Fluorescent Lighting for Plants
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.
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But plant lights can be expensive. Are they worth it? Or can an inexpensive fluorescent light be used to start seeds and grow plants with good results?
Fluorescent Shop Lights to Grow Plants
I purchased expensive full spectrum lights years ago. They worked just fine, but certain parts of the spectrum would burn out before others. 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 25 years, a regular fluorescent light is all I have been using to start seeds and grow plants with great results. So why spend the extra money for plant lights when they just aren’t necessary?
It’s funny how we can second guess ourselves, though. Several winters ago, I took a trip to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture outside of NYC to tour the farm, and 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 lighting to grow plants. 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 fluorescent light with chains that can be adjusted. And be sure to keep the lights just an inch or two above the seedlings. Just keep raising them as the plants grow.
It is important that the fluorescent lights be left on for 16 – 18 hours per day for healthy seedlings.
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.
So to answer your question, yes, standard cool-white fluorescent bulbs will work just fine for starting seeds and growing plants.
Do you start your own seedlings indoors? What type of lights do you use?
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