The lone voice of horticultural reason

“Specially designed grow lights work better than plain fluorescent bulbs when starting seeds”

Actually, they don’t. Numerous studies have found that good ol’ plain fluorescent light tubes work just as well as the more expensive, red fluorescent lights sold as grow lights for gardeners who like to start seeds indoors in winter.

Plants use only blue and red wavelengths of light for photosynthesis and growth, and plain fluorescent lights contain plenty of these red and blue wavelengths. Plain fluorescent bulbs are all I used back in my seed-starting days. I used to grow up to 200 annuals and 200 perennials on a raised, four-foot by four-foot plywood table I made, over which hung two, standard, four-foot long shop lights, each containing two bulbs. Everything grew exactly as one would want.

What IS interesting is that most of the new LED lights on the market work just as well as fluorescent, and will result in cost savings over time since they draw less power to operate and last longer. The only problem is that LED lights, depending on design and type, emit different amounts of red and blue wavelengths. Testing is still being done, but early word is that not all LED bulbs and styles are suitable for seed starting.

However, if you buy any brand of four-foot shop light that comes with four-foot long, cylindrical LED lights that resemble the old fluorescent tubes, you’re fine. Except for one other thing: LED bulbs don’t give off heat. If your basement or growing area is cool in winter, and you’re used to lowering the fluorescent shop light right down to the tops of the clear plastic covers on each tray, to give off the heat required for the seeds to germinate, LEDs won’t cut it. You’ll need to purchase those plug-in electric seed starting mats that you place underneath the trays and run until you achieve seed germination.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener