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6.3.12

Grow Lights for Indoor Seed Starting

One of the most popular seed starting questions I get from people interesting in growing from seed is whether they need grow lights when starting seeds indoors. The answer to that question depends on several factors. How many seeds are you trying to start? How much money can you invest in buying grow lights? Do you have any south-facing windows? Is your season long enough for direct seed sowing in the garden? The way I see it, buying grow lights for indoor seed starting is a luxury, not a necessity.

Grow Lights for Indoor Seed Starting


Let me be clear. When I speak of "grow lights" I'm referring to the light bulbs, kits and setups sold specifically for seed starting. Yes, they're neat and sometimes the connection to hydroponics gardening makes them alluring. If hydroponic gardeners use grow lights for their, um, lettuce crops they must be good, right? What can be better than virtual sun lights to give your seedlings a jump start on spring?

How much do grow lights cost?

Out of curiosity I searched Google to see what the price of grow lights were nowadays and the just about choked. The hoods for grow lights alone can cost you a close to $200. Plus, the cost of the special light bulbs which can cost nearly $100 for just one bulb. Add in the cost of electricity to run grow lights from 14-16 hours a day, and those tomatoes you're growing to save money on food just got a lot more expensive.

Cheap alternatives to expensive grow lights

Nothing's cheaper than the sun when you're looking at alternatives to grow lights. I would kill for more south facing windows, but even with one small window I manage to do alright when starting seeds indoors. The majority of my seeds are started in soda bottle greenhouses outdoors, but occasionally I'll start some in the one window. The rest I sow directly in the garden after the last frost has passed. Diversifying how I start seeds helps me never feel like I have too many seeds going and since things are naturally timed to grow at different stages I never feel overwhelmed when it comes time to transplant.

 If you have to-because of a short growing season or because you don't have window space-use lights to start seeds indoors opt for shoplights. For a fraction of what fancy grow lights will cost you can get a shop light and two T8 Fluorescent Light Bulbs (one cool and one warm)from the hardware store with which to start your seeds indoors. What some consider to be a downside of using shop lights is actually a benefit for seed starting. Their large size is perfect if you're trying to start a lot of seeds. Using a small grow light setup like the one pictured above you'd never get enough seeds started in time for planting even with an relatively small space garden.

 Do you swear by High pressure sodium bulbs, metal halide bulbs, or even LED grow lights? If you do you can try to convince me in the comments of this post. But I doubt that I'll be swayed and switch to using grow lights to start seeds indoors. Look through my seed starting archive for more tips and posts on starting seeds. You can also search through the seed snatcher search engine to find even more articles and posts related to seed starting from all around the web.

25 comments:

  1. I just use simple shop lights on a sturdy wire rack from Costco. I have started hundreds of plants this way. Here's a link to my blog about how I have done it.
    http://thewormgirlnews.blogspot.com/2009/01/evolution-my-seed-starting.html?showComment=1257610500720

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    1. Very nice. I love the wire racks that are turned into seed starting stations. Although, if the person is trying to be frugal the plastic storage shelves work just as well. Thanks for sharing your example.

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    2. The grow lighting's are really good to inside seeds beginning, I liked this content a lot. This type of lights have no elegant lights and the cost nearly $100 for just one light. I had purchased most affordable sunlight lights. indoor growing

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  2. Yup. Shop lights, no fancy bulbs. I'd use windows if my windows weren't already covered by four rows of plants and any of them faced south.

    Though I use T12s, not T8s, just 'cause.

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    1. Thanks, for some reason I didn't think to include the T8s.

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  3. I love how that light setup looks like a guillotine! :) (You already know I winter sow and use real light. For the few times I tried to start something inside, I used a shoplight hanging in my closet.)

