Vegetable Seed Starting Indoors: Purchasing the Right Lighting for Grow-Lights & Saving Money!

Posted by Gary Pilarchik on

You don't have to spend a lot of money on specific grow-lights for seed starting plants indoors. You often pay 2 or 3 times more for a product that is labelled a grow-light. You can make the lights yourself by simply buying the correct fluorescent tubes or LED lights. You can find them at any hardware store. The money you save can be used to buy seeds and seed starting supplies. Here is the video that covers this blog post.


I am describing a lighting system that is for growing transplants. We aren't using these light for fruiting and flowering plants indoors. There is no need to buy specialized LED lights that are red, blue, white and other colors when growing garden transplants. While they may work, they are not necessary and are often expensive. The Kelvin Scale breaks light into colors. We are looking for a K or Kelvin Rating of 5000-6500K. This range is considered the daylight range and that is perfect for seed starting and growing transplants. Just think blue sky with white clouds.  Notice this is 4000K and sits just below daylight. You can use a lower K value if you have a higher Lumens value. 


Kelvin Scale


Lumens, in short, is light brightness or intensity. Consider this a sunny day. I recommend a minimum of 2000 Lumens. With the white LEDs, you can actually find lights with 5000 Lumens or higher. Most of your fluorescent tubes are, in general, 3000 Lumens or lower.


 Lumens and Kelvin Ratings


 Lumens, Kelvin and Watts


I have been growing vegetable transplants indoors for 20 years, based on these ratings. You can have success with bulbs that are 1750 Lumens and bulbs with a 4000 Kelvin rating. When your numbers are lower, you simply keep the lights closer to your seed starts and leave them on longer. I mentioned as a Lumen value gets higher, you can use a lower Kelvin rating. Here are my basic guidelines for the ratings. When you look for lights to build your grow-light station, you will find they vary greatly. These guidelines should help you wade through all the different lights you will come across.

2500+ Lumens and 6500 Kelvin

2500+ Lumens and 5000 Kelvin

1750-2000 Lumens and 5000-6500 Kelvin
3000+ Lumens  and 4000-5000 Kelvin

I recommend buying 4 foot lights and hanging them on a shelf. A single shelf with 1 or 2 lighting systems will work, if you are just starting out, and want to do a handful of plants. Even though you are spending money to buy your supplies, in the long run, you will save a lot of money. The lights will last 40, 50 or 60,000 hours or more. That's like a decade worth of seed starting indoors. Most transplants you purchase at a store or nursery are 2, 3  or $4 a plant. You can grow your own transplants for .25 cents or less.

You can also just purchase a clamp light and buy a screw-in type LED bulb. They are harder to find with the higher ratings for Kelvin and Lumens but will work. You can see the clamp light, 2 fixtures per shelf and 1 fixture per shelf in the picture below. You can design the system that works best for you.

My General Set Up

Two Four Foot Tubes in a Receptacle

LED Receptacle with no Tubes

Clamp Light with LED Bulb

The four foot tube will either be a fluorescent or LED type. LED tubes are more expensive but last longer and use less energy. You can purchase lights that have both the tubes and receptacle/fixture the light tubes sit in. Just make sure when you do that, you purchase a set up that has a plug for an outlet and not wires for a ceiling. You can also buy the tubes and receptacles separately. They will be T-12, T-8 or T-5 tubes. The packing will be marked. If you but a T-8 tube, you will need to buy a receptacle that is a T-8 receptacle. They will also be clearly marked. Just match the numbers.

Different Ways to Buy the Lights

The linked video will cover everything I discussed. The last thing I highly recommend is a timer. Based on the growth stage of your transplants and the ratings of your lights, you will vary how long the lights stay on. This will range from 12-16 hours a day. A timer will be your best friend. 

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  • The very best article I have ever seen describing lights for growing. The only other thing I would like to know; Should the LED tubes be Clear Cover or Frosted, or does it make any difference?

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