Thinking about growing some herbs or veggies? Starting them from seed is a great choice but it's super hard without an LED or at least some form grow light.
The natural light from a window is not going to cut it! Seedlings don't do well when in a window. Even the most hardy seedlings have to struggle. That's not what you want for starting out a garden.
Thankfully, adding a grow light is super easy. Read on to learn how to start your seeds out right under grow lights!
Before you buy a light, you'll want to know if it's really necessary.
Let me tell you what all experienced gardeners know: seedlings are so hard to start indoors with natural light. Even with a sunny window, they only get partial light and you can't control it.
Even if you got your seeds to sprout and they seem healthy, they probably didn't grow to maturity. This is because they spend all their energy growing towards the sun instead of developing. They burn themselves out before they can get started!
Using a grow light to start your plants inside takes so much guess work out of growing. Whether these sprouts will end up in the garden or stay inside forever, using a light will make all the difference.
LEDs are a great option for grow lights. They are a bit more energy efficient than fluorescent and there's a lot of options out there. You'll find two main types: free-standing and a traditional hanging light.
For a small area free-standing lamps are a good option. For my earlier years germinating seeds inside I got this Winjoy 30W Lamp. I'd recommend it for around 10-15 seedlings.
It keeps things on a small scale and affordable. You'll find this lamp is really handy because you can adjust the height of the lights as your seedlings grow.
If you want more than 20 seedlings, you'll need a classic grow light that hangs from the ceiling or a shelf. This Goldspark 600W light is very affordable and my plants have thrived under it. I use it indoors for peppers and tomatoes.
I didn't know until I got it that it has a switch that allows you to set the spectrum. So I could use just the blue light while the plants were young. Then I flip the switch to the Bloom setting once they're more mature to use the red spectrum.
No need to buy another light or swap them out!
The market is now flooded with LED lights. That's great for us as growers but how do we choose?
Here are some important considerations when selecting an LED light:
The spectrum that your grow lights emit is very important and it can get pretty technical. I'll give you the overview you'll need for growing seedlings and you can follow these links if you want to learn more.
You'll see that many LED grow lights emit in the red and blue spectrum. This is because plants evolved to use red and blue wavelengths most efficiently. You can actually control whether a plant uses its energy for growth or flowering by controlling the spectrum.
A plant exposed to blue light only will spend that energy on growing and building it's roots. This is called the Veg stage.
Veg is most important early in a plant's life. Blue light is thought to be good for seedlings. But if you keep an indoor plant under a blue LED for all of it's life it won't grow to its full potential. Learn more about what blue spectrum does to plants.
A plant that receives red light only will start to flower. Obviously, this is the Flowering stage.
When you want a plant to give fruit, this is the wavelength you should expose it to. For most vegetables and herbs you don't want much red light early in it's life cycle, if at all. When you're growing herbs indoors to use for cooking you don't want those to flower, so avoid a lot of red light.
Instead of just red or blue light, you will see some LEDs advertising "full spectrum". These lights will hit more of the visible light spectrum than just red and blue.
You'll want to consider an LED or fluorescent with a wider spectrum if your plants are staying inside. The fuller coverage of light will produce higher yields.
Light isn't the only ingredient to strong seedlings. You will also need to pay attention to the seed's water, temperature, humidity and nutrients.
Seedlings can benefit from some added nutrients but be sure to read on how to use fertilizer on seedlings before you start.
Add a light as soon as any green part of the plant emerges. The new leaves need as much "sun" as they can get to give the plant energy. That means starting as soon as possible.
I turn my lights on as soon as I sow the seeds. The light doesn't matter before they've sprouted but it doesn't hurt at that point.
Also, the light gives off some heat which is always helpful for the little guys!
How long do new seedlings need light? For the first three to four weeks, leave the light on for at least 18 hours.
After the first month you can decrease light exposure to 10-14 hours a day. Plants that need a lot of direct sun like peppers and tomatoes should be on the higher end of that spectrum. Plants that prefer a little less light can get by with closer to 10 hours or even 8 hours.
If you bought an LED light with a timing feature it's easy to set to ensure your new plants get the right amount of light every day.
If your light doesn't have a timer, you can buy an outlet timer that will turn power on and off on a schedule.
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