It’s crucial to understand that your seedlings are reliant on light, but not just any light – they require high-quality light and an ample amount of it. When I first began my gardening journey, I made the mistake of hesitating to invest in artificial lights, convinced that a south-facing windowsill would suffice for my seedlings.
Don’t get me wrong – you can sustain a plant in a south-facing window. However, when it comes to growing strong and healthy seedlings that will flourish in your garden, you’ll discover more consistent success with artificial lights. Here’s why: indoor seedlings raised without artificial light tend to become leggy, lean excessively as they search for sunlight, or grow at a slow pace. It’s rare for indoor seedlings to receive enough light for robust and healthy growth solely from natural sunlight. Seedlings require their light source to be positioned close to them.
And to address the common question – standard light bulbs used in lamps or light fixtures do not supply sufficient light for seedlings.
Let’s delve into the top considerations when seeking effective grow lights for starting seeds indoors:
Crucial Features to Seek in Grow Lights for Indoor Seed Starting
If you’re navigating the world of grow lights on your own, keep an eye out for these three key factors to simplify your experience, save time and energy, and ensure the well-being of your seedlings.
- Full-Spectrum LED Lights: The most prevalent grow lights are LEDs and fluorescents. LEDs outshine fluorescents in terms of durability and energy efficiency. Running LEDs for 12 hours a day, for instance, costs about $2 in monthly electricity expenses. LEDs generate minimal heat, eliminating the risk of overheating your seedlings when they’re in close proximity to the light source. While LEDs may have a slightly higher initial cost compared to other bulb types, they prove worthwhile in the long run. Full-spectrum LEDs emit a light spectrum closely resembling natural sunlight at noon, thanks to their balance of red, white, and blue lights.
- Maneuverability: It’s imperative that your light source can be raised and lowered as your seedlings sprout and grow. Initially, your light source should be positioned very close to the seeds as they germinate, and as your seedlings develop, you should be able to raise the light source to provide ample room for the leaves to expand. Wand lights with flexible goosenecks make it easy to maneuver the lights directly over your seed trays. Alternatively, you can opt for a more structured setup, similar to mine, in which lights hang over shelves and can be adjusted in height using a chain or pulley system.
- Built-In Timer: Choose lights equipped with a timer or remote control to simplify your routine. Programming your lights to turn on and off at consistent times daily is all it takes. Be sure to verify that the timer functions correctly. Most timers include memory features that enable you to set daily durations of 4, 8, or 12 hours. Your seedlings will thrive in an environment of consistent lighting.
Recommended Grow Lights for Seed Starting Indoors
Here are some of my preferred options for indoor seed starting with grow lights:
- GooingTop LED Grow Lights ($26.99 for a planting clip with 2 full-spectrum lamp heads): I appreciate the versatility of these lights, which can be easily clipped onto the side of a shelf or tabletop. However, please note that these clips may potentially cause minor indentations or scratches on your furniture. These lights are mounted on the tips of flexible goosenecks, enabling precise positioning over your trays and control over their angle and height. You can even extend two lights over a large tray or split two heads between two separate trays.
- Lxyoug Grow Lights with Adjustable Tripod Stand ($31.44 for 4 full-spectrum lamp heads): This option features four lights attached to the end of flexible goosenecks. It remains steady thanks to a tripod stand rather than clips, reducing the risk of damaging your furniture. However, keep in mind that this setup requires a fair amount of space alongside your trays.
- FRENAN Grow Lights with Adjustable Tripod Floor Stand ($49.99 for 4 red-blue spectrum lamp heads): This product is similar to the tripod stand mentioned earlier.
- Burpee Two-Tier Grow Light ($299.99 for the aluminum structure with two shelves, two seed starting trays, and two adjustable growing lights): This is a compact version of the setup I use. The lights hang above each shelf and can be raised or lowered using a chain pulley system.
- Super Sprouter Deluxe Propagation Kit ($55.56 for a seed starting tray, a humidity dome, and a high-output fluorescent grow light): This kit is an excellent choice for beginners looking to start a modest number of seeds indoors.
Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors with Grow Lights
While some seeds may not require light to germinate, I recommend turning your grow lights on and off starting from the first day you plant your seeds. This approach encourages healthier seedlings. Alternatively, ensure that your lights are ready to be turned on as soon as you observe the first sign of green emerging from the soil. Lower the lights to within a couple of inches of your seed trays.
Keep your lights on for 12 to 14 hours daily. Make it a habit to switch them on in the morning and off at night, if you’re not using a timer. As crucial as it is to turn your lights on each day, turning them off is equally important. Emulating nature, you must provide your plants with darkness to simulate night.
You might think, “But if these plants were outside, they probably wouldn’t receive 12, let alone 14, hours of sunlight daily,” especially during the winter months. Keep in mind that artificial light exposure differs from natural sunlight exposure.
As your seedlings grow, gradually raise the lights to prevent scorching them. It’s also essential to provide enough space for your seedlings to grow without touching the light source, leaving approximately 4 inches between them.
Monitor your plants for signs that the lighting conditions need adjustment. Healthy seedlings grow upright and remain short and full. Signs that your seedlings require more light include leggy growth, pale green or yellowish coloration, elongated gaps between leaf nodes, leaf drop, and slow growth. If you observe these signs, consider extending the duration your grow lights are on or moving the lights closer to the seedlings.
Conversely, if you notice signs of excessive light exposure such as burnt leaves or discolored tips, adjust the light source to a greater distance from the leaves. If your light source does not cover all the leaves on the tray, remember to rotate the tray daily to promote even growth. You might realize that you require more or larger lights than initially anticipated, especially when growing plants that need more time indoors before transitioning outdoors. For instance, tomatoes and peppers often need to be transplanted to larger containers to prevent root stunting in the small cells, necessitating more light to cover all the seedlings.
Seed Starting Without Grow Lights
If you’re not ready to invest in artificial lights, you can rely on free solar light from the sun. However, keep in mind that seedlings nurtured without grow lights may not develop as robustly as those raised under artificial light. This is particularly relevant when starting seeds indoors in the winter months when daylight hours are shorter.
For this reason, I suggest focusing on plants that require a shorter duration of indoor growth, such as herbs, and steering clear of those needing a more extended indoor stay, like tomatoes and peppers.
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Discover More Indoor Seed Starting Tips and Resources at Gardenary
The remarkable impact of quality grow lights on seedling health makes them a worthwhile investment. These lights can also serve other purposes, such as growing microgreens indoors. If you’re seeking additional guidance on indoor seed starting, our Seed Starting course within Gardenary 365 offers a wealth of resources. Our mission is to empower every gardener with the skills and confidence to begin their seedlings indoors. We continually release more resources and recommendations for seed starting supplies on Amazon.
Thank you for joining us in making gardening a part of your everyday life. Best of luck as you embark on your seed starting journey!