Make the Most of Your LEDs: 5 Tips for Cannabis LED Growing
The growing prominence of LED grow lights in the cannabis community is undeniable. So we have put together a few tips for anyone wanting to give them a go.
With LED technology rapidly advancing in recent years, more cannabis growers are now switching to LED for their indoor operations. Merely a novelty just a few years back, LED grow lights are now performing as well, if not better, than HID lamps, and have also become more affordable. Due to the many advantages of LEDs, from consuming less energy to being more robust and having a longer life span, they are now a great choice for indoor cultivators of different skill levels. If you grow cannabis with LEDs or plan to make the switch, here are some tips for you.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING AN LED GROW LIGHT
Before you go buying an LED grow light, it helps to know what’s available. Currently, there are three main types of LEDs that you can use to grow cannabis, each of which has its pros and cons. The type of LED light you should choose will depend on what exactly you’re looking for, and how much money you’re willing to spend.
3 MAIN TYPES OF LED GROW LIGHTS
- STANDARD (“PURPLE”) LED
These standard LED light fixtures were the first type available for growing, and today, they’re still widely available. These lights contain a lot, sometimes hundreds, of small to medium wattage LEDs (3–5 watts per single LED) in a compact fixture. Cannabis growers sometimes refer to these as “purple” lights, as they often comprise a mix of red and blue LEDs that combine to emit a purple hue.
The biggest advantage of these standard LED lights is their price point. Most are manufactured overseas, and you can find them aplenty on eBay and other places online. A disadvantage is that their quality is often lacking; they can be less than reliable, and their light output is often lower than other types of LEDs, leading to lower yields. To remedy this, we’re now seeing standard LEDs begin to include COB LED lights or UV LEDs in addition to the red and blue, which can help with yield and bud quality.
These standard LED light fixtures were the first type available for growing, and today, they’re still widely available. These lights contain a lot, sometimes hundreds, of small to medium wattage LEDs (3–5 watts per single LED) in a compact fixture. Cannabis growers sometimes refer to these as “purple” lights, as they often comprise a mix of red and blue LEDs that combine to emit a purple hue. The biggest advantage of these standard LED lights is their price point. Most are manufactured overseas, and you can find them aplenty on eBay and other places online. A disadvantage is that their quality is often lacking; they can be less than reliable, and their light output is often lower than other types of LEDs, leading to lower yields. To remedy this, we’re now seeing standard LEDs begin to include COB LED lights or UV LEDs in addition to the red and blue, which can help with yield and bud quality.
COB means “chip on board”. A COB LED is made of many hundreds of tiny LEDs on one single small chip, as opposed to differently coloured LEDs spread over the entire fixture (as is the case above). COBs are among the most efficient LEDs. They produce a very intense white light that is similar to the natural light spectrum of the sun. One advantage of COBs is that they have good penetration into the plant canopy due to their intensity, resulting in a final yield approaching that of quality HID lamps. They also have a light spectrum that is optimal for healthy growth, and are very energy-efficient.
The drawback can be that a quality grow light with COB LEDs is quite expensive compared to cheaper purple lights. Some grow light manufacturers combine several COB LEDs into one fixture, often equipping them with lenses and reflectors. There are also lights available that are comprised of only one single COB. These single-COB fixtures can be a good choice for larger growing spaces, as you can space a number of them evenly for light distribution across the entire area. Most growers use COB LEDs with a light spectrum that works both for vegging and flowering, but you can also find those with a spectrum (“colour temperature”) tuned specifically to vegging or flowering.
COB means “chip on board”. A COB LED is made of many hundreds of tiny LEDs on one single small chip, as opposed to differently coloured LEDs spread over the entire fixture (as is the case above). COBs are among the most efficient LEDs. They produce a very intense white light that is similar to the natural light spectrum of the sun. One advantage of COBs is that they have good penetration into the plant canopy due to their intensity, resulting in a final yield approaching that of quality HID lamps. They also have a light spectrum that is optimal for healthy growth, and are very energy-efficient. The drawback can be that a quality grow light with COB LEDs is quite expensive compared to cheaper purple lights. Some grow light manufacturers combine several COB LEDs into one fixture, often equipping them with lenses and reflectors. There are also lights available that are comprised of only one single COB. These single-COB fixtures can be a good choice for larger growing spaces, as you can space a number of them evenly for light distribution across the entire area. Most growers use COB LEDs with a light spectrum that works both for vegging and flowering, but you can also find those with a spectrum (“colour temperature”) tuned specifically to vegging or flowering.
