LED Grow Lights: A Beginner's Guide

There are tons of reasons people seek out and buy light-emitting diode (LED) grow lights - but if you're not one of them, you might be wondering just what they're all about. The fact is that LED grow lights are pretty special. Grow lights have been taken to new heights thanks to LED technology, leaving what came before them in the dust. Could you benefit from LED grow lights? What are their specific uses, anyway? What are their benefits and what are their drawbacks? And if you're ready to make a purchase, which ones should you get? Fret not: once you have all the information you need, the decision is easy!

Why LED Grow Lights?

Before LED grow lights entered the scene in the early years of the 21st century, high-intensity discharge (HID) lights were the go-to option for indoor lighting needs. Researchers found that LED grow lights with 430 blue diodes and 660 red exceeded testing expectations in terms of yield. It was with this newfound discovery that better LED glow lights could be developed and the overall response was enthusiastic.

HID lights feature a capsule of gas where the filament of a light bulb would be. While effective, they have their drawbacks. LEDs, on the other hand, offer an array of improvements over the old HIDs. Whereas HID lights require ballasts, devices that limit the amount of current in an electrical circuit, and in this case keeps the voltage supplied to the gas capsule regulated, LEDs do not. LEDs also require less electricity than their HID counterparts - 35 percent less, by some estimates - and have incredibly long life spans of approximately 50,000 hours, compared to HID light's approximately 20,000 hours. They are also more convenient, as a portable power source is not necessary; they are more lightweight and compact. HID lights are less durable in comparison with LED glow lights, and while the HIDs require “warm-up” time, their LED counterparts work at full force as soon as they're turned on, making them a great time saver, as well as the more convenient option for frequent on/off situations.

LEDs lack of a filament means there is no danger of the lights burning out or breaking, which puts them at an advantage over regular incandescent bulbs. LED grow lights also produce less heat and won't burn your fingers at the touch. They can be adjusted so that the light is focused, as opposed to regular bulbs which require reflectors. Plants growing under LED grow lights might also require less water and nutrients, saving the grower money and resources.

Some downsides to LED lights are minor (to varying degrees) but nonetheless bear mentioning. Their lack of intense heat can be a problem, depending on what you want them for. LEDs, too, while competitively priced, are still more expensive than HIDs and incandescent light bulbs, which may put off some consumers. And along that vein, while their light life is longer than either of the two other types mentioned, when they do start to go out, instead of replacing individual bulbs the user must buy an entirely new unit.

Who Uses Them?

So who uses LED grow lights, then? First and foremost, indoor gardeners benefit. Thanks to the constant heat and adjustable focus, gardening hobbyists can grow anything from watermelon to lettuce all year round. Urban farmers can also reap the benefits of LED grow lights as well, using empty space in basements or warehouses to grow everything from crisp produce to brilliantly-colored flowers. Greenhouse owners find their plants, vegetables and flowers grow bigger, leafier and in greater volume with LEDs.

LED grow lights are also viable for aquarium or reef lighting, as well as algae production, the oil from which has myriad uses, like animal feed or ethanol processing.

The last question you may have, if you've been sold on LED grow lights, is what kind are best to buy? 
You're in luck; as a consumer, it's good to have options and there are plenty of good LED grow lights from which to choose.

About the Author: Cindy Ankerman is a contributing writer and avid indoor gardener. She has recently started a small gardening club among her friends which aims to promote successful indoor gardening and healthy lifestyles.