Grow Q&A: Choosing Grow Lights

Dear Dan, I'm very interested in starting a garden. I have had some great luck with CFL's, but I want to work with Metal Halide and High Pressure Sodium.  I’m looking up 250-watt ballast online because I am going to do about six or so plants in a 3’ x 3’ or smaller area. I’m somewhat ignorant when it comes to growing, but I will become great at it with practice. What my question is for you is: when it comes to purchasing a ballast, is there something that I need to know about getting the whole setup?  – OG Eric

Dear Eric,
You are smart to start with the 250-watt unit. Too many growers set themselves up for failure by buying a light too strong and hot for their space. 400-, 600- and 1000-watt HID lights create increasing amounts of heat buildup that must be addressed. Stepping up from Compact fluorescents to HID lights is a big step so act accordingly. You can also keep your CFL’s for growing seedlings into the vegetative stage and then switch to a HPS for flowering.

As for ballasts, most grow lights come as kits with a ballast, bulb and reflector all together. This is better than trying to mix and match a ballast to a separate bulb and reflector. Many people favor the new digital ballasts for heat reduction, but I’m not convinced yet that they don’t shorten the life of the bulbs substantially. Find a decent 250-watt HPS system specific for growing plants costing between $200 and $300 or so and you’ll be fine.

Have a grow question? Ask away at

(photo by @DannyDanko)


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