Best Grow Lights for Starting Seeds Indoors

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Growing a garden from seed can be a cost-effective way to get lots of produce. However, if you plan on growing plants from seed, you will almost certainly need a grow light. Understanding the different types of lights will help you choose the best grow lights for starting seeds indoors.

tomatoes and squash started under grow lights
These tomatoes and squash were started indoors under a grow light in January.

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Do I Need a Grow Light to Start Seeds Indoors?

Do you really need a grow light to start seeds indoors? The short answer is yes. Yes, you really do. Without a grow light, your seedlings will most likely not receive enough sunlight to grow properly without getting leggy.

Even in the winter, a south-facing window usually does not provide enough sunlight to grow seedlings. The majority of your warm-weather summer vegetables need about 14 hours of sunlight each day. During the winter, most homes don’t receive that much sun all day.

If you must grow something without a grow light, your best bet is to grow some leafy greens. Vegetables such as lettuce and kale don’t require as much sunlight to grow as tomatoes and beans.

For other vegetables that you can grow with less light read “Vegetables to Grow in the Shade.

Types of Grow Lights for Starting Seeds Indoors

There are several types of grow lights that can be used for starting seeds indoors and their are pros and cons of each.

Incandescent Lights

Incandescent light bulbs are the cheapest type of bulbs on the market but they definitely aren’t the best for growing plants. They get hot and can overheat your plants in a hurry.

Plants tend to get leggy under incandescent bulbs too becuase they don’t deliver the full spectrum of light and putting the plants too close to the bulbs can burn the leaves.

Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Fluorescent bulbs are a better than incandescent bulbs. These are commonly found in shop lights. They stay much cooler and contain a wider spectrum of light than incandescent bulbs.

They are a great choice if you are on a budget. While not quite as good as the LED grow lights, they will definitely work to grow healthy plants. I used shop lights for years with no major problems. You can usually find inexpensive ones online or at home improvement stores.

LED Lights

LED lights are my preferred lights to use to start seeds indoors. You can find them with full spectrum colors that mimic the sunlight. They don’t get hot and use less energy than other types of lights.

The LED grow lights that I use contain both blue and red bulbs. The blue helps promote leaf growth, the red helps promote flower growth. The only downside to these bulbs is that they emit a purplish glow.

Before buying lights, decide how many plants you plan to start. It’s always a good idea to start a few extra in case some don’t germinate. However, don’t start so many seeds that you don’t have room to plant them in your garden. (Unless you plant to give them away.)

It is easy to start a lot of seeds because they don’t take up much room at first. But you need to be prepared to repot those plants into larger pots and still have room for them under your grow lights until it is time to harden them off and transplant them outdoors in the garden.

various seeds on an indoor growing table
Using grow lights to start your seeds will result in healthier, sturdier plants.

How To Set Up Your Grow Lights

I have a pretty simple set up when it comes to grow lights. And you will definitely save money if you take a do-it-yourself approach.

I purchased an inexpensive metal shelf to hold my plants. I used to hook my grow lights (shop lights) on the shelves with a paper clip. (I told you it was diy.) I used this set up for at least 5 years, maybe more.

Last year, however, I upgraded to these LED full-spectrum grow lights. (If you need 2, they come in a 2 pack also.) While you can hang these lights, (They come with everything you need to hang them.) since they are flat panels, they worked perfectly placed face down on the shelf.

I noticed much better growth and less legginess with the LED lights. We have our grow shelves in the laundry room so the purplish light isn’t really an issue. I recently found them with yellow bulbs too, but I haven’t tried them yet.

Can You Use Grow Lights to Grow Vegetables Indoors In the Winter?

The LED grow lights are great for growing vegetables indoors during the winter too. I grew 3 heads of lettuce this year under my grow lights. This was enough lettuce for several salads. I cut the outer leaves and the inner leaves kept growing.

While you obviously can’t grow all your produce indoors, it can be fun to grow a few vegetables or herbs to add some freshness to your winter meals.

If you want to grow a variety of vegetables or herbs during the winter, you might want to look into the AeroGarden. These are little grow stations that grow vegetables and herbs hydroponically. Most come as a complete kit and they are a fun way to grow something with your kids too. I linked to the basic model, but there are many different kinds to choose from.

I have a much older model that I’ve used for years. I’ve grown herbs in mine and even a small tomato plant. It was the only year I beat my Mom in harvesting the first tomato from our gardens.

Yes, Grow Lights are Necessary to Start Seeds Indoors

I hope by now that you understand that using grow lights really is necessary if you want to start seeds indoors. Without the grow lights, your plants will struggle to get enough sunlight to grow healthy and strong. And weaker plants don’t do as well when you go to transplant them into the garden in the spring.

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