One of the most important components of a planted aquarium is lighting. Aquarium plants need adequate lighting to grow, but there are so many options out there, it’s not always easy to find the right one.
If you’re looking for the best lighting for your planted tank, we recommend LED lights. They have many benefits over other types of lighting, which we get into below.
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Benefits of Using LED Lighting in Your Aquarium
You might be wondering why you should choose LED lighting over other options. The truth is, there are many benefits to using LED lighting in your aquarium, including:
- LED lights have low energy consumption. The difference is pretty shocking, actually, LED lights use about 80 percent less electricity than other aquarium lights. Over time, this will have a significant impact on your electric bills.
- LED lights last a long time. Most LED lights last up to 50,000 hours, which is almost six years of continuous use. You don’t get anywhere near this lifespan with other types of light.
- LED lights come in a variety of colors. You can choose from warm and cool colors or add different color lights to bring out different features of your aquarium.
- LED lights don’t give off heat. Fluorescent bulbs do, on the other hand, which can cause problems with the water temperature in your aquarium. By using LED lights, you avoid this problem and the water temperature stays more stable.
- LED lights are programmable. If you want to create a more natural environment for your tank, many LED lights come with a day to night cycle that even takes into account the moon phases. If you have nocturnal fish, LED lights are essential for recreating their habitat.
Types of Lighting Sources – Pros & Cons
LED lights are not the only option when choosing a light source for your planted aquarium. Here are a few of the other types of aquarium lighting you’ll come across when shopping:
1. Fluorescent Bulbs
There are four types of fluorescent bulbs. Standard bulbs come in a range of 15 to 40 watts; compact bulbs range from 10 to 130 watts; high output bulbs are available 24 to 54 watts, and very high output bulbs come in 75 to 165 watts.
- Standard fluorescent bulbs come in a variety of sizes and are energy efficient. They don’t give off heat and are relatively inexpensive.
- Compact fluorescent bulbs have high light output than standard bulbs, and they last a bit longer. They deliver high light intensity across a wide color spectrum, making them a good choice for live plants.
- High output fluorescent bulbs are the best of both worlds. They produce high-intensity light and stay cool. You can use them with planted tanks less than 24 inches deep. If you’re going to go with a fluorescent bulb, this one is your best bet.
- Very high output bulbs last a really long time and come in a range of sizes.
- Standard fluorescent bulbs don’t stimulate photosynthesis, which means they’re not a good choice for a planted tank.
- Compact fluorescent lights get hot, so hot, in fact, that they need cooling equipment to maintain the temperature of your tank.
- Very high output fluorescent bulbs produce high heat and may also need cooling equipment so as not to interfere with water temperature.
2. Metal Halide
Metal halide bulbs range from 70 to 1,000 watts. They produce an intense light that’s good for planted tanks that have plants with high-light needs.
- These lights have a wide color spectrum that works well with planted tanks.
- Metal halide bulbs last up to 18 months.
- These bulbs put off a lot of heat and may require cooling equipment so as not to raise the water temperature in your tank.
- Metal halide lights give off UV radiation and require special handling.
3. LED Light
We’ve already mentioned some of the benefits of using LED lights in your planted aquarium, but here’s a quick recap.
- LEDs last up to 50,000 hours and come in a range of setups
- LED lights are programmable and available in multiple colors.
- They are extremely energy efficient.
- LED lights require ventilation.
- They can be sensitive to heat if kept near to another type of light.
4. Halogen Lamp
Halogen lights are typically used for very large and deep aquariums.
- They give off a lot of light for their size and are effective for large aquariums when other lights won’t do.
- They are expensive.
- Halogen lights produce a lot of heat and may overwhelm a small aquarium.
Do Fish Need Light in Aquarium?
Yes, aquarium fish do need light to help them determine if it is night or day, but in most cases, the ambient light in the room is enough for fish. You need an aquarium light for plants and so that you can see your fish, but your fish themselves are usually just fine without one.
That said, you must make sure your room has adequate ambient lighting for your fish. If you don’t have enough windows or if your aquarium is in a basement or other room that’s dark, your fish may not do very well in the long term.
