Plants growing under grow lights
(Image credit: Cavan Images / Getty Images)

For many novice growers, one of the most difficult aspects of gardening relates directly to the process of starting seeds indoors in late winter and early spring. Vegetable garden favorites, such as tomatoes and peppers, will require (in most cases) that growers sow seed and grow transplants indoors until the last chance of frost has passed. Without the implementation of grow light systems, this process is often quite challenging. It is for this reason that many begin to contemplate the purchase of grow lights. However, it is first important to weigh both the positive and negative aspects of this decision.

With the assistance from fellow writer, Tonya Barnett, we share our thoughts on both the best reasons and negative aspects of using grow lights.

Pros - Best Reasons for Use Grow Lights

(Tonya's viewpoint) Whether growing rare and exotic plants indoors, overwintering tender flowers, or simply wishing to get an early start in the spring vegetable garden, grow lights are highly regarded for their ability to produce lush plant growth.

They provide essential light. Quite the obvious, grow lights provide the lighting most plants need. In fact, one of the main reasons to use grow lights has much to do with the quality of light which is produced. These lighting systems are different than common light bulbs in that the full spectrum of light colors are produced, not just those which are visible to the eye. This is especially important, as high volumes of certain types of light are responsible for vigorous plant growth and increased flowering.

You can grow plants nearly anywhere. Grow light systems also serve as a viable means by which homeowners are able to utilize even the darkest of spaces, such as basements and interior rooms.

These lights can be cost effective. In addition to the ability of grow light systems to produce healthier and more vigorous plants than those simply grown near a window, other grow light pros, such as efficiency, allow for even energy conscious growers to utilize lighting systems to their full potential. While gardeners on a budget can achieve desired results through the use of fluorescent grow lights, recent advances in LED lighting systems offer even more grow light positives to home gardeners in heat protection and energy efficiency.

Grow lights offer a more controlled environment. Regardless of price, when grow light systems are in use, growers are able to control the amount of and intensity of light provided to plants, thus better fulfilling the requirements of each type of plant being grown.

They can actually be visually appealing. Innovations in technology not only allow for better heat regulation of lights, but also greater versatility when used as a visually interesting aspect of home interior design. In fact, many grow lights double as attractive lamp features in the home.

Cons - Negatives of Grow Light Usage

(Amy's viewpoint) I think it's safe to assume that we all know that plants need light to grow, but how they get that light might be up for debate. In an ideal world, plants are grown outside in perfect conditions in which Mother Nature provides ideal amounts of water, nutrients and light. Most gardeners roll with what Mother Nature tosses and adjust the amount of water or nutrients that may be lacking, but light is another matter. Sometimes, artificial light must be used to stimulate growth in plants, especially when growing inside a house or a greenhouse, but there are several problems with using grow lights.

It can be costly. The saying goes that nothing is free, but in the case of Mr. Sun vs. grow lights, one of the biggest negatives of grow light usage is cost. There are many grow light options available and some of them are extremely pricey and, of course, they're usually the best. Even if you opt for your lowest cost option, grow lights will cost you on the energy bill.

You may need to use more than one type. If you want your plants to grow though, cost isn't the only consideration. Plants primarily use red and blue light for photosynthesis. One of the lowest cost options are compact florescent lights. One of the cons of this type of grow light is that multiple lights need to be used since they have a lower output compared to other bulb types. They are not ideal for large growers and because of their low-light output need to be close to the plants.

CDL bulbs have their own set of problems. High intensity grow lights are a step up from CDLs, but they produce a lot of heat that requires ventilation and exhausts and they need a special hood and ballast. Other cons of grow lights is that they have a short life span, can't be plugged into a standard socket, and will definitely increase the electric bill. LED lights are the best option, as they are the most energy efficient grow light. That said, they cost more at start up and are not always as advertised.

Grow lights aren't always worth the trouble. Along with the punch grow lights can pack to your budget, the grower must consider other negatives of grow light usage. Grow lights often provide uneven distribution or too little or too much light and may be give off too much heat. Space must be considered as well since some types of lights will require ventilation.

How Do the Problems with Using Grow Lights Compare to Their Usefulness?

The use of grow lights is on the upswing since fewer people have access to an outdoor garden or because they wish to garden year round. Grow lights have their place, but be sure to do your research and be aware of all the problems associated with using grow lights. Regardless of the reason that one may choose to implement grow lights, doing so undoubtedly comes with both positive and negative attributes which must be weighed. As with any garden technique, personal preferences and conditions within one's own garden will dictate the usefulness and need for grow light systems.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.