally used as a way to describe how the light produced by a lamp looks to the human eye. For some types of lights, such as LEDs or fluorescent lamps, it doesn’t describe a light’s spectral distribution or wavelength.
Without going too deep into physics here, the light from an incandescent bulb radiates light spanning the entire visible light spectrum. The white light from the bulb is the result of a mix of wavelengths (colours in the spectrum) “contained” in the light.
Other lights, such as LEDs or fluorescents, may emit light from a number of narrow wavelengths, with gaps or peaks within the spectrum. In other words, even if the light appears the same to the eye, it may be missing certain wavelengths (colours) that plants require for healthy growth.
Because LEDs tend to emit light in a very narrow colour spectrum, LED grow lights are usually outfitted as “full-spectrum” setups. They consist of a number of different-coloured LEDs that together cover most of the necessary spectrum for plants. These full-spectrum LEDs are comprised of different reds and blues, often mixed with additional white LEDs. Other, newer LEDs, such as COB lights, emit a light spectrum that more or less approximates natural sunlight; there’s no “gap” in the colour spectrum.
For vegging your plants, go with a cool light, one that emits a “daylight” colour with a high Kelvin of 6,000–6,500K. For flowering, a warm light with a reddish tone, about 2,800K, is optimal. You can also find grow lights with a “best of both worlds” colour temperature of about 3,500K, which you can use for both vegging and flowering.
Every organism living on Earth needs information what is going on around them to react to environmental changes, and ideally, get a slight advantage over other members of their species regarding natural selection and evolution. Interestingly, plants receive a lot of their information from the light they’re exposed to, and almost instantly react to different bands of wave lengths – a complex topic to fill books with, but let us focus on the basics first.
1. Vegetative Stage – “Blue” light for healthy leaves (range: 400-500nm; ideal: 460nm)
During the vegative state it is recommended to aim for as many leaves as possible, and to make sure plants stay rather compact, don’t stretch too much, and develop strong stems. Indoor growers tend to use metal halide bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFL’s), or T5/T8 lighting fixtures with a blue band of light for the first few weeks to achieve these goals. When plants grows in nature, the high angle of the sun in spring and summer allows more “blue” wave lengths to penetrate through the atmosphere, a signal for plants to grow strong, large and healthy leaves.
2. Flowering Period – “Red” light for giant buds (range: 620-780nm; ideal: 660nm)
When plants enter the flowering state, highest yields can be achieved by exposing them to a light spectrum that contains lots of “red” wave lengths to promote budding. The rate of photosynthesis peaks when plants are subjected to “red” wave lengths of 660nm although latest NASA findings suggest that even “green” wave lengths, which are not associated as a major factor in photosynthesis, can also have an impact on how plants grow. Seeing a plant as simple photosynthesis factory is consequently a little hasty. But for now, choosing a lighting solution with a high degree of “red” in its spectrum remains the best way for growers to imitate the shallow angle of the sun in late summer and autumn.
Have you ever wondered why potent plant strains often originate from landraces that naturally grow in high altitude regions? There are experts who suspect ultraviolet light, especially a high exposure to UVB wave lengths (280-315nm), to be responsible for an increased THC production. The theory is based on the fact that a high elevation means lesser atmosphere between plants and the sun, leading to a higher exposure to UV Rays. These ultraviolet wave lenghts knowingly damage our skin, and the human body reacts by producing melanin as protection – a plant assumingly does something similar – it produces more resin and sugars as a form of natural sunscreen. It is too early to say if we are dealing with a theory or a cost-effective method to grow better but the concept seems plausible enough for hands-on experiments. UVB bulbs for reptiles only cost a few bucks; perhaps we should give it a try.
The GrowLedHolland lights have been developed in collaboration with Dutch indoor growers. In recent years we have seen the development from the first LED lamps and have produced a lamp through facts and experience a full calibrated FULL SPECTRUM LED that is suitable for indoor growing.