▷ Best Grow Lights for Hydroponic & Aquaponic Gardening (2018 Update)
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Best Grow Lights for Hydroponic & Aquaponic Gardening

Written by Joseph Biggs and updated on October 7, 2017
Hydroponic or Aquaponic Grow Lights

Both hydroponic and aquaponic gardening have gained a huge amount of popularity over the past few years. They’re tried and tested systems that enable plants to grow much better than if they were grown under natural conditions.

But, it’s not that simple that you can just grab any old lights and away you go producing the biggest plants the city has ever seen. Building the right hydroponic or aquaponic system takes careful planning. And that’s where we come in handy.

In this article we’ll delve a little deeper into the world of indoor growing, looking at both hydroponic and aquaponic gardening systems in a little more detail. We’ll then take you through the various light options available for these systems. Finally, we’ll point you in the right direction of some of the best grow lights available at the moment, and tell you what makes them so popular.

Hydroponics

What is hydroponic gardening?

Hydroponic gardening is the art of growing plants and/or vegetables without the use of soil. Instead, these systems rely on mineral nutrient solutions from which to get their food. In this kind of system, the plants are hung with their roots being fully exposed to the water below.

What are the key benefits of a hydroponics gardening kit?

This will vary depending on the type of kit you use. When it comes to hydroponics kits, there are six basic variations. They are:

Wick system: This is the simplest of all systems as there’s no kind of pump required. How it works is it uses a wick to move nutrients and water towards the plant’s roots. This kind of setup is best used for plants of the smaller variety that don’t need a lot of water or nutrients. It’s also a very good system to use if you’re new to the world of gardening as there’s very little involvement needed after the initial setup.

Water culture: Another very simple system to use is deep water culture (DWC). This hydroponics system uses a reservoir in which to store its nutrients. Like the wick system, the plants are suspended in the nutrient solution so that their roots receive a continuous supply of water, oxygen, and nutrients.

The main difference between this kind of system and the wick system is that you use a pump in which to oxygenate the water. This kind of system is both inexpensive and low maintenance.

Ebb & Flow: Also known as the ‘flood and drain’ system, the way this system works is by flooding the grow tray quickly with nutrient solution. Shortly after it’s been flooded the excess water is drained away and pumped back into the reservoir.

With this kind of system, there’s no constant exposure of the roots to the nutrient solution. Instead, simply use a timer to schedule the flooding cycle depending on your plants’ requirements. The main benefit of the Ebb & Flow system is that it uses very little water or energy and is highly customizable to suit your needs.   

Drip Systems: The drip system is quite possibly the most commonly used hydroponic system out there. Its setup is fairly simple, involving a timer and a submerged pump. Once the timer flicks on it switches on the pump, sending nutrient solution through the drip lines and onto the plants.

You can use this system with or without a recovery system. The main benefits to the drip system are that it’s a very robust system and you have a high level of control in terms of feeding and watering the plants.  

NFT: This stands for Nutrient Film Technique. In this type of system, the plants are exposed to a constant flow of nutrient solution. There’s still a pump, but no timer is needed as it is on all the time. In NFT systems, the nutrient solution gets pumped into the growing tray, flows over the plants’ roots, then gets drained back into the reservoir.

Where it differs to deep water culture is that the roots of the plant aren’t fully submerged in the nutrient solution. The main benefit of this system is that it’s so efficient. Because it’s a recirculating system, there’s very little waste. 

Aeroponic: This is the most advanced of the hydroponics systems. It’s similar to the NFT system in that the plants are suspended with their roots exposed. The main difference is that it uses a kind of mister to supply the roots with a constant supply of nutrient solution.

Aeroponics systems tend to produce the fastest results as the roots of the plants are far more oxygenated than most other systems.   

Aquaponics

What is aquaponic gardening?

Aquaponic gardening is very similar to hydroponic gardening, but it goes one step further by using fish to enrich the water fed to the plants. In return, the plants naturally filter the water for the fish. 

What are the key benefits of using an aquaponics gardening kit?

The key benefits to using an aquaponics gardening kit are the same as those listed above as you use the same kind of setup but with an added element - fish. Added benefits you get with using an aquaponics kit as opposed to a hydroponics one include:

  • Expensive nutrients are replaced by much cheaper fish food

  • There’s no need to ever replace the water

  • Plants grow faster

  • It’s a completely organic system  
     
What are the different light options available for hydroponic and aquaponic systems?

