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Published Oct. 14, 2021

Until scientists invent convenient little mini Suns we can keep inside our homes, our plants will need to rely on artificial light. Fortunately, those sources of illumination have come a long way in terms of efficiency and efficacy. 

LED technology has improved everything from TVs to your smartphone, but it can also help your plants. Whether you’re trying to baby your indoor plants, nurture some seedlings that will eventually go out into the garden, or just please an outdoor plant that needs to spend some time inside, these LED arrays can pump out the photons plants crave. 

But, you can’t just go shining an LED flashlight at your precious plants. You need to pick the right power, color, and size to make your indoor garden thrive. That can be tricky, but these picks can provide the perfect illumination no matter what your flora looks like.

How we picked the best LED grow lights

Methodology

The PopSci writers and editors truly love plants, but we don’t all live where our favorite flora friends thrive. That means serious indoor growing sessions. I personally keep an extensive outdoor garden in New York’s native climate, but annually start vegetable seedlings inside in order to maximize the growing season.

For this guide, we considered a wide swath of different lights that can apply to almost any grower in nearly any space. We considered important variables, including power usage, size, and spectrum. These lights can really consumer a ton of energy, even with LEDs, so we centered our search around efficient models that cover a lot of uses.

Best LED grow lights: UNIT FARM UF2000 LED Grow Lights

Expert panel

Lots of power options make this a versatile choice. UNIT FARM

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Why it made the cut: Affordable, flexible, waterproof, and full-spectrum—these lights can handle most plant needs.

Specs:

  • Input power: 60 watts up to 360 watts 
  • Size: 2 feet x 2 feet
  • Color: Full-spectrum (including IR)

Pros:

  • Waterproof
  • Full-spectrum light
  • Lots of size and power options

Cons: 

  • Slightly expensive
  • Not dimmable

You may not need a huge light array now, but you might want to grow your indoor garden down the road. If that’s the case, you want a system that’s easy to expand while giving you the same color, quality, and amount of light. These are the best full-spectrum LED grow lights you’ll find.

These panels from Unit Farm come in a variety of power levels from 60 watts all the way up to 360 watts. The smallest model has 184 LEDs, while the largest and most powerful goes up to almost 1,000. The full-spectrum panels provide infrared light, as well as an ideal mix of warm and sun-colored light to foster indoor growth across a wide variety of plants. 

The panels themselves have aluminum cooling plates to help make them more efficient. Each light has an estimated lifespan of around 100,000 hours, so they will keep pumping out photons for many seasons. Because the LEDs are high quality, they’ll last longer, but they’re also more efficient, which leads to less overall electricity usage down the road, even if you’re trying to get those tomatoes just right.

Best commercial LED grow lights: Enlfjoss JC Series 4000W LED Grow Light

Big and bright

When you need more power, it’s time to go commercial. Enlfjoss

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Why it made the cut: More than 2,500 lamps pump out ample light for large growing areas without tons of noise. These are some of the best commercial LED grow lights.

Specs:

  • Input power: 640 watts
  • Size: 46.2 x 14.8 x 6.4 inches
  • Color: Full-spectrum

Pros: 

  • Powerful
  • Lots of coverage
  • Full spectrum

Cons:

  • Consumes lots of power
  • Average lifespan

If you have a big growing area or particularly light-hungry plants, you don’t want to have to piece together your illumination with little tiny panels. This array from Enlfjoss is nearly four feet long and three feet wide when completely assembled. It has more than 2,500 individual LEDs onboard split between sun-simulating white and infrared. 

Despite all those lamps, this model has an aluminum plate for cooling rather than a loud fan, which makes it worthy of commercial illumination, but suitable for your house. You don’t want a loud cooling fan running all the time in your home. 

The long power cord and dimming feature make it versatile enough to fit almost any space despite its large size. It promises a lifespan of around 50,000 hours, so it will last several seasons, though that’s not quite as long as some other models. 

Best cheap LED grow light: HitLights Full Spectrum Plant Grow Light Strips

Flexible solution

You can put these cheap light strips anywhere. HitLights

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Why we picked it: These cheap strips are flexible and super-easy to install for gardeners who need just a little bit of light.

Specs:

  • Number of lights: 96
  • Size: 14-inches
  • Dimmable

Pros:

  • Easy to install anywhere
  • Low power consumption
  • Full-spectrum

Cons:

  • Low power output
  • Small coverage area

You don’t always need a full-on sun replacement inside your home to help your plants grow. These simple strips from Hitlights have 48 LEDs each (for 96 total) and are easy to install pretty much anywhere. The assembly process requires little more than three screws. 

Because of their small size, the strips consume an extremely small amount of electricity while still putting out enough shine to sustain small and even medium indoor plants. The dimming function offers 10 levels of brightness, and the built-in timer can turn the lights on and off on three-, nine-, or 12-hour cycles. That way, you don’t have to remember to turn the lights on and off yourself and risk giving your plants too much or too little illumination. 

Because the lights are compact, they’re not good for covering large areas or sustaining light-hungry plants that require heavy sessions in the sun. But, they draw power from USB, so it’s a simple solution to keep on a desk and nurture a plant that might otherwise suffer under the drab fluorescents of an office.

