Can Fluorescent Shop Lights Be Used To Start Seeds?

Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someonePrint this page

Can Fluorescent Shop Lights be Used to Start Seeds?

Can Fluorescent Shop Lights Be Used To Start Seeds?

Seedlings require a lot of light; more are lost to lack of light than any other factor. Even a good south facing window will generally not be enough light in the spring to grow your seedlings. The sun doesn’t shine every day, and won’t provide direct light for enough hours in the day at that time of year. Sunlight contains the full spectrum of light which plants use for photosynthesis, and that’s the selling point of specialized, full spectrum light bulbs used for growing plants indoors.

But plant lights can be expensive. Are they worth it? And can I get good results using inexpensive fluorescent shop lights to start my seeds?

Can Fluorescent Shop Lights Be Used To Start Seeds?I bought expensive full spectrum lights years ago. They worked just fine, but what would happen is certain parts of the spectrum would burn out before other parts, so even though they were still producing light, they ended up being no better than a regular fluorescent bulb. The technology has improved, but for the past 20 years, regular shop lights are all I have been using with great results.

It’s funny how we can second guess ourselves, though. Two (or was it three) winters ago, I took a trip to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture outside of NYC to tour the farm and to take a class taught by James Carr of the NY Botanical Gardens and author of Gardening and Landscaping the Natural Way. I asked Mr. Carr what type of lights he uses to start his seedlings. You guessed it – he uses plain old fluorescent shop lighting. Why did I feel a need to ask when I was using those lights with success?

Fluorescent lights give off little heat, so they can be placed very close to the plants without burning them. Keeping the lights close is, in fact, necessary to produce stocky plants. Hang the plants with chains that can be adjusted. Keep the lights just an inch or two above the seedlings, and keep raising them as the plants grow. The lights should be left on for 16 – 18 hours per day.

Can Fluorescent Shop Lights Be Used To Start Seeds?Light quality drops dramatically near the ends of fluorescent tubes, even new ones. So it’s best to keep the seedlings at least a few inches away from the ends of the bulbs. If you have older tubes, and they are getting a bit dark near the ends of the bulbs, this is a sign they should be replaced.

To answer your question, yes, standard cool-white fluorescent bulbs will work just fine for starting seeds.

For more info on starting seeds, see this post. 

Do you start your own seedlings indoors? What type of lights do you use?

300 x 250

To learn how to build a garden that builds healthy soil, be sure to check out my eBook The Art of Gardening: Building Your SoilYou really can become a better gardener, and you really can grow healthy, nourishing produce. It’s all about the soil! Click here to buy now.



Shared at: Homestead Barnhop, Mountain Woman Rendezvous, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Homeacre Hop, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways
Enhanced by Zemanta

Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someonePrint this page
PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.


  1. says

    I am so glad I ran across this post today! I have my seeds started and they are under just regular florescent lights. Just last night I looked at grow lights wondering if I should go ahead and buy t hem. I decided against it due to pricing and to just wait and see how my seedlings do. I think I’ll just stick with what I have.

    • says

      In the 90’s I attended Penn college in Williamsport Pa. The teacher told us to start plants use one cool white bulb & 1 warm white florescent bulb in your fixture . This provides full spectrum lighting without those pricey grow lites .

  2. sher says

    they do work, but the best secret is a heat mat under your tray. I’ve had tomato seedlings up within 3 days with it. very much worth the $

  3. says

    thanks for the info. I started seeds with regular bulbs last year and found that u must keep the lights close to the seeds. mine were tall and didn’t do well. I read about growing some plants inside during the winter. I have tried starting cabbage, spinach, broccoli. I bought plants the third week of January and so far they are doing fine. do you have any other suggestions. thanks

    • Susan Vinskofski says

      Yes, Lester, that’s correct. The lights need to be kept close to the plants and moved higher as the plants grow. It’s also helpful to fertilize them with fish emulsion. Follow the package instructions for mixing, and then add water so that the fertilizer is half strength.

  4. says

    by the way my plants are in my garage with wood heat. I used garden soil, peat moss, and vermiculite as the soil for the plants. this year I am going to do square foot gardening due to my age and equipment I have available to use. I have always done a big garden but feel I can do a better job if I get the garden closer to my house and be more selective as to what I grow.. we live close to the amish so some vegs. I can get from them to can and freeze like corn, carrots, and some kinds of tomatoes. my sq. ft. garden will be used mostly for greens. what type gardening do you do

  5. says

    I’m so glad to read this! We are starting to grow fodder for our goats and chickens, and we are planning on using fluorescent bulbs. I was thinking it would work, but now you have verified that. Thanks! (visiting from the Homeacre Hop)

  6. Sandi Derby says

    I just found your website and I’m thrilled to death! I’m going to start making the newspaper pots later today! I started lasagna gardening last year with good results! Thanks for such an informative website! Looking forward to learning more, and saving more.

  7. John Baker says

    Hi Susan,

    This is my first year trying to start my own seeds inside. I have been reading all kinds of information on what other people have done. I used a home made heat mat (rope Lights) idea from Internet, to start my seeds, worked great! Then I took shop lights and attached two fixtures together that now gives me 4 bulbs per finished hanging light. I set up my lights over wire shelf racks in our walk in pantry. I have three shelves, 4″ long and 2′ wide for my starter plants each with it’s own light above on chains. I started with 2 cool white T8- 32watt and 2 soft white T8- 32 watt . My plants did OK but very slow to grow, I just bought 12 new bulbs 32 watt T-8, labeled Daylight (6500 K). They are a lot brighter and I hope they will help grow a little faster? I can’t seem to find the color range for these bulbs, will they work or should I go back to the cool white and soft white mixed? I don’t want to kill my plants. Please advise

    Thank you,

    • Susan Vinskofski says

      Truthfully, John, I think either will work just fine. Go ahead and use the daylight ones and see if you notice a difference. The ticket, though, is to keep the lights very, very close to the plants – to the point where they are almost touching them, and then raise them as the plants grow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *