The type of lighting you choose for your aquarium can make a huge difference in its appearance. If your tank contains live aquarium plants then the lighting chosen will also play a critical role in the viability of those plants. Picking the correct lighting can help your plants thrive while using the wrong lighting system will hinder your ability to obtain the beautifully planted tank you envisioned. We will look at some of the best lighting options concentrating on those that work best with a freshwater planted aquarium.
What Types Of Aquarium Lighting Are Available?
Aquarium lighting systems have improved tremendously from the time when simple incandescent bulbs were the industry standard. Many different lighting systems designed to perform different functions are now available for your tank. Let’s take a quick look at the major choices an aquarist has when deciding on their aquarium lighting.
An aquarium that contains imitation plants and decorations can get by with a basic and inexpensive incandescent light. This kind of light will adequately illuminate your fish and decorations. The incandescent bulbs produce a lot of heat which can make resulting water temperature problematic. They also are not energy efficient, have shorter effective bulb life than fluorescents and will cost more to run than most other systems. Incandescent lights are usually not the best choice for your tank.
The next step up in lighting options are fluorescent lights. Though initially costing more than an incandescent fixture, the longer bulb life and energy efficiency make these lighting systems less expensive in the long run. Fluorescents come in many different intensities and light spectrums to allow the aquarist to choose a light that will enhance the appearance and health of their tank and its inhabitants. Common options for the aquarist are T8 bulbs which provide normal intensity light and T5 bulbs that generate high intensity light. You can obtain bulbs that are specifically manufactured to produce light in the blue and red regions of the color spectrum which is ideal for promoting aquatic plant growth. Compact fluorescents that increase the light output by using multiple bulbs can be used to save space while at the same time generating substantially more light. A fluorescent lighting system is a good choice for many planted aquariums.
Metal halide lights are high intensity discharge systems. They have long been popular among saltwater enthusiasts whose tanks require very high intensity light. Reef tanks in particular can benefit from this type of light. Metal halides are also good for tanks over 24 inches deep. Obtaining the intensity of illumination of metal halides with other types of lighting can be challenging in a tank of this depth. These lights generate a lot of heat and need to be used with a chiller or fan to counteract the heat production, so they are not the most economical choice.
LEDs or light emitting diode lights are a fairly new addition to aquarium lighting. The method of light generation employed by LEDs is called electroluminescence. LED lights will cost more initially but use a very cost efficient manner of producing light that makes these lights less expensive to run than all other types of aquarium lights. This type of lighting also generates very little heat. LED lights can easily support aquatic plant life. They are rated with a PAR value to assist you in making your choice. PAR stands for Photosynthetically Active Radiation and indicates that the light generated is in the spectral range required by photosynthetic organisms. PAR values can change at different water depths so care must be taken to choose a light that will be adequate for your particular aquarium. LEDs are becoming more popular for aquarium enthusiasts and come with many features such as remote control and lighting effects that are not present in other lighting systems.
Variations In Aquatic Plant Light Requirements
Not all aquatic plants will flourish in the same lighting conditions. Using the incorrect light intensity will lead to disappointing results. Plants that do well with low to moderate light intensities include some very popular varieties such as the Amazon sword plant and the Java fern. A single fluorescent or LED fixture will be sufficient to successfully grow these plants. Other species like the Sagittaria family and Hygrophilia require more intense light and will benefit from multiple fluorescent lights, a good compact fluorescent fixture or an LED system. Even higher intensity is required to provide adequate light for some other plant species. The Bacopa and Cabomba species fall into the category of plants that need intense light to thrive. High intensity T5 fluorescent bulbs in a reflector housing or a sufficiently powered LED system are your best bet if you are planning on keeping these kinds of plants.
As you can see there are some decisions to be made regarding what plant species you intend to keep in your aquarium before choosing the lighting system. A tank containing lush aquatic plants is beautiful to look at and will enhance the lives of your fish by providing the most natural environment possible in an aquarium setting. You definitely should consider high quality fluorescent lights at a minimum and if your budget can handle it you may want to move up to an LED system. They are becoming more reasonably priced and will do great job of lighting your planted tank. LEDs also run cooler and cost less to operate after the initial purchase.
Some Of The Best Lights For Aquarium Plants
We will now look at several different lights that are excellent at promoting aquatic plant growth. Our review will encompass both fluorescent and LED lighting fixtures.
