Mother Earth News Blogs > Ask Our Experts

Ask Our Experts

Answers to your questions about gardening, energy, homesteading and other sustainable living topics.


Best Grow Lights for Starting Seeds Indoors (Video)

I want to start my own vegetable seedlings this year. Will I need special light bulbs?

Suitable supplemental lighting is better for starting seeds than the light coming through most windows would be. A setup of lights will allow you to grow a much wider range of vegetable varieties, which will make your garden even more interesting and fun. Until recently, most seed starters used inexpensive fluorescent T12 shop lights, with the height of the lights adjusted so the plants were very close to the bulbs — within a half-inch for full-sun plants, such as tomatoes and peppers.Indoor Grow Lights

But two new and better choices, T8 and T5 bulbs, are now available. In fluorescent-light lingo, the “T” stands for “tube,” and the number represents the bulb’s diameter. Old-line T12 fluorescent bulbs are still cheap and easy to find, but for a few dollars more per bulb, you could upgrade to more slender T8 bulbs, which are up to 40 percent more efficient. Plants get plenty of light when grown within 2 inches beneath T8 bulbs. You can usually find a 4-foot-long, Energy Star-certified, two-bulb T8 fixture at retail stores for about $20, plus another $10 for the bulbs.

Many garden-supply stores now offer grow lights that use even skinnier T5 bulbs, sometimes called “high output” (HO) fluorescents. Less glass is required in their manufacturing, and T5 bulbs are 9 percent more efficient than T8 bulbs and 51 percent more efficient than the old T12s. While T5s are some of the best grow lights for starting seeds indoors, as they set the standard for light output and energy efficiency, they may be glaringly bright if not equipped with a reflective hood. Plant height must be closely monitored, too, with no less than 3 inches of space between the bulbs and the tops of the plants. Some people find the narrow T5 bulbs too delicate to handle in 4-foot lengths, and instead choose shorter, 2-foot bulbs. 

For more information on growing your own vegetable seedlings, see Best Tips for Starting Seeds Indoors.

Photo by Jerry Pavia: Sprouting seeds will flourish beneath bright, efficient fluorescent bulbs.


Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on .

kimharden
10/28/2015 3:40:02 PM

I'm a relatively new home gardener...Mostly grow spinach and lettuce in my kitchen. I have had fantastic results with my led grow lights. I've definitely noticed faster harvest times and I love that they use less energy and are cool to the touch...and they're purple (4 year old daughter gets a kick out of it!) ;) my lights are from a company called Agilux (www.agiluxusa.com) and I'm really happy with the results I've had this past year.


secncreek
6/26/2015 7:24:29 AM

Being new to this wonderful and resourceful site, as well as a fledgling in growing my own garden - I was wondering if the use of this lighting for starting your own seedling's would also suffice in growing mature vegetables during fall/winter indoors altogether? Or, would you need a full-on greenhouse environment for this?


vacman
12/29/2014 1:08:56 PM

What about LED 4' Grow lights? I see some advertised which have both blue and red LEDs in them.


don
12/26/2014 1:26:12 PM

Grow light stands like the one shown can be expensive to buy. For a cheap effective grow light and stand you can build from scrap lumber, check this out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNcShQ6T57g