What Grow Tent is Right for You?
Using a grow tent can take your indoor gardening efforts to the next level. A dedicated enclosure like a grow tent provides excellent environmental control, and the right one can maximize valuable resources like light energy and open space. Like choosing the right car or right house, the more you understand going in, the better your ultimate decision will be.
Grow tents are wonderful tools to help indoor gardeners maximize use of limited space and resources, and achieve total control over the growing environment.
A number of technologies come together to create the perfect environment within a grow tent’s walls, and the more you know about what you want to achieve, the better.
Size, lighting, ventilation, filtration and an understanding of the different growing systems available should all inform your decision about the best grow tent for your plants and your budget.
Where the tent itself is concerned, here are some general features you’ll want to compare:
- Size and shape
- Access points: reach-in vs. walk-in
- Maximum weight ratings for frames (many experts recommend buying a tent with a significantly higher weight maximum than you think you need)
- Interior lining reflectivity
- Light control (blackout) features such as zipper covers and vent socks
- Location and number of air vents and intake and exhaust ports
- Puncture resistance and canvas density
- Zipper strength and quality
- Versatility features like adjustable ceiling heights and dividers
- Portability features like easy installation, knock-down and storage
- Accessories like spill trays, pouches, view ports, etc.
Integrated Grow Tent Packages or Mix and Match?
While this all may sound a bit complicated, it doesn’t have to be. In the indoor gardening industry, different products like filters, lights and tents are designed to allow consumers to mix and match the components they need. Because of this, a medium-sized tent is relatively easy to outfit with a lighting system that won’t be too heavy to hang on the tent’s support frame or so hot that venting excess heat using a conventional intake and exhaust set-up is impossible.
To make things even easier, many manufacturers provide complete systems that include most, if not all, the components growers need to get started. These packages aren’t customized to suit all growing challenges, but even an intermediate or advanced grower can benefit from evaluating how different packages are bundled by the experts. For beginners, a complete tent package can eliminate the stress and guesswork from choosing a grow tent, lighting and other items individually.
As you gain more experience, you may decide to use a specific light arrangement or other upgraded features, but in the beginning, a simple, integrated system will get you up and running fast. Starting out with a bundled package may also help you avoid costly mistakes and plant losses during the learning curve.
The Size of Your Grow Tent Matters
The size of the tent you choose is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Together with your plant choices, it will inform your selection of supporting components and contribute to your overall operating costs.
If you choose an oversized tent, you run the risk of paying more for your basic equipment and for the energy necessary to power your lights, fans and other equipment. If you choose an undersized tent, you risk creating a crowded and potentially unhealthy environment for your plants, or one that simply won’t accommodate mature plants, even after aggressive staking or trellising and pruning.
Even though grow tents are available in lots of different shapes and sizes, the one thing they all have in common is their basic purpose—to contain and cultivate plants. You can find tabletop models, and tents that fit into walk-in or sliding-door closets.
There are tents large enough to dwarf a basement or attic, but fill a suburban garage. Square and rectangular tents are both popular, and you can find ones with low, high or adjustable-height ceilings. With all these options, how do you choose?
What goes on inside the tent will help determine the right size for your needs. For example, if you plan to get a jump start on outdoor spring planting by cultivating seedlings, you may be able to get by with a small, low tent. Seedlings wouldn’t necessarily need a roomy ceiling height, but they probably need adjustable lighting designed to enhance vegetative growth.
In tent selection, form follows function, and function is usually linked to the number and type of plants involved. Manufacturers aren’t always specific about how many plants can be cultivated using a particular tent. There’s a reason for that. What you grow and how you plan your garden project, down to the containers or hydro system you use, will have an impact on the number of plants your grow tent can support. Here are a couple of examples:
Simply staking tomatoes will produce rangier plants than training them up trellises while keeping them aggressively pruned. This one difference will somewhat define the tent layout and the preferred dimensions of any grow tent you select. It will also have other implications. Trellising the tomatoes might allow you to keep more plants in the same square footage by opening up the space somewhat and maximizing light distribution. It may even make it possible to intersperse smaller plants among the larger ones.