Regardless of whether you’re growing hydroponically or aquaponically, when it comes to growing plants indoors there are generally three different types of light to choose from:

LED - These grow lights have become very popular over the past few years and are now one of the most commonly used lights in both the hydroponic and aquaponic system. One of the main reasons as to why these lights are so popular is because unlike High-Intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs, they produce very little heat and therefore is less chance of them burning your plants.

The main downside to using LED lights is the initial cost. However, you will save money in the long run. LED lights use less energy than other types of lights and need to be replaced less often.

HID  (High-Intensity Discharge Lights) - HIDs are known as the kind of mid-range light option for hydroponic and aquaponic systems in terms of both effectiveness. They tend to work a lot better than fluorescent lights, but don’t quite measure up to LEDs.

The problem with HID lights is that they’re not very efficient. While they do emit a broad spectrum of color, they also kick out a lot of heat, meaning if you use these lights, you’ll need to have some cooling fans too. 

Fluorescent - Using fluorescent bulbs in your hydroponics or aquaponics system is usually the cheapest option. These bulbs are extremely common and can be picked up in most DIY stores or garden centers. They provide a full spectrum of light and are perfect for using in confined spaces as can sit just a few inches from your plants.

The main downside to using fluorescent bulbs is that your yield will almost certainly be a lot smaller than if using one of the other kinds of grow lights. Because fluorescent lights don’t penetrate into the center of the plant they don’t thrive as much.      

What to consider purchasing grow lights

There’s no doubt about it that the best kind of grow light available on the market at the moment are LEDs. So, if you’re serious about gardening and want to produce good yields I highly recommend getting your hands on some decent LED lights. The first thing you should look for when purchasing grow lights is that they provide a full spectrum of light. While plants can and do grow under pretty much any type of light, having a full spectrum of light ensures the plant gets exactly what light it needs to thrive.

Another thing you should look for is the intensity (the output) of the light. The higher the intensity the better (potentially) your plants will grow. Most LEDs come available in a 300, 400, 600, or 1000 watt option. Never opt for anything less than 300W.

When making your purchase it’s important not to get too hung up on the price as you will find that the more expensive the LEDs the better they perform. And some of the cheaper ones, just aren’t worth the money.

You should also take into consideration how you’re going to cool the lights. While LEDs produce far less heat than fluorescent of HID lights, you’ll still need a cooling fan in which to keep the temperature down. Most plants will simply stop growing if the conditions are too hot. 

Reviews

Now that you know a little more about the benefits of using LED lights in your hydroponic or aquaponic gardening system it’s time to take a look at some real examples. So in the following section we’re going to show you some of the top selling models out at the moment and how we feel they fare up:

If you’re looking for a grow light that’s super-efficient, well-made, and is easy to use, then you’ve come to the right place. Available in a 1500W, 2000W, or 2400W option, the Mosen LED Grow Light is the one of the most efficient grow lights available on the market today. Even the 2400W model only uses 450W of actual power consumption.

Morsen 2400W LED Grow Light 2 Dimmer On Off Switch Full Spectrum for Hydroponic Indoor Greenhouse/Garden Plants Growing

One of the best things about this light (in my opinion) is the fact that it has six integrated fans with vents all around the side to help keep the temperature under control. The overall quality of this grow light is also very good. There’s a dimmer switch on the back that gives you more control over the brightness and it comes with a 3-year warranty. 

The only thing I don't really like about the Morsen LED Grow Light is that it’s a little on the expensive side. However, when you consider all you’re getting for your money, including a solid 3-year warranty, it doesn’t seem so bad.

Pros
  • Very efficient
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    6 cooling fans
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    Has a dimmer switch
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    3-year warranty
Cons
  • A little expensive

The Viparspectra V1200 LED Grow Light is the king of all grow lights. And while it may be one of the more expensive models out there, it’s also one of the very best. 

VIPARSPECTRA V1200 1200W LED Grow Light Full Spectrum for Indoor Plants Veg and Flower

One of the biggest selling points for me with this light is how it’s been scientifically engineered to ensure the right balance between the PAR output and coverage. It’s suitable for use with plants in both the vegetative and flowering stage and has an expected lifespan of around 100,000 hours.  

