Are LEDs Cutting Edge Grow Lights?

By

June 29, 2013

You’re a modern gardener, a tech loving person of the 21st century, ready to venture into the future of food. Growing it at home – indoors or outside, because quality eating is important, as is gaining a better hold on food safety. As a cutting edge Earth citizen, you want the up to date equipment that matches your needs, and meet your concerns where energy consumption and budget is concerned.

LEDs sound like just the grow light for your state-of-the-art indoor garden. They’re advanced technology. NASA uses them to grow food in space. You’ll save all kinds of money on energy use without running fans to get rid of excess heat from electrical monsters like HID. You won’t be wasting energy on light spectrum that your plants won’t use AND… guess what?

YOU’LL NEVER REPLACE THE SUN WITH LED ALONE

You can’t grow fruiting plants from start to finish with only LED grow lights. Sorry, but it’s true. At least, not at their current stage of development. If all you want to grow is lettuce and greens, then everything in that paragraph above might hold true. Chances are that you’re into more variety in your diet. You must be, rabbits can’t read.

Here’s the thing. LEDs have their place in the indoor garden and greenhouse. Every technology available to the grower today has a situation that fits it. But, you’re going to have a real difficult time growing things like strawberries, chili peppers and tomatoes to harvest-stage under LED lights. Anyone who says otherwise is spreading the sunshine on thick.

You could spend $4000 on LEDs to equal the growing power you can get from $1000 invested in T5 lights. Not very budget friendly – and that’s just the tip of the carrot. You need heat to grow fruiting plants. Tomatoes and peppers adore heat and really intense sunshine. LEDs don’t give them the heat they thrive in, and the light is pretty weak. So, you’ll need to add heating equipment, and use more energy, or you won’t be enjoying much homegrown salsa.

Of course, you can cut down on that cost of LED lights if you buy the cheap ones coming out of China. This isn’t the answer. They aren’t good quality diodes or fixtures. The light will be poor. Your plants won’t perform. The fixtures won’t hold up. You will be wasting your money. If you’re going to buy an LED, make it a quality product from Philips or Cree. There is always a reason behind the cost of a product. Don’t learn the hard way. Plants don’t cut corners. You’ll never get ahead trying to trick them. It’s just not gonna happen.

Of course, you could buy one of the new LED systems with infrared to help generate more heat, but it’s not going to maintain grow room temps. Here you are looking at buying a heater again, after paying for lights with more bells and whistles.

It is true that UV LEDs increase flavonoids and other desirable compounds. You got money to burn? You’ll need to replace these lights after 6 months. Your other diodes will cloud up relieving your garden of needed light, while all the energy you’re using for lighting is wasted.

The light falling on your plants is not blended well, if at all with LEDs. This means that each plant, even parts of each plant, are getting different spectrums depending on where the different diode colors hit the canopies. This alone leads to problems in development and uneven growth. Here’s a prime example of this issue in the image below. Notice that not one of the plants under these LEDs are edible?

Cheap LED growing lights offer poor indoor garden results.

You won’t have an efficient garden either. These lights only deliver low yields. LEDs are best used to supplement HIDs for flower to fruit stages, or starting seedlings. This is how professional growers use them. You can get the same effect for much less using the right spectrum T5 light for the desired result.

Stick with HID lights to grow fruiting crops. They won’t let you down. They are affordably priced and efficient. That’s why the pros all use them.

By the way, the LEDs that NASA uses are ridiculously pricey. You could buy a decent used car for what one array like those developed for researchers. Which is what NASA is doing with them – researching feeding astronauts in space. They have grant money and government funding. For you, this means having deep pockets or a taking out a bank loan.

Cutting edge isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Chances are the day that a high quality LED light that can grow any crop really well becomes affordable is possible. Quality light manufacturers are getting closer to making it a reality, but at the moment it just isn’t going to happen. It will take a lot more experimentation and development first.

Tammy Clayton

Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.
Tammy Clayton

5 Comments

  • Thanks for your great knowledge.Probably the most frequent question asked in our store.

    Regards

    Terry@TGH

  • Philbert Faceplant July 1, 2015

    I think you may want to spend time in the way of, ‘HANDS ON’ research. As of 2015 there has been major breakthroughs in LED,’TOTAL SPECTRUM’, diaods, that have same spectrum qualities, that of the SUN.. These LED’s are able to dial in variables in the color spectrum, that equate to, ‘different recipies’, in light quality & intensity, that is best for different strains, of canibus. This enables the grower, to use ONE LED, light setup, from germination thru flowering. 3W & now 5W units are available, with 3 to 4 different shadings, within EACH COLOR, of the light spectrum, (red – green – yellow – blue & white), that can be manually, dialed in. Do the research, hint: checkout CREE, and ADVANCED LIGHTING, to name a few companies, that have done ‘side by side’ grows, along with dump trucks filled with, $$BENJI’s$$, spent on research & development, and high-tech inovations, wins every time, (old school
    -vs- new school).. OLD SCHOOLER’s its time to come out from behind your ‘balliest & reflector’s, and into full spectrum light technology.. Do yourselves a favor, go LED, you’ll never look back..

    • Hi Phil,

      Every type of grow light has it’s uses, but when it comes to growing fruiting plants in the indoor garden – LED is not going to work. Producing fruit from a flower requires a boatload of light energy, which is impossible for a plant to harvest from low watt lamps – CFL, LED, T5… whatever your preferred choice of energy saving light system happens to be.

      Your focus appears to be growing cannabis, which is not a fruiting plant. Your only goal is to produce flowers, which is easily done under low watt fixtures. If you try growing jalapenos, tomatoes, eggplant, or any other crop that provides food beyond it’s leaves – LED is NOT going to work. At least not unless you spend a few grand on each fixture.

      Perhaps it’s the tomato and pepper plants that are the old-schoolers here. They have to have enough light energy to perform their ingrained task of setting and maturing fruit or the entire exercise in growing your own food is a waste of time and electricity.

      You cannot lie to a plant. They perform according to the circumstances they are in. Both the quality and quantity/intensity of available light is a huge factor in reaping a harvest. The hugely popular indoor garden tomato and pepper crops both require a good deal of heat to perform at optimum levels – which LED fixtures do not provide, and the gardener must now supplement heat via more equipment and extra energy use in a cold climate.

      And to quote a professional grower of food crops – – “LEDs are fine if all you want is leaves.” This is just one bit of wisdom offered on LED grow lights for growing food indoors that you’ll find on the pages of our print magazines. To learn more see Page 62 in both the UK-IE 4, and US-CA 5 editions easily accessed instantly on our MAGAZINES page.

      Some day the technology behind LEDs will possibly rise to meet the needs of more demanding crops like fruiting plants at a reasonably affordable price for the indoor gardener who seeks to enjoy fresh homegrown food year around. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet for anyone without deep pockets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *