CFL vs LED vs HID for Growing Plants

Growing plants and helping them stay alive can be challenging. Do you want to know what’s more complex? Maintaining an indoor garden; you must ensure that the plants are getting water in the right amount and that the garden bed is wide enough to contain their growth.

In addition to that, one of the most essential factors you need to own flourishing indoor plants is light. With the several kinds of grow light systems available on the market, most growers find it difficult to choose amongst the popular options, CFL vs. LED vs. HID, for growing plants.

When choosing the ideal grow lights, there are many things to consider: power consumption, light penetration, bud yields, and most of all, the cost of the light system.

Keep scrolling, let’s have a  thorough look at CFL, LED, and HID grow lights, how they stand out from each other, and which is the best to buy!

CFL vs LED vs HID for Growing Plants

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Grow Light

Every grower can attest to the fact that indoor gardening isn’t as easy as it sounds. However, things can get easier with grow lights – they allow you to plant and groom different crop species, regardless of the climate or season of the year.

Grow lights are built to function in place of natural lights while boosting photosynthesis. They also prepare the plants to flourish in an accurate color spectrum.

So, what should be considered when selecting a good grow light for your garden? Find out below:

1. Type of Crop/Plant

Figuring out the species of crop you want to develop and its characteristics will aid your planning. Whatever crop you choose will influence the coverage, light intensity, bulb type, and color spectrum your garden needs.

No two plants need the same type of lighting to grow. This is all the more reason you must be careful while choosing your grow lights as plants require different lighting depending on their growth stage.

2. Light Intensity

When talking about intensity, we refer to the amount of light that passes through the fixture to reach the crop. As a grower, light intensity is important. That’s because it helps you to be sure if your plants will receive an accurate amount of light at different stages of their development cycles.

They also determine if the plants should be kept closer or farther away from the light. You can consult a grow light manufacturer to help you decide which light intensity is better for your plants.

3. Light Spectrum 

The light source produces a series of wavelengths that are known as the light spectrum. Usually, plants use the blue and red light spectrums. A bit of the yellow and green lights are also thrown in.

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Blue light is often used for plants in their vegetative stages. This is done for the easy development of the leaves and roots. The red light, on the other hand, is used for the production of fruits and flowers.

There are two major types of grow light spectrum to look out for:

  1. Full-spectrum bulbs produce lights that are similar to natural sunlight. They can also cover the different stages of plant growth.
  2. Targeted spectrum bulbs produce precise colors such as red, blue, or yellow. They are only fit for planting specific crops and for specific stages of growth.

4. Budget

Having a budget before shopping for a grow light can help you streamline your options. While budgeting, try to factor in energy costs and the amount of light you need.

Note, the bulb wattage can determine the cost of energy, but you may not need to consider the wattage of the bulb if you run a small garden.

5. Height and Mobility

Finally, you need to think about how far your grow lights will be from your plants. Do you also want to carry the plants around? Then light mobility should also be considered.

While shopping, you can always find grow lights that are designed with an adjustability feature. You can go for them, especially if your plants need to maintain a consistent distance while they grow.

Typically, the grow light will stay beneath as new growth occurs. The light can be adjusted as the plant goes through different growth stages.

Also, ensure that the mobility feature is already installed in the grow light you intend to buy. That way, you don’t need to stress over adjusting it manually, particularly if you’re dealing with taller plants.

CFL Grow Lights

Otherwise known as Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs, CFL is one of the major supplemental light sources for growing plants. They boost plant blooming and are reserved for low light conditions.

In addition to providing wavelengths needed for plant growth, CFL grow lights do not emit as much heat as regular incandescent or fluorescent bulbs.

To encourage the healthy growth of plants, you may need to use multiple CFL grow lights. That’s because they emit very low light intensity as compared to natural sunlight.

Pros and Cons of CFL Grow Lights

The following are some of the main pros and cons of using CFL grow light bulbs for your indoor garden.

Low Cost – If you are working on a tight budget, CFL bulbs should be your best choice.

They are super affordable both when it comes to the initial purchase and daily use.

At the moment, they are the least expensive of all grow light bulbs. This makes them a great option for hobbyists or beginner growers.
Inflexibility – Since CFLs do not exactly produce a replica of sunlight, they are unfit for your plants in their flowering phase.

Also, they do not serve all types of crops; you always need to find the right match.
Versatility – Versatility is the second reason why many people would rather stick to CFL grow light bulbs.

They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and wattages. Their wavelengths are not also the same.

Because they emit less heat, CFLs can be installed close to plants, while they hang in different positions.

This lets them be used as a supplemental lighting source, ensuring that the plants receive the right amount of light needed for successful growth.
Contains Mercury – Mercury can be hazardous to your plants and animals. CFLs contain some amount of mercury.