Another great thing about this light is that it’s so efficient, with an average power draw of just 524W. It’s also made using high-quality parts and provides your plants with the full spectrum of light that it needs. However, one thing to be careful of with this light is how hot the unit gets. Although it does have integrated fans to help keep things cool, you may want to consider adding a few more to your setup just to be safe. 

Pros
  • High-quality
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    Low power consumption
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    Suitable for vegetative or flowering stage
Cons
  • Unit gets quite hot

If you’ve got quite a small setup with only a few plants growing, the Toplanet LED Grow Light 450W may be the perfect choice for you. It may be small, but don’t let that you put you off as there are many great features to it. Firstly, it includes a full spectrum of light that’s suitable for plants in all growth stages. Secondly, it’s made using a new kind of LED that’s super bright and super efficient.

TOPLANET LED Grow Light Reflector 450W Plant Grow Lamp Full Spectrum Light UV IR 12 Band Veg & Bloom 2 Channel for Hydroponic Indoor Plants Greenhouse Grow Tent Herb Flower

Another thing I really like about this light is that it has a unique design that guarantees uniform light output. There are two separate light channels for both the vegetative and bloom stages, ensuring you get optimal growth. And, it’s expected lifespan is around 50,000 hours.

In terms of bad points, it doesn’t really have many. It is one of the lower end models out there, but it’s not the worst in quality. That being said, don’t expect to see the same level of quality you do with the Viparspectra model. But, it’s efficient, works well, and it’s ideal for smaller gardens.

Pros
  • Great price
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    2 separate channels for vegetative and flowering
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    Expected lifespan 50,000 hours
Cons
  • Low power
  • Quality a little below par

With a 1800W option, a 2000W option, and a whopping 3000W option, the Bestva DC Series LED Grow Light is one of the most intense grow lights out there. It has one of the highest ratios in terms of PAR to output and it’s also pretty efficient. Even the 3000W option only consumes 615 watts which is pretty darn impressive.

BESTVA DC Series 2000W LED Grow Light Full Spectrum Grow Lamp for Greenhouse Hydroponic Indoor Plants Veg and Flower

For me, this light’s best quality is the almighty cooling fan system. While LED lights aren’t really known for getting mega hot, they can still make the temperature rise to a level that’s uncomfortable for your plants. So, to counteract that these Bestva grow lights have a powerful cooling fan as well as holes in both the aluminum panel and glass. This allows the lights to run at around 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit lower than most other lights available.

These lights are pricey, but they’re well worth it. Just be aware that these are super bright and while that may be good for your plants it’s not so great for you if exposed to it for an extended period of time. So be careful

Pros
  • High-intensity lights
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    Very efficient
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    Great inbuilt cooling system
Cons
  • Costly
  • Very bright

If you’re looking for an LED grow light that’s efficient, reasonably priced, and won’t break in five minutes, then be sure to check out this model on offer from KingLED. Made using 180 different color LEDs, this grow light offers a full spectrum of light that’s suitable for plants in all growth stages. And each one has its own resistance to ensure they all work independently.

King Plus 2000W Double Chips LED Grow Light Full Spectrum for Greenhouse and Indoor Plant Flowering Growing (10w LEDs)

It’s also a pretty durable unit, that comes with a 3-year warranty just in case anything does happen. One thing to be aware of is that it’s a very bright light, which may or may not be good for you, depending on what you’re growing. While some plants like an intense light, there are some that could be burned by a light this bright. And although the fan works really well, it’s very noisy.

Pros
  • Well-made
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    Offers a full spectrum of light
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    Comes with a 3-year warranty
Cons
  • Noisy fan
  • Very intense light

And there you have it! We hope by now you feel a little more informed in the world of hydroponic and aquaponic gardening and the different grow light options available to use. If you’re still unsure as to what model will be best for you, then take another look at Viparspectra V1200 LED Grow Light. It’s made to an extremely high standard, very efficient, and will (fingers crossed) have your plants thriving like never before!

Whatever option you choose, just be careful not to assume that the highest watt options are the best as some of the cheaper models offering 2000W+ simply don’t have the fan power to handle the heat and your plants could suffer as a result.

About the author

    Joseph Biggs

    Author and retired entrepreneur Joseph Biggs writes for Organic Daily Post exclusively, when he is not spending time outdoors with his family. He, his wife, and their children and grandchildren live on an extended mini-farm where they all practice conservationism and a whole-Earth approach to life.

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