The Beginner's Guide to LED Grow Lights

The Beginner's Guide to LED Grow Lights

Choosing the right LED grow light for your indoor garden can be confusing and intimidating. There is so much technical information to absorb that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with wattages, wavelengths, light colors, and temperatures while trying to choose the best LED grow light for your particular garden or grow operation. Just because a light gets great reviews on Amazon doesn’t mean it will be the best light for you.

So how do you choose the best grow light for your indoor garden? What should you look for when buying an LED grow light? The answer to these questions can get complicated quickly, but the experts at Rightbud are here to help cut through the clutter and provide you this guide to buying the best LED grow light for your plants. 

INTRODUCTION TO LED GROW LIGHTS

Let’s start at the beginning and make sure we understand the basics of grow lights themselves. Grow lights are typically indoor plant lights designed to be an artificial source of light that simulates natural sunlight, that they then turn into much needed energy (photosynthesis) for growth and good plant health.  

Naturally, plants need plenty of light to thrive. Outdoor plants receive plenty of natural light from the sun during the day, with changes to how much light and the quality of light depending on location and the season. These changes in light are important to different plants in different ways, with some plants utilizing these light cycles to initiate fruiting, some to prevent fruiting, while other types of plants will use these cycles to initiate or prevent the vegetative cycle.

Controlling the type, quality, type and length of cycle, and other factors of the light that you provide to your plants will allow you to enhance or extend the growth cycles, or simply grow plants outside of their regular agricultural season.

Indoor grow lights are designed to provide a spectrum of light similar to the sun by fluctuating the lumens (intensity), color, and temperature of the light. Research has shown repeatedly that different plants respond to different colors and intensities of light, so indoor growers quickly realized that grow lights that allow you to control these factors produce healthier plants with better yields. This is where LED grow lights step in and begin to shine. (pun intended)

LED grow lights are the preferred indoor grow light over HID and florescent lights for reasons we’ve outlined in our LED vs HPS Grow Lights article found here. But what exactly are LED grow lights and how to they differ from other types of grow lights?

WHAT ARE LED GROW LIGHTS?

LED is an abbreviation for “Light Emitting Diode.” The core of a single LED bulb is simply a chip that transforms electricity directly into light that is then transmitted from a small bulb. In order for that bulb to produce the proper type and proper amount of light, various diodes made in different colors are used to create the precise amount and type of light needed for specific purposes. LED grow lights are used to replace natural sunlight for indoor plants since light from high quality LED grow lights can be efficient enough to effectively simulate the effects of sunlight for plants.

THE BENEFITS OF CHOOSING AN LED GROW LIGHT


There are many, many types of grow light fixtures to choose from, such as High-Intensity Discharge or HID grow lights, Metal Halide, ceramic metal halide (CMH), High-Pressure Sodium (HPS), and even fluorescent lights. Each of these have their own supporters, all laying claim to a particular strength or application, but LED grow lights have risen to the top of the heap in terms of all-around performance, efficiency, and yields. Specifically, the experts at Rightbud have identified these benefits to choosing LED grow lights over other types.

Easy to Install

LED grow lights can typically be assembled in minutes and hung using very simple wire hangers - you don’t have spend valuable time or resources configuring and installing elaborate wire or cable management. These simple wire hanger systems also make it amazingly easy to change the light’s height or position. Essentially you just plug them in, set their position and go.

Produce Less Heat

LED grow lights produce significantly less heat than their HPS counterparts so they can be placed closer to plants without worrying about heat damage. This reduced heat production means fewer dollars spent on maintaining proper temperatures in your grow space.

Optimized Light Output

With many LED grow lights, you can adjust the amount and type of light your plants will get. You can customize the light spectrums based on the specific needs of your specific plants. Many LED grow lights can be configured to emit specific wavelengths of light allowing you to adjust the light’s color balance to precisely suit the needs of your specific plant types. This type of feature cannot be done with other lights.

Environmentally Friendly and Convenient

LED grow lights can be plugged directly into a standard electrical socket and typically don’t need a separate ballast. Not only is this more convenient, but it makes them easier to fit into tight spaces. Additionally, LED lights don’t contain mercury, so they don’t need to be disposed of in a way that meets your local or federal guidelines for disposal of hazardous materials. Along with their energy efficiency, this makes LED grow lights the best environmental choice as well.

Saves Power

LED lights consume less electricity than other types of grow lights, so maintaining a low power bill becomes much easier. Although LEDs are more expensive upfront, they are cheaper to run over the long-term thanks to their low power consumption.

Long Lasting

LED grow lights have a shockingly long life. Some models have a lifespan of more than 100,000 hours, meaning that if run for 12 hours a day, they would last for upwards of 20 years. Compare to other grow lights lifespans of 25,000 hours or less in optimal conditions.

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING AN LED GROW LIGHTS

Before you buy your first LED grow light, you should consider these factors and how they will effect your purchase. Remember that the best grow lights for your friend’s garden may not work in your garden.

What Kind of Plants Are You Growing?

Different plants have different light requirements and will therefore need different LED light types. You want to pick the right grow light for your plant’s particular needs. Some plants will need a strong light, while others may need a light with more reds than blues – it all depends on the type of plant you’re growing.

Take for example flowering plants. Most flowering plants need a low light spectrum so the blossoms will not be damaged. On the other hand, green, leafy vegetables need a higher spectrum with a more balanced amount of blue and red to produce vibrant and healthy leaves. How effective your LED grow light use will be, depends on choosing the correct light for your plants.

How Big is Your Grow Space?

The size of your indoor grow space is also an important factor in the type and number of grow lights you’ll need to buy. LED grow lights come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, wattages, and spectrums designed for a variety of spaces and plants, so it’s important to carefully measure your space (including height) and choose the light that’s right for you and your garden so everything fits comfortable, you do not damage your plants, and they can thrive and be healthy.

There are dozens of websites that will tell you how powerful of a light or how many lights you need based simply on the square footage of your grow space. These grow light calculators or lists of recommendations typically don’t take enough variables into consideration such as plant height or the goals of the grower. Answering the question, how many grow lights do I need for a 3’ x 3’ space, for example, is similar to asking how much food does a teenager need or how long is a piece of string? There are many, many more variables to consider, such as, where is the grow space placed in relation to the sun, heat, etc.., are the plants in just one box; how big do you plan for the plants to grow; among many others.

The best option when deciding how many lights you need and how many watts, is to refer to the footprint recommendations for the light you’re considering. Rightbud, for example, puts this information front and center on their website to make it easy to shop for and compare different LED grow lights. Their expert support staff can also help determine the best light for you quickly over the phone.

What’s Your Budget?

There are countless places to buy cheaply designed lights made from subpar materials from companies that don’t know an LED from a black light, so it’s always best to buy from reputable, established stores such as Rightbud and buy the best light you can afford. As it is with most things in life, with LED grow lights you get what you pay for. If your budget is tight, there are numerous grow lights that will work for any budget.

What Growing Style Will You Use?

You will also want to think about how you’re going to grow your crops. Are you looking for the best hydroponic grow lights? Do you want the best grow lights for seedlings or for flowering plants? Are you looking for the best LED to grow plants with the sea of green (SOG) method? The answers to these questions is another factor in determining what LED grow light is best for you.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING AN LED GROW LIGHT

Spectrum

Generally speaking, plants absorb and utilize light in the blue and red spectrums the most when progressing through the various stages of growth. Light in the blue and red spectrums is where most photosynthetic activity occurs, making full-spectrum grow lights incredibly efficient. Some growers maintain that white LED grow light is best because it’s closest to natural sunlight. However, white LEDs include light in the yellow and green spectrum that isn’t usable by plants and is simply wasted, making your grow lights less efficient and your power costs unnecessarily higher.

PAR

In simple terms, Photosynthetically Active Radiation or “PAR” is the light emitted by a bulb or fixture that’s actually usable by plants. LED grow lights PAR values will vary from brand to brand, but a higher PAR value isn’t necessarily better because if your plants aren’t using it, the energy require to produce it is being wasted.

You’ll notice on manufacturer PAR charts that PAR is higher in the center and decreases as you move to the edge of the light coverage area. This means that the plants directly under the light will receive more PAR than those further away from the center. The more evenly distributed that PAR is from center to edges the better, so that plants get a more even distribution of valuable PAR. This is not only better for your plants but makes the light more efficient since the power isn’t concentrated in the center but is instead distributed more evenly.

LED grow light par chart

Wattage

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking more is better when it comes to wattage, but bigger isn’t always better. While spectrum and PAR play as big or bigger role in the health and yields of your plants, wattage is important to consider in terms of cost and preventing damage to your plants such as leaf burn and bleaching. There is a commonly used rule of thumb that says you need 30-40 watts per square foot of plant coverage (not the growing space itself, but the current or predicted size of the plant canopy) for flowering and light loving plants, and 10-20 watts per square foot for low-light plants. These rules of thumb can be a place to start, but remember, these do not take number of plants, plant height, density and other factors into consideration so remember to weigh factors such as PAR and PPFD more heavily into your buying decision.

Power Consumption

Look for the power draw as opposed to power output. If you use less power to produce the same amount of light, you spend less on your power bill and the LED lights can usually pay for themselves with savings within 2-3 years.
Durability – Ensure that whatever LED grow light you choose is well made and manufactured from heavy duty materials. Solid, durable construction is important for the durability of your light, especially wiring, which can not only be a fire hazard, but can produce unnecessary heat, making controlling your grow space environment more difficult.

Temperature

One of the many advantages LED grow lights have over other types is their lower operating temperature. LEDs don’t completely eliminate the need for additional cooling and ventilation, they produce far, far less extraneous heat than compatible HID lights which can produce temperatures in excess of 95°F, which can be detrimental to many varieties of plants. These additional cooling and ventilation systems that HID and other traditional lighting systems require add extra power costs to your power bill as well as taking up valuable space in your grow area.

Ventilation

Because LEDs run at lower operating temperatures, they do not require the same ventilation as equivalent HIDs to maintain acceptable temperatures in your grow space. Lower operating temperatures means less hot air to be moved, which means lower operating costs, equipment needs and space requirements.

Cooling

While LED grow lights run cooler that comparable HID and HPS lights, they still need well designed cooling system to dissipate what little heat they do produce. A well-designed LED light should include an effective heat sink to move the heat created by the lights away form the fixture and the plants.
Lifespan – Old-school HID bulbs typically last up to 20K hours before needing to be replaced, but since their peak performance range is usually within the first 3K – 5K hours many growers will replace the bulbs much sooner because plant growth can slow significantly under older HID lights. Contrast that with LED grow lights, whose lifespan is typically in the 50K hour range, more than 5X that of HIDs.

Space

Since LEDs are generally smaller, thinner, usually only have a single cable, and eliminate the need for extra fans or ventilation ductwork, they require far less space in your grow area. This allows for more space to move around within the garden to monitor and care for your plants.

Programmable

Many of the better LED grow lights on the market offer a full range of programmable features including the ability to set sunrise/sunset schedules, customize spectrums, and set light intensity, among others. These programmable features will not only reduce the amount of work you have to do on a daily basis, but will help eliminate human error, such as forgetting to turn lights on or off, etc…

SUMMARY

We hope that this Beginners Guide to Choosing the Right LED Grow Light has given you the basics you need so you can buy your first LED grow light, dig deeper into the details concerning grow lights for your indoor garden, or just served as a review of information you need. Obviously, there are many things to consider when purchasing an LED grow light and if you need more information or want help deciding between models, feel free to contact the experts at Rightbud. Our knowledgeable staff can answer any question you have.

Questions? Chat with an expert: +1 (800) 856-7140

 

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