Fluorescent Grow Lights for Orchids

Many people who grow orchids under lights use fluorescent grow lights. They can be used alone, or to supplement natural lighting in indoor orchid care, such as if there's a big shade tree outside the window.

Fluorescent lights come in a variety of color temperatures; either choose ones that match natural sunlight (color temperature of 6500K), or use ones marketed as grow lights. "Warm white" and "cool white" are both considerably more yellow (low color temperature) than natural sunlight, and so will lead to "leggy" plants with long stems, because longer wavelengths encourage stem growth rather than foliage growth. The spectrum will shift somewhat over time, and the bulbs will dim gradually, so install replacement bulbs after 6 months to a year, even if the old ones haven't burned out yet.

Typically, it will be hard to match the intensity of natural sunlight. This can be good for plants like Phalaenopsis with lower lighting requirements, but for high-light plants like Cattleya and Vanda orchids, it may not be enough. You can set your lighting timer to a longer duration, such as 18 hours per day, to try and compensate. (Normally it's best to use 12 hours.) One nice thing about fluorescent fixtures is that the light source is spread out, so even if they are providing a lot of light, sunburn is unlikely. It's usually OK even if a plant's leaves are touching the bulbs.

There are new LED grow lights that fit into fluorescent fixtures; these have many advantages, including increased intensity, greater energy efficiency, no need to change bulbs ever 6 months, and no mercury accumulating in the landfill. But they cost more to install initially. Other common orchid lighting options include metal halide grow lights and high pressure sodium grow lights.

If setting up a space to grow orchids under lights, you'll want to make sure that there is enough room under the bulbs to accomodate your plants, but not too much: light intensity falls off rapidly with distance. It can help to suspend the lighting fixtures from ropes or chains so you can easily adjust the height. You may want to have a separate area to show off blooming plants, as the flower stems might be too tall to fit under your lighting fixtures.

Also make sure to set things up so that the electronics won't ever get wet! This is particularly risky if you are using a hose or watering can to water your orchids, in a space set up with a drain in the floor. Also be careful about automatic misters, humidifiers, and similar.

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