You’re a modern gardener, a tech loving person of the 21st century, ready to venture into the future of food. Growing it at home – indoors or outside, because quality eating is important, as is gaining a better hold on food safety. As a cutting edge Earth citizen, you want the up to date equipment that matches your needs, and meet your concerns where energy consumption and budget is concerned.

LEDs sound like just the grow light for your state-of-the-art indoor garden. They’re advanced technology. NASA uses them to grow food in space. You’ll save all kinds of money on energy use without running fans to get rid of excess heat from electrical monsters like HID. You won’t be wasting energy on light spectrum that your plants won’t use AND… guess what?

YOU’LL NEVER REPLACE THE SUN WITH LED ALONE

You can’t grow fruiting plants from start to finish with only LED grow lights. Sorry, but it’s true. At least, not at their current stage of development. If all you want to grow is lettuce and greens, then everything in that paragraph above might hold true. Chances are that you’re into more variety in your diet. You must be, rabbits can’t read.

Here’s the thing. LEDs have their place in the indoor garden and greenhouse. Every technology available to the grower today has a situation that fits it. But, you’re going to have a real difficult time growing things like strawberries, chili peppers and tomatoes to harvest-stage under LED lights. Anyone who says otherwise is spreading the sunshine on thick.

You could spend $4000 on LEDs to equal the growing power you can get from $1000 invested in T5 lights. Not very budget friendly – and that’s just the tip of the carrot. You need heat to grow fruiting plants. Tomatoes and peppers adore heat and really intense sunshine. LEDs don’t give them the heat they thrive in, and the light is pretty weak. So, you’ll need to add heating equipment, and use more energy, or you won’t be enjoying much homegrown salsa.

Of course, you can cut down on that cost of LED lights if you buy the cheap ones coming out of China. This isn’t the answer. They aren’t good quality diodes or fixtures. The light will be poor. Your plants won’t perform. The fixtures won’t hold up. You will be wasting your money. If you’re going to buy an LED, make it a quality product from Philips or Cree. There is always a reason behind the cost of a product. Don’t learn the hard way. Plants don’t cut corners. You’ll never get ahead trying to trick them. It’s just not gonna happen.

Of course, you could buy one of the new LED systems with infrared to help generate more heat, but it’s not going to maintain grow room temps. Here you are looking at buying a heater again, after paying for lights with more bells and whistles.

It is true that UV LEDs increase flavonoids and other desirable compounds. You got money to burn? You’ll need to replace these lights after 6 months. Your other diodes will cloud up relieving your garden of needed light, while all the energy you’re using for lighting is wasted.

The light falling on your plants is not blended well, if at all with LEDs. This means that each plant, even parts of each plant, are getting different spectrums depending on where the different diode colors hit the canopies. This alone leads to problems in development and uneven growth. Here’s a prime example of this issue in the image below. Notice that not one of the plants under these LEDs are edible?

Cheap LED growing lights offer poor indoor garden results.

You won’t have an efficient garden either. These lights only deliver low yields. LEDs are best used to supplement HIDs for flower to fruit stages, or starting seedlings. This is how professional growers use them. You can get the same effect for much less using the right spectrum T5 light for the desired result.

Stick with HID lights to grow fruiting crops. They won’t let you down. They are affordably priced and efficient. That’s why the pros all use them.

By the way, the LEDs that NASA uses are ridiculously pricey. You could buy a decent used car for what one array like those developed for researchers. Which is what NASA is doing with them – researching feeding astronauts in space. They have grant money and government funding. For you, this means having deep pockets or a taking out a bank loan.

Cutting edge isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Chances are the day that a high quality LED light that can grow any crop really well becomes affordable is possible. Quality light manufacturers are getting closer to making it a reality, but at the moment it just isn’t going to happen. It will take a lot more experimentation and development first.

Tammy Clayton

Content crafter and Senior Editor at Garden Culture Magazine
Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home. (Some feel she's got a perennial obsession, others say the problem is tomato plants.)

If you don't find her at the desk - check the gardens. When not writing and weeding, she enjoys a good book, painting junk furniture, and blending the harvest of heirloom tomatoes and chiles into salsas.