By far, the best option for light when starting seeds indoors is to use grow lights. But there are so many types of grow lights – which are best?
The article Types of Grow Lights For Starting Seeds Indoors appeared first on Big Blog Of Gardening.By far, the best option for light when starting seeds indoors is to use grow lights. But there are so many types of grow lights – which are best?
The article Types of Grow Lights For Starting Seeds Indoors appeared first on Big Blog Of Gardening.Read MoreBig Blog Of GardeningSeedlings under grow lights.

If you’ve ever started seeds on your windowsill, you may have noticed that after the seedlings emerge, they lean into the window or towards the light source. This indicates that the plants are not receiving enough light. By far, the best option for light when starting seeds is to use grow lights. But there are so many types of grow lights – which are best?

The good news is you can start small. My first grow light setup was on an inexpensive folding table I bought at Walmart, and a 24″ suspended T5 grow light I bought on Amazon. I noticed a massive difference in my seedlings that first season – they grew taller with thicker stems and generally looked much healthier. Now I have a custom-made vertical rack of T5 grow lights and trays. With all that space, I start far too many plants each year, so I give a lot of seedlings away to friends and family each spring. But that’s a good problem to have.

After disappointing results using only a windowsill, my first seed starting setup using window light and 1 grow light.

What is a grow light?

A grow light is specialty indoor lighting of high intensity used to grow plants. They enhance foliar growth, produce thicker stems on seedlings, and produce the color and amount of light needed for flowering. Some grow lights are sold to light houseplants; some are used for indoor farming; others are for gardeners to start seeds and seedlings. This article will focus on the latter.

Buy on Amazon: Gardener’s Supply LED grow lights and racks. All you need to get started.

Why you need grow lights

The first thing to understand is why your seedlings need grow lights. It comes down to light intensity and color temperature (warm or cool).

Light intensity

You may have a sunny window in your home at which you can start seeds. But if you’re starting more than a few plants, you’ll quickly run out of space. Unlike houseplants, seedlings need direct, intense light, not just a bright room. You can get away with starting a few on your windowsill. But you’ll need grow lights when you get past 3 or 4 plants.

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What happens if plants don’t get enough light?

When plants lack enough light in their early growth, they may not produce enough chlorophyll (green pigment), may become “leggy” (stems are long and thin and stretch toward the light source), may drop leaves, or may fail to produce flower buds. This leaves you with a less-than-vigorous seedling prone to disease or early die-off.

According to the University of Minnesota, “For seedlings that need to be planted very early, like peppers or tomatoes, more light is especially important. A seedling that is planted indoors just a couple of weeks before being transplanted outdoors can catch up outside, but a seedling that spends months indoors needs all of the light it can get to produce strong stems and to get a good head start on the growing season. For seedlings planted in a very bright window, a less intense supplemental grow light might be fine. But if you’re starting seeds in an area with little natural light, a higher intensity grow light will be a better fit.”

Color temperature

Sunlight contains a spectrum of colors called wavelengths: ultraviolet, violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and infrared. Plants use more blue light in their early stages of development and more red light in their flowering and fruiting stages. This also varies by species – some will thrive in blue and green light, and others need lots of orange and red.

Grow lights produce a balance of red (warm) and blue (cool) light of high intensity and can be purchased in specific color wavelengths. “White” grow lights mimic sunlight by producing a full spectrum of red, blue, and green light, superb for producing vigorous seedlings of all types.

Plants use different wavelengths (colors) of light throughout their life cycles to perform photosynthesis – that’s why some grow lights are designed to emit colors that are more beneficial for plants in early stages of growth to give them an optimal start. Standard indoor lighting, like lamp bulbs, emit light wavelengths in a narrow band and are of low intensity. They typically will not be successful in growing most plants.

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Current grow light setup with 4-foot T5 fluorescents in a vertical rack.

Types of grow lights for indoor seed starting

For seed starting and vigorous seedlings, most gardeners use T5 grow lights (a type of fluorescent bulb) or LED lights.

T5 grow lights

T5 grow lights are fluorescent bulbs and one of the most common types of light for starting vegetables, herbs, and flowers indoors. These are not like the fluorescent lights in an office building – T5s produce twice the intensity of light as standard fluorescent bulbs. Due to the heat they emit, they should be suspended at least one inch above the plants, to avoid foliage damage. T5 grow lights require a ballast to control their current and will only fit into a specific type of pin-type light socket.

Buy on Amazon: T5 grow lights

LED grow lights

LED lights are sold in arrays that contain bulbs that emit different colors. The array is in a casing that includes a heat sink and built-in fans. Each LED bulb can only produce a single, narrow range of color, so bulbs must be mixed together to provide the proper light spectrum for plant growth. On the other hand, this also allows manufacturers to customize each model’s color wavelength so that the gardeners can dial in more specific lighting requirements depending on the plants they are growing. LEDs use less energy than T5s, but produce a lot of heat, so they also must be suspended at least 12 inches above the plants.

Setting up grow lights is easier than it sounds, once you carve out a space and get the lights set up. This is a gardening decision you won’t regret as your seedlings will be more vigorous than growing them with light from a window.

Buy on Amazon: LED grow lights

References: Wikipedia: Grow Light, University Of Minnesota Extension, What types of grow lights should you use for starting seeds indoors?, University Of Maryland Extension, Grow Lights For Starting Seeds Indoors.

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