Your preferred growing system will also be important. Hydroponic systems can provide nutrients and water to more plants within a smaller space than soil-based systems. Plants don’t have to compete for nutrients, so they can usually be positioned closer together. With adequate lighting and careful heat management and ventilation, a hydroponic set-up can increase the number of plants a grow tent can accommodate.
Ceiling height plays a role, too. Light fixtures, filters, ducts and other accessories use ceiling space, and creating the right distance between lights and the plant canopy is vital. It’s easier to bring the lights down to the plants than it is to redirect plant growth when ceiling space gets tight. That’s why many grow tents look so tall for their overall footprint, and why some manufacturers sell adjustable-height tents that can be deployed upward as taller plants mature.
General Guidelines on Plant Numbers
Although the best authority on grow tent sizing is the tent manufacturer, these general guidelines will give you a broad idea of the number of plants you can maintain in some of the more popular tent sizes on the market:
- 2 ft. x 2 ft. – 1-2 mature or 4 small plants
- 5 ft. x 2.5 ft. – 2 mature or 6 small plants
- 4 ft. x 2 ft. – 3 mature or 8 small plants
- 4 ft. x 4 ft. – 4 mature or 16 small plants
- 5 ft. x 5 ft. – 6 mature or 20 small plants
When in doubt, contact the manufacturer and ask if a specific tent will work for what you have in mind. Height dimensions aren’t listed above, but keep in mind that sizes similar to those listed here can be found across a variety of products with different fixed or adjustable-height dimensions. Check the growing information for the plant varieties and cultivation strategies you favor, and choose a height that’s compatible with your project.
You may also want to consider the limitations of a small tabletop or other tent. In a small space, things can go wrong quickly. The risk of heat buildup, often limiting the size and style of potential lighting, is a real concern. Limited space doesn’t allow for much flexibility, either. Small starter tents may be budget friendly, but they require diligent monitoring.
What Layout of Grow Tent Works Best?
After you figure out what size tent will best suit your needs, evaluate the location you have in mind to determine the most suitable configuration. Now is the time to think outside the tent. The best layout is one that will suit your room and make maintaining the tent and its contents easier. Don’t underestimate the value of convenient access. More than one tent has been punctured by a tool-wielding indoor gardener with more skill than space to work with.
Grow tents have many functional features, most of which are fixed on side walls or at the front or back. For best results, make a drawing of your planned installation and compare it to the tent you’re interested in purchasing. It will help you avoid problems later.
Tips for Setting up Your First Grow Tent or Portable Grow Room:
- If you plan to locate your tent in a corner, make sure you aren’t blocking a view port, door or reach-in access.
- Do the vents and ports on the tent correspond to your planned installation in minimum number and location? Most quality tents have multiple conveniently located openings for different functions, but it still pays to check.
- Is the tent location adjacent to or near your planned intake and exhaust locations?
- Do you have adequate electrical access? Grow tent components can draw significant power, so check your home’s electrical system and make sure you don’t have large appliances connected to the same circuit. In fact, having a dedicated circuit for a medium- to large-sized grow tent set-up is ideal.
- Do you plan to mount a fan? If so, will it be inside or outside the tent?
- Are you going to keep the tent in a furnished, occupied room in your home? If so, consider a tent with good blackout or light-blocking features from ports, vents and around zippers, and invest in a tent with a quality spill tray.
- Is there enough room around the tent to store tools and supplies?
- If you’re using a hydroponic set-up, consider how you’ll manage maintenance functions easily and efficiently.
These are all practical considerations, and ones you’ve probably encountered if you’ve installed a grow tent before. If this is your first tent, or if it’s been a while, paying attention to the details now will save you time and regrets later.
When you remove your new grow tent from the box, it may look like a pile of fabric and poles and fittings, but a lot of careful planning went into its development and fabrication. From the thread density of the fabric to the design of its light-resistant vents, most grow tents are built with painstaking attention to detail. If you’re looking for a home for your precious plants, a grow tent may not be the great outdoors, but it’s the next best thing.
Written by Sara Elliott | Gardener, Writer