Affordable Grow Lights: A How-To History

This is one of my original grow lights. (Note the wide hood.)

This is one of my original grow lights. (Note the wide hood.)

You can have as many grow lights as you wish–economically. You don’t have to buy them from a seed house or a garden supply. You can find everything you need at your local hardware store or home center. A grow light set up has two basic parts:

  1. An adjustable, full-spectrum light source
  2. A place to set your grow trays


I had my first grow light set up in the galley kitchen of the first apartment I rented. It was the fluorescent light (not full-spectrum but they worked well enough to start a few seedlings) above the sink in my galley kitchen! I bought a couple of flat expansion-type curtain rods to span the gap between the cabinets above the sink. These rods were strong enough to support a cheap plastic plant tray up close to the bulbs. (I even germinated my seeds in the kitchen–on top of my refrigerator. I set the tray in the back under the cabinets where it was warm and dark.)

It worked just fine.


When I married and moved to a rented house with an unfinished basement, I had more room for grow lights and more places to plant the seedlings I started. My seed starting set up was bigger and more complex but still cheap and simple enough to put together with a hammer and a few nails. I set up a couple of saw horses and laid an old door on top of them and covered it with a cheap plastic tablecloth. I bought light-weight chain from the local hardware store (cut in the lengths I specified) right off the roll and a basic 2-bulb, 4-foot fluorescent shop lights.

To get a full spectrum of light cheaply, I installed one bright flourescent white (kitchen) bulb and one warm flourescent light bulb in each fixture. For a little more money you can now find full-spectrum daylight bulbs at most big-box home improvement stores. The big-box stores usually have sales on fluorescent shop lights and the 4-foot bulbs that they require in the spring just when they are needed, so watch the sale circulars they send out in the late winter and early spring. If you have a choice, pick lights with the widest hoods possible.

To hang these grow lights, I drove a few nails into the floor joists above my plant “table” and hooked one end of chain over each nail–one piece of chain for each end of each shop light. Each piece of chain was long enough to reach within 3 inches of the surface I set my grow trays on. (The lights should be kept within 1 or 2 inches of the young plants as they sprout and grow so they don’t get leggy.)

The sweet thing about this setup was that when I was done starting seeds I could adjust the chains so that the lights were tight against the ceiling and out of harms way, and I could easily dismantle the grow table and saw horses for storage in very little space. It was also a good setup for overwintering tender flowers and herbs. (Since the basement was cooler than upstairs, I also created homemade heated germination trays for starting heat-loving seedlings, such as tomatoes, basil, and peppers–but that is another blog.)


When we finally bought and moved into our present home, I used the old door and hanging light setup until we decided we wanted to finish the basement. At that point, I progressed to a plastic pipe (PVC) plant stand that my brother helped me build and that my husband grew to hate. (For plans to build your own PVC plant grow light stand check out these links.) It was in his office space, he had to look at it every day, and it was ugly! I eventually sold it at a garage sale when he agreed to replace it with something bigger and better. (By that time I was growing almost all of my vegetable and herb starts and many of my bedding flowers and perennials as well.)


That is how a cheapskate like me came to own a commercially made, 3-level, 12-tray plant growing stand with a thermostatically controlled seed germination strip from Harris Seed. It is the perfect size for my needs and it wasn’t cheap! I use it to winter over tender plants, force bulbs, dry seed, propagate cuttings, and raise seedlings. I don’t consider it a bad investment since it is in use in some capacity year round.

All that said, I could still get just as good results with an old door; some sawhorses; a hammer, nails and some chain; and a couple of cheap shop lights with the correct bulbs! If I can do it, so can you. Begonia

This entry was posted in Gardening and Foraging and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Affordable Grow Lights: A How-To History

  1. Sanderella's Crochet says:

    Cool!! Your not cheap…your smart!!

Share Your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s