When attempting to grow vegetables indoors or to start plants from seed, natural light isn’t always enough, especially in colder climates or during the winter. Though some houseplants can survive in low lighting conditions, others need more than the light from your windows. Grow lights are quite effective at replicating the light from the sun to give your plants what they need to grow.
Light-emitting diode (LED) grow lights are the go-to pick for many home gardeners, because they’re energy-efficient and eco-friendly, and they can produce full-spectrum light. LED grow lights are different from the standard LED bulbs such as those used in home light fixtures.
Read on to learn more about how to choose the best LED grow lights for your home.
- BEST OVERALL: MARS HYDRO TS 1000W Led Grow Light
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Juhefa LED Grow Lights
- BEST TRADITIONAL: VIPARSPECTRA UL Certified 300W LED Grow Light
- BEST SPREAD STYLE: SPIDER FARMER SF-4000 LED Grow Light
- BEST CHIP ON BOARD: Phlizon 2000W LED Grow Light
Types of LED Grow Lights
LED grow lights come in a variety of forms. Learning about the most popular ones can help you choose a suitable type for your indoor garden.
Spread-style LED lights have many small individual lights spread out over their entire surface area, which makes them effective in providing light to a large number of plants. The two main subcategories of spread lights are spider-style and quantum board.
- Quantum board lights use a large number of small LEDs spread out over a relatively large, flat surface area. They use full-spectrum white LED diodes and typically feature passive cooling, allowing the plants to be placed immediately under them without the danger of too much heat emission.
- Spider-style lights feature multiple LEDs on narrow “arms” in an open bar design rather than on a solid board. These tend to be more expensive than quantum board lights.
Chip on Board (COB)
Chip on board (COB) lights feature a number of tiny LEDs placed close together on a single chip, resulting in a single powerful point of light. While the center point of the area they cover receives optimal lighting, they don’t offer the same level of widespread, equal coverage as spread-style LEDs.
Since they’re so powerful, COB lights often emit more heat than other types of LEDs and may require the use of fans to cool down the area. They use full-spectrum white LED diodes and provide deeper canopy penetration than do spread-style LEDs.
Traditional LED grow lamps are usually compact, making them a good choice for small spaces. They use LEDs that provide medium power and typically feature multicolored LEDs that cover the full spectrum of color frequencies, unlike white LEDs. This gives their light a colorful appearance that indoor growers might or might not like.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best LED Grow Lights
The following sections detail some of the most important qualities to keep in mind when shopping for the best LED grow lights for your needs.
Natural sunlight features all the colors on the electromagnetic spectrum. Some LED lights can reproduce only certain color frequencies, while full-spectrum white LED lights produce all the hues necessary for every stage of the growing process.
- Blue light helps plants grow in the earliest stages of their lives. It’s the first color that plants can absorb in their vegetative state.
- Purple light is also used in the vegetative state; however, it’s not as effective for photosynthesis as blue light.
- Red light helps in the latter stages of growing and is essential for buds to flower.
- White light encompasses all the colors of the spectrum. Used alone, it can be effective for every developmental stage.
It’s a bit difficult to compare LED grow lights because manufacturers use a variety of metrics to measure the power of their lights and the amount of light they emit. The brightness of LED lights is measured in lumens. Seedlings require approximately 2,000 lumens per square foot to thrive, while flowering plants may need as much as 10,000 lumens.
While lumens measure visible light, biologists often use photosynthetic photon flux (PPF) or photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD) to measure light intensity in terms of the light that plants will actually absorb. PPF is measured in μmol/second, which is the amount of photons of light emitted every second. PPFD is measured in μmol/m2/s and measures the density of light distributed per square meter per second. The higher the PPF and PPFD, the more effective the light should be.
To establish how much electricity a light uses, look for its “actual power draw” or “actual power consumption.” This is measured in watts and gives a good indication of the light’s power. Bulb wattage is not a good indicator because LEDs are designed to be energy-efficient.
One of the risks when using a grow light is that the heat emitted by the bulbs can damage your plants. However, LED lights give off very little heat relative to the amount of light they produce. But they do produce some heat, so many models are equipped with built-in cooling systems to ensure proper temperature regulation.
