Lighting for plants of assorted requirements

RapscallionApril 5, 2013

Hi! I'm trying to figure out what lighting I should use for my small but varied collection of plants and plants-to-be. I have a first floor, north-facing apartment with no outdoor space so needless to say I'm pretty much stuck with growing things under lights if I want to expand my collection, let alone keep it alive. I'm not 100% sure how much light my window gets -- it's huge (like 80% of the wall, floor to ceiling) and relatively unobstructed but I'm suspicious that it doesn't give enough light, because, well, it's a north-facing window and I am without a light meter.

I have one of those 4ft wide wire racks with five shelves that you can buy at Target and similar and want to dedicate one shelf to plants. I am going to spread the shelves out a bit so one level has somewhere between 2 and 3.5 feet of space (or however much I can get it to be) and hang florescent lights from it, possibly enclosing it to keep in humidity. My main issue is figuring out how I do the actual lighting.

I think I have pretty much two groups of plants -- one group that's 600-1000fc, one group that's 1000-1500fc. I wrote up the list below.

  • Phalaenopsis orchids - 3 plants, but two are in orchid ICU for previous bad potting medium. If they keel over, may replace with paphiopedilum and/or other low-light orchids (odontoglossum?).

  • African violets - 2 standard, 2 semi-miniature, only one purchased at the moment, others are planned

  • Rex begonia - Planned purchase, "starry night." I've read a bunch of different things about the light requirements and am not sure what to trust. Still doing research. This one may be in the lower range?

  • Cane begonia - Planned purchase, "looking glass." See comment above about begonia lighting. This one is probably in the higher range?

  • Guzmania bromeliad - May stay by window with a dracaena, but it sounds like it'd match the orchids as far as foot candles go, no problem.

What is the best way to do this? Can I manage with one 4ft fixture and just put the lower light stuff on the sides where the light isn't as bright, or do I have to split it into two 2ft fixtures, and if so, what would make that difference between two likely identical fixtures (bulb type, distance)? Does anyone have any recommendations for setups that would be close to these light ranges (fixture & bulbs, distance from plants), preferably on the relatively inexpensive side of prices? I just don't want to go out and buy stuff that I think maybe will work and have it turn out to be totally not feasible because I have no clue what I'm doing besides lights = good. Because, well, that's pretty much all I know! If there's somewhere an explanation for how to shop for a specific setup, that'd also be good (not just here are the bulb types and how people generally use them, but like actually trying to figure out what would hit your target foot candles).

Also, does anyone have any recommendations for a cheap (less than $40) light meter that has fairly...

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Hi and welcome to GardenWeb!
Well, I only use artificial lighting for growing annuls (and a few perennials) from seeds each year. Once the weather's right, outside they go and the lights are no longer used. For that reason, I can't be of much help with the type of growing you'll be doing.

I do have a light meter that I really like, it's a "DrMeter" - LX1330B. It measures in Lux or FC in selective ranges. As for as it's accuracy, I would think that it's fairly accurate but of course I really don't have anything to compare it to. The meter itself is protected by a removable plastic case and it comes in a nice storage case as well. It cost only $40 and for that money I think it would be hard to beat. I got mine through

Regarding your orchids, there's an older post on GardenWeb that you might find helpful Click Here

This post was edited by art33 on Sat, Apr 6, 13 at 17:00

    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 11:23AM
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That was actually one of the light meters I was looking at possibly getting. Glad to get a direct review about it, thanks!

Will definitely have to read through that thread a few more times -- still having some issues figuring out some of the lighting lingo, haha. It does bring up another thought though: CFL vs normal florescent. I mean, I'm pretty much limiting myself to 10 plants (give or take a couple) until I move to someplace with natural light. One CFL per plant does seem like it'd be a bit crowded, but maybe I'm just not imagining the set up that well. Maybe a normal florescent for those in the range of the African violets and some CFLs for the orchids & company?

I reorganized my rack the other day to see what I had to work with. The shelf itself is 17" x 46" and it looks like I have a max of 27" of height to work with. Not a bad size, I think.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 4:41PM
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Oh, I don't think you would need a CFL for every plant (that probably would be crowded); those bulbs are really bright. Even the small 23 watt bulbs are equivalent to 100 watt incandescent bulbs. Like I said, I'm not into the type of growing you're going to be doing but your idea of using a normal florescent for those in the range of the African violets and the CFLs for the orchids & company sounds logical to me.

Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best! I know those orchids are going to brighten up that apartment :-)


    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 7:12PM
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