By now you have probably heard a wide range of points debating the merits and faults of LED grow lights – The only thing you can count on is that some of it is true, some of it is bullshit. The best thing to do is take both sides of the argument and split the difference. I took time and did research, no testing, no clinical trials, I did something even better – I spoke to growers using the technologies.
Early on (pre-2009), the LED grow light industry was full of claims promising us we could replace a 1000 watts of High Pressure Sodium (HPS) light with a mere 45 – 120 watt LED panel. Needless to say LED grow lights & vendors earned a bad rep. Today (2011) the market is still flooded with stupidly overpriced, low quality, underpowered lighting, and no accountability. The bright side is that there are small handful of vendors that weathered the storm, and continued to innovate and put out high quality LED lighting and now are at a threshold of affordable LED lighting that can back-up the claims and are serviced & warranted in country, not China.
Pricing is a big sticking point in LEDs being welcomed to the indoor garden party is the price. Higher wattage LEDs (500w+) can cost command $1000’s. A proven LED system, the “Spectra LED 300” is $999.99, one of the best LED lights made, but way too far out of my budget.
What to look for
Do not get anything lower than a 180 watt rating. At that wattage, even with a sub-adequate lamp, you can grow up two plants (3 max) in a 3′ x 2′ area.
Do not pay more than $2 per watt. A 180 watt lamp should not cost more than $360 (GLH is the one possible exception, which are just under $3 per watt)
Total wattage and actual draw wattage. Understand that most vendors advertise wattage at the maximum potential wattage of their light. Let’s say I have a 600 watt lamp with 3 watt LEDs giving us a total of 200 LEDs on the lamp, 3 x 200 = 600w. Following me so far? But if you actually ran the lamp at 600 watts, you would burn it out (You don’t run a Chevy Aveo at 120mph, just because the speedometer goes that high.), so the lamp’s power is stepped down to usually run 50% of it’s rating, hence the 600 watt lamp above, would have an actual draw of 300 watts, give or take.
I was able to find an affordable LED system with almost no risk by following a few growers before me. I joined several forums and followed a few threads where people were doing experimental grows with various LEDs. While many grows did not perform well due to poor quality LEDs, there were a few that really shined! I began researching the LEDs used in the successful grows, all but two were WAY out of my budget, I picked out the lighting I wanted (well that I could afford anyway) and started off with 2 90w UFO LEDs from 2 different vendors.
Since then, the 90w UFOs are more novelties now, as I have since upgraded to a Pro-grow 260 and a Pro-Grow 180
I like the visual spectrum being more daylight accurate to the eye (compared to the bright pink), but the biggest reason(s) was the way the plants responded to the light. In vegetation the plant tops would actually lean towards the Pro-Grow, even though they were directly under the redder spectrum Lighthouse Hydro. I figured on that though, as the Hydroponics Hut LEDs have more blue spectrum, but when they went into bloom was when I was really impressed. Although the other lamp had visibly more red, the Pro-Grow LED’s flowered just as well, but its light penetrated deeper for more dense buds further down in the canopy. Also, the plants seemed to stretch less and retained tight node spacing in comparison