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    1. You know, I thought it looked like a guillotine myself and even cropped the picture to make it "shorter," and less guillotine-y, but I guess that didn't work. :0)

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  4. I buy the cheapest daylight bulbs in the bulk box since I have 12 $10 lights. I know some folks get picky about the warm and cool but I haven't had any issues with the cheapo daylights. I don't waste moola on anything labeled "Growlight" because the mark up is stupid high. I also us T12s cause the lights and bulbs are cheaper. BTW, Chrome isn't letting me use my Wordpress ID to post this. bugger.

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    1. I have problems with the OpenID all the time. Don't think it's Chrome, I think it's Blogger. OpenID only seems to be a problem on Blogger blog, for me, which is why I leave the Name/URL option available.

      I didn't know the T12s were cheaper, thanks! I'll have too check those out. Also, I don't think having two warm bulbs is a problem either, but I'd opt for the cool & warm combo-as an ideal situation.

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    2. Anonymous2:48 AM

      Sometimes paying a little more yields substantial results, try T5's but if your not prepared to shell out the extra bucks, you'll see better rusults with the T8 not the T12.

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  5. I have one strip grow light and a couple of chicken hatching lights with plant grow light bulbs in them. When I had a bigger operation I made my own plant rack with shop lights. It worked pretty well.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback on the kinds of lights you use and have used in the past.

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  6. Anonymous7:22 PM

    LED Growpanel. Works like a charm.

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    Replies
    1. Do you use a fabricated panel, or an LED growpanel that you constructed yourself?

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  7. We have a growlight set up on a timer to help overwinter tender plants kept in a gloomy outbuilding over winter.

    Ours is a standard bayonette fitting, but larger than the typical bulb, and at 35w is reasonably inexpensive. It just helps give the plants an extra boost.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with your indoor seed starting lights.

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  8. Hey Mr Brownthumb, I've got several types of amaranth seeds from last year's plants that I think you'll love to try. Was sorting out my seeds last night for starting my summer garden and remembered your comment on my Amaranthus cruentus last August :)

    If you PM me your snail mail address I'll send them out to you pronto :) thanks for the lovely blogsite - most useful for a greenhorn gardeners like me :)

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    1. Hey, thanks for the offer. As luck would have it, I found some similar Amaranthus growing in my neighborhood and got some seeds from it. Appreciate the offer!

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  9. I have a four tiered light system that I ordered last year. I am very short on space so this worked out great. I used to use four forty-eight inch shop lights across a long bench in my other home but had to give these up when we moved. My multi-level garden is now on wheels and a timer. I only grow plants that are difficult or impossible to find at the nursery.

    Eileen

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    1. Eileen,

      Your old setup sounds pretty nice, but at least you're still growing in a light system at the new place.

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  10. In the past I had a nice big setup for seed starting indoors, it was a single "Goliath" light with grow bulbs I'd bought from Park seed (the name is appropriate, that sucker IS huge!) Just now I'm trying a red/blue LED stick in a wardian case, but for plants & not seeds (so far :)

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  11. I used to start my seeds under lights, but have now opted for natural light. There really wasn't much point in going to the trouble and expense when our season in Calif. is so long. I do start some seeds indoors, but only when it's warm enough to take them outdoors during the day. I move my seed trays out onto a table during the day and bring them in at night. This also allows them to become a bit more acclimated to the outdoor temps before they move outside permanently. Plus, I don't find grow light setups particularly attractive.

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  12. I just use two piano lamps with the default CFL bulbs that come with them, and that works well enough for me. The piano lamps are cheap and the height can easily be adjusted

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  13. LNBel2:32 PM

    Neighbors threw out an aquarium with lights and a strange metal (aquarium?) table. I hooked up the light under the table top and prop up the pots on boards and bricks from the floor. A timer is also very useful.

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  14. Melvanetics11:40 AM

    I have 2 bulb 4ft T8 fixture with full spectrum bulbs from Sylvania that I use for my vegetable starts in the spring. They work very nicely. They keep the sprouts moving at a uniform, but not to quick pace, so I don't end up with large plants waiting for the garden if bad weather comes through around planting time.



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