Deciding which type of grow lights to use on your cannabis crop is not nearly as simple as it once was. Traditional fluorescent lights remain affordable and widely available but are not nearly as effective as other grow light systems. While fluorescent lights are excellent for vegging or cloning marijuana plants, they are generally not powerful enough to sustain a successful cannabis harvest.
High-Intensity Discharge lights—including both High-Pressure Sodium and Metal Halides—offer a much more effective alternative to conventional fluorescent HID lights, provide better coverage, and offer much better light penetration and absorption.
As LED lights have become increasingly popular in consumer electronics, they have also grown to dominate the cannabis grow industry. The best LED models are capable of providing your crop with the correct spectrums of light needed for optimal performance. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding which type of grow light to use based on the grower’s particular budget and needs.
Opting for Traditional Fluorescent Grow Lights
If you are a total novice—or on an extremely tight budget—you may find fluorescent grow lights to be your best option. Fluorescent bulbs of most any variety are available at Walmart, any hardware store, and online. They are under $10 in most cases. Both initial set up costs and bulb/socket replacements are much less expensive than that of HID and LED grow lights. Fluorescent lights use a relatively low amount of electricity and don’t put out a ton of heat.
Due to the low power output of fluorescent bulbs, a cannabis harvest can suffer. For this reason, fluorescent grow lights are recommended only for small home test grows (1-2 plants), or as supplemental lighting with HID or LED lights. If you simply want to set up a cloning room, fluorescent lighting is a viable option. In this case, the long T5 bulbs are preferrable over compact fluorescent bulbs.
While fluorescent lights may be an option for home growers, larger grows and higher yielding grows definitely will require more power.
HID Lights: High-Pressure Sodium and Metal Halide
HID lights offer a greater output than fluorescent bulbs, providing maximum crop yield. HID lights also emit a ton of heat. For this reason, a substantial amount of cooling equipment is necessary when using HID grow lights. Though HID lights are cheaper than LED lights overall, cooling equipment will increase a grower’s costs.
High-Pressure Sodium and Metal Halide bulbs can be used separately, together, and interchangeably. HPS bulbs emit an orange-red-yellow light which is optimal for maximum yield during crop flowering. However, HPS lights are less effective during the vegging state. For this reason, it can be helpful to use Metal Halide lights during vegging, switching to HPS lights during flowering. The bluer light of MH bulbs ensures strong, healthy plants during vegging. While it is possible to use one bulb or the other throughout all stages of growth, you will achieve better results with a constant combination of both red and blue light.
To use both types throughout the entire process, HPS lights should hang directly above the plant, and Metal Halides with no reflectors should hang in between each plant. Digital ballasts allow you to easily switch from MH bulbs during vegging to HPS bulbs during flowering.
Recommended wattage for HPS/MH lights is around 400-600 Watts. While bulbs as high at 1000W can be used when growing 10 or more plants, these high wattage bulbs run extremely hot. The higher the wattage, the further the bulb must be from your buds. If you use a high wattage bulb, make sure to have proper ventilation and cooling (they even make specific cooling hoods for these type of lights)
Both single-ended and double-ended HID bulbs are available. While double-ended bulbs are more efficient and have a longer lifespan than single-ended bulbs, they are also more expensive. Double-ended bulbs emit more heat than single-ended bulbs, and parts and accessories are more limited. Single-ended are more ideal for small, home grows.
A vast array of different styles of reflectors for HID light systems are available. Most of these reflectors work decently, and you should base your purchase on your individual needs and budget.
LED Lights: Embracing Modern Grow Technology
LED grow light systems are—by far—the most expensive option. You will experience high initial set-up costs, and LED fixtures are more costly than HID fixtures. You should only opt for LED grow lights if your budget is not a primary concern. Despite apparently high prices, LED costs have recently dropped dramatically. Though “cheap” LED lights have flooded the market, you should be aware of their often low quality.
After initial set-up costs, you will find an LED grow system comes with minimal operating costs. It costs significantly less to run an LED system than an HID system. LED lights consume less power than HID lights while providing an equal output and less heat. Less heat means less cooling equipment, which can lower grow costs. LEDs also have a longer lifespan—beyond 50,000 hours.
You are probably wondering—just how expensive are these LED grow systems? If you are growing 1-2 plants at home, you may be able to spend $200 or less. These small-scale grow lights can also used as supplements to different light sources. A number of LED systems with varying wattage up to $1,000 are available.
If your budget is not as issue, high quality, full spectrum LED light systems cost over $1,000. Both white and multi-color full spectrum systems are available. One of the most tech advanced multi-colored models is the Cirrus T500. This model is equivalent to a 1200 Watt HID system. This ensures each part of your cannabis plants get an equal about of lighting, giving you higher crop quality and quantity. The Cirrus T500 will cost you $2199.00.
Those who use white full spectrum systems claim the multi-colored models include too much yellow light which is unusable to the cannabis plant. White full spectrum lights mimic natural sunlight act as a perfect mix of HPS and MH lights. The best all white LED light is the NextLight Mega. At $1525.50, it is comparable to a 1000W HPS light, but with the addition of MH-like blue light.
Deciding on the right grow light…
You should decide which type of grow light system to invest in based on your individual needs and what you can afford. If you are already familiar with one of these lighting methods, it may be best to stick with what you know. As always, there is a learning curve to each of these methods. Unless you are actively trying to lower growing costs, there is no need to venture into unfamiliar territory. In most cases, it is best to either develop your preferred combination of HPS and MH bulbs. Or, you can splurge and make a true investment in modern LED grow technology.