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LED Grow Lights for Cannabis | 2020 Complete Guide

For many marijuana growers, choosing between indoor and outdoor cultivation isn’t an option. If you don’t live in a reliably sunny area, then you need to bring some of that sunshine inside via high-quality grow lights.

Thankfully, there’s a fantastic array of advanced indoor lighting systems online and in gardening stores. Plus, since marijuana growing is going mainstream, master cultivators are openly sharing many “enlightening” indoor cultivation strategies.

Even with all of the information now readily available, it can be a challenge for new home-growers to choose the best grow lights for their needs. If you’re struggling to pick the best bulbs for your buds, then you’ve got to check out this post. Below, we’ll go over everything you need to know to get you started on indoor cannabis grow lights.

Major Indoor Grow Light Categories

When you start researching indoor grow lights for cannabis, you’re bound to run across the following three main categories:

  • High-Intensity Discharge Lights
  • Fluorescent Lights
  • LED Lights

While each of these lights has its pros & cons, they are all perfectly suitable for growing cannabis at home. If you’re pressed for time, then here’s an oversimplified look at the differences between these grow light classes:

  • High-Intensity Discharge Lights are incredibly powerful and will reward home-growers with the highest yields. On the downside, these lights are expensive, produce a ton of heat, and use a lot of electricity. Metal halide (MH) and high pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs both fall in this category.
  • Fluorescent lights will give you the lowest yields on average, but they are inexpensive and stealthy. These lights are particularly good for cloning or for use during a seedling’s early development.
  • LED Lights are a fantastic “compromise” option that offers moderate yields without exorbitant electricity costs. You must ensure, however, that you have ample grow space because LED lights can burn marijuana at close ranges.

For those who want detailed information on these three lights, be sure to read through the following sections.

High-Intensity Discharge Lights: Can You Handle The Heat?

Let’s start with the big kahuna: High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lights. Why are these lights so highly lauded in cannabis circles? Simple: they produce the most light – hence the most buds.

There are two types of HID grow lights:

  • Metal Halide (MH)
  • High Pressure Sodium (HPS)

MH lights give off a brilliant blue hue that mimics the intense summer sun. HPS lights, on the other hand, produce an orange-yellow color reminiscent of a sunny autumn day.

As you might’ve guessed from these descriptions, MH bulbs should be used during the vegetative stage, while HPS lights are best suited for flowering and harvesting. You don’t have to swap out these bulbs during your grow cycle, but you will be rewarded with a higher yield if you do.

Because HID lights have such high wattages, they give off a ton of heat. Indeed, HIDs give off so much heat that growers must install a proper ventilation system in their grow space. HID lights also require adequate frames and a ballast system for safe and efficient use.

Fluorescent Lights: Sensational For Seedlings

Compared with HID lights, fluorescent bulbs may seem kind of wimpy. OK, fluorescents are pretty far off from HIDs in terms of power, but that doesn’t mean these bulbs have nothing to offer.

Before we go any further, there are two types of fluorescent models you need to know about:

  • Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL)
  • T5 bulbs

Even if you’ve never heard of “CFL” before, you’ve probably seen these distinctive spiral-shaped bulbs before. T5 setups, by contrast, are in a panel form and can be found in most gardening centers.

Both CFLs and T5s are the most inexpensive and readily available lights on this list. As a bonus, these lights require the least amount of power, which means you won’t have to worry about sky-high electricity bills.

On the flipside, your low-wattage fluorescent bulbs won’t give you sky-high yields. In fact, these lights produce the smallest number of cannabis buds on average.

Because fluorescent lights produce such low yields, they are generally reserved for clones or young cannabis plants. These lights are far gentler on delicate cannabis seedlings than all of the other lights. You could safely place these lights within inches of budding plants, which is excellent news if you’re working in a cramped closet-like setting.

LED Lights: The Latest Trend For Indoor Growers

The main selling point behind LED lights is that they produce a powerful light spectrum without generating a ton of heat. Depending on how powerful your LED bulbs are, you might not have to invest in a fan exhaust system (although it’s highly recommended that you do in closed settings so your plants have sufficient air flow).

Another positive for LED lights is that they are simple to set up. Most often, all you have to do is plug these lights into an electrical socket, place them above your plants, and turn the unit on.

Unlike fluorescent lights, however, LED lights can be extremely harsh on cannabis at a close range. For this reason, you need to have a fair amount of space to avoid damaging your precious plants. How much space you need depends on the intensity of your LED lights, but stronger models might require a minimum of 30’’.

Also, since LEDs aren’t as powerful as HIDs, don’t expect huge yields. With proper training, however, you will get respectable yields without spending an arm and a leg for electricity.

If you are seriously considering LEDs, make sure you get a full-spectrum model. These setups emit all the wavelengths of light within the visible range of 400 to 700 nanometers (nm) which drive photosynthesis.

What’s The Deal With Magnetic Induction Grow Lights?

There is a good reason Magnetic Induction (MI) lights don’t appear on most lists of the best grow lights for cannabis. Although this model can be used successfully indoors, it only offers moderate yields at a premium price. Indeed, many growers consider MI lights nothing more than fancy fluorescents.

Depending on what MI model you’re looking at, prices could range between $200 – $1,000 per panel. That’s a far cry from $20 – $40 for a good T5.

Unless there’s a significant price reduction or a technological breakthrough soon, steer clear of vendors pushing MI lights as the “next big thing” in marijuana cultivation.

What Lights Don’t Work For Cannabis Cultivation?

You can’t use any old light to grow ganja. Unlike many other plants, marijuana requires extremely high light exposure to reach its full potential. Some lights cannot supply your cannabis with the powerful rays it craves.

Most importantly, you should never use incandescent bulbs when growing marijuana indoors. While these old-timey bulbs are “oh so retro,” they cannot supply your seeds with what they need.

Another model you should avoid are plasma grow lights. Although these lights are induction-based and are used in some commercial settings, they are not a very practical solution for indoor growers due to their cost and high heat output.

When The Heat Gets Too Intense: A Few Notes On “Light Burn”

While we’re on the subject of cannabis grow lights, it’s worth pointing out a common problem indoor growers face: light burn. Left unaddressed, light burn could significantly reduce the potency and purity of your cannabis strain.

When your plants are too close to a light source, you might notice the plant’s fan leaves turning an unsightly yellow with brown or black edges. As the plant further develops, the top buds could turn an unhealthy “bleach white.” Both of these are warning signs you’ve got a “light burn” issue on your hands.

For new home growers, it’s often difficult to tell the difference between a light burn and a nitrogen deficiency. While both of these conditions cause fan leaves to turn yellow, there are two simple ways you could distinguish between them.

For new home growers, it’s often difficult to tell the difference between a light burn and a nitrogen deficiency. While both of these conditions cause fan leaves to turn yellow, there are two simple ways you could distinguish between them.

First, light burn typically affects the tops of your cannabis plants, while nitrogen deficiencies begin on the bottom. Second, leaves that are “light burnt” are brittle, but nitrogen-deprived leaves are droopy.

Usually, all you have to do to address light burn is move your bulbs further away from your plants. If space is an issue in your grow area, then you should use techniques like low-stress training and topping to distribute light evenly.

Conclusion

The grow lights you choose largely depend on your space, budget, and yield expectations. If you’re a beginning cultivator, then we recommend focusing on fluorescent and LED lights.

Not only are both of these models cheaper, they are also less maintenance compared with HID lights. After you have some successful cultivation experience, then consider investing extra money into high-performing HIDs. More advanced growers use a combination of light sources to get the best out of each, but we’ll cover these setups in a future article.

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