Mythbusting: Do You Really Need Grow Lights?

A gardening friend asked: Do I really need grow lights to start seeds indoors or is the sunlight from a western-facing window enough? He was on a budget and wondered if the cost of an indoor system was worth the investment. Depending on what you hope to achieve, you’ve got some options…read on. 

“There are as many ways of starting seed as there are gardeners,” says Trish Boudier, co-owner of Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply. If you’re blessed with a greenhouse, check out Trish’s suggestions in this video for starting seed.

grow lights

Deciding whether or not to use grow lights is simple and does not have to be costly if you choose to use the lights.

Are Grow Lights Necessary?

The light from a west-facing window will not be enough for my gardening friend’s seeds to take healthy root. The seedlings will likely stretch toward the window’s light, resulting in leggy, weak plants. (Leggy plants are long and spindly usually as a result of low light or too much nitrogren in the soil.)

You can meet their needs with a tabletop fluorescent lamp. The bulb should be positioned just a few inches above the seedlings. You’ll need to adjust its height as the seedlings grow. Leave the light on for 14 to 18 hours a day.

Getting Serious With Your Grow Lights

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Note how the light is suspended by chains. This system allows the light to be raised easily as the plants grow taller. You’ll want to keep the light close to the seedlings and turned on for 14-18 hours a day.

Perhaps you’re planning to start a large number of seeds and want to invest in a lighting system that is more involved than a simple tabletop lamp. A quick online search will show you there is a wide range of options available, and you can spend as little or as much as your budget allows. Keep in mind the investment in the system you purchase will be more of a one-time expense, not a yearly expense beyond replacing bulbs.

We think it’s true, and not a myth, that grow lights provide the help our seedlings need to root healthy and strong. The key is remembering that you have plenty of options in a variety of prices ranges.

Hardening Off Your Seedlings

Be sure to harden off your plants before thrusting them into the garden after the last frost date. A fan can be used to begin his process, gently at first and for short periods. Stop if you see signs of wilting. You can also carry the plants outdoors for a few hours at a time on pleasant days until they are accustomed to the sun and wind.

Here’s more information about starting seeds, including how heat mats work.

Spring will be here before we know it—here’s to some seed starting as a remedy for cabin fever.

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