Spread-style LEDs are comprised of a large number of small LEDs that are spread out on a larger panel or board. There are also spider-style LEDs and rack-style LED lights, which are widely used in commercial greenhouses. The spider-style LED lights don’t use flat panels, but spider-like “arms” with LEDs instead.The main advantage of spread-style grow lights is that they are among the most energy-efficient LEDs, which means you can get the most light for the wattage you’re using. A disadvantage is that quality spread-style LEDs, such as the spider-style lights, can be extremely expensive.
Spread-style LEDs are comprised of a large number of small LEDs that are spread out on a larger panel or board. There are also spider-style LEDs and rack-style LED lights, which are widely used in commercial greenhouses. The spider-style LED lights don’t use flat panels, but spider-like “arms” with LEDs instead. The main advantage of spread-style grow lights is that they are among the most energy-efficient LEDs, which means you can get the most light for the wattage you’re using. A disadvantage is that quality spread-style LEDs, such as the spider-style lights, can be extremely expensive.
THE ADVANTAGES OF GROWING WITH LED LIGHTS
We’ve already mentioned that LED lights have several advantages when compared to other types of grow lights, such as HID. Here is a full rundown of why you may want to choose LEDs for your next growing operation.
1. LED LIGHTS ARE MORE ENERGY-EFFICIENT
Compared to HID lights, LEDs are a lot more energy-efficient. They use less electricity, and will cost much less to operate in the long-run. Although high-end LED lights can sometimes cost a good chunk of money outright, the investment is almost always worth it as your savings over time will make up for the higher initial cost. Likewise, quality LED light fixtures will also have a longer life span compared to HID, the latter of which tends to lose performance over time and needs frequent replacement. A good LED light can last you many years with no maintenance needed.
2. THEY RUN COOL
LEDs produce a lot less heat compared to HID lights, which can be a big advantage as you won’t require extra cooling systems in your grow room or tent to keep temperatures optimal. This is especially advantageous if you grow in summer or happen to live in a warmer climate. The downside to this is that if you live somewhere cold, you may now need to consider a heater in the colder months. But as LEDs save you money over time, this can make up for the potential costs of running a heater.
3. WITH LED, YOU CAN MOVE YOUR PLANTS CLOSER TO THE LIGHT
LEDs produce less heat, which means less stress on your plants—so you can move your lights closer to your plants without any negative effects. Higher light intensity translates to higher yields!
4. LED LIGHTS REDUCE YOUR WATERING SCHEDULE
With less heat produced by lights, the soil in your pots will stay moist for longer, thus reducing the amount of times you need to water. If you’ve just switched from HID to LED and are used to your plants drinking quite a lot, you now need to be careful with your new watering schedule under LED, otherwise you might overwater your ladies.
5. YOU NEED LESS NUTRIENTS
When you water cannabis plants, you’ll normally do so with an infusion of nutrients. In addition to watering less, your plants will also need less nutes than they would before. In addition to some nice savings on nutrients, the less-frequent watering and feeding schedule will also decrease nutrient buildup, so there’s a lower risk of nutrient lockout and plant deficiencies.
GROWING WITH LED: WHAT TO CONSIDER FOR EACH STAGE OF CULTIVATION
As we touched on earlier, many types of LEDs have a fixed light spectrum that works for both the vegetative (growing) and flowering phases of cannabis. This way, you can just use the same light throughout your entire grow from seed until harvest.
Although this is convenient for most, there are those who want to fine-tune their lights for best results and optimal efficiency in each growing phase. For this purpose, some commercial LED lights have a switch to activate a veg light spectrum or a flower light spectrum. Here are some more factors to consider throughout each stage of growth.
A) LED LIGHTS AND SEEDLINGS
As soon as your seeds have sprouted, your soon-to-be cannabis plant will need light to grow. Compared to more mature plants, however, your seedling is much more sensitive to intense light. Because of that, you should be careful when starting out with strong LEDs.