Some LED lights have aluminum heat sinks, and others come equipped with fans. A unit with a fan might be loud, so factor noise level into your choice when selecting a grow light.
Many LED grow lights are designed to link to other units to cover larger areas, which is typically referred to as “daisy chain connectivity.” Products with this capability simply plug into each other and then plug into one outlet, which minimizes the number of cords required for setup.
Our Top Picks
The following picks consider the features described, including light spectrum, power, and heat output. This list offers choices for a top-notch LED grow light in various categories, available in a range of price points.
The spread-style MARS HYDRO TS 1000W LED Grow Light is a panel light that features 342 tiny LED bulbs. This energy-efficient light uses only 150 watts of actual power, with a PPFD of 743 μmol/m2/s at a distance of 18 inches. It produces full-spectrum white light and can encourage plant growth at every stage of the growing process. The lights are dimmable and have daisy-chain functionality to connect a maximum of 15 units using only one electrical outlet.
Use a single lamp to cover 2.5 square feet for the flowering stage and 3 square feet for the vegetative stage. Because it regulates temperature internally, this grow light has no fan, ensuring quiet operation.
Beginner home gardeners who aren’t ready to take the plunge and invest in a pricey lighting setup can use a relatively inexpensive solution like this one. The Juhefa product uses a combination of blue, purple, red, and white lights.
The PPFT is 105 μmol/m2/s when the light is 12 inches from the plant. The light covers an area of 1.2 feet by 3 feet at a height of 2 feet. This grow light package includes a steel hanging kit and power cord for easy installation.
This VIPARSPECTRA grow light offers a full spectrum of color with 12 wavelengths of color output. It has an actual power draw of only 130 watts and is UL Certified for safe operation. At a height of 12 inches, its PPFD is 811 μmol/m2/s.
The unit covers 2 square feet at a height of 24 inches or 1.5 square feet at a height of 18 inches. Daisy-chain functionality allows it to connect to other units for a larger lighting setup. The light has aluminum cooling heat sinks as well as a quiet fan for optimal heat dispersal.
Dedicated home gardeners looking to upgrade their setup may need the power supplied by the SPIDER FARMER SF-4000 LED Grow Light. It’s larger than many grow lights, so one unit can cover a large surface area. For an even larger setup, the light has daisy-chain functionality, allowing growers to connect up to 12 lights.
This SPIDER FARMER light is powerful, with a maximum PPFD of 2479 μmol/m2/s at a height of 12 inches. Because of this extra power, however, it consumes a lot of energy for an LED fixture, requiring 450 watts of electricity to function.
The Phlizon 2000W LED Grow Light combines full-spectrum white lights and multicolored LEDs to provide recommended light frequencies for every growing phase. The fixture has four chip-on-board (COB) lights, two with a warmer color temperature and two with a cooler temperature. It also contains red, purple, and blue LEDs.
At a height of 12 inches, these lights offer a PPFD of 2573 μmol/m2/s. The actual power draw is 400 watts, with a maximum grow area of around 4 square feet. This model offers multiple settings, each optimized to provide the ideal amount of light for both the vegetative and flowering phases of your plants.
FAQs About Your New LED Grow Lights
For readers who still have questions about LED grow lights, here are some answers to some commonly asked questions.
Q. Which lights do professional growers use?
Professionals generally use high-intensity discharge lamps (HID) or fluorescents, though the industry is shifting to favor LEDs. Because of their energy efficiency, LEDs are a better choice for home use.
Q. How many watts per plant do I need?
When comparing the power of various grow lights, look at the “actual power draw” or “actual power consumption” in watts. Generally speaking, grow lights should use 32 watts per square foot of grow space at the absolute minimum, though 50 to 80 watts per square foot is ideal.
The actual brightness of LED lights is measured in lumens rather than watts, so that’s another way of measuring light intensity. Vegetables typically require 2,200 lumens per square foot, while other plants generally need approximately 1,375 lumens per square foot.
Q. How far should LED lights be from plants?
LED lights should generally be at least 12 inches above your plants to prevent leaf burn.
Q. What advantages do LED grow lights have over HPS lights?
LED grow lights are more energy-efficient than high-pressure sodium (or HPS) lights. They also emit less heat, which means you don’t have to worry as much about temperature regulation.