Looking For The Best Lights for Aquatic Plant Growth in Freshwater Aquariums?
Calling all aquatic plant lovers looking for the best lights for aquatic plants! Finding the best light to stimulate your plants’ growth while not compromising the calming glow of your tank can be tricky. Living plants can also help with cycling a fish tank for better water quality for your fish. Luckily, I’ve scoured the internet to find the best lights for your plants and tank. These lights are sure to spur your plants’ growth without blinding you or your aquatic friends.
Best Lights for Aquatic Plant Growth on the Market
Finnex Planted 24/7 Light Review
The Finnex Planted+ 24/7 Light is a fully Automated Aquarium LED light with remote control. It is available for purchase in five different lengths: 20 inches, 24 inches, 20 inches, 36 inches, and 48 inches. This light is a tri-phosphor light, emitting red, green, and blue lights.
The timing functions are fully compatible with the remote control, and can be used to follow a dimming track throughout the day, rather than a strict on/off pattern.
The light comes pre-programmed to a 24-hour schedule. In this setting, the light will register at a 0 until between four and six am when it will rise to a 2 on the Parabolic Aluminized Reflector (PAR) scale. By 9 am, it will be about 5 PAR, by noon 53 PAR, by 3 pm 58 PAR, by 6 pm 7 PAR, and by 9 pm 5 PAR.
This ratcheting mimics the intensity of light emitted by the sun throughout the day, which can enhance plant growth.
Compared to other lights on the market, this one is the most versatile for the price, offering timed dimming features, available in a variety of sizes, and easily monitored and altered with remote control.
Hygger Blue White LED Aquarium Light Review
Another great option, the Hygger Blue White LED Aquarium Light clips onto your tank with a flexible, Gooseneck Clamp. Unlike the Finnex Planted+, the Hygger light does not have a dimming feature but does have two lighting modes. The first mode emits white and blue light.
This mode is supposed to simulate daylight, while the second mode emits only blue light, simulating nighttime conditions.
At 9000K to 10000K, the Hygger Light is relatively strong, and has positive reviews for its ability to stimulate plant growth in smaller tanks, provided the CO2 and nutrient levels are closely monitored.
From its specs and reviews, the Hygger Light is recommended for smaller tanks, around 10-30 gallons. In the context of a larger tank, the clamp setting and flexible neck can make the Hygger a great option if you’re trying to target certain spots in a larger tank.
KZKR Aquarium Hood Light Review
Similar to the Finnex, the KZKR Aquarium Hood Light is an LED Light that offers full-spectrum (read tri-phosphor) light and is energy efficient to grow plants. The KZKR is also available in a number of sizes, available in increments between 16 and 84 inches. Unlike the Finnex, the KZKR doesn’t offer lighting modes set to mimic fluctuating daylight.
Instead, the settings are more like the Hygger, with a setting for all LEDs on, just blue LEDs on, and all off. Unfortunately, the light does not include a remote control. However, for the cost, it may be a good alternative to the Finnex, with offerings similar to those of the Hygger, but suitable for a larger tank.
NICREW Classic LED Light Review For Aquariums
A low-cost option for larger tanks, the NICREW Classic LED Light offers full-spectrum lighting. Despite not having a dimming feature, the NICREW is on the more affordable side of available lights, while still offering a strong aluminum body built to last, and white LEDs with 6500K.
Also, though the NICREW is not sold with a timer, it is compatible with a single channel timer that is sold separately.
VIVOSUN 600w LED Grow Light
Slightly different from the four lights profiled above, the VIVOSUN 600W LED Grow Light is not specifically for aquatic growth in fish tank settings but also advertised for high quality hydroponic growth.
However, the VIVOSUN includes full-spectrum LED lights for planted aquascapes, with features that include and go beyond those offered by the Finnex. This model is a hanging light, and comes with a timer that allows you to set the light spectrum minute-by-minute, but does not offer the dimming feature of the Finnex.
For aquascapers really looking to experiment with optimizing aquatic plant growth, the VIVOSUN may be the route to go.
Why Use Live Plants In Your Aquarium?
Aquariums are a great addition to any space, and not just because of the fish. Many people primarily focus on their fish selection when first setting up their tanks, leaving their aquascape relatively dull and not considering fish tank decorations which is one of the best parts. Placing plastic plants in your tank can be a simple solution to liven up your aquascape, but any closer inspection reveals these stiff and artificial ‘plants’.
Insert aquatic plants. Constantly changing in color and shape, these additions will add complexion to your tank, while not only improving the aesthetics of your ecosystem but the quality of your tank water.
However, like your fish, you can’t just drop aquatic plants in and walk away. Just as if you were planting chrysanthemums and gardenias in your back garden, you need to monitor and alter the environment where you’re placing your aquatic plants. Ideally, you’re trying to mimic the plants’ natural environment, promoting healthy growth.
Choosing the Best Lighting For Aquarium Plants
Quite possibly the most important thing to consider when working with aquatic plants is the light they’ll receive. Unfortunately, putting your planted aquarium by the window in your living room isn’t going to foster plant growth. You’ll need to buy a light specially designed to promote aquatic plant growth.
Before getting to reviews and recommendations for the best lights for aquatic plants, I’ll give a quick round-up of what characteristics should be factored when considering lights to promote plant growth.
