fluorescent light for seedlings

How To Start Seeds With Fluorescent Shop Lights Indoors – With Ease!

You might be surprised just how easy and inexpensive it is to start and grow vegetable and flower plants from seed – all by using simple fluorescent shop lights!

Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t require fancy or expensive equipment to start seeds indoors. Especially when it comes to needing ultra expensive grow lights. They simply aren’t necessary at all.

As it turns out, both vegetable and flower seedlings grow easily with simple, inexpensive fluorescent lights. Unlike tropical or unique plants that require special lighting to survive indoors, annual garden and flower plants grow with ease under ordinary fluorescent lighting.

In fact, they thrive growing underneath them! And because of it, starting seeds indoors couldn’t be easier and more affordable.

Here is a look at the keys to using fluorescent shop lights to start and grow all of your vegetable & flowers plants indoors from seed.

How To Use Ordinary Fluorescent Shop Lights To Start Seeds

When growing seeds indoors with fluorescent lights, it’s all about low and slow. As in keeping the lights low to the plants to encourage slow, steady growth.

Fluorescent lights are cool lighting, meaning they won’t burn the tender leaves of plants as they grow. Even when placed above the foliage at just 1″ to 2 inches!

And that low, steady light turns out to be the perfect height for allowing plants to grow slow and steady.

Why Slow & Steady Win The Game When Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds in a sunny windowsill may sound like a great plan, but it has quite a few shortcomings.

For one, seeds have a difficult time germinating with the constant change in temperature from a window. Daytime in the sun can be plenty warm, but many windows are quite cold in the overnight hours.

But far worse, the seeds that do germinate in windowsills struggle to maintain proper growth. They are drawn to the sun, and try to grow as quickly as they can to the far away light source. It results in spindly, weak plants that struggle to survive.

And that is where fluorescent lights work like a charm. And here is exactly why:

When And How To Use Fluorescent Lights For Starting Seeds

When seeds are first planted into their cells, there is no need for lights to be used. In fact, the light only serves to dry out the soil.

Instead, place a clear lid or even a bit of plastic wrap loosely over them to help keep moisture in place until the first seeds begin to germinate.

Once the first seeds germinate, it’s time for the lights! The easiest way to use fluorescent lighting is with ordinary shop lights with (2) 4′ T-8 or T-25 bulbs. Two, double-light fixtures can be easily used to start up to 4 large flats. Product Link : T-8 Double Light Fixture

By suspending the bulbs over the plants at 1 to 2 inches above the top of the leaves, plants grow slow and steady. As plants continue to grow, simply adjust the lights as needed.

(2) double-light fluorescent fixture s can start up to four large flats of seedlings

It all helps to develop strong stems and more compact foliage. Both perfect when it comes to success when transplanting.

The lights can easily be hung over lights using cement blocks, bricks, or blocks of woods on the end. You can also easily create a stand from simple 2×4’s to hang and adjust the lights with a chain. (See : DIY Seed Starting Stand)

How Long Do The Lights Need To Be Used?

When using fluorescent lights, it is a misconception that they need to be left on around the clock. In fact, leaving the lights on for just 10 to 12 hours is more than enough to grow strong, healthy transplants.

Use the lights to continue growing plants (usually 4 to 6 weeks) until they are large and strong enough to begin the process of hardening off before transplanting. (See: How & Why To Harden Off Plants)

Here is to growing your own plants this year with ordinary fluorescent shop lights!

This Is My Garden is a garden website created by gardeners, publishing two articles every week, 52 weeks a year. This article may contain affiliate links.

You might be surprised how easy it is to start all of your vegetable & flower plants from seed by using simple and inexpensive fluorescent shop lights!

Starting Seeds Indoors Under Fluorescent Lights

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I am in Zone 5B, Northwest Missouri, and grow plants in my basement December – April. The normal unassisted temperature is 60 – 65 degrees and humidity 40 – 45 %.

I have run into several posts here where people wonder about growing under fluorescent (Abbreviated below as Fluor.) lights when they run out of windowsill space. Aside from watering, lighting is the biggest problem of growing from seed indoors, and the biggest lighting problem is not enough light, which results in leggy plants. (One trick to help prevent legginess is to run an oscillating fan towards your seed trays, especially once the seedlings grow to an inch or so in height.)

