Indoor marijuana growers want maximum light intensity, the right light spectrum for marijuana, the lowest possible electricity costs, and the fewest hydroponics lighting equipment hassles.
The industry standard for indoor marijuana lighting has been high intensity discharge (HID) lights.
When marijuana growers use the best hydroponics digital ballasts and HID bulbs, they get max light intensity, even though they may not always get an optimized light spectrum.
They also get a lot of heat, fast-spinning electricity meters, heat signatures that can be detected by rippers and police using infrared radar, increased cost for air conditioning and venting, and the potential to burn the hell out of yourself on bulbs that can leave scars on you.
That’s why marijuana growers rushed to embrace non-HID lighting such as fluorescent, induction, and LEDs.
LED manufacturers claim LEDs generate a better light spectrum for marijuana, with lower electricity cost, and less heat.
Those claims are sometimes partially true, but other claims they and fans of LEDs make—that LEDs by themselves are ideal for growing a crop from start to finish and can generate equivalent or even bigger cannabinoid percentages and harvest weight when compared to High Pressure Sodium (HPS) bulbs—are as yet overly optimistic…or just plain false!
If LED grow light manufacturers and advocates were totally honest with us, they’d say only the following:
- LED grow lights of adequate wattage, with high-watt, multi-colored chipsets, and top quality construction and design can grow sticky buds by themselves without other lighting, in small closet gardens, chamber/tent gardens.
- LED grow lights can be used as stand-alone marijuana lighting for clones, seedlings and throghout grow phase.
- LED grow lights by themselves cannot equal or outperform HID HPS in grow ops with full-size marijuana plants, and…
- LED grow lights by themselves are adequate in bloom phase, although not ideal, for marijuana plants under four feet tall, grown in small chambers, SCROG, Sea of Green, and similar situations.
- Marijuana growers have repeatedly been scammed by LED manufacturers and sellers; almost every marijuana grower who tries LED grow lights has some horror story about the LED equipment failing, hard to get service or refunds, LED manufacturer out of business, etc.
- LED technology is constantly being upgraded, so it could be as early as tomorrow that someone makes an LED unit that performs as well or better than an HID HPS.
- If you’re measuring success by how many grams of marijuana are produced per watt of hydroponics lighting electricity you pay for, some very expensive LED units can compare favorably with HID.
This doesn’t mean LED grow lights give you equal harvest weight or THC when compared to HPS in a full-size marijuana grow op, but because LED units use a lot less electricity, the ratio of watts per gram rewards may shift in favor or the LED in some circumstances.
The most successful indoor commercial marijuana grower I network with is using 1000-watt HIDs as his main lighting, and augmenting those with high-end LED panels.
He did this after testing three cannabis crop cycles using only LED grow lights.
He found they didn’t have enough light intensity in bloom to power his buds the way he got with HID HPS.
He also tried to augment his HID rooms with T-5 high output fluorescent bulbs, but says the LED units he bought were smaller, easier to hang, and had a tuned light spectrum more likely to spur photosynthesis.
Sometimes he uses the LED panels as vertical lighting. Other times as top lighting.
His main goal is to take advantage of LED panels whose manufacturers claim that their diodes generate UV (which allegedly makes more cannabinoids) and other beneficial light spectrums.
He also uses LED panels to combat light shadows and to provide side lighting and penetration for long buds when he’s growing Sativa-dominant strains, or when plants are trimmed, ScROG, or otherwise super-dense.
“I bought three different brands of LED grow lights for my marijuana grow op,” he reports. “The cheapest was $900. The most expensive was $1900. I’ve had diodes fail on two of them after only a few hundred hours. One unit didn’t work at all when I got it home from the store. But I think they’re worth it. However if I wasn’t using HID lights as my main source, they wouldn’t cut it.”
Here are some insider tips for marijuana growers buying and using LEDs:
- LED grow lights work best with autoflowering, Sea of Green, SCROG, chamber/tent grow ops with marijuana plants less than four feet tall.
- Don’t buy LED units from a manufacturer that’s been in business less than three years.
- Contact the manufacturer directly (don’t just believe what the hydroponics retailer tells you) and get in writing their warranty and return terms.
- Ask LED grow lights manufacturers for a guaranteed analysis of their PAR light spectrum, whether they’ve tested their PAR spectrums on marijuana, and what the tests showed about yield weight and THC percentages.
- Never buy an LED unit unless you’re sure that if it fails in any way within the first years that you get a replacement unit absolutely free of charge, in a timely manner, and with free repair and return shipping. If a company refuses to back their product that way, it’s likely because their product has inferior design and components, and they’re just plain greedy.
- Only use LED grow lights that have at least 5-watt chipsets. If possible, get units with 10-watt chipsets.
- Experiment with how close you keep your LED grow lights to your marijuana tops. There is no perfect generic distance. You have to measure the temperature in your cannabis plants’ top canopy, and also put your hand under the light: if the light burns your hand or makes it feel too warm, that’s too close a distance for your marijuana plants too.
- Never buy a used or refurbished LED hydroponics light.
- Start with a smaller, less-expensive LED unit and test it before you buy a larger more-expensive unit. No matter the hype you hear from LED manufacturers and some growers, LEDs do not generate your heaviest, most-potent marijuana yields when compared to HID unless you’re in a small-size grow space.
- We’re not recommending the following LED grow light brands in an “official” way, but the following brands and/or LED models seem to have the most compliments and least complaints from the pro growers we network with…California Lightworks, Hydrogrow, Magnum, Black Dog.
- Look for LED grow lights that have professional heat sinks, fans, depth, instructions, and safety features.
- Look for LED grow lights units that have a wide range of adjustable chipset settings you can tune specifically to match grow or bloom phase.
Summing up, LED grow lights have many advantages over HIDs; within 5 years LEDs may be able to power a full-size marijuana grow room all the way through bloom phase…using less electricity, generating less heat, and getting equal to or better yields and as much or more THC, CBD and other cannabinoids than HPS.
You may notice we don’t have hydroponics manufacturer advertisements here at BigBudsMag.com, because we tell the truth about the hydroponics manufacturing industry and a lot of folks who’re trying to sell you hydroponics gear don’t like that.
Time and again, we’ve had LED grow lights manufacturers make wild claims about their grow lights, nutrients, and other marijuana grow supplies.
But when we ask for proof, or we test their stuff in our gardens, we find out they’re scamming.
It’s really harsh!
Our only loyalty is to marijuana growers…especially protecting growers from hydroponics entrepreneurs who’d mislead you about whether their products really are great for your cannabis plants.
Until LED grow lights are made more affordable and have the firepower to equal or outperform HID HPS in full-size marijuana gardens, the preferred hydroponics lighting for professional marijuana growers in order of productivity, reliability, purchase and use cost, and THC percentages are: HID, plasma, LED.
Don’t be fooled by LED hype. Hold LED manufacturers accountable. Give your valuable marijuana plants enough light in the right PAR spectrum!
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Long after this article was published, an American company called Lush Lighting stepped up to create LED grow lights specifically designed to boost growth rate, plant health, potency, and harvest size.
Read here to find out about the only LED grow lights actually designed for cannabis.