One of the most common questions I get about starting seeds is: “What are grow lights?” It is typically followed with, “Can I make them myself?” The answer is simple, really. Grow lights are marketed for use with houseplants or seedlings with claims to provide your plants the quality of light they need to thrive and grow. These light are relatively expensive, but ordinary shop lights with fluorescent tubes do the same thing. So, the answer to your second question is “Yes, with a little effort you can create your own grow lights for starting seedlings inside in late winter or early spring.”
Shop lights provide a full spectrum of light for your plants, but in order to provide the intensity your plants need, the lights must be 3 to 6 inches from the top of your plants, explains Dennis L. Patton, a horticulturist from Kansas State University. This means you will need to move the light upward as your plants grow. By suspending the lights from adjustable chains, you can easily adjust the height.
What You’ll Need
- Shop lights
- Hardware for suspending the lights
- Plant rack or table
Setting Up You Seed-starting Station
Choose a location for your seed starting that is out of the way of traffic — and out of the reach of inquisitive pets and children. Few things are quite as discouraging as raising seedlings only to have them spilled and destroyed before you have the opportunity to set them outside.
Avoid areas with cold drafts as this will inhibit growth and may injure young seedlings.
Place a sturdy table or rack with enough room to hold your seedlings in the seed-starting area. Check that the rack is sturdy and will hold the weight of your plants. Positioning it in a corner or against the wall provides more support and saves space, too.
Arrange your seedlings or empty pots, if you haven’t started your seeds — so that they fit easily on the table.
Suspend the shop light over the table so that it rests 3 to 6 inches from the top of the plant pots or trays.
Turn the lights on once seedlings have emerged. Seedlings require 14 to 16 hours of light a day, but you can leave the lights on 24 hours a day without problems. The best way to monitor the light is to buy and inexpensive timer.
Monitor the growth of your plants and raise the shop lights as they grow, keeping the light no more than 6 inches above the top of the plants.