If your bulb breaks in the process of usage, this chemical element can be released into the surroundings, causing your plants to die.
Easy to Use – Unlike other grow light bulbs, CFL bulbs don’t need unique tech skills or sockets to be fully set up. Beginner-friendly, you can get a hang of them with so much ease.Can’t Stand Frequent Switching – Usually, CFLs are meant to stand 10,000 hours of use.

But you need to apply caution while using and avoid frequently turning them on and off. Else, its lifetime will be reduced to a great extent.

CFLs are pretty selective of the environment they can function in. So, avoid using them in areas that require you to switch them on for brief use.

LED Grow Lights

Built with a full spectrum, the Light Emitting Diode grow lights support photosynthesis. They are fit for multiple types of indoor gardening and this makes them a widely preferred choice.

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Unlike traditional light bulbs, LED grow lights do not function with gas. Rather, they are operated with a diode of light.

They do not have a filament, which means they are incapable of burning out and can last longer. This helps to reduce the frequency of spending on maintenance and repairs like replacing light bulbs.

Pros and Cons of LED Grow Lights

The following are some of the main pros and cons of LED grow lights for indoor growers.

A Longer Lifespan – Light Emitting Diodes (LED) have increasing popularity because they tend to last longer than the average grow light.

They do not give off UV rays, and so can effectively protect plants that are placed under its care.

Operating at lower temperatures, LED grow lights can run up to 50,000 hours, making them even better than traditional lights.

With that, you will not have to replace or change your bulbs constantly.

In other words, LED grow lights enable you to nurture your indoor garden for a longer period without worrying about the cost of maintenance.
Bad for Your Eyes – The LED grow lights help your plants to thrive,  mostly when they are still in their vegetative stage.

But how about your eyes? Blue light is one of the types of light emitted by LED lights. Constant exposure to them can badly affect your retina cells.

You might need to consult your optician to see how best to protect your eyes when using LED lights.
Healthier Plants – Traditional lights can be too harsh on plants, causing them to dry up, especially in unfriendly sunlight temperatures.

As long as there’s a direct source of toxic UV light, plants that are kept under regular lights are prone to damage; they will often need more energy to survive.

However, with LED grow lights, your plants do not have to grow under harsh light conditions.

Because LED grow lights offer minimal warmth, the environment becomes safer for the plant to grow in.

This way, you won’t have to spend much on water and energy as the LED grow light isn’t harmful to the plants.
High Cost of Purchase – More than any other grow light you can think of, LED lights are quite pricey, especially if you’re going for the finest ones.

Some companies have cheaper, mid-range LED grow lights on sale. You can settle for them if you’re a beginner.
Faster Harvest Cycle – The main thing plants are after is the sunlight they need to keep blooming.

This means that they will probably continue to flourish provided there’s enough sunlight to cater for them daily.

Unfortunately, the sun can set sometimes towards the evening or at some point during the day, making the plants stop growing for a couple of hours.

The beauty of LED grow lights lies in the fact that the “sunlight” will not set at any point. The plants get to experience an all-around growth as there won’t be stops/pauses in-between growth.

Even when it’s completely dark outside, the plants will keep developing well because they have the right source of light.
Aging Effect – As they age, LED grow lights may start to reduce the quality of light they produce.

Their color may also change, despite being a long-lasting grow light option. You are most likely to experience aging effects with a cheaper or low-quality LED light.

This is why it’s advised that you go for better light quality and with a reputable manufacturer. Overall, LED grow lights are best if you’re in for the long term.
Proximity to Crops – LED grow lights emit low heat, making it possible for them to be kept close to plants.

As a grower, you can leverage this feature if your environment is height-limited. After purchasing your LED grow lights, it’s important that you read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

This helps you figure out how close the light should be as not all lights have the same Photosynthetic Photon Flux (PPF).
Energy Saving – All the energy LED grow lights produce is directly shone at your plants.

This is because they are designed to emit light through the canopy. Considering that, you will find that no energy is wasted while using an LED grow light.

The energy-saving feature of LED grow lights lets you get a good amount of light on your plant. It also helps you to save costs on electricity bills.

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HID Grow Lights

High-Intensity Discharge (HID) are popularly known for their spectacular light production and brightness. All over the world, growers adopt the most flourishing indoor gardens using HID bulbs.

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They are activated by gas and have double electrodes in the bulbs. The electricity draws current from each electrode and interacts with the gas to generate an excellent light.

Pros and Cons of HID Grow Lights

The following are some of the main pros and cons of HID grow lights.

Easy to Repair – LED grow lights come with modular parts. However, if one part goes out from the light panel, you will need to repair or replace the whole unit.

