Using grow lights to start seeds indoors is a great way to ensure your seedlings have everything they need for success.
If you have any experience keeping houseplants, you already know that regular light bulbs don’t produce the same type of light as the sun.
In other words, you can’t expect to grow plants (or sprout seeds) indoors without some help.
While placing your seed starters in a bright window can do the trick, this isn’t an option for everyone. This is when grow lights can be very handy.
Not All Lights Are the Same
To the human eye, there’s very little difference between the light that comes from the sun and the light that comes from a bulb. To plants, there’s a huge difference.
Light is made up of a range of wavelengths, which we generally divide up by color. Plants rely on blue, red, and UV wavelengths to complete photosynthesis and grow.
Most household light bulbs produce only yellow and orange wavelengths. They also emit a ton of heat, which will burn plants placed too close.
Grow lights are specifically designed to give off large amounts of red, blue, and UV light while staying cool.
Seeds need light, too
You might be thinking that seeds don’t need light to grow since they’re buried in the soil. But this isn’t true for all plant species.
Some seeds, like lettuce and petunias, won’t germinate (or sprout) without sunlight. These seeds grow best when scattered on the top of the soil’s surface rather than buried deep underneath.
Others do require darkness to germinate. As soon as these seeds sprout into seedlings, though, light is a must.
It’s important to know whether the plants you want to grow need light or darkness to germinate.
Either way, you’ll need to have a lighting setup ready for the moment your seeds turn into tiny seedlings!
Plant needs change as they grow
To make things even more complicated, young seedlings need slightly different light conditions than their adult counterparts.
Red light (and similar wavelengths) mostly support sexual reproduction. This includes flower and fruit production.
On the other hand, blue light supports foliage growth.
No matter the species, your seedlings are going to need a ton of blue light to feed their rapid growth. But they won’t need much red light, at least until they reach maturity.
6 Best Grow Lights to Start Seeds Indoors
In recent years, grow lights to start seeds indoors have become extremely accessible. What was once a niche product is now available from a wide range of online and brick-and-mortar retailers.
Don’t just buy the first grow light you find and call it a day. Here are the best grow lights for starting seeds indoors this spring:
1. GE Grow Light LED 40W Balanced Light Spectrum Integrated Fixture
The GE Grow Light LED 40W Balanced Light Spectrum Integrated Fixture is a great example of a high-quality grow light from a household lighting brand.
This grow light features a balanced light spectrum. The equal mix of red and blue wavelengths is ideal for all growth stages, including germination.
Despite the high light output, these GE grow lights consume very little energy and produce very little heat.
The linear design is perfect for hanging over a seed tray.
2. BESTVA DC Series 2000W LED Grow Light
For a compact, full-spectrum grow light, the BESTVA DC Series 2000W LED Grow Light is a great option.
This light includes nine bands of LEDs that produce red, blue, and white wavelengths.
Its powerful light output can cover an area just over 7-by-7 feet when hung 24 inches above your seed trays.
Another key feature of this grow light is its efficient heat dissipation. According to the manufacturer, this unit’s core runs 50 to 60 degrees cooler than other LED grow lights.
3. EZORKAS 4 Head Timing Grow Light
You don’t need a ton of seeds to justify using grow lights to start seeds indoors. The EZORKAS 4 Head Timing Grow Light is the perfect solution for anyone interested in starting a small batch of seedlings indoors.
This grow light can easily be placed on a tabletop or desk. It features four flexible arms that allow for customizing your seed-starting setup.
With a combination of red and blue LEDs that can be independently switched on and off, this grow light is excellent for all plant life stages.
You can also choose from nine intensity levels and three timed light cycles to meet your seedlings’ needs.
4. SPIDER FARMER SF2000 LED Grow Light
Whether you’re starting seeds to transplant outside or ensuring your houseplants get the light they need, the SPIDER FARMER SF2000 LED Grow Light is a wonderful investment for any home gardener.
This hanging grow light can easily be mounted from the ceiling or from the top of a shelving unit. It covers an area up to three-by-four feet, so you can deliver light to multiple planters or seed trays with one unit.
This grow light includes a wide array of LEDs that produce red, blue, white, and infrared wavelengths.
You can customize the light intensity with the built-in dimming knob — connected lights can be controlled from a single knob.
5. Mosthink LED Full Spectrum Sunlike White Grow Light Strips
There’s no question that grow lights are an incredible tool. But many gardeners are reluctant to set up a bulky unit in their homes. The Mosthink LED Full Spectrum Sunlike White Grow Light Strips are the perfect compromise if you don’t have room for a full-size grow light.
These LED strips offer the same benefits as a traditional grow light but can be mounted almost anywhere.
Each light strip has four intensity levels and an automatic on-off timer.
You can mount these grow lights with screws, zip ties, or the included double-sided adhesive backing. Each light has a 78-inch power cord for maximum flexibility in installation.