This article summarizes what has worked for me. I start between 500 – 2,000 or more plants from seed each year in my basement. In my grow area, there is one south window, 2 ‘ x 4’, which provides just a bit of light. My entire regular grow area is about 12 ‘ x 20 ‘. More area is available if needed and for storage.

One can spend a lot of money on lighting systems, but I am just going to address relatively cheap setups. For that, you can start with a standard 2-bulb 48-inch “shop” light. (If you need the width, you can go with a 4-bulb unit.) Under one of these, you can start 144 plants using two 72-cell trays. Replace the bulbs if your unit comes with them and use them in your basement or shop. They are ineffective. Yes, I have tried them. I do not buy the absolute cheapest fixture. If there are 3 prices available, I buy the middle one. The cheapest will be the least efficient and will “break” the soonest because it has the cheapest ballast – the guts of a Fluor. light.

In general, you also do not really need fancy grow or plant light bulbs. If you want, though, to shell out the added bucks, go for it. Grow bulbs do provide better light, but for the average person just wanting to start a couple of seed trays or so, it may not be worth it. A grow/plant type bulb can be 2 or more times the price of “natural” or 3 – 4 x the price of cool or warm bulbs. Based on my experiments, natural light bulbs provide almost as good results as grow or plant bulbs.

I have tried about everything that is available and in combination. Do not use plain cheap bulbs. You will get no joy and they do not last. (In fact, though a bulb may be “rated” at xxxx hours, you will likely never see that. If you get 50 % of xxxx, consider yourself lucky.) From my experience, using just cool or just warm is not effective. Using one of each is an improvement. But nowadays, I use bulbs called “natural.” They work better for me than using a combo of cool & warm. They are also referred to as full spectrum.

Whether you use T-5 or T-12 is just a matter of size and choice. I have stayed mostly with T-12 because that is what I have the most of. I have fixtures that are 5 or more years old. While fixtures will “wear out” over time, the bigger problem is the ballast going out. If you are handy, you can replace them. While I am handy, I simply replace the entire unit.

Buy some small cheap chain and some S-hooks. Lightweight rope or twine can also be used. Attach your lights to ceiling or shelves in the best way that works. On my top shelves, my lights hang from the ceiling, where I attached them to rafters with eye hooks. However you set things up, you want to be able to adjust the height of the Fluor. fixture above your seed trays. When you first start the seeds, the light bulbs should be only a couple of inches max above the seed tray. As germination occurs, start adjusting the lights up, but maintain them at a few inches (and no more) above the plants. Once germination occurs and the seedlings are an inch or so tall, check what you are growing. Some things require the bulbs to be closer or farther.

You can get a timer and run the lights on/off. I typically run mine 12 hours on and 12 off. A multiple outlet box will be useful too, so that a timer can turn everything on and off at the same time.

I typically am running 6 – 10 fixtures. Fewer in December and January and most by March. I start moving things outdoors to my “pretend” greenhouse in mid to late April. We typically cannot be considered frost-free until about Mothers day.

You can go whole hog and literally spend several hundreds or even thousands of dollars on lighting. Today there are many choices and numerous options. I don’t use LEDs or any other fancy new tech lighting.

Obviously there are many other things needed depending on how fancy you want to get and how much control you want. Lighting is just one important factor.

In addition to my fluorescent lights, I also have 2 – 500 watt metal halide warehouse lights (which I picked up, including bulbs, for $ 25 each )
3 oscillating fans
Small heater unit
4 standard seed tray sized heat mats
Controller for heat mats
Two timers

And an understanding wife who is also a plant lover.

I start all my seeds in 72 cell trays and use only seed-starting media. Be aware that if you use standard trays with plastic dome tops, you should keep the light a bit away from the dome. I don’t use domes much anymore and I personally now have better luck. Domes can help with moisture retention. If you use them, remove them or open them up for an hour or so each day. In my experience, they can cause too much moisture retention and damping off. You can help to prevent damping off by adding hydrogen peroxide to your water. A typical mixture is 1/2 cup of 3 % (2 teaspoons of 35 %) hydrogen peroxide to a gallon of water

Lots of useful info here:

By far, for me, the biggest benefit of starting seeds indoors is that by early June I can have seedlings from a couple of inches to as much as six inches tall. Much of what I grow is for commercial purposes, so this is a significant advantage.

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