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How Far Away Do I Keep My Grow Lights?

Although this detail is often overlooked, in many cases cannabis growers can increase their yields and potency simply by keeping their grow lights just the right distance from their plants!

How far away should you keep your grow lights for the best cannabis yields and potency?

Cannabis plants should be kept the right distance away from grow lights so they produce the most bud

Cannabis plants capture energy from light and use it to grow bigger buds. In order to maximize your cannabis yields you'll want to give your plants as much light as possible, but without causing light burn. In other words, you want to increase light levels but without going overboard! 

While standard fluorescent grow lights like T5s and CFLs simply don't produce enough light to overload your plants, powerful lights like HPS and LEDs can do so with ease. Although LED and HPS grow lights can produce the biggest yields and most potent buds of all grow lights, they need to be used correctly to get those results!

You get bigger yields and more potent buds by using powerful grow lights, and keeping them just the right distance away from your plants

By using powerful lights like LEDs or HPS and positioning them the right distance from your plants, you'll create the highest levels of light your cannabis plants can use! Put your buds in this "sweet spot" light level zone, and they'll reward you!

Notice with these plants how all the top buds are big, while the lower buds are smaller. You want to keep grow lights close, because buds closest to the grow light get the biggest! 

The cannabis buds closest to the grow lights get the biggest!

More light is better when it comes to yields, but unfortunately that's only up to a point. Although it may be tempting to keep trying to move grow lights closer and closer, your plants simply can't use more light past a certain point! 

In fact, if you keep your lights too close to your cannabis plants, you'll see bleaching, yellow leaves and nutrient deficiencies, so it's important to find a balance!

Keeping grow lights too close hurts your plants! These plants were too close to their LED grow lights and their top leaves started getting bleached from light burn!

The top leaves of this cannabis plant are drooping, have turned yellow with brown tips and edges, and  is overall not healthy as a result of the light being too close (LED light burn)

Each type of light needs to be kept a different distance away, so if you feel confused this tutorial will show you how far to keep your grow light so you get incredible results every time, no matter what your setup!

To get the best yields, you want to figure out the perfect distance to keep your grow light away from your plants

Increase Marijuana Yields Even More With Training!

Tip: In addition to knowing the right distance to keep your grow lights, many cannabis growers can increase their yields even more by using plant training to take advantage of that "sweet spot" where plants are getting the best amount of light. Training plants to grow with many colas of the same height (like the cannabis plants pictured below) allows dozens of buds to be the same distance from the grow light, so all the buds can be in the sweet spot at the same time!

Get many colas close to the light for the best yields!

By training your cannabis plants to grow flat and wide, you ensure that more buds are colas are in the "sweet spot" of the grow lights


Metal Halide & HPS Grow Lights

HID grow lights like Metal Halide and HPS (High Pressure Sodium) are the most widely-used and debatably the highest-yielding grow lights available for growing cannabis.

Metal Halide lights are well-suited to the vegetative stage and tend to encourage plants to grow short and squat though they are less electrically efficient than HPS. HPS lights are suitable for both the vegetative and flowering stage of cannabis growth and the light they give off encourages plants to quickly grow tall and produce big buds.

Metal Halide grow lights are suitable for the vegetative stage of cannabis growthHPS (High Pressure Sodium) grow lights are perfect for flowering cannabis plants

Depending on the size/wattage of your light, MH and HPS grow lights need to be kept at different distances from your cannabis plant.

Here's a quick reference guide to use as a starting point: 

Grow Light Closest ~ Sunlight Furthest
150W 5" (10cm) 7" (18cm) 11" (28cm)
250W 6" (13cm) 9" (23cm) 13" (33cm)
400W 8" (15cm) 12" (30cm) 19" (48cm)
600W 9" (20cm) 16" (41cm) 25" (64cm)
1000W 11" (26cm) 21" (53cm) 31" (79cm)

150W - covers 2' x 2' (0.6m x 0.6m) area

250W - covers 2' x 2' (0.6m x 0.6m) area up to 2.5' x 2.5' (0.8m x 0.8m)

400W - covers 3' x 3' (0.9m x 0.9m) area up to 3.5' x 3.5' (1m x 1m)

600W - covers 3.5' x 3.5' (1m x 1m) area up to 4' x 4' (1.2m x 1.2m) 

1000W - covers 4' x 4' (1.2m x 1.2m) area up to 5' x 5' (1.5m x 1.5m).

Example: This powerful HPS light was kept very close to the plants and ended up bleaching some of the top buds and leaves of the plant on the left

This HPS grow light was kept too close to the top of these plants and ended up bleaching the top buds and leaves

However, in addition to the wattage, it's important to realize that older bulbs stop giving off as much light over time, so new MH/HPS bulbs generally need to be kept further away and older bulbs should be kept closer than the normal recommendations.

If you're using new bulbs, never start closer than the "~Sunlight" distance and only move lights closer if your plants are stretching towards the light (getting tall and lanky).

If you're using older MH/HPS bulbs, you should replace them if you can, but if that's not possible you can keep your bulbs closer to help make sure your plants are still getting good light levels. This is why it's beneficial to be able to test your current light levels with a lux meter.

