Fluorescent Grow Lights For Starting Seeds Indoors

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Grow lights, which are really just flourescent light fixtures (intended for workshops) hanging over shelves, are a great way to start seeds indoors at home. I made my unit here for a fraction of what it costs to buy a ready-made unit.

Seed Starting 101 DIY - Easy Homemade Grow Lights

To get an idea of how many plants you can grow, one 4-foot (48″)fluorescent light unit can light approximately 36 plants (3″ pots). You can fit far more seedlings under the unit, but  you have to think ahead to the space needs of the plants once they’re potted up into bigger containers. Still, that’s a lot of plants for one light.

Space Preparation
I use a room in our basement for seed starting. I initially worried that the room was too cold and drafty but, as it turns out, it seems to be rather ideal—practically everything I plant both germinates and grows tall and proud (this also indicates that the actual seeds are healthy and viable as well).

If I had to guess I would say the room temperature hovers around 60F/15C so don’t assume you need a balmy room for success.

Set up grow lights for starting seeds

Some product links go to my affiliate account at Amazon.com . I always recommend you look for used supplies at thrift shops and yard sales first.

 

Here’s what you need to setup your own grow lights



Let There Be Lights
-There are many types of fluorescent lights. See what is available where you are and make sure they’re good for growing plants (Google is your friend).
-I use 48″ fluorescent shop lights with two bulbs in each unit. Pick a style that suspends from chains rather than the type that is mounted to a ceiling.
-The bulbs I use are type T8. They come in several different styles. I use one ‘warm’ bulb and one ‘cold’ bulb in each unit which creates a ‘blue’ light.
-Fluorescent light units seem to go on sale (up to 50% off) a few times a year so watch the ads and see if you can get lucky too.


Hooks and Chains
-Hanging fluorescent light units come with short chains that fit small S hooks.
-When seeds are growing, you want to keep the lights about an inch above their heads so there’s lots of adjusting of the lights to be done as they grow.
-My ideal setup would be to attach each unit to a little pulley and rope system for easy raising and lowering. But for now, it’s hooks and chains.

Location, Power, & Timers
-I position my shelves with all the electrical cords aimed toward the nearest electrical outlet.
-All of the cords are fed into either a power baron a timer or a multi-outlet timer.

8-12 Hour Days
-Most seeds do not need light until they have popped (germinated), which can take days or weeks, depending on the type of seed. From then on they need about 8-12 hours of light each day (although please test this out to find what works best with your setup. Dark rooms may need longer hours).
-I set my timers so the end of 12 hours is just before I usually go to bed. This way I am assured they have turned off as needed. I’ve had some bad luck with timers not behaving (often they do not keep proper time, usually lagging behind). Mind you, there’s probably an iPhone app that will do this for you.


Shelves
I have two tall shelving units.
Commercial Grow Light Shelving Unit

-One is a commercial seed growing unit that was given to me.
Pros
-The fluorescent light units are mounted on sliders that make it fairly easy to adjust the heights, although it would be easier if I had three arms.
-Each shelf is lined with a waterproof tray so I don’t have to worry about water spilling on our wood floors.
Cons
-These units are expensive. Best to find one on Craigslist or Kijiji or rig up your own like my other unit below.

Chrome Grow Light Shelving Unit
If you already own a shelving unit that will work, use it! Mine is a chrome shelf unit.
Pros
-Much less expensive than the commercial units.
Cons
-Can be awkward to get the S hooks and chains positioned just right (depends on the particular light unit you’re using).
-Needs tarp on floor to catch drips and spills.

That’s it! Once you’ve got the grow light shelves ready, it’s time to start some seeds:

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Wonderful information, Melissa! I used to have a shelf we built with grow lights, when we moved I had to leave it, we couldn’t get it out of the room.
    Debbie :)

  2. Connie White says

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with complete strangers! It is so much fun to know others that love growing things as much as I do! I picked it up from my Mom & Dad, but one can never have too much knowledge! One quick question…when I try to start my vegetable plants ahead, I end up with spindly plants. What am I doing wrong?

    • says

      Hi Connie, The most common cause of spingly seedlings is caused when the light source is too far away from the tops of the plants and they try too hard to reach the light. My grow lights are on chains and I keep them about an inch above the seedlings, raising them as they grow. I hope this helps. :)

  3. Nora Fillier says

    Melissa why do you use 1 warm and 1 cool bulb? I understood it was best to use warm bulbs and have been using 2 per light.

    • says

      My understanding is that he two qualities of light more closely resemble what the sun would provide. That said, I’ve seen growers have success with all sort of different light and light bulb types so if you have something that works, keep doing it. :)

      • Danny Flash says

        Good job on the tutorial Melissa. I’m currently working on a tutorial myself, which led me to your website. I liked your checklist and I was pleasantly surprised to see the content of your gardening (seedling) blog, because mine is very similar. I’d like to offer a bit of info in regards to the different light bulbs. When using fluorescent bulbs a “warm” bulb and a “cool bluish white” bulb together is closer to full spectrum lighting. However the cool blue bulb is probably close to a 6500K, which is a number used to measure “Kelvin Temperature” and the “warm yellow” bulb should be around 2700K. Much research has shown that 6500k lights are better for seedling growth and helps to keep plants from “stretching”. Thanks again.

        • says

          I say, if you find it works well do it and if you can’t find the best supplies, make do! (I have limited resources at a local shop but have great success with my seed starting so I’m happy.) :)

  4. JoAnn says

    I’ve been growing all my own seedlings for many years this way ( Zone 7, NC mountains). I’ve also started growing Micro Greens through the winter this way. Works great!! :~)

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