The Fantastic World of LED Grow Lights



I was first introduced to LED grow lights in Alaska when I went to visit garden writer Jeff Lowenfels. He had one little pepper plant under an LED grow light, and let me tell you, that plant was blooming and fruiting like nothing you've ever seen.  He invited me to count the number of peppers emerging from the plant; I lost count after twenty.  And you have to think about what it's like to crave fresh produce in Alaska, where everything's got to be shipped in or grown in a greenhouse most of the year. I could just see what those bright, spicy peppers would mean on a dark, cold, short Alaska winter day.

So when I got one of these Sonnylight LED grow lights to try out, I had already bought into the concept. The LED lights are highly efficient–lasting 75,000 hours or about 15 years (according to Sonnylight's website), and a unit like this costs less than $1 per month to operate–not exactly an energy hog. They give off no heat, meaning no wasted energy and also no risk of scorching the plants.

And–here's the key thing–those red and blue lights?  They change depending on the light needs of the plant.  You use these programmable buttons to tell the light what kind of plant you're growing–does it fruit or just leaf out, for instance–and it will adjust the red/blue wavelengths to give the plant the kind of light it needs most as it moves through different phases of growth.

Below is the kitchen garden unit. The light moves up and down its post so that it can be raised up to 28 inches high as the plants grow. No tools are needed to adjust the light–it's got a clever rubber thingy that holds it in place, and you just gently rock the light hood back and forth to raise or lower it.  I didn't have anything particularly rare or unusual I was trying to nurture through the winter, so I put some pots of herbs under the lights–cilantro, parsley, etc–just to see how they do.They look great and I love that I've got lots of leaves and no flowers.

You can also get the light by itself to hang on wires and suspend above, say, a larger houseplant or an indoor citrus tree.



And one more thing–every bit of the packaging can be composted.  All of it.  No plastic, no styrafoam.  Reusable (or compostable) cloth bags protect the sensitive bits, and it's all packed into this cardboardy stuff that will quickly become worm food.

Oh, and it just takes a couple of minutes to put together–no tools needed, except for a little Allen wrench, which is included.



So.  What do I think?  Well, frankly, it's a pretty awesome little gadget. Well thought-out, nicely designed, simple to use, all that. And unlike shop lights, it's slick and pretty enough to sit in the kitchen or living room.

The only thing that's going to give most of you pause is the price.  At $300 ($250 for the hanging version), this is not a casual expenditure.  I try to justify larger garden purchases by amortizing them over time:  if this light lasts the expected 15 years, that's $20 per year, plus a miniscule energy cost. From that perspective, it seems like $20 per year could buy me a lot of fun in the winter.

Now, keep in mind that the real benefit of this kind of LED light as opposed to the $40-$50 versions you might see in hydroponic shops is that the colors change to encourage the kind of growth you want.  Seed-starting, vegetative growth, flowering, fruiting–you can change the light settings, or let the pre-programmed settings change over time for you.

I'll definitely start some seeds under this light in early spring, and since I've used the shop lights before, I'll have some basis for comparison.  And I might try detaching the light and hanging it above one of my indoor citrus trees, too, just to see how that goes.  I'll report back.

What are your thoughts about these LED lights?  Let me know.

AND–I think–I think–we have one of these to give away, but as of this very moment I haven't confirmed it.  So don't comment to win at this moment–I'll do a separate post if, in fact, we can give one away.





  1. It is beautiful, the light spectrum alone is art. The cost is high, though. I wonder if LED lights could be added to an older grow light set up somehow. I have a couple of units and would love to change them out to LED.

  2. How often do the lights change? Is it manual? Because my initial thought from the first pic is “plants at the disco!”

    I’ve been looking to get an LED set up for awhile now. Maybe this will bring me there.

  3. I am incredibly skeptical about the whole changing light colors for fruiting thing — I try to follow the research on light quality, and I’ve never heard anything like this… I’ll comb through the literature and make sure, but I’m pretty sure it is a totally bogus claim. (maybe on of The Garden Professors could weigh in on this?)
    The red and blue lights are cool looking at first, but I find them incredibly unpleasant to work under for any period of time.

  4. I may pee myself if you give one of these away. I so want one to start veggies with! I can already taste the cantaloupes….

  5. The cost is high. I saw this unit at the IGC show. While many understand the factoring of costs over 20 years the intial sticker shock may be a detriment.
    There are many LED lights coming on the market. My favorite thus far is from LUMIGROW. It is 100% made in USA. It is a real grow light that keeps up with HID energy hogs. As for changing the color according to growth phase it makes sense. It is no different than the color spectrum found in T5 and Metal Halide and Sodium lights. The cool thing about the LUMIGROW light is you can dial in the color changes as your plants go through different cycles from vegetation to flowering fruiting phases


  6. I too immediatley thought Disco! And until I can figure some way to keep the fabulous furry felines out of any seed starting efforts, the lighting is immaterial, the plants are doomed.

  7. I would love to hear your results after your Spring seed starting. Are you going to do a side by side comparison? I’d like to see how plants under LED do as opposed to traditional lighting. I’m very intrigued by the whole idea, and although pricey, I would consider the purchase if I was sure that it was worth it. So, more info please….

  8. We sell these light at the nursery.

    hb says, “I wonder how many of those things are growing marijuana. Probably a lot!”
    That’s what is fueling the interest, and production of LED grow lights.

    As far as using them in your home be aware they are very different than the light you are use to. They change the color of the plants in a not very complimentary way. Plants do not look green under this light. As Joseph said above, “The red and blue lights are cool looking at first, but I find them incredibly unpleasant to work under for any period of time.”

    These light’s will be the wave of the future for indoor grows. Mostly though it’s people who are producing plants for a economic reason, and don’t care about what the plant look’s like under the light. LED’s are fun, if your a plant geek, or commercial grower.

  9. I’ve always loved LED lights for their size and efficiency, but never thought about them in the context of gardening before! Personally I won’t be able to afford it any time soon, but the price seems worthwhile if someone still has money for plants paying for the setup. Thanks for keeping us posted as always! 🙂

  10. Hey, just to answer a couple questions and comments–the lights do not change crazily or constantly (I don’t notice them changing at all), so it’s not like a disco in your living room. Also, this model does not cast light all over the room, so you won’t be working under them or around them or otherwise being right in the path of red or blue light. Of course, at night, in a dark room, there’s a weird purple glow around the thing, but otherwise it does not fill your room with red/blue light.

  11. I briefly moved from Zone 9 to Zone 6 for work last year and purchased an LED grow light so I’d be able to bring a few plants & new seeds along. Granted it wasn’t the exact system mentioned here, it was an LED grow light. I agree with Jenn – the light is unpleasant to work near. It was set up on my kitchen counter at first and I ended up moving it to the shed. Also, I found it did great with established plants but not so great with seedlings – probably because I only had one bulb and couldn’t get the seedlings close enough (?) Thanks for reminding me about the LED light, Amy! I am going to set up some of my tropicals in the shed when it gets cold.

  12. just went to the local indoor pot growing store, explained that i wanted something for my living room, and they recommended T5 fixtures way over LED for the reasons everyone stated above.

    just not pleasant light for the living space.

    they also were skeptical of any improved plant growth to compensate for the improved cost.

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