Fish also won’t do well in a room where they get too much light. Basically, you should try to create a natural light cycle, with the lights on during the day and off at night. Sometimes, the best way to do this is with an aquarium light.
If your fish are in the dark too long, it affects their immune system, leaving them prone to illness. Some fish, like goldfish, can also lose their color if kept in the dark for too long. On the flip side of that, too much light can stress out your fish, which can also impact their immune system.
Fish don’t need light at night, but some aquarists prefer a setup that provides a moonlight effect to help fish stay oriented in the tank without exposing them to bright light. This is easily done with an LED light.
Types of Plants and Their Lighting Requirements
Unlike fish, plants need aquarium lighting to stimulate photosynthesis and help them thrive. That said, there are different types of aquarium plants, and each has its own lighting requirement.
As the name suggests, carpet plants grow along the bottom of the fish tank, creating a natural green carpet over the substrate. Some of the most popular and easiest to grow carpet plants are dwarf baby tears and dwarf hairgrass.
Most carpet plants need bright lighting, which makes sense since they’re at the bottom of the tank. If the light was too dim, it wouldn’t be able to reach the bottom of the tank.
Low Light Plants
Some examples of low light aquarium plants are java moss, Anubias barteri, Amazon sword, and hornwort are all examples of low light plants.
Low light plants are a great choice because they’re generally low maintenance. You can plant your tank to focus on your fish instead of worrying about meeting the demands of your plants.
Mid-ground plants should fill in the gaps between the smaller foreground plants and large background plants. In addition to adding more depth to your aquascaping, they also cover up the stems from the large plants in the background.
The best plants for the mid-ground are plants that grow slowly. Slow-growing plants make maintenance much easier because you don’t have to trim the plants as often. They also won’t grow so fast that they overtake the background plants.
Some of the best mid-ground plants are java ferns, Anubias, crypts, and Amazon swords.
Background aquarium plants are meant to be set at the back of the tank. They’re tall and striking, filling in the height of your tank.
If you’re looking for some great background plant options, consider giant hygro, anacharis, and water wisteria.
Note that every plant has different light and fertilization requirements. Make sure you research the plants that you’re adding to your tank so you know you’re giving them what they need to thrive.
Planted Aquarium Lighting Information
There are a few things to consider when choosing the right LED lighting for your planted tank.
Lumens are the measurement of visible light. Simply put, the higher the lumen, the brighter the light. When shopping for an aquarium light, you’ll always find the lumens written somewhere on the packaging.
How many lumens you need depends on the type of plants you add to your tank. Low-light plants are usually fine with 10 to 20 lumens. For medium-light plants, go with 20 to 40 lumens, and for plants that require a lot of light, you will need at least 40 lumens.
As you may know, light is a spectrum of multiple colors. You might be surprised to know that plants require red and blue light for photosynthesis. Plants appear green because they do not use green light. Greenlight is reflected off of plants, which is why they appear green.
When adding plants to your aquarium, though, you need red, blue, and green light. The red and blue are what your plants need to survive, and the green makes sure that the plants maintain their natural color.
Kelvin describes the color temperature of the light. For example, natural daylight is about 4500 K. and warmer, yellow light is about 4000 K. The bright blue light that you find in commercial areas and office spaces is about 6500 K.
The best lighting for an aquarium is between 4500 to 6000 K because it most naturally recreates daylight. Again, this varies slightly depending on the type of plants you have and the size of your aquarium. Some plants that require high light may need as many as 10,000 K.
- Number of Lights
How many lights you need depends on the size of your tank. There are a lot of options available for aquarium lighting, so look for one that’s designed for the size of your tank. Ideally, the light should cover the entire width of the aquarium so every area is covered.
- Lighting Duration
If you have a freshwater aquarium, you should leave the lights on between eight and ten hours a day. If you leave the lights on too long, it encourages algae growth. Saltwater tanks need a little more light, from nine to 11 hours a day.
There are a lot of options when it comes to lights for a planted tank, but we recommend LED lighting. Not only are they inexpensive and long-lasting, but they also stay cool so you don’t have to worry about them affecting your water temperature.
Another reason LED lights are a great choice is that they are versatile. They feature a full spectrum of light, and some are even programmable. You can program them so they have a natural day to night cycle, creating an ideal environment for your tank.