If your LED has a dimming option, turn your light to a lower intensity. If this isn’t an option, consider moving your lights further up, away from the seedling. On the other hand, ensure that you do not move the lights too far up, as this could cause the seedling to grow spindly and lanky.
Likewise, if your LED has a switch to activate either a vegging or flowering spectrum, set it to veg, where the light normally emits a “cooler” blueish light, which is optimal for this stage. Set your timer to 18 hours of light per day, with 6 hours of darkness.
As your seedling grows taller, stronger, and approaches the most robust part of the vegetative growing stage, you can then gradually increase the light intensity.
B) LED LIGHTS DURING VEGETATION
Set your light to 18 hours per day and 6 hours of darkness. Some growers choose to grow with 20–24 hours of light to maximise vegetative growth.
Monitor your plant’s development; if all goes well, it should grow healthy, strong, and bushy. If it grows lanky and spindly instead, this is likely because your plant is not getting enough light. Increase the intensity by lowering the light toward the plant canopy or turning up the intensity using the dimmer if your light has one.
How long you want to veg your plant will normally depend on how much space you have available. You can technically let your plant grow under 18–24 hours of light as long as you want, but there will likely come a time when you want to switch to flowering, as the plant would otherwise simply grow too big. Know that some cannabis strains can stretch considerably (up to 2x or more) during early flowering. Take this into account upon deciding when to initiate the switch to bloom.
C) LED LIGHTS FOR FLOWERING
Photoperiodic cannabis starts to flower in late summer when the daylight hours naturally begin to diminish. Indoors, the grower is responsible for inducing bloom by setting the light schedule to 12 hours of light and 12 hours total darkness. If your LED light has a flowering switch, turn it to flowering mode.
When you flower indoors on a 12-12 schedule, it is important that the 12 hours of darkness are not interrupted. So make sure that your tent or greenhouse doesn’t have any light coming in from outside. This would otherwise revert your flowering plant back to veg or potentially cause other issues such as hermaphroditism.
If your LED has a dimmer, now is the time to turn your light to its maximum intensity, or lower your light to the recommended distance from your plants for the flowering stage. If you are not sure what this distance is, most grow light producers have recommendations available.
Important: if you change anything with your lights, such as when you increase intensity and/or lower their position, make sure to do so gradually over several days, rather than in one go. Too sudden of a change can stress your plants too much.
AUTOFLOWERS AND LED
If you’re growing autoflowers rather than photoperiodic strains, you don’t need to bother with initiating flowering by switching your lights to 12 hours on/off. You can just leave your autoflowers at 18–24 hours of light per day up until harvest. Then again, if your LED light has a flowering switch, you should still use it once your autoflowering cannabis is in bloom. This will help increase yield.
LED COMPARED TO HID GROW LIGHTS
HID lights, such as MH/HPS grow lamps, are still widely used as they are cheaper than good LEDs, yet are still reliable for growing top-quality weed. Furthermore, grow tent kits often include HID lights, so many new growers start out with these, rather than LEDs. If you’re wondering now whether you should switch to LED, here are some more aspects to think about.
WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET?
Although you can get LED grow lights “for cheap” nowadays, many of these budget versions from overseas are not worth the money you’d save outright from avoiding high-quality fixtures. If you want quality LEDs, you will normally need to spend some good money to get a light that promises good yields and will last you a long time. So if you’re on a budget and don’t want to, or can’t, spend a lot, it makes sense to continue with HID for the time being, rather than settling for a cheap LED. HID lights will still do a splendid job supporting growth and flowering—in fact, they can still outshine a decent amount of LEDs when it comes to performance.
HEAT PRODUCED BY HID LAMPS CAN BE A PRO OR CON
As already mentioned, HID lamps produce a large amount of heat. So, if heat in your grow room is a concern, you definitely want to look into LEDs. This can save you additional money on exhaust and cooling systems. On the other hand, if you grow in a cold environment, you may just want to stick with your HIDs as they keep the grow room cosy for your plants without needing additional heating.
WHICH LIGHT GROWS BETTER (AND MORE) BUDS?
Are there any differences in bud quality and yield with LEDs compared to MH HID lights? Some growers say that MH lamps give better yields or “prettier buds” compared to LEDs. But there are also those who say that, although HID might give you better yields, LED lights make for a better taste and/or overall better quality of weed. Obviously, what is really “better” is open to interpretation.
