What’s New This Year? A Review Of The Best LED Grow Lights For 2013

Best LED Grow Lights 2013

As the technology matures, led grow lights are becoming more accepted in indoor gardening and hydroponics.  What started out as a niche market with its own brand of cult-following, solid state now has a proven track record of success for growing anything from wheat grass to cannabis and lettuce to strawberries.  The market continues to grow as a few leading LED grow light suppliers push the technology with new research and exciting developments, shaking off the once common (and sometimes legitimate) view that manufacturers were out just to make a buck on unproven, poorly executed fad gadgets.

Here are my predictions of where I think the technology is going in 2013.

2013 - LED Grow Lights Come Of Age

After the expected growing pains of a new technology, growing with LEDs is becoming more mainstream - being looked at now as not only an energy saving alternative to high wattage HID lights, but as a means to grow more (fill in the blank) in a smaller space. Because these lights emit very specific wavelengths along the electromagnetic spectrum, plants absorb the light more readily versus HID lights and are able to convert it via photosynthesis into energy for vigorous vegetative growth followed by prolific flowering and fruiting.

In this article, you will not find any mention of specific brand names nor will there be any direct comparisons. If that is what you are looking for - check out these LED Reviews.  What I will do is talk about common features and benefits of LED grow lights in general while pointing to what new developments I think will advance the technology and help you grow bigger, better plants.

Growing With LEDs - A Paradigm Shift

Pink Kush Bud
For over 40 years, indoor growers were faced with just a couple of choices when deciding on grow lighting - high pressure sodium, metal halide, and more recently, compact fluorescent. In every instance, the idea is the same; to try to replicate sunlight for your indoor plants. Plants need sunlight for photosynthesis which turns it into energy for vegetative growth and flowering.

As you know, sunlight is white light, which is to say that it contains light wavelengths from the entire visible light spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet) along with invisible forms of light radiation such as UV, gamma, and infrared. Traditional grow lights attempt to imitate this light and do so to limited success - limited only because these lights are inherently inefficient. While individual types of plants all have different lighting requirements (orchids have different light needs than cannabis), most plants flourish with only a limited range of light - reds and blues. This is because various processes and chemicals involved in photosynthesis respond most readily (and sometimes exclusively) to these bands of light. Unfortunately, only about 15 percent of light emitted by HID/CFL bulbs is available in the bands of light needed for photosynthesis. In contrast, 90-99 percent of the light emitted by LED grow lights is immediately usable in plants for photosynthesis.

Because of this fact, it is necessary that traditional growing methods, light cycles, heating & cooling, nutrient and water requirements all need to be altered. I am not talking about massive, drastic changes but just subtle tweaks to nutrient levels, altering lighting cycles by a couple hours, adjusting the growing environment, positioning the lights at appropriate levels above the canopy, etc.

We may also need to change the duration of growing cycles - vegetative and flowering. Seeds packets usually contain growing instructions either for outdoor or indoor growing. This is very common with cannabis seeds because the various strains all have very particular requirements to get the most yield from your plants. Currently, all instructions given assume you are using HID lighting which we now know is an entirely different critter when compared to growing with LEDs. When we understand that LED grow lights offer 6-8 times more light in the correct wavelengths for growth, it becomes clear that we must change our tactics in order to be successful. It is not necessarily more complex or technical to grow with LED lights, it is just different than using HID or CFL bulbs.

Although it is a work in progress, check out my Cannabis Grower's Guide To LED Grow Lights for more in depth information.

Wavelengths And Spectrum - Is More, Better?

LED grow lights started with very simple designs, covering only one red band and one blue band (wavelengths) of light. While it is a fact that red light is beneficial for flowering and blue light is necessary for vegetative growth, early examples were underpowered and did not emit enough light in the correct spectra to get the most from the technology. After a couple of years of research and development, manufacturers found that plants needed light from more than just 2 bands of light. More bands of light were needed to match where photosynthesis in plants peaks in efficiency.

Over the last couple of years, we have seen LED grow lights mature from just red and blue to tri-band, quad-band, all the way up to 6 and even 11-band grow lights. Some companies are even offering full-spectrum and white light LED grow lights. From my experience and from research I have read, all that is needed for plants are 2 red light bands, 2 blue bands, and infrared to push flowering and resin production.

To put it simply - full-spectrum (white) LED grow lights could be a step backward towards HID grow lighting.  Any LED grow light relying heavily on white light or full-spectrum diodes are inefficient because they eliminate the idea of peak targeting, and moves the technology backwards. Remember that HID lights are at best 15% efficient because most of the light emitted is not in a usable band or is lost to heat - this is the same type of light emitted by white and full-spectrum LEDs.  I think a limited amount of white light has its place in an LED array, however, it has to be in the right ratio to benefit your plant instead of just wasting energy.

Why would LED companies try to mimic this type of grow light if it is less efficient? The answer is simple - most of them are just too lazy to do the research. They are trying to make up for it by throwing crap against a wall to see how much will stick. In addition, we live in a society that more is better so it is incredibly easy to market and hype up claims of a "New MEGA-Band Grow Light" and people will eat it up under the assumption that more is better.  Instead of just falling for it, ask for proof of their claims or at least be sure they offer a return guarantee.

Micro-Grows And Commercial Cannabis Grows

LED grow lights for cannabisAre LED Grow Lights Ready For Primetime?
So far, the general discourse on a majority of forums is that LED grow lights can work well for micro-grows such as Sea Of Green (SOG) and Screen Of Green (SCROG) methods were the focus is on a short vegetative growth followed by an extended flowering stage. The end result is a short plant with a single, large cola and few leaves or branches. I have had reports of this method capable of producing in excess of 2 grams per watt using this LED grow light which is phenomenal growth for indoor plants. The forums maintain, however, that LED grow lights are not ready for commercial growth - that they are not capable of growing large, bushy trees for the medical marijuana industry because they lack the penetrating power of HID lighting.

It is my prediction that the belief that LED grow lights cannot grow on a commercial level will be disproved in a big way. Just check out the results of a commercial hydroponic tomato growing operation in New Hampshire using LED grow lights. The article points out that Hobbit Hill Farm has been able to save 50% on electricity by using LED grow lights for their commercial tomato grow. At over $1000 per month on electricity using HID lights, the switch to LED enables the farm to save over $500 per month. Hobbit Hill Farm was also able to get a grant from the USDA and the local electric company, NHEC, which covered 53 percent of the almost $24,000 upgrade cost. This means that the farm will be able to break even on the upgrade cost in just 2 seasons, based only on electricity savings and not taking into account increased production from using LEDs (thus increased income). With money savings and results like this, it is hard to imagine why growers would continue to use inefficient HID technology.

Wattage And Effective Grow Area

In the coming years, I think that LED grow light manufacturers will stray away from the often seen claims that a 90W LED is comparable to a 400W HPS, a 350W LED can produce similar to a 1000W HID, and similar claims. Likewise, manufacturers need to revise their stated grow space coverage area and further explain what exactly can be grown by a 90W LED in a 4x4 growing space: what breed of plant, strain of cannabis, quantity of plants, overall height of plants, vegetative or flowering stages, and other details that are of utmost importance to indoor growers. We as potential clients need to be able to compare apples to apples.

To put things into perspective, I recommend a grow space of no more than 2' x 2' for a 90W LED grow light for vegetative or flowering stages for cannabis. In terms of space coverage, I would equate this to a 250W HID light which represents a 60% savings in power consumption. Now if you were growing lettuce, I would increase the light coverage to 4' x 4' for the same 90W light as the requirements of lettuce is much lower than that of cannabis. In addition, there is no flowering requirement in lettuce . . . only vegetative growth. This is why it is important for manufacturers to fully disclose what the technical specifications of their lights actually mean. Likewise, it is equally important for potential buyers to do their homework to fully understand what and why they are buying a particular light.

Some Closing Thoughts

Please don't hesitate to ask questions to whatever LED grow light supplier you are interested in, leave comment below or contact me for help if you like. If they don't take the time to answer your concerns fully, then move on. Some out there are just trying to make a quick buck and love it when people are too lazy to ask for clarification.

