How To Build An Indoor Grow Lights System

Have you ever considered an indoor grow lights system for growing plants indoors? Did you think an indoor lighting system was only for the pros?

DIY indoor grow lights system

Usually, to start indoor gardening or houseplants like african violets, veggies or flowering plants, you resort to purchasing seedlings from a local nursery.

You can use fluorescent light fixtures to create a facility for starting seeds indoors on your own, which will:

  • Save you money
  • Allow you to utilize more varieties
  • Get a jump on the growing season

Over the years I’ve learned there is ALWAYS more than one way to grow plants, that goes for growing plants indoors under lights. There are many styles from a manufactured growing systems with high pressure sodium bulbs to the Aerogarden and on to DIY units with a fluorescent tube.

Below we’ve collected several ways you can start to set up an indoor growing system for indoor gardening or as a way to get a jump on the gardening season. Although you’ll find different approaches to set up for growing indoors we’ve also provided some tips on growing under the magic of artificial lights.

This article from growagoodlife.com shows you the materials needed how exactly build a simple fluorescent bulb system. It’s easier than you think! Full details via growagoodlife.com

Building A Grow Light Planter With A Plastic Drum

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Many start their “growing career” growing under lights with some success. It takes time to learn the ropes of this new way of growing. With some success they soon become hooked and begin to make system improvements with light output, light intensity and the affects on plant growth.

Over time they and you may try many different DIY styles. Growing plants in pots, using sub-irrigation and hydroponic systems, but all under some type of “horticultural lighting”.

This DIY grow light planter system comes from Instructables where everything grows in one-half of a 55 plastic drum. You can check out the instructables.com tutorial here.

How To Make A DIY PVC Grow Light Stand Step by Step

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As mentioned above starting seeds indoors is an excellent way to get a jump on the gardening season. To get your seed and seedlings off to a good start you need some way to provide lighting.

This grow light stand gives you a simple, low cost way to start seeds indoors and get that jump start.

This easy to build DIY low square foot grow light stand can also provide extra lighting if needed. Not only does this stand have a small foot print but energy efficient compact fluorescent lights let you grow plants like african violets indoors all year long. Check out this portable PVC grow light stand via vegetablegardener.com

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This plant light stand is large enough to fit four standard nursery flats at a cost of $100 to $120 plus your labor.

Made from lengths of PVC pipe, cut to appropriate lengths, and connected with PVC “T’s”. The simple design makes a three-level stand, and it can easily be adapted into a smaller, two-level stand. Nice setup if you garden is sizable. More at tsflowers.com

You pick the grow light system design which best fits your style. Now let’s look at what you can look forward to when growing under fluorescent light.

Fluorescent Grow Lights: Growing Tips

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Success with house plants depends largely on proper window placement. And what indoor plant enthusiast ever has enough natural sunlight?

Fluorescent Lights To The Rescue

Nowadays you need not let the lack of natural sunlight curtail your efforts for indoor gardening. Electricity and fluorescent grow lights come to the rescue and make every day a “sunny” day.

Fluorescent lights used to grow indoors are suspended at proper distances above your plants for them to grow beautifully in basements, on windowless walls or in dark corners. In many instances, a grow light – grown houseplant looks superior to those grown in bright windows. During the growing vegetative stage the foliage is immaculate and true. In the flowering stage the colors look more vivid.

Indoor Grow Light Systems Setup

Artist creates his own grow light
For a simple grow light setup you need two 48-inch 40-watt daylight or white fluorescent tubes and their starters (ballast). Some type of a reflector, either purchased or homemade, is also needed to concentrate the light output on the plants.

The fluorescent bulbs minus a reflector cost approximately $30. You can make a reflector from a piece of plywood. Paint it white and mount the fluorescent light system on it.

Suspend the grow light fixtures with a chain or pulley over the plants, or mount the fixtures in a cabinet or under a shelf, with the plants under them.

If you design a stationary unit, place the lights so they will be about 18 inches between the fluorescent lights and the bottom of the pots.

This allows room for an occasional gift plant or the rejuvenation of an ivy or philodendron. Many “basement growers” fasten pulleys to the plant shelves or to the lights and reflectors in order to raise and lower them according to the plants light intensity needs.

Replacing Grow Light Bulbs

Compact fluorescent grow light bulbs and tubes of which they are many have a life span of 12 to 16 months and replacements cost about 5 dollars per tube. However, I’ve found that after six months the light intensity of a tube decreases considerably.

The cost of running energy efficient fluorescents runs pennies per hour for two 40-watters. The best results for getting plants to the flowering stage come when the lights stay on 12 to 16 hours daily.

What Are The Best Indoor Grow Lights?

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Using grow lights for indoor gardening is not new, however some lights provide “better light” for the grow room.

So the question is “What are the best indoor grow lights?” whether you’re growing in a room, closet or basement.

Anyone with much experience growing plants indoors under artificial light will tell you, it produces beautiful plants.

Growers use different types artificial light people have used to influence plant growth, but those most widely used have been:

  • Incandescent light
  • Fluorescent light
  • HID grow lights – High Intensity Discharge
  • The newer LED lights

With all the available choices on the market today, picking the right light source can be a challenge.

We know plants need light to allow photosynthesis to transform the light into energy for the plant. The amount of light a plant requires depends on the plant. To thrive and produce good plant growth, flowering plants and young seedling need a higher light intensity for several hours each day.

Incandescent Lights

In the incandescent light, produced by the familiar regular electric light bulb, illumination comes from heating a tungsten filament by electricity. They do not produce the light spectrum for good plant growth. Incandescent bulbs are not energy efficient and waste energy by putting off a lot of heat.

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Fluorescent Lights

Fluorescent light is produced by a tubular electric lamp, the inner surface is coated with phosphor or a phosphorescent substance. The tube contains a blend of argon and nitrogen gases and a small drop of mercury, which, when hit by electrons, causes the phosphor to put off visible light.

Fluorescent lights win over incandescent bulbs for staying cooler, are much more energy efficient and have a long life span which saves money, plus they offer a lighting spectrum in the blue light and red light range that plants love. The bulbs when placed in a lighting fixture containing a reflective hood will help get the most from your artificial light source.

HID Grow Lights

HID (High intensity discharge) grow lights provide more lumen per watt (more light) than the fluorescent or incandescent light. There are two types of HID grow lights, mercury vapor, the first available on the market decades ago, and the metal halide bulb.

The mercury vapor light is pretty much non-existent in the market as it is not as energy efficient, or produces the same lighting spectrum as the newer HID metal halide grow lights, providing a better light spectrum to closely match that of actual natural sunlight.

LED Grow Lights

The newcomer to the grow light market is the LED or Light Emitting Diodes. The output of the light produced is low, but they produce less heat and use much less electricity than other grow light bulbs and fixtures.

The big advantage comes from the low heat footprint and low energy operating cost allowing placement of LED grow lights very close to the plants without causing them harm.

What is the best artificial light for your indoor plant growing needs depends on you, the growing space, budget and how much you like to experiment.

African Violets Easy To Grow Under Lights

African violets are some of the most popular for “under-the-light” culture. Experience shows they need from 300 to 600 foot-candles of light, depending on size and stage of growth, for good growth and flowering.

Place small plants in two-inch pots two to four inches from the lights; plants in 3 to 4 inch pots about 11 inches away. Always measure from the tube to the pot rim.

This should give you a clue as to the amount of light African violets are receiving. If foliage turns yellow, they are receiving too much light. Accordingly, move them farther from the lights.

If leaves are deepest leafy green, vegetative growth with long stems, weak and bloom scarce, they are not getting enough light. The remedy – bring them closer to the lights. Most gardeners use inverted flower pots for this purpose.

Other Gesneriads

Gloxinias, Achimenes and most other gesneriads (with the exception of episcias) need more light than African violets. Place the small ones two to four inches from the lights; plants in 5 to 6 inch pots about eight inches from the tubes. When their buds expand move them from the lights to a window and give the space to needy plants.

Foliage Vines

Most foliage vines can be grown in relatively low-light intensities. Since the area in the center of the tubes sheds strongest light, place light-loving things there and the greenery toward the end zones.

Setting pots atop moist sand or pebble-filled trays heightens humidity. Take care, though, to keep the water in the pebbles below pot level.

Ventilation Important

Ventilation, too, is all-important. While plants do not like blasts of cold, they do resent stagnant air. Basement growers find that fans alleviate this condition. “Upstairs” plants usually receive enough fresh air from the opening and closing of household doors.

If you grow your plants in cases or a fish tank, open the doors for a while each day to admit fresh air. Day temperatures of 70 to 75° F. and night readings at 60 to 65° F. are considered best for most house plants.

Water and Feeding Plants

Water and feed plants under lights exactly as you would window-grown plants. Use room-temperature water and moisten the soil thoroughly – I like to water with “sub-irrigation.” Let the topsoil dry out before giving them another soaking.

If you spill water on furry-leaved plants, you needn’t let it bother you, since the “artificial sun” will not burn the leaves.

Use an good nutrient solution like an all-purpose liquid plant food and fertilize growing plants twice a month. Small seedlings should receive only one-fourth proportion of the usual dosages.

As for a growing medium many serious about indoor gardening are using coconut coir mixed with perlite with excellent results.

The Art of Growing Plants Under Lights

The art of growing plants under lights is not limited to common indoor plants. Many use fluorescent lights as a great aid in producing better plants.

For example, Harold Kane in Ontario, Canada, collects rare and unusual plants and uses fluorescent grow lights for growing seedlings, cuttings and flowering plants of gesneriads.

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He discovered that cuttings root well in low-light intensities and, therefore, he places them toward end zones or wedged between large-foliaged plants.

Cindy Edwards in South Dakota, finds her lights excellent as starters for seedling pansies and for fostering flowering African violets, gloxinias and semperflorens begonias.

Benjamin Johnson, of Minneapolis, continues his gardening at home. In a lighted display case (made from an old console radio) he grows pothos, philodendron and African violets.

In a utility setup in the kitchen he handles seedling tomatoes, peppers, petunias and numerous garden annuals. He starts them in March, potted and placed as close to the lights as possible, so the leaves do not rest on the tubes. Before transferring them to the garden, Mr. Johnson places the potted plants in a sheltered nook to harden them up for outdoor living.

John Robley in San Francisco, California, loves growing under artificial grow lights. He says, “During the winter we get heavy fogs and lose the sun in the very early afternoon. Before using fluorescent lights, my plants lacked flowers on winter-grown plants. Now the lights supplement the dreary hours and I enjoy a wealth of bloom”.

Filed Under: Growing Tips, LG, z-003

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