Choosing Plant Lights for Starting Seeds and Growing Plants Indoors

Starting seeds indoors requires some type of supplemental plant lighting. Your choice of plant lights depends on how many seedlings you're starting & the area you need to light. Choices range from single lamp bulbs on up to 1000 watt high intensity lights. You can set up a simple shop light system or purchase a ready-made, movable set-up.

Whatever system you choose, you should put your plant lights on a timer. Indoor lighting is less intense than sunlight & needs to be left on for...MORE 14-16 per day. A timer works better than your memory. Follow these guidelines to choose which plant light system is right for you.

  • 01 of 05
    For gardeners starting a table full of seedling flats, shop lighting is the next step up. Again, you want to use full spectrum lighting. These bulbs will fit standard shop light fixtures (24 Inch Fluorescent T12 Fixtures) and are rated to last 33,000 hours, although I've never timed them. Again, they should go directly above your seedlings and be kept at about an 8 - 12 inch distance. You'll need to raise the fixture as the plants grow. Prices start at about $15 / bulb.
  • 02 of 05
    There are many ready-made seed starting system available to gardeners. They work with tube bulbs in Item #2 and give you the convenience of easily adjustable lighting and mobility. The models here have fixtures suspended on chrome metal frames, which are adjustable in height. They all have 1" deep, watertight trays to hold pots. The two and three-tier units also have swivel casters for easy and scuff-free movement. Prices start at $150. Bulbs are extra.
  • 03 of 05

    One of the best lighting sources for seed starting is obtained with high intensity plant lights. These start at 400 Watts, which will light an area approx. 4' x 4'. The light is strong enough to grow stocky plants. It also gives off a fair amount of heat, which helps with seed starting, but also dries out soil. This type of lighting comes at a price. Fixtures, including the bulb, start at about $200.

  • 04 of 05
    Quickly gaining in popularity, T5 lights use less energy and burn cooler than traditional grow lights. They are also more expensive, but are supposed to last longer. I have not tried these yet, but when my HPS bulb goes, I'm definitely considering it. Hopefully, as they become more commonly used, the prices will drop.
    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05
    As I mentioned above, putting your plant lights on a timer is the safest way to go. The timer listed here lets you choose the start and stop time by moving small pegs in the dial. You can program 2 On and 2 Off settings, in case you have multiple setups. You can usually find these timers in local hardware stores. If you are using high intensity lighting, make sure your timer can handle a 3-prong plug. Specs: 15 Amp 125 Volt 1/3 HP. Prices start at about $10.