Lighting for seedlings is complicated, but there is hope. Many times, seedlings are started indoors, and that means less light is available. Most homes don’t offer natural light (or enough of it).
Trying to grow seedlings in the sun on a windowsill often results in time wasted and disappointment. Adequate lighting is essential for seedling care. Plus, it gives them a great start to life.
If they don’t get enough light, they can get leggy or weak. That means they could die. Many new gardeners have this frustration, but it’s easy to fix.
Grow lights can be the answer you need. Don’t be intimidated! It’s easy to get through it all!
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Light Amounts for Seedlings
It is important to understand how much light a seedling needs. Typically, they require 14 to 16 hours of light each day, and most areas only get about 10 hours of sunlight.
That’s why a grow light can be beneficial. However, you shouldn’t leave the lights on for 24 hours. Ultimately, plants need to rest overnight just like humans.
Plan to keep the lights on for about 14 to 16 hours each day (during daylight hours). Then, turn them off at night. Alternatively, you can put them outside if it isn’t too cold.
From there, subtract how many hours of natural light they received. Bring them in for the rest of the light requirement using grow lights.
Many gardeners use an outlet timer to make it easier to stick to a schedule. That way, the seedlings get enough light without you having to go in and turn off the lights manually.
Most gardeners prefer to use a 12/12 cycle for their seeds. That means they get 12 hours of light with 12 hours of ‘darkness’. However, others believe that this isn’t enough from having leggy seedlings, so it might be better to leave them on a bit longer.
If you use a timer, it’s easy to have the lights come on at a specific time each day and go off. When there’s a consistent schedule, the plants grow uniformly and have a better chance of survival.
The exact time for the lights to be on doesn’t matter very much. As long as you’re turning them on and off at the same time, this is going to benefit the plans. However, you may see better results if you mimic traditional sunlight patterns in your area.
Using Grow Lights on Seedlings
It takes practice and time to learn how to use grow lights effectively. Here are some tips to consider:
When to Put the Seedlings Under Light
Generally, you should turn on the grow lights as soon as the first seeds sprout. Most seedling types grow quickly. That means they’re searching for light once they emerge, and you want to be ready!
How Far Away to Put the Seedlings from the Light
Typically, the grow light shouldn’t be too far from the seedlings. You want it to be about 2 to 3 inches above the leaves all the time. That means you’re moving the grow lights as the plant starts growing.
At first, the fixture’s going to hand over the plastic lid of the tray. Just make sure that it doesn’t touch it, or you could burn the plants.
When the plant gets taller, take the lid off the container. That means adjusting the light regularly to always stay on top. Ultimately, you may need more than one grow light, depending on various factors.
The leaves of the plant shouldn’t touch the grow light bulbs. This could burn them. Check them every day so that you can move the light when needed.
Also, look for seedlings that are reaching. That may mean you should rotate the tray so that one plant isn’t always directly under the grow light.
When to Stop Using a Grow Light
Most gardeners, stop using grow lights when the seedlings are transplanted outside. If they’re in the house, they should be under lights.
Don’t forget to harden the seedlings. When you’re doing that, it is allowed to turn off the lights, especially when they’re outside. There’s no need to run up the electricity bill for nothing.
However, you shouldn’t stop completely until the seedlings are permanently outside. If you do take them out and bring them in, make sure they go under the grow lights when they’re inside to prevent them from getting leggy.
What Kind of Light Is Best
Some gardeners swear that natural light is the only way to go, but the light is light. Seedlings don’t care if it comes from the sun or the lightbulb. With that said, though, not all bulbs are created equal.
It’s important to know that some bulbs get way too hot. They just fry the seedlings. Instead, you should look for bulbs made for the purpose of growing, called plant grow bulbs.
They’re found just about everywhere, and they can be put into any lamp with the right fittings. Another great choice is to find cool-white fluorescent bulbs. It’s easy to take a shop fixture and make your own lights.
However, most people don’t want to do it themselves. You can find full grow light systems, which are often easier to set up. Generally, it just depends on how many seedlings you have and the space available.
Why Choose Artificial Light
Again, plants don’t care if they’re getting sunlight or artificial light. However, there could be some benefits of using grow lights.
If you have ever grown seedlings in the house, you probably notice that they’re weak and thin compared to what’s at the store. This is because there isn’t enough light, even if that space sees indirect sunlight all day.
As you experiment with other seedlings, it’s easy for things to go south. Each seedling needs adequate light, and there just isn’t enough to go around in the house.
The problem is that if a homegrown seed is weak and spindly, it’s never going to recover from that. In most cases, they are skinny and tall and flop over when it’s all said and done.
From the house to the garden, things aren’t any better. They may up and die, or they may rarely produce anything.
You may notice that when you use a grow light, you can plant fewer seeds. Typically, gardeners do this in bulk because some of them are going to be duds. However, that’s less of an issue when grow lights are used.
In a sense, the starters are healthier and stronger from the beginning. Therefore, they transition well to the garden and don’t die in the process.
While you aren’t required to use a grow light, most homes don’t see enough natural light each day. Since seedlings want 14 to 16 hours of light a day, it’s important to use artificial lighting when necessary.
Though it’s essential to use the right bulb, it’s often an easy set-up when you get them. Just screw them into a lamp you no longer need, and the plants see the beautiful bright light.
Always experiment with a sunny windowsill, but just know that those plants might not make it. If you notice that happening a lot, consider a grow light. You’re going to be glad you did because the plants are much stronger and healthier.