For additional information on how LEDs compare to other types of grow lights, you can also read our article on the pros and cons of different types of lights for cannabis.
HOW TO AVOID PROBLEMS WHEN GROWING WITH LED
Modern LED grow lights, for example COB lights, can emit light that is as intense as that from HID. If your plants are too close to your LEDs, this can lead to “light burn”, with discoloured or bleached leaves, nutrient deficiencies, and all sorts of growing troubles. Because of this, it is important to keep your LEDs the proper distance away from your cannabis plants.
There is no “one size fits all” recommendation for the right distance for all types of LEDs, since this varies greatly by type. It depends on the amount of light your LED is emitting, whether your lamp also uses lenses or reflectors, and so on. The manufacturer of your lights should clue you in to the recommended lamp distance from the canopy, either on the instructions that come with your lights or on their website. As a general rule, however, most LEDs should be about 30–45cm away from the tops of your plants to support healthy and vigorous growth.
Making the switch to LED grow lights can be as intimidating as it is exciting. Here are 5 tips all new LED growers should know.
Using LED Grow Lights: 6 Mistakes to Avoid?
Whether you are new to growing cannabis or just new to growing with LEDs, mistakes can happen! Find out what you should avoid in order to grow top-tier cannabis under LED lights!
Growing great cannabis is not really difficult—at least in theory. Get yourself some quality cannabis seeds, good soil, proper containers, and you’re already off to a good start. However, if there’s one factor that’s especially crucial to developing superb cannabis, it’s light—a lot of it. Indeed, cannabis plants require more light than most other plants, and they optimise performance if light exposure is significant and consistent. As such, you really don’t want to skimp when it comes to your grow lights.
In the past, weed cultivators largely used HID lights—with MH (metal halide) lights used for vegging and HPS (high pressure sodium) lights employed for flowering. HID lights are still viable, and they have a great track record amongst home and commercial growers alike. That said, LEDs are exponentially taking over grow rooms around the world. Why? Compared to HID, LEDs have some convincing advantages: They use (a lot) less electricity, allowing you to save money over time and reduce the footprint you leave on the environment. They also emit less heat, which can be a big advantage, especially in small grow setups. Lastly, LEDs have recently become more affordable as the tech has become widespread, allowing home growers an opportunity to benefit from this unique and powerful lighting system.
Yet, even the fanciest LED lights cannot prevent growers from making mistakes in their grow. Let’s delve into some common errors, slips, and faux pas to avoid when growing cannabis with LEDs.
1. NOT SETTING YOUR LED LIGHTS AT THE PROPER DISTANCE
This is probably the most common mistake that inexperienced growers make upon just starting out with LEDs. Since HID lights emit a lot of heat, out-of-the-loop growers might be overly cautious with their LEDs, placing them too far away; alternatively, those aware of the benefits of LEDs might get cocky and place the lights super close. If you hang your LEDs too far away, there’s a good chance your plants will over-stretch in an effort to reach closer to the light. If, on the other hand, you place your LEDs too close to your cannabis plants, this can stress the plants more than they can comfortably handle, causing burning and bleaching of the foliage and buds.
So, what is the ideal distance between your grow lights and your plant canopy? Unfortunately, there is no standard, since the best distance during the vegetative and bloom phases of your cannabis will depend on your specific LED. Each type can vary slightly, therefore affecting the final distance they should be from your plants. The first port of call is to check the manual you received with your LEDs for any information on recommended distance. If you can’t find it there, check out the manufacturer’s website. If, for whatever reason, you cannot find any information, you can keep your LEDs somewhere between 30–45cm from the canopy—around 45cm during veg, then a little closer when your plants are flowering.
When adjusting the height of your LEDs for peak performance, keep an eye out for any oddities. Dry, curled, brown, or bleached leaves signal too much light, calling for your LEDs to be raised higher.
Because good ol’ HID lights emit a lot more heat than LEDs, soil normally dries out quicker when utilising the former. Once growers make the switch, however, they often forget to take this into account. Given the significant reduction in heat, it’s likely your plants will need less frequent watering. So adjust your schedule accordingly when using LEDs, especially if you’re new to it. Overwatering is a common and sometimes serious error beginners make that paves the way for a host of pests and diseases to take hold. So this is really important to keep an eye out for. When in doubt, let your soil dry out—then you can water again.