This can be difficult to manage as the development process of your plant may come to a halt.

The good news is that taking out a malfunctioning part and replacing it with a new one in an HID grow light is pretty easy.
Dims and Burns Out Fast – HIDs are most likely to go dimmer before they finally burn out.

To ensure your plants keep getting the required light intensity, you need to replace malfunctioning parts of the system.

In a small garden setup, you have less work to do. However, the same can’t be said for a much bigger garden setup as changing parts is a heavy and challenging task.

Compared to LED lights, HID grow lights have a shorter life span. As the lights are burning out, a replacement will need to happen, which sometimes costs you unplanned expenses.
Aids Plant Growth – While HID grow lights can not exactly imitate the sunlight, they are effective in terms of assisting the growth cycle of your plant.

After including the HID grow light in your process, there’s a high chance of you seeing a noticeable change in plant measurement.

They give the right amount of light needed to encourage a plant in its flowering stage as it goes through photosynthesis.

You will probably experience underwhelming results if you aren’t using a powerful lighting system like HID grow lights for hydroponic or indoor gardening.
Less Energy-Efficient – HID lights can be affordable, but can eventually require you to spend more money on added electricity.

The process of converting energy into light is not efficient. That’s because the ballast converter and chemical reactions can cause energy to be lost.

Over a period of usage, HIDs may have a decreased lifespan.
Easier to Use – There’s no need to deny the fact that HID grow lights do an exceptional job of offering a wide color spectrum lighting.

This helps the plant to grow smoothly without needing several adjustments.
More Standardized – It doesn’t matter the model or manufacturer, HID grow lights tend to function in a consistent style, unlike their LED counterparts.

This means that when looking to buy a new HID grow light, your process is easier as you don’t have to compare prices, brands, and product specifications.

Also, they are used similarly and have widely recommended output and distances to enable you to plan the set of your garden.
Offers Full-Spectrum Light – As you already know, the main purpose of introducing artificial light in gardening is to imitate natural sunlight on the plants.

Despite the benefits of adjusting color temperatures, your plants still need to transform light into food using wavelengths.

Frequent sunlight provides the right nutrients plants need to flourish. But in the absence of natural sunlight, HID grow lights can help you sustain your plants.

CFL vs LED vs HID: Comparison

Now, let’s compare CFL vs LED vs HID for growing plants using the specific qualities below:


When it comes to cost, CFL grow lights are a cheaper option. The cost of LED lights, on the other hand, may reduce at some point. But that doesn’t make them less expensive than CFLs.

HIDs have gone through a series of improvements and innovations since they were invented. Their components are quite simple which makes them cheaper too.

Despite their high costs, LED grow lights can emit an equal amount of light as CFLs. They also do this using half of the energy CFLs use.

Energy Efficiency

The energy efficiency of LED grow lights has been constant as they continue to beat out the finest CFL and HID grow lights.

When comparing them in terms of light or energy efficiency, we must look beyond their electrical watts. It’s important to also look at the level of light each of these grow lights produce for the plants.

CFLs are efficient for growing one or two plants. Yet, they have a shorter lifespan. LED grow lights may not use as much electricity as CFLs, but they tend to last longer.

HID grow lights tend to feature a higher power concentration and wattage per bulb.


LED grow lights have a longer lifespan than any other type of light source on the market. With 50,000 hours of usable lifespan, LEDs outshine CFLs grow lights that run 8000 hours of lifespan and about 10000 to 20000 hours for fluorescents.

For HID grow lights, you’re guaranteed a relatively good lifespan of 6,000 to 24,000 hours, with a likelihood of replacing the bulb in the long run. This is nothing compared to LEDs.

Choosing the Best Grow Light to Use 

Below, we will look at a few points to consider before buying any of the grow lights. That way, your decision-making process will become a bit more simplified. Shall we? 

  • CFL grow lights are great if you intend to grow seedlings, clones, or small plants. They are great for hobbyists looking for a simple, affordable way to start indoor or hydroponic gardening.
  • LED grow lights are great if you prefer to spend high initial costs in exchange for long-term use and lower operating costs. They are also fit for experimenting with different adjustable light heights and spectrums.
  • HID grow lights are great if you need better light penetration. In addition to that, they are quite reliable and won’t have you adjusting the lights to shine directly on your plants.


In summary, HID grow lights are more standardized, tried, and trusted. A majority of growers, especially beginners, love to use them. CFL grow lights are meant for small spaces, and they are affordable for starting a new garden. LED grow lights give greater results than HID and CFL – they emit less heat but are gotten with at a higher amount.

Whatever your final choice depends on your goals, budgets, and general expectation for your garden.


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