Aquarium Lighting Characteristics
Characteristics such as the strength/intensity of the light, the color of the light, the temperature of the light color, and whether the light can be timed are all important factors in deciding which light is best for you and your plants.
Knowing the kind of plants you have is also an important factor when deciding which light you should invest in. Starting with your plants and creating a profile for the ideal light you should buy is a great place to start, as the kind of plants you have should already indicate whether you have a freshwater or saltwater tank, and should also hint at the type of fish you have.
However, if your aquarium includes aquatic animals like fish or crustaceans, be sure to check that the light you’re considering investing in won’t negatively affect other aspects of your aquarium. When performing this check, the intensity and color of your light are most likely to affect your wildlife, so inspect these characteristics first.
Strength/Intensity of Your Light for Aquatic Plants
The light that is the best fit for a four gallon tank is not going to suit a fifty gallon tank. Further, a fifty gallon tank that is one meter deep will require a different light from a tank that is half a meter deep. As a general rule, a tank that is sixty centimeters deep or less requires ‘standard aquarium lighting.’
The strength of standard aquarium lighting can be computed by looking at the wattage per gallon (WPG) of your tank. WPG, or the strength of the light depending on the size of your tank in gallons, is computed by dividing the total wattage of your light(s) by the total number of gallons of your tank:
- Total Wattage/Total # Gallons. Using this simple formula, you can easily calculate the wattage per gallon depending on the strength of your lights and size of your tank.
Generally, having 1-1.5 WPG will allow your plants to grow big, strong, and live a long life. If the aim of your foliage is shorter-term, 2-2.5 WPG will do the trick. Any WPG above 2.5 will create conditions difficult to sustain a balance within your tank, and a higher risk of algal growth and bloom emerges.
Regardless, if these higher levels of WPG are pursued, be sure to regularly input CO2 and fertilizer to maintain a balance with the lighting, as more light requires more CO2 and more nutrients.
Choosing Your Live Aquatic Plants
Knowing the type of plants you have will also help you in choosing your ideal light. Generally, you can tell whether your plants thrive under more or less light by looking at their leaf color. A plant with darker leaves requires less light as the darker pigmentation indicates that the plant produces a higher level of chlorophyll, making it an efficient photosynthesizer.
Plants whose pigmentation is lighter green or red have less chlorophyll and are therefore not as efficient at photosynthesizing. However, these differences don’t mean you can only have dark green plants or light green and red plants.
Light green and red plants can be grown closer to the bottom of the tank, shaded by darker plants or other parts of your aquascape. You may also choose to invest in smaller lights with flexible arms that you can bend and position to target certain areas of your tank.
Selecting the Best Type of Lighting for Aquatic Plants
Selecting the best type of light for your aquatic plants can be a difficult task. When looking at fluorescent lights, ‘T’ for ‘tube’ is used to label the length of a fluorescent ‘tube’ or bulb.
For example, a T5 is about 40% smaller than a T8 fixture, but are similar in strength. In the world of aquascaping, T8 fluorescent lights are most commonly used, with T5 lights used in scenarios that require more compact fixtures but high output.
If your tank is deeper than 60 centimeters, you may consider using a T5. Metal halides are alternatives to fluorescent tubes and can be useful in longer or deeper tanks. However, they produce more heat than fluorescent fixtures, rendering them more inefficient.
Full-spectrum lamps receive a lot of recognition for being the ‘best lights’ for growing aquatic plants.
Unlike T8 fluorescent fixtures that peak in two colors, full-spectrum, also known as triphosphor, lamps peak in three colors, releasing a more natural light, more likely to aid in photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis occurs most efficiently when lights peak in parts of the spectrum that are red, green, and a little blue. However, most plants will adapt their pigmentation distribution and content to adjust to the available spectrum.
In terms of pleasing the viewer, most full-spectrum lights will emit a cool, white light and have a high color rendition index (CRI), meaning the illuminated objects in your tank will appear in their natural color.
The temperature of Your Light’s Color
The color of your light’s output is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). The ideal color temperature for plant growth should replicate daylight, approximately 5500K to 6500K. This temperature aligns with white light and is often emitted by full-spectrum lights, as mentioned above.
However, tri-phosphor lights/full-spectrum lights come in temperatures varying from 3000K to 10000K. The lower the temperature is on the K scale, the redder the light will appear. Alternatively, the higher the temperature on the K scale, the bluer the light will appear.
Although the color temperature of your light is important, the spectrum of your light is far more important. As a guide, focus on investing in tri-phosphor lights: lights that emit red, green, and a bit of blue.
Like humans, aquatic plants shouldn’t be exposed to intense light twenty-four hours a day. Living on the same planet, they thrive under similar lighting conditions. As a rule, your tank should receive eight to ten hours of light a day, as plants are unable to recognize photoperiods of less than four hours.
Some people recommend limiting your tank to six hours of light a day when you’re first setting it up, to minimize chances of algal growth while your tank is stabilized. Others recommend experimenting with shorter sets of lighting to stave off algae and other unwanted bacterial growth, long-term. Such recommendations say to light your tank in sets of seven hours, with five hours of lighting, two hours of no lighting, etc.
However, not all people have found success in this method, so it’s best to be flexible and try different regimens to see what works best for your tank.
Regardless of what proves most beneficial to your plants, consistency is key. The best way to ensure you’re lighting your tank consistently is to invest in an aquatic light with a timer. This is the best way to standardize your photoperiods.