3. CHOOSING THE WRONG TYPE OF LED LIGHT
Most LED grow lights you can find today are “full spectrum” lights, which is sort of a buzzword that means you can use them for vegging and flowering. But there are also models outfitted with a switch that allows you to change the light spectrum according to the phase. Moreover, some LEDs are made only for veg—emitting a bluish light that supports fast and vigorous growth—while others are made for bloom, giving off a reddish light to support bud development. So, before you get an LED light, make sure it’s the right type. For most growers, a full spectrum LED is likely what you’ll want.
4. CHOOSING LOW-QUALITY LED LIGHTS
If there’s one drawback to LED lights in comparison to HID, it’s that a quality LED is significantly more expensive outright . Not everyone has the cash upfront for a high-quality, full spectrum LED, so they look for ways to save money while still benefitting from the technology. The problem is, there are now tons of low-quality LEDs available on the internet to satisfy this very issue—and these manufacturers are not prioritising quality. These cheap LED lights are often manufactured overseas, and claim to provide more light than they’re actually capable of. Some of these lights are only able to grow one plant (if you’re lucky), and not much more. Low-quality LEDs can also be dangerous to operate if they’re made in a country that has less strict requirements on electrical safety.
Lastly, if you get a cheap LED from overseas and you run into trouble, you will likely have a hard time with warranties and returns. As almost nothing is as important as your lights when growing cannabis indoors, it’s simply not smart to cut corners here. By spending a bit more on a quality LED, you and your plants will be so much happier. Plus, high-quality LEDs are much less expensive to run than HIDs, so you’ll surely save some serious cash on your energy bill over time!
5. NOT PROVIDING YOUR PLANTS WITH ENOUGH LIGHT
The issue with many of those cheap “beginner LEDs” is that some manufacturers intentionally confuse the grower with specs and numbers, such as wattage. This seems fine, except that, with LED lights, wattage doesn’t really say how much light the LED is emitting; it says how much energy is required to produce the light. Instead, we’re measuring in lumens—the amount of light actually emitted. So, regardless of how high the wattage is, the light could still have a poor spread and/or doesn’t penetrate the canopy well. In other words, don’t fall victim to misleading information, and consider the source of your product.
Providing your plants with enough light can become an issue if you want to grow more than one. For example, one single 300W LED light fixture may be fine for one or maybe two plants, but it may not be enough to cover a bigger space with multiple plants. So make sure to reference any recommendations from the vendor and/or LED manufacturer on how much light you will need for your growing space. You can also look for reviews and user reports on grow forums if you want to know more about using a particular LED.
6. PROVIDING AN IMPROPER LIGHT SCHEDULE
At most high-quality seed shops, you can get autoflowering cannabis seeds and feminized photoperiod cannabis seeds. Autoflowering strains are relatively easy to grow, especially when it comes to lighting: You can just keep them under an 18–24-hour daily light schedule from the moment you plant your seeds up until harvest. They flower automatically after a few weeks of growth, which makes them very convenient.
Feminized (photoperiod) strains, on the other hand, are typically grown under 18–24 hours of light in the vegetative stage, then under 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness to initiate and sustain flowering. This shouldn’t be a problem, as most growers will set their lights on a timer for this very purpose. Then again, for someone who’s just starting out, they might not feel confident tailoring different light cycles and spectrums, especially if their setup doesn’t utilise full spectrum lights. It’s certainly not impossible for beginner growers to swiftly get the hang of maintaining proper light schedules, but sometimes the new tech of LEDs can lead people to make silly mistakes. In that case, you may wonder why your plant is reaching gigantic heights, but won’t grow you any buds!
GIVE LED LIGHTS A SHOT—JUST BE VIGILANT
For more tips on growing with LEDs, check out our blog on how to make the most of your LEDs. Lastly, keep in mind that even the most advanced LED system doesn’t just magically grow good weed. So always be sure to provide your plants with the necessary water, nutrients, substrate, and all the other great things it needs. With patience, care, and some powerful LEDs, your plants will reward you with fat, resinous buds come harvest!
LED lights have become increasingly popular in the cannabis grow community. If you plan to grow weed under LED lights, avoid making these 6 common mistakes!