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Artificial Light for Indoor Gardening and Seed Starting

Artificial Light for Indoor Gardening and Seed Starting

Many gardeners first start growing seedlings indoors in a sunny window. This technique can provide sufficient light for starting many types of plants, but using artificial lights for indoor seed starting will generally improve growth and produce higher quality transplants. With enough artificial light, many types of plants can be grown to maturity indoors.

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Fluorescent lights are commonly used for indoor growing. They can be used alone or to supplement natural light from a sunny window. Shop light style fluorescents (T12 style lamps) have been widely used for indoor growing and seed starting by generations of gardeners. Although they are being phased out of production and replaced with newer, more efficient types of fluorescents (T5 style lamps), they are still quite suitable for starting seeds indoors.

When using shop light (T12) fluorescents, a combination of one warm white bulb and one cool white bulb can be used to provide a good quality light for plant growth, at a reduced cost compared to full spectrum grow light type bulbs.

Newer fluorescent lamps, like our Jump Start Light Systems, are more efficient (and therefore less expensive) to operate, have a longer bulb life span, and produce more light than older style fluorescents. For gardeners who start lots of seed indoors, T5 systems can be a very worthwhile investment.

Whether using an older or a newer style of fluorescent, an important key to maximizing light intensity is to keep lights close to the plants. Fluorescent lights should be kept 3 to 4 inches above plants and raised as plants grow. To provide a consistently length of day, use a timer to turn lights on and off automatically. Usually lights are kept on for 14 to 16 hours a day. Maintaining a consistent day length is important to promote vigorous, healthy growth.

Lights are usually turned on as soon as seeds are sown. Some types of seeds require or benefit from light during germination and are typically not covered with media. A few types of seeds are inhibited from germinating by light, and they are usually covered with enough media to block out light, so they will not be affected by lights being on during germination.

To boost light levels, you can use an aluminum foil as curtains on each side of lights and below the plant trays. This will help to reflect light back to plants. Put the shiny side toward the plants for best reflection.

There are some new lighting technologies on the horizon. LED (light emitting diode) plant lights are beginning to reach the market. Although currently expensive, they are extremely efficient and inexpensive to run. They also offer the potential to provide a very specific light spectrum to plants to help maximize growth and development. LED light systems are currently being used in some commercial horticultural operations and the first hobbyist systems are coming to market. As this type of lighting becomes more widely used, the costs should come down and become more affordable for hobby use.


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