Starting Garden Seeds Indoors Under Lights

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Starting garden seeds indoors under lights doesn’t require special growlights. If you aren’t blessed with a greenhouse or south-facing windows in which to start seeds you can use ordinary 40-watt flourescent bulbs in the standard shoplight fixtures you find at the hardware store.
While you can buy specialty “grow lights” and “plantlights” that are designed to produe more red and blue light, regular flourescent bulbs will also work. Pick one “warm” (sometimes called “soft”) and one “cool” bulb in each fixture to provide a fuller spectrum of light for your seedlings, which mimick the sun. The lights will need to be on for 12-15hours per day to be effective. 
You can set up your seed starting light fixture on those inexpensive plastic shelves or the metal baking racks that can be found just about everywhere. Don’t overcrowd each shelf, the intensity of each bulb diminishes the closer it gets to the end, so keep the majority of your seedlings in the center, or rotate their placing under the lights.  
The biggest trend among DIYers and experimental gardeners is growing seeds under LED lights. You can also save yourself a few bucks and some hassle by direct sowing the majority of your seedlings. I took the picture above at the Wicker Park Garden Club who will be having their plant sale on May 1 & 2, 2010, so save the date!


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  • Isn't it amazing what you can do with basic supplies? This is the perfect post to inspire ANYONE to start growing something. It is possible.
    I do hope I get some good grows out of my seed starting having a 'fancy' greenhouse and all. Can you imagine HOW embarrassing it is to actually admit I have killed some seeds already this year? Too much light - and too much water!

    Happy Spring - can't wait to see what these little seedlings grow up to produce.

  • In reply to BGgarden:


    I left you a comment earlier today on one of your YouTube videos about starting seeds in your greenhouse. I think it is great that you admit that you've made mistakes because newbie gardeners need to see that we all make mistakes in the garden and we learn and grow from them.

    Appreciate you commenting.

  • In reply to BGgarden:

    I can't believe I dragged out my lights and set up my closet for indoor seed starting, after eight blissful years of winter sowing. But I found those damn cactus seeds and I'm dying to know what cactus seedlings look like. Damn curiosity! I def. prefer winter sowing because I have a ton more space outside than in and I hate messing with lights, but that's just my personal preference. However people start seeds, rock on! (The only thing I don't winter sow are greens, which I direct sow in containers* in May(ish), and a few annuals (like cosmos and zinnia) and a few mixed seed packets (like hummingbird mix and Colorado natives mix), which I direct sow in the ground.

    *Have groundhogs. Can't sow in ground.

  • In reply to BGgarden:

    P.S. What's the big deal to some people about making mistakes? Mistakes are life's best lessons, and that's what gardening is all about really, learning as you grow. When I teach, I do sometimes say "I've already made all the mistakes, so you don't have to" but I know they will, LOL!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I dunno, but I don't often read about mistakes when I read blog posts. I try to share mine and appreciate it when someone else shares theirs.

  • In reply to BGgarden:

    Glad to see you addressing this, Mr. BT! I recently bought a plant light and a timer, and I am going to try this for the first time in my basement. I also got some starter trays with clear plastic covers that are supposed to be self-watering. I think the tricky part will be doing the math for the various seeds I bought, figuring out when to start them so the plants will be ready right about the time I would have bought them--or may still have to, if growing my own doesn't work out. Obviously I'll start the pansies first.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    Hi CCWriter,

    Glad to see you because you were the reason I posted this. You asked about it last last season and I wondered if you'd see it. Hope your seed starting is a success.

  • In reply to BGgarden:

    Good post, MBT. I have a hard time finding the "warm" spectrum lights around here for some reason (they used to be easier to find, I swear!) so I usually end up with two regular fluorescent tubes, and it works pretty well, too. I haven't tried growing under LEDs yet, maybe next year.

  • In reply to ColleenV:


    That's a good tip, you can use two regular ones if you can't find the warm tube. Thanks!

  • Hi Joe,

    People get really creative with the seed starting setups and I think the collapsing ones are probably the best.

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    Your website is terribly informative and your articles are

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