1. All Glass Aquarium Fluorescent Strip Light
Manufactured by All Glass Aquarium under the imprint Aqueon, this is a good entry level light for those wanting to employ fluorescent lights in their aquarium. It is available as either a strip light to replace another fixture or a full hood that opens to allow for easy fish feeding. These lights are designed for freshwater use and can handle any T8 fluorescent tube. The fixture comes with a full spectrum light suitable for general aquarium needs but can be fitted with an Aqueon Floramax bulb more conducive to plant growth. The intensity generated by this fixture and bulb is suitable for plants requiring low to moderate light to flourish. It comes in many sizes from 16 to 48 inches and has models designed to work perfectly with a bow-front or hexagonal shaped tank.
2. GLO T5 HO, Single Light High Output Linear Fluorescent Lighting System
Hagen has long been a trusted name in aquarium products. They are the manufacturers of this GLO T5 High Output fluorescent lighting system. Upgrading from T8 bulbs to the stronger T5 bulbs make this fixture perfect for the planted freshwater aquarium. It has a built in reflector to increase light reflection and intensity. Available in sizes from 24 to 54 inches this light is easily installed on many size tanks using the unit’s integrated extension brackets. The slim design will let you place up to six of these on an aquarium that is 18 inches wide so you can get all the light you need for any type of plants you are keeping. This fixture is water resistant negating the need for a glass top to protect your lighting system and will work with any properly sized T5 replacement bulbs. Flora-Glo bulbs made by Hagen will produce light in the blue-red spectrum that is ideal for growing aquatic plants. This is a good choice for the aquarist requiring more light than a T8 system while still remaining more affordable than some LED systems.
3. Fluval Aquasky LED system
Fluval’s Aquasky LED lighting system is designed to provide lighting options suitable for aquarium plants requiring low to moderate light intensity. As with many LED systems if affords the aquarist many opportunities to create lighting effects to enhance the tank’s appearance while at the same time generating adequate light to grow your plants. The infrared remote control enables you to simulate different weather effects like a cloudy day or a lightning storm. The Aquasky comes in a variety of sizes and each unit is expandable by 12 inches to further allow use on tanks of varying size. Fluval has priced the Aquasky aggressively and it is one of the more reasonably priced LED units on the market. Its energy efficient operation and 50,000 hour bulb life will offset the initial price tag. Fluval’s dual lamp timer is compatible with this light enabling you to set it up, program it and forget about it. It will provide vibrant light and encourage plant growth for years to come.
4. Finnex FugeRay Planted+ Aquarium LED Light
The FugeRay Planted+ LED light by Finnex is an excellent choice for a planted aquarium. Designed for any size tank, one feature that sets this light apart is the concentration on the red portion of the light spectrum that is critical for promoting plant growth. Rather than using cheaper red LEDs the FugeRay incorporates 660nm red LEDs which produce a wavelength that has been shown to be one of the most efficient for promoting photosynthesis. Other features include a splash guard to prevent water mishaps and a moonlight feature that concentrates on the blue LEDs to create a pleasing nighttime appearance. A slim design and unique leg fixture lets you mount the FugeRay on any size aquarium. No extra cooling is required as the unit handles heat dissipation itself. Finnex promises a long bulb life of 40,000 hours. Though this unit does not have weather simulation options like some other systems, it produces excellent light for your aquarium plants and is a good choice if you are looking to go with an LED light.
5. Marineland Aquatic Plant LED Light With Timer
The Aquatic Plant LED by Marineland is another reasonably priced lighting system designed to keep your aquarium plants flourishing. Its secure mounting legs will fit any aquarium from 18 to 60 inches length. An integrated clock and timer allow for easy programming of daylight and lunar modes and ensure that your plants will always receive the amount of light they need without daily intervention. It has an appealing slim design that will complement your aquarium. A newly redesigned dispersion lens perfectly blends the light for optimum results and produces a natural shimmer effect. It does not offer the weather simulation possibilities of more expensive units but will certainly help you in keeping a lush, planted aquarium.
What Is The Best Light For Aquarium Plants?
You want the best lighting system you can get for your aquarium plants. Cost considerations may come into play when making your decision. While there are fluorescent lighting systems that will do an adequate job of promoting good plant growth, LED technology gives the aquarist more flexibility in creating interesting lighting effects while still caring for the plants. LED lights are now becoming price competitive with fluorescent lights and over the long run may prove to cost less to operate when factoring in bulb life and energy use.
For the aquarist who wants to combine a high quality LED light designed for your plants with the ability to create weather effects that are interesting to observe the Fluval Aquasky is a good choice. If your interest is purely in providing your aquarium with a great light that will enable you to create the lush plant growth you desire I would recommend the Mairineland Aquatic Plant LED with the integrated timer. While it does not offer remote control capabilities, the timer gives you plenty of control without needing any additional equipment. The Mainland unit is a quality, reasonably priced lighting system that will be a welcome addition to your aquarium setup. Your plants will love it!