Nico’s Nuggets: Step-by-Step Growing: Part 2, Lighting

The Nico’s Nuggets Inbox is quite full these days and after grouping many of the emails by subject matter it became quite clear that many of our readers are asking for basic step-by-step instructions for the first-time grower.

In order to answer this single “question” with start-to-finish instructions would essentially require the writing of a manuscript. However, I am going to attempt to give such a tutorial for beginners in a four-part summary series of the basics to help the newbies get up and growing ASAP. Each week in the coming month I will cover one basic element of cannabis cultivation as follows: Seedlings & Clones; Lighting; Mediums, Water & Nutrients; Flowering, Harvesting & Drying. – Nico

Catch up with Part 1 right here! And without further ado, here is the next installment:

Horticultural Lighting

When it comes to plants and photobiology, there is no light source better than the Sun. As such, our goals for indoor horticultural lighting are to mimic – as closely as possible – the spectrum and intensity that sunlight provides. To this end, we are still progressing.

A basement tent grow using two HPS bulbs.

However, artificial lighting for indoor growing offers many benefits. Allowing us to take gardens indoors into more secure environments – environments where we can completely control all aspects of cultivation – has brought the quality of the cannabis we smoke to new levels. Still, horticultural lighting is one of the most problematic aspects of cultivation for new growers. With so many choices on the market today how are we supposed to know which bulbs, ballasts and reflectors are best? The simple answer we always fall back to is: Science.

Science tells us exactly what plants need and takes the guesswork of our trying to figure out where to spend our precious dollars. For example, we know that plants need full spectrum light for optimal growth – after all these plant have evolved for millions of years outdoors, under the Sun. We also know that plants need a certain amount of light energy, used in photosynthesis, to develop properly and create large, potent yields. So using the science gained over thousands of years of human agriculture, where are we today?

HID Lighting

Whether you are growing in a closet, small tent, basement or attic, the type of lamp you use will play a huge part in your yield and quality of harvest. High-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs are still the best option for home growers and top choice for both advanced and commercial growers. The questions here will be what size (or wattage) and what type of HID bulb? The answer depends on the size of your garden space, the number of plants you plan to cultivate, and your budget.

Traditional HID bulbs include metal-halide (MH) and high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs. The MH bulbs are generally reserved for the vegetative cycle, which usually runs anywhere from two to four weeks (sometimes longer you have the space and your desire is to grow huge plants). MH bulbs offer a whiter light that is heavier in the blue light wavelengths. Blue frequency in the spectrum helps keep internode lengths (the distance between branches) shorter, thereby keeping plants squat and bushy, which is usually desirable for indoor gardens.

HPS bulbs are used during the flowering cycle. They emit an orange hue and more closely resemble the solar energy of the fall Sun. Because they are much heavier in the red light wavelengths, they encourage more branching and stretching that will aid plants during flower. The truth is, however, may advanced growers will mix MH and HPS bulbs to achieve broader spectrum and more light energy during the flowering cycle. This, of course, is dependent on the space and size of  your garden as well as your budget.

Clones on the left under fluoros and mother plants on the right under MH bulbs.

Newer HID lamps now include double-ended bulb systems that are specially designed to be more compatible with electronic and digital ballasts. These bulbs can accept the higher operating frequency of the ballasts that would otherwise limit the lifespan of traditional HID bulbs.  These bulbs, such as the Gavitas, generally replace HPS spectrum, but do have a fuller spectrum that includes more blue light than a standard HPS would. Other newer HID bulbs such as CDLs (ceramic-discharge lamps) are also excellent HID bulbs that offer expanded spectrum for agricultural purposes. These bulbs come in lower, non-traditional wattages and can save on power consumption for the home grower while still providing very good light energy. Both CDLs and double-ended bulbs like the Gavitas tend to have high heat signatures, meaning smaller growers must take extra care to cool their garden spaces.

Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lighting is a great option for home growers and hobbyists not looking to produce a huge yield. These bulbs run very cool, provide good spectrum and consume little energy. The problem with fluorescents such as T5 banks or CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) is that they do not produce much light energy for the plants. This is why fluorescent lamps are not recommend for flowering plants and are generally reserved for nurseries where seedlings and clones can be raised in healthy light without being driven too hard during early development. Fluorescents are also excellent for mother plants and small veg rooms.

LED Lighting

We know that when it comes to artificial horticultural lighting there are two primary factors influencing plant growth and development; light quality (spectrum) and light intensity (energy). These two factors determine a plant’s yield and quality (or, in our case here, potency). Full spectrum light is white, just as the Sun’s is. Light energy used in plant growth is measured in PAR – photosynthetically active radiation. These aspects present the most important considerations when considering LED lamps.
LED lighting is a new (last five years) trend in horticultural lighting and they come with both pros and cons. The pros are simply that they draw less power and produce less heat than HID bulbs. This typically works out well for home growers or gardens in confined spaces such as grow boxes and tents. However, the drawbacks are limited spectrum and low light energy, meaning yields are usually very low with LEDs.

The Solar Storm LED lamp with UV side-bulbs.

Recent progress in LED technology has seen some LED lamps overcome come of the cons associated with LEDs. LED lamps using 5-watt diodes can now produce more light energy and the bigger lamps are able to incorporate a wider range of diode colors, making for broader spectrum. However, with these increases in technology come increases in power consumption, heat byproduct and, of course, the pricing of the LED lamps.
Stay tuned next week for Part 3 of this four-part series for first-time growers which will focus on “Mediums, Water and Nutrients.”

Thanks for reading everyone and remember: Grow… And help the world grow, too!

Got questions? Email ‘em over to Nico at and be sure to put “Nico’s Nuggets” in the subject line!

Follow Nico on Social Media: @Nico_Escondido (Twitter) & @Nico_High_Times (Instagram)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts
Dry Farming
Read More

Dry Farming in Humboldt

A small region along the Eel River in Humboldt County allows cultivators to grow cannabis without ever watering their plants.
Read More

Growing for Terpenes

Increasing terpene production can result in a more flavorful, enjoyable smoke.
Read More

Chadivation or Cultivation?

The cult of great cannabis and why legacy cultivators will always produce better weed than big business.