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Using Grow Lights to Start Seeds | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Starting Vegetables Indoors With Grow Lights

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How to Use Grow Lights to Grow Seedlings

The Editors

If you want to ensure rapid growth of your vegetable seeds indoors, then using grow lights can make all the difference. Get advice on which plants benefit from starting indoors and how to use grow lights.

If you are planting seeds indoors, then your seedlings must have strong light once the first leaves have emerged. Otherwise, they will get leggy and weak, a sure sign they are not getting enough light.

If you have ever grown seeds on a not-so-sunny windowsill or too early in the season, then you have seen how seedlings get tall and spindly and sometimes flop over. In many areas, the winter sun is simply too weak to provide enough natural light. 

Grow lights provides strong light to start healthy, vigorous, fast-growing plants. They provide light from directly above which promotes strong, upright growth. This is different than a windowsill where light is from the side. 

There are many different grow lights on the market. See our post on what kind of grow light to buy.

Vegetables for Grow Lights

Some crops should not be started indoors—such as root vegetables (which do well outside in the cold, anyways). 

However, many vegetable seedings are perfect for starting indoors. Here are our favorites:

  • tomatoes,
  • peppers,
  • cauliflower,
  • chilis,
  • squashes,
  • broccoli, and
  • melons.

Many of these vegetables require a long growing season so starting them under grow lights will give them a nice head start.

How to Use Grow Lights

Watch our video demonstration above to see how to use your grow lights! We’ll discuss placement, timing, and set-up details.

Try the Garden Planner

After you watch this video, check out our Garden Planner if you want to plan a spring garden! We are offering more free videos plus a a free 7-day trial of the Almanac Garden Planner.

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Sharon (not verified)

1 year 4 months ago

I have an old flower cart with shelves wired for two (T 12) four foot fluorescent lights. What kind of fluorescent tubes should I buy to grow my seedlings? They come in different watts and K numbers?
Thanks for your help,
Sharon

Karen S Ravert (not verified)

1 year 4 months ago

I live in southern Arizona where there is sunlight almost every day. We plan to buy a small greenhouse so we can green green all winter and start summer seedlings. Does the light from the greenhouse suffice to grow seedlings instead of grow lights?

Trish (not verified)

3 years 1 month ago

Have a tanning bed with top & bottom lights what about using it a little each day until ready to plant? It’s not like a brand new one ( not as hot) any input???

While certainly an interesting idea, we would recommend against putting plants or seeds in a tanning bed. Tanning beds produce UV light, which is damaging to cells and is outside the wavelength of light that plants require to photosynthesize.

Deeda (not verified)

3 years 4 months ago

I have been 'playing' with grow lights for years . . . The biggest drawback is always the cost of the bulbs or lighting system, and the cost of using them ! Because of a limited income, it is vital that I economize the best way possible. Since most of the simple light bulbs or set ups are in the $75- $200 range, it is just not feasable for me. So I started checking into LED Grow lights, and found you can buy a nice sized set-up [22"x10"] for under $40 ! THAT I can swing ! And the cost of using LED grow light is comparable to running a 30 watt light bulb. The Incandescent and fluorescent grow light compare to 100+ watt bulbs. So I save on the initial cost, and the power it takes to use them.
Because I miss fresh salads in the winter more than anything, not to mention the 'recall' on lettuce so often, this might be the best solution. I am currently experimenting with growing lettuce ( 4 varieties ) and spinach. growing it all in recycled eves troughs ( your suggestion for limited space container gardening ). I SHOULD be able to grow these greens, through to full maturity. Fertilizing is not a problem, since I have 'adapted' your 'weed fertilizer tea' to kitchen parings.
The one thing you did not mention when growing indoors, is that air really needs to circulate WELL to 'strengthen' the plants. Outdoors our gardens get a constant buffeting by breezes and even strong winds. I suggest turning a gentle fan on your seedlings and plants for a few hours every day to make them 'stronger'.
I continue to experiment . . . It sure would be nice to grow a natural garden indoors all winter long, inexpensively !
THANK YOU for ALL that you do, in providing information. The Old Farmers Almanac ROCKS !
Deeda : }