While I am sure there will be several new fly-by-night LED grow light companies that come out in 2013, I feel the number of true industry leaders will consolidate by the end of the year. What I am saying is that by year's end, there will be fewer (yet stronger) legit LED grow light providers than there are now. This is why it is incredibly important to be vigilant in your choice to be sure you get what you pay for.

{ 330 comments… read them below or add one }

HydroMan March 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Don –

Are you planning on using LED to light 100 mature plants? What grow dimensions are you trying to cover?


Tom Hargrave March 23, 2012 at 11:17 am

This is a great article, thanks. And I agree with the “no more than 2′ X 2′ with a 90 watt grow light” statement. But you can also cover the same 2′ X 2″ space with a 50 watt LED grow light by growing inside a cabinet and we show how on our http://www.grow-sun.com web site.


Heisenberg March 24, 2012 at 1:40 pm

HydroMan! I currently use a traditional system (MH/HPS). Currently have a 4X4 area. My questions are…

– I have heard that you get better coverage using multiple LED’s. i.e (2) 90W, etc. In short, I want to be able to cover my 4X4 area without having to purchase 350W Illuminator. Can you help with this ‘coverage’ area recommendation using multiple LED’s? Is the 350W Illuminator the ONLY option for my tray size?

– Will LED work with a light mover? i.e 3X6 (tray) area using 180W Jumbo Illuminator using a light mover, moving over both trays…


hjb April 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm

building a 100ft grow room and trying to figure out how many lights i would need. new to growing just so you know

HydroMan April 25, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Heisenberg –

Swap that 350W for four of the 90W lights and you would do better . . .

Sure, you can do a light mover . . . just like with any other light, you might see a decent yield increase but no where near what you would get if you had more lights to really cover the space.

Thanks for stopping by!

Martin April 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Hi Hydroman, thanks again for your work, i’ve been studying lot about led’s and your comments surellly have helped. I wrote a couple of months ago, asking about how was the Apollo 6 from cidly. I bought it and i’m now having my first results. I can tell you it’s not as bad as one could think, but not as good as some could also. My space is 2,5 x 2,5 feet. The Apollo 6 has 200W of power. In this, my first attempt, i got between 20 – 25 grams per plant, having 5 plants inside, mi total is around 100 grams. BUT, i can tell you that i could have used a lot more the space and i think that with a couple clones more, i could have filled all the spaced, i had blank spaces. So, i can say that doing things well, with nice growth, you can take around 150 grams from my 2,5 x 2,5 space with 200W. I don’t consider it bad, but not great either. I’m thinking i could get better results with a better panel. What do you think?. I’m now thinking of buying the best of the best, dont care about money, i want the best i can get for my 2,5 x 2,5 area. I was very interested in the 126X PRO, with the new X2 lens. But then i keep reading both nice opinions and some not very nice. Some say it’s just the best, some say it’s almost crap very expensive and that with the Magnum Plus you get better results with almost half the money. Is that correct? Honestly, wich one you consider best? the Magnum or the Penetrator PRO? if you were thinking unlimited busget and all the options you know and you have tested, what is the best i can get for my 2,5 x 2,5 space? Thank you very much for your time.

In the website, hydrogrowled people claim that the 126X Pro has a performance exceeding a 600W HPS. Is that so? if so, i should be able to get around 300 grams easily i think, no? Please correct me if i’m wrong, and any help you could bring me, i would be very thankful.

AND, i can recomend now everyone who is thinking about buying a LED panel, that if you really want to see LED technology benefits, i supose you HAVE to spend more money into a GOOD panel, otherwise, it’s better to go with HID. My Cidly’s Apollo 6 Panel is not bad, it does the job, but i don’t consider it to be an improvment over HID, i think with a 250W HPS i would have had better results. But then again, i didn’t use all the space i had and my plants were a little bit undergrowth, because i wanted to get something fast so i rushed things a little bit. That’s why my experience can´t tell much about real Apollo 6 performance, since i think that i could have gotten at least a 50% better results if doing things ok from the beggining, giving a nice growth to plants and covering the full space. But it surelly gives an idea of more or less how goes this Apollo 6.