In general, MH bulbs need to be replaced about once a year (every 2-3 grows), while HPS grow lights last a bit longer, up to 2 years (every 4-5 grows). Older HID bulbs give off less light and more heat! So in addition to keeping the right distance, make sure you're aware of the age of your bulbs!


LED Grow Lights

LED grow lights are powerful and can get great yields when used correctly. But when growing cannabis with LED grow lights it can be a little tricky to get the distance just right.

Unlike with MH/HPS grow lights, there is no "standard" distance to keep each LED grow light and it's hard to summarize with a quick chart like with MH/HPS. The distance needed between an LED and the top of the plants varies quite a bit from model to model and from manufacturer to manufacturer. Many things can affect the optimal distance from plants, including the individual size of each LED bulb and the way the manufacturer used lenses to reflect light downwards at your plants!

Different models of LEDs have different optimal distances

Cannabis plants under an LED grow light by Pro-Grow - LEDs should generally be kept at least 18" from the tops of plants

Contact the Manufacturer If Possible - Ultimately when it comes to LED grow lights, the best thing to do is contact the manufacturer to see what they recommend as far as distance from the tops of plants.

If in doubt, keep LEDs further away - It's very common for cannabis growers to believe that as long as the temperature is under control they can keep LED grow lights as close as they want. Unfortunately this is not true. Although LED grow lights run cool, the LEDs available today give off an intense amount of light which is great for yields, but can give your plants light burn if kept too close. 

The reason this can be such a problem with LEDs is it can take a few weeks before your plant really starts to show symptoms. Usually the upper leaves are affected first (yellowing or turning brown or spots) by too-close LEDs, but symptoms can also affect other parts of the plant.

Keeping LEDs Too Close Can Give Your Plants "Sunburn" That Looks Like a Nutrient Deficiency!

Cannabis suffering from light stress

Depending on the make and model, there's a lot of difference in operating different LED grow lights, but if you weren't given any instructions with the light, here's a quick reference guide: 

Type of LED Grow Light Distance From Plant
1W Bulbs at least 12" (30cm)
3W or 5W Bulbs at least 18" (45cm)
High Wattage (300W+) up to 30" (76cm) or more

Powerful LED grow lights need to be kept relatively far away from your plants to prevent light burn

LED grow lights usually need to be kept 18" or more above your plants in order to prevent bleaching and light burn


Fluorescent Grow Lights (like CFLs & T5s)

As long as it's not too hot, you basically can't give your cannabis too much light with these types of grow lights. So with fluorescent grow lights the idea is to keep your plants as close as possible as long as it passes the "hand test." In other words, your lights aren't too close as long as you can put your hand where your plants are for 30 seconds and it doesn't feel too hot for you. 

Keep Fluorescent Grow Lights As Close As You Can to Cannabis Plants Without It Getting Too Hot!

Keep T5 or CFL cannabis grow lights just a few inches away from the tops of your plants. Unless it's too hot, closer is better with fluorescent grow lights!

With fluorescent grow lights, it becomes even more important to learn how to use plant training techniques as you will need to train your plants in order to achieve an even canopy and get good harvests. But with good training, you can grow cannabis under CFL grow lights that look like this! 

This CFL-grown cannabis plant was trained to grow flat in the vegetative stage, which produces several big buds in the flowering stage! By keeping all the CFLs close, the grower was able to increase his cannabis yields!

Or T5 fluorescent lights to grow cannabis like this!

Cannabis plants that have been Scrogged under a fluorescent T5 grow light - the plant training makes a huge difference in yields when it comes to fluorescent grow lights!



Optimal Cannabis Light Levels

Use a Lux Meter to measure light levels for your cannabis plantsIf you have a Lux Meter to measure your brightness levels, you can get even more accurate with your grow light distance. A Lux meter isn't a perfect measurement of light because "lux" isn't exactly what matters to your plants (lux is a measure of light as humans see it). 

However, a lux meter is accurate enough for indoor cannabis gardening when it comes to fluorescent, CFL, MH and HPS grow lights!

Quick Guide - Lux Levels for Optimal Cannabis Growth

Life Stage Maximum Good Minimum
Vegetative 70,000 lux 40,000 lux 15,000 lux
Flowering 85,000 lux 65,000 lux 35,000 lux

< 15,000 lux - sparse or "stretchy" growth - plant isn't getting enough light
15,000 - 50,000 lux - good amount of light for healthy vegetative growth
45,000 - 70,000 lux - optimal amount of light for cannabis plants in the flowering (budding) stage
70,000 - 85,000 lux - a lot of light, some strains thrive at this light level, but some plants lose their top leaves early under this light intensity, especially plants that are not resistant to heat/light (like many indicas)
> 85,000 lux - at this light intensity, you've hit the plant's "saturation point" which means your plant can't use all the light (be careful of light bleaching!)

Note: Unfortunately, a lux meter is not a good tool for estimating the brightness of LED grow lights. That is because lux meters have been "calibrated" to be accurate for incandescent light bulbs. Although this is close enough for fluorescent and HID lights that it doesn't matter to your plants, the unique color spectrum of LED grow lights doesn't translate well when the lux meter is trying to measure light levels.

Get a lux meter on Amazon.com!