6. GE BR30 Grow Light LED
Maybe you already have a stylish lamp or light fixture that you’d like to transform into a functional grow light. With the GE BR30 Grow Light LED bulb, you can do just that.
This nine-watt bulb fits most standard light fixtures. It produces a broad spectrum of wavelengths that are perfect for germination, seedlings, and later growth stages.
You also don’t need to worry about this bulb “looking” like a grow light. While the GE BR30 bulb produces a balanced mix of red and blue wavelengths, the light looks white to the human eye.
Everything You Need for Successful Seed Starters This Spring
By using grow lights to start seeds indoors, you’re already on the right track.
But for your most successful growing season yet, you’re going to need more than a few seeds and a light.
Not all plants thrive when started indoors. The sooner you know which plants are okay to start under grow lights in your house, the less time and resources you’ll waste trying to germinate seeds that need to be planted outside!
As a general rule, root vegetables (potatoes, turnips, and similar plants) should be planted directly in the ground. Squashes respond poorly to transplanting, so should be started in the ground whenever possible.
Some plants, like peas, are extremely cold-tolerant. There’s little point in starting these species indoors.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac offers a great, easy-to-read chart that lists which common vegetables prefer indoor germination versus outdoor germination.
The biggest question new gardeners have is how early to start planning for the next growing season.
When it comes to starting seeds indoors, you’ll want to start most plant species about six weeks before your area’s last frost.
This can vary by seed variety, so be sure to double-check the ideal timing for your specific plants.
There are also tons of great resources out there that can help you determine the best time to start seeds and transplant your seedlings. The Old Farmer’s Almanac Planting Calendar is one such tool.
From the ground up
For the best results, your seed-starting “soil” shouldn’t be soil at all.
When starting seeds indoors for most vegetables and flowers, a mixture of vermiculite and peat is best.
Unlike true soil, which contains lots of organic matter, this mixture is unlikely to contain disease, fungi, or weed seeds.
Turn up the heat
Most popular vegetable and flower seeds germinate best when the temperature is between 68 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Starting seeds indoors with grow lights lets you control the ambient temperature much easier than starting seeds outdoors.
The distance between your seedlings and your grow lights can have a huge impact on their effectiveness.
Placing the lights too high above your seed trays will mean the seedlings don’t get enough beneficial light. Placing them too close could burn your delicate baby plants.
First, you need to know if your grow lights are LED or fluorescent.
Place LED grow lights between 8 and 12 inches above the very top of your seedlings. Place fluorescent grow lights between 5 and 6 inches above your seedlings.
As your new seedlings grow, the distance between your grow lights and plants will shrink. Plan ahead when setting up your seed-starting area so you can easily adjust the light height as needed.
Expect a loss
No matter how perfect your seed-starting practices might be, you will never have a 100-percent success rate.
Some seeds will fail to germinate. Others will sprout but will die off as seedlings.
It’s always better to have too many plants rather than too few, especially if you have a particular project in mind. Plant extra seeds from the start to prepare for the inevitable losses.
Still unsure about how to use lights to start seeds indoors? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about getting a jump start on the gardening season:
Do I need a grow light to start seeds indoors?
Technically, no. But using one will ensure your seeds get the necessary light to germinate and grow into strong seedlings.
Even if you start your seeds in a bright window, they might not get enough sunlight.
Most vegetable seeds need a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sun. This is hard to achieve in late-winter and early-spring when the days are short.
Do I need a T5 grow light?
While you don’t need a T5 grow light to successfully start seeds indoors, it’s a good choice.
T5 lights feature fluorescent bulbs with a balance of red and blue wavelengths. These grow lights produce very little heat, so you can safely hang them directly above your seeds and seedlings.
How long should I leave grow lights on per day?
The whole point of using grow lights to start seeds indoors is the ability to replicate natural sunlight. Leave your grow lights on for 12 to 16 hours per day to mimic the regular day cycle.
If you don’t want to deal with remembering to turn your grow lights on and off each day, invest in a set of lights with a built-in timer.
You can also use an outlet timer to keep your lights on a consistent schedule without the hassle.
Get a Head Start on Your Garden This Year
It’s never too early to start planning your spring garden. Whether you have a small garden bed or several plots, use lights to start seeds indoors can be a great way to boost your vegetable harvest this year.
The best thing about using grow lights is that you don’t need to make a huge investment up front. While grow lights were once quite expensive, there are now tons of affordable options to choose from.
If this is your first year using a grow light to start your garden seeds, don’t be afraid to experiment. Every plant species is different, and you might be surprised by what conditions truly help your seedlings flourish.
Which plants do you start your garden with each year? Are you trying any new species this year? Let us know in the comments below!
Last update on 2021-08-04 at 00:53 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API