Another thing is i’m not sure about quality, i’m getting the feeling i had a little lower quality comparing this results to the 400 HPS i was using. Get the feeling flowers had more resin and smelled stronger and had stronger efects under the 400 HPS.

Thanks again and greetings from Chile, keep the nice work, growers around the world thank you hehe :)

Martin April 27, 2012 at 3:53 am

Been doing some more research on the LED thing, and as more as i dig into it, the more i can´t decide wich brand to choose. As far as my reasearch goes, i can tell that the brands that are pulling the best panels are between Magnum, Hydro Grow LED, Advanced LED’s, Blackstar, Grow Led Hydro…. i also saw a Evoled series it looks very good. Having all this choices, which one do you consider to be the best option?… i think that no matter wich one of those i choose, i will be getting better resulst than with the Apollo 6, but, i´m in the search for getting the best i can get, i was thinking maybe you could help me a bit with the choice. Tanks.

HydroMan April 28, 2012 at 10:30 am

Hey Martin -

Personally I would choose between Prosource and California Lightworks – great results and much better value.


Martín April 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Uff, i was confused, now i’m completely lost! didn’t know the LED world was this complex. Difficult to choose one model, they all seem to have many pros and cons. Mostly i’m looking for the best i can get for a 2,5 X 2,5 space, trying to consume no more than 250W.

Take a look at this, i’m considering buying some of those also:


And on this link below you can see the results of this panels, he took 90 grams from a 60W set up, and also a 153 grams production from a 120W set up. I think it is really impressive.


I’m really stucked in this desicion and don’t know where to go. At first sight, HGL, Magnum and Advanced LEDs seem like the most popular ones when you go for de “best”, but when you take a close look into it, there are a lot of more options, all of them giving their claims of havingthe best in the market. One gets really confused by that. One fact i like about this bonsai hero LEDs, is that the panel has the diodes spreaded throuhout the panel, this way, if i put 4 of these in my 2,5 x 2,5 space, i could cover the whole space with light using around 230W. Another thing is that he uses Cree diodes, which i’ve heard are better than others mostly used like Bridgelux or Epistar. All the diodes are 1W, seems that the “new” is leading into 3W diodes or even 5W as the california lights you showed me. But i have also seen some saying that more of 1W Diodes could do better than less 3W diodes.

Another thing. What is your opinion about the Spectra and the Advanced LEDs Diamond series?

Thank you very much for your help, there is too many info out there and is a little bit confusing. Just trying to use well my money so i don’t make a bad choice again as i did with the Apollo.



Richard July 16, 2012 at 6:29 pm

I want to build a 4′X2 foot Orchid terrarium. My desire is to grow and flower a few plants in a higher humidity (70%) in an environment where I can bring the temperature to about 80-85 during the winter months. The plants I want to raise usually use about 2500-3500 foot candles of light (bright but not full sun about 60-65% shaded. What would you recommend in LED lighting?

Michigan weed delivery August 28, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Many cannabis growers use the led lights and they are doing just fine.

jestgee September 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm

would u reccomend led or hps for a first timer a 400w for 4 plants is it too much or ok???

brecko October 16, 2012 at 6:45 pm

i am in the business of selling led lighting…but theyre not grow lights..there more for outside lighting…but compared to metal halide lighting…i can get my hands on these lights but ive noticed that the grrow led’s are blue and red in color…violet even combing the two colors…mine are straight white light…2700 to 5000 kelvin rated…but not lights made for growing…can i use these?…take a look at this item on line…rab wpled52 its a 52 watt led light made as a wall pack..usually used over loading docks…but its comprable to a 250 watt metal halide…can i use this?..small grow room…a couple plants…im an old man…no time for a 12 x 12…please let me know..maybe if i threw in a couple cfl’s around it for the uv rays..thanks..i need help…i need to grow indoors this winter..

Roger November 16, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Hi, I’m wanting to get an LED light to bring my plants up through the veg state then move the to my 1000w hps for the flowering can you tell me if that will work ok. Thanks..