Best LED grow lights for vegetables: LED Grow Light 1000W Full Spectrum Indoor Plants

Veggie shine

Lots of adjustable power can nurture your food sources. UPDAYDAY

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Why it made the cut: With 200 high-powered LEDs onboard, this adjustable fixture can accommodate a variety of plants and vary its output to meet specific needs.

Specs:

  • Input power: 190 watts
  • LEDs: 200 high-intensity
  • Color: Full spectrum

Pros:

  • Powerful
  • Adjustable fixture
  • Built-in timer

Cons:

  • Not water resistant
  • Bright to look at

Every indoor gardening space looks different. Maybe you have tons of room for serious fixtures and long tables. Or, maybe you’re trying to make your plants work in a closet. Our pick for the best LED grow lights for vegetables, from UPDAYDAY, can help make it happen. 

There are more than 200 high-intensity LEDs onboard, which churn out tons of light. In fact, it can be too bright to look at if you stare directly into it. The side flaps move up and down at up to a 45-degree angle. This allows you to make a V-shape, which can sit over a single plant, or sit between several plants. The angle allows you to direct light where it needs to go rather than concentrating it on the top of the plant only. 

The lights should last for roughly 50,000 hours of operation and can sit anywhere from one to five feet away from your plants. Because vegetables require different levels and types of light, the flexibility really makes the difference here, even though it will add some cash to the price. 

Best grow lights for succulents: Small White Aspect Luxury LED Grow Light

Point of light

Succulents don’t need a ton of light. Aspect

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Why it made the cut: You don’t want a massive array just to take care of a single plant, so check out on of the best grow lights for succulents. This attractive option is effective without sticking out like a sore thumb. 

Specs: 

  • Input power: 40 watts
  • Size: 7 feet x 4 feet
  • Lumens: 3,000

Pros: 

  • 90,000-hour life
  • Attractive
  • 15-foot cord
  • Affordable

Cons: 

  • Small coverage area

If you’re only keeping a small succulent on your desk, it really doesn’t need much in the way of extra light. That goes for other similarly small, but pleasant-to-have-around plants. This LED from Aspect sits at the end of an attractive 15-foot, fabric-wrapped cord. It puts out enough light coverage to nurture one or maybe a few small plants without spilling photons everywhere. 

It has a built-in timer, so it can turn on and off even when you’re not paying attention to it. So, if you’re away from the office for a while, your plants can still get a little time in the sun. The aluminum enclosure looks like something out of a design magazine. 

The bulb isn’t very powerful, but it does have a suggested lifespan of around 90,000 hours, which means it can last well over a decade with regular use before you need to replace it. 

Things to consider before buying an LED grow light

While just about every plant loves light, they don’t all have the same taste. Here are some things to consider when buying an LED grow light. 

Power consumption

Even though LEDs are much more efficient than their older counterparts, they still require a constant stream of energy to run. And leaving them on all the time—especially if you’re running a lot of them—can really start to ramp up the ecological impact and your electric bill. 

Older bulbs used to measure power in watts, but LEDs don’t quite work like that. Input power on an LED suggests how much power it’ll use, but not necessarily how bright it will be. High-efficiency LEDs can put out a lot of light with a few lamps, while other arrays use a higher number of smaller lamps. 

Your needs are specific to your plants, but don’t go buying an LED light array just because it has a high wattage rating. Look for an equivalent wattage number or other methods of measurement. 

Spectrum coverage

Full-spectrum lights can mean different things depending on the model. True full-spectrum lights include infrared modules that emit waves you can’t technically see. Different light wavelengths often serve different parts of the growing process, so you’ll want to match up the spectrum performance with the plants you’re trying to grow. If your plants aren’t picky, most “full spectrum” lights should do a fine job. But, it’s worth doing a little research about your specific plants to make sure the light you’re buying offers what they need. 

Dimmability

Not all grow lights are dimmable. Some have either an on or off setting and not much else. Other LED grow lights can offer ten or even more different levels of illumination so you’re not always blasting them on full power. 

Self-timers

Plants don’t need light 24 hours per day, so you’ll want to turn lights on and off as needed. Some lights have built-in timers that allow you to program in a custom schedule. That absolves you from having to remember to hit the switch, which can have a profound effect on plants, especially if you’re trying to start outdoor plants inside. 

FAQs

Q: Can plants get too much artificial light?

Picture plants in nature. They’re not always in the sun. The same goes for artificial lights. Leave lights on too long and it can affect how your plants bloom due to the light’s effect on metabolism. Lights also emit heat (yes, even LEDs), which can dry the plants out or even burn them. 

Q: How much light do I need for a 10×10 grow room?

It can vary depending on what kind of lights you buy and what kinds of plants you’re growing, but the general rule of thumb is that you want 25-50 watts (equivalent) of light per square foot. Again, that’s only a starting point, so you’ll want to get more specific with your research about your plants if you’re trying to get serious about a grow room that big. 

Q: Which is better LED or HPS?

While this article addresses LED solutions, you’ll also find many growers still rely on HPS lights, or high-pressure sodium. LED is more power-efficient and typically offers better spectral coverage. HPS, however, can be cheaper to get started with and the fixtures are often easier to repair and replace parts in. 

A final thought about LED grow lights

If your plants need a little top-up when it comes to sunshine, the best LED grow lights can provide just that in an affordable, efficient way. If you’re getting serious about growing, you’ll want to make sure you get the right kind of light for your plants, but there’s almost certainly an LED option out there that can give you exactly what you need. 

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