best grow lights for starting seeds

Build a Grow Light System for Starting Seeds Indoors

Do you want to start garden seedlings indoors? In order to grow healthy seedlings and plants indoors, you will need some supplemental light. Here is a simple and affordable grow light system made from easy to find equipment.

Growing plants indoors is an enjoyable project for any gardener. Whether you want to grow herbs indoors, start your garden seedlings, cultivate an indoor garden, or provide some supplemental light to your houseplants during winter, this inexpensive DIY grow light shelf will help you raise healthy plants.

Benefits of Growing Your Own Plant Seedlings

Growing transplants from seed offers a number of benefits, including:

  1. It is less expensive than purchasing nursery seedlings.
  2. There is a greater selection of seeds available in comparison to the standard plant varieties at most nurseries.
  3. It provides a little gardening therapy during the winter months when the ground is under a layer of snow.

In order to grow healthy seedlings and plants indoors, you will need some supplemental light. When I first searched online for growing stands for starting seeds indoors, I quickly discovered that they cost way more than I wanted to spend. A two-shelf unit with 4-foot fluorescent lights was well over $400. If you have the money to splurge on a grow light system, this 3-Tier Garden Grow Light Kit from Gardener Supply is a dream.

I was unable to afford such a unit this required some creative thinking to figure out a less-expensive option for starting seeds indoors. After shopping around, this is the DIY grow light shelving system I assembled. It has served me well for many years.

You can assemble your own inexpensive grow light system that will serve well for starting seeds indoors or growing an indoor garden.

DIY Grow Light System Equipment

Here is what you will need to set up your own grow light system:

Wire Shelving

I shopped around for a large wire-shelving unit that would accommodate 4-foot shop lights. I wasn’t able to find a large shelving unit locally, but I did find some 23-inch 3-tier shelving units. Two of these units placed side by side are the perfect size to hang two 4-foot shop lights across each shelf. The shelves are 13-inches deep and two standard seedling trays fit perfectly on each shelf. Plus there is room for two shop lights on each shelf if more light is needed.

These 3-Tier Shelving Units can be found in big box stores or online. Be sure to select units