Troy Campbell April 4, 2013 at 1:00 am

Hi again hydroman been really going thru all your blogs , past and previous posts etc and I had a question for you , I have been looking into reflective material for my walls and as we are going thru a massive renovation there I found we have a spare 100′ roll of protectic isulated aluminized insulation, I did some research on the product it has a 97% radiant energy reflection rating, and a few grow journals around the net state this only is in regards to heat , but its actual light reflective rating is equal to or greater then flat white paint, So I am wondering if you have worked with protectix as a relective backing for your grows or have any info good or bad on its use for light rating , My main thought being with its heat retention rating if its light reflection is as good as flat white or better would it not make the ideal reflective material for led grows where keeping temperature fluxuations better in check, My concern is while my actual grow room is over 500 cubic feet its only sources of heat will come from my 336x pro and 189x pro , a dehumidifier and if needed an oil filled radiant heater. And given I have over 500 square feet of protectix I cant return I am hoping its a good option especially when you take into the fact I can use those poly tarp zippers to create light proofing at the access door. So all and all what do think does this product sound like it has some potential use in led growing or are you aware of info that shows that it is efficient.

Also wanted to ask you one more question concerning leds and light rails in another post I read you suggest the use of more leds of lower power to create a better footprint.

As I am using a 189x and 336x on light rails to cover a 4 x 6 SCrog what would consider decent spacing given the coverage rating of the lights running in conjustion to give excellent coverage as I expect at the end of flowering the actuall canopy will expand to about 4.5 x 6 feet so if you were me how would you space them to give the highest intensity of light in my planned garden.

HydroMan April 4, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Hi Troy –

I have not worked with protectix but I know what you are talking about. I would think that it will reflect better than just plain white paint on its own but I would just recommend putting it up in your grow space for the heat factor and then cover it over with some cheap mylar just to be sure – check it out here http://amzn.to/XT5QV3

If you are concerned about temperature, I have found that you can use seedling heat mats like this . . . http://amzn.to/11sNBWn – this will keep your root zone warm even if the rest of the room is a bit cooler than it should be.

With the 189x, you can cover about a 3×3, 336x is about a 4×4. What I would do is have them separated at about 2 ft on center. What is going to happen though is the side under the 189x will come up a bit short in coverage on the 4ft width. Your yield will take a hit but not really a big deal – if you are determined to get as much as possible, you could supplement with a couple of cheap 15-30w 2700K CFLs on the 189x side. Personally, I would just let it go as-is with just the LED and perhaps occasionally rotate the plants on that side.


Troy Campbell April 4, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I guess what I really need is par readings of the 189 so I can place them side by side with the 336 to figure out what coverage is actually the most efficient for each panel so that I can set my light movers close enough that where the umol values start to drop the other light will overlap and increase the value. Would you agree as my plan is to have both panels side by side over a 4 foot wide canopy by 6′ long , my reason for doing this is as we all know leds produce far more useable light so if putting a hid on a light rail increases its efficiency by 30% + I want to see what kind of efficiency light rails will have on led production.

HydroMan April 5, 2013 at 9:47 am

Troy –

Light rails can add some efficiency to your set up – you would only be using it on the 189x on the width. You should do just fine!


Cathy Burgess May 2, 2013 at 6:22 pm

This article is very much informative. With these modern day trends with indoor gardening, technology has pushed us so much with so many innovations that could help us in growing our plants. LED grow lights are indeed amazing! These are perfect for indoor horticulture. Great for growing plants indoors especially on periods where sunlight is impossible. Thanks!

AutoflowerWeed May 5, 2013 at 4:13 am

Yeah, I think LEDS will dominate the the growing world by the end of the 2015 and the 2013 and 2014 will be the years when everybody will start to appreciate hot awesome these panels are. I also have wrote an article about the Led lights, you can check out my information, but I guess you hvae covered it all already!

