Let There Be Light: Choosing The Right Reflector For Your Hydroponic Setup

You can pick the choicest cuttings and seeds, scour the stores for the finest medium money can buy, and spend thousands on the latest and greatest bulbs, but without a decent reflector, your grow operation will never get very far. A good reflector should be able to redirect as much wasted light back towards your plants as possible, without reflecting the accompanying heat which can damage them. However, not every reflector is suitable for every setup, so here are the pros and cons of some of the most popular choices:

Winged reflectors

The classic choice, and still immensely popular, these simple devices resemble nothing more than an angled mirror in their simplest forms. Despite this simplicity, a properly-sited winged reflector can be just as effective as more elaborate and expensive reflectors, redistributing large amounts of wasted light in an even spread. Their open construction also allows heat to escape easily, although a small air cooler may still be required in particularly cramped or well-insulated grow rooms. Best of all, basic winged reflectors are among the cheapest options on the market.

Don't be tempted to go for the cheapest reflector you can possibly find, however, as the cheapest winged reflectors are made from poor quality light aluminium and have angular reflective surfaces that create hotspots and uneven light distribution. Always make sure to go for a parabolic mirror constructed of decent quality materials. Most winged reflectors are also limited in the effective range of their light distribution, and you may have to invest in several reflectors to cover a large grow room -- you can counteract this by choosing an adjustable winged reflector that can distribute light over a wider area, but these do cost considerably more than fixed wing models.

Closed reflectors

These powerful reflectors are essentially five-sided boxes with curved tops and open bottoms. They capture and reflect significantly more light than simpler, open reflectors and are well suited to larger grows, or for growing plants that require intense light to thrive. 

However, the increased amount of reflected light also means an increase in the amount of reflected heat, and when placed too close to growing surfaces they can quickly scorch more fragile plants. One solution to this is to raise the reflectors to several feet above the plants -- however, since the reflector's closed construction only allows it to reflect light over a limited area, this approach generally requires multiple reflectors to be effective. A different alternative is to use air coolers to compensate for heat reflections, and many closed reflectors now come fitted with in-built air coolers -- but these can be prohibitively expensive.

Vertical reflectors 

A less common option, and often derided by winged or closed reflector proponents, vertical reflectors are so named because they hold the light bulb in a vertical alignment rather than a horizontal one -- the intention being to increase the longevity of expensive grow bulbs, since light bulbs generally burn out more quickly when aligned horizontally. This arrangement results in a very even distribution of light, with minimal waste light diffusion. Vertical reflectors also reflect minimal amounts of waste heat, making them ideal for cold-weather plants.  

The main drawback of vertical reflectors is, strangely enough, how much light they reflect. Much more light from the bulb is directed straight into the reflector of a vertical setup than a horizontal one, and since reflected light is less intense, you will not achieve the same efficiency from a vertical reflector as a comparable horizontal one. They also need to be quite large and bulky to reflect useful amounts of light, especially in larger grow rooms.

For more information and options, talk with the light reflector exports at your local hydroponic store or garden center.