Patrick May 18, 2013 at 5:05 pm

A simple request,
All I want to do is grow 4-6 small pots of herbs, Basil (sweet and Thai), Mint, etc, sorry no cannabis, in my very large laundry room. On about 3-4 foot of counter space. If it works out, maybe a cherry tomato plant.
I live in Arizona and the summer is too brutal for outdoors. Never below 100 degrees, 24/7 for 5-6 mo.

Can I get some Recommendations on somewhat inexpensive lighting, bulbs, panel, fixtures, etc but prefer LED as house is all solar.

Water, think I can handle but the lighting is confusing, color, size etc.

gl May 20, 2013 at 1:42 am

This I can attest to this… 1900 DOLLARS paid for a single 550 watt light off of Amazon. It is pretty much like other ones you see on grow light websites and most ALL are made in China.

SO….I bought some DIRECTLY form China… The China cost to ship TWO was 1500 dollars for what APPEARS to be a clone light form the USA supplier. ( TWO each 550 watt with 3X lenses and for less money! ) AND…made with the SAME SPECS regarding the wavelengths…

Study up and shop around before you spend 2 LARGE and get 1/2 as much!

Charles July 27, 2013 at 12:09 am

Thank you for your Info
It has helped me and my wife to look at the different types of lights.
I have changed almost all lights in the trailer to LEDs. I do not know that the women are so slow to take in new lighting. Maybe the minor thing. Anyway we are going to do the indoor growing thing, but with tomatoes and onions and lettuces etc. . To off set the high price of food.
But as to the little green plant. I did that years ago. so I know where you are coming from. Anyway, keep up the good work, and always remember the more you know the better off you will be.
again THANK YOU.

Brian August 7, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Great site – appreciate the info. I live in Washington state and am setting up a new retail marijuana grow room for production. About 1500 sq/ft of veg and flower and LED has been a focus. What is your take on the Mars II series, supposedly a generic version of 5 watt chipset Blackdog. Thanks!

HydroMan August 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Thanks Brian!

Picking up generic LED grow lights will get you mediocre results at best . . . . the reason is because the cheap ones don’t bother doing any research to find the best wavelengths that really contribute to plant growth and flowering. You also end up with a hassle if you have any reliability issues. Everyone likes a bargain, I know, but this is a case where it WILL cost you more – either in lost yield or in poor reliability.

The Blackdog light has come a long way in the last couple years in terms of reliability but I am still not impressed with its results. Yes, it can grow plants and give a decent yield but it comes at a higher electricity cost because their wavelengths are all over the place. Using 17 wavelengths in their lights makes them less efficient. It means that you are using MORE ELECTRICITY to get the same results as a light that uses better targeted, more accurate wavelengths.

Give TruLiteLED.com a call – I am sure we could work out a deal for you with a room that size…


RON August 10, 2013 at 7:26 am


Weed Dude August 12, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Read your article very interesting. Got a quick question. If HID is only 15% efficient if you do the math you still are running 15,000 lumens of full spectrum light. I have not seen and LED produce that much… I know they use micro moles or PAR so what would the micro mole or PAR equivalent be?

HydroMan August 13, 2013 at 10:34 am

Weed Dude –

Great question!

The problem though is that lumens and PAR measure two different things – it is like asking how much horse power is in a glass of water…

Lumen – only measures how bright a light seems to human eyes, not necessarily how much of that energy can be used to grow a plant.

PAR or Micro Mole – specifically measures how much light energy can be used by plants for photosynthesis, regardless of how bright it looks to humans. Even so, 500-600w of LED (comparable to 1000w HPS depending on manufacturer) should have 9000-18000 lumen output which varies greatly depending on the wavelengths in the LED. PAR output should be in the 1500-2500 um range. But even PAR isn’t the whole story because some manufacturers such as TruLiteLED.com use infrared in their lights. While IR does not contribute directly to photosynthesis, it does affect chlorophyll production through accessory pigments and boosts flowering.

Hope that helps!

the weed man September 12, 2013 at 11:41 am

so i am about to buy a ds 900 watt led. i was just wundering how much dry bud do u think i will get beacuse it cost 2 grand

HydroMan September 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Hey Weed Man –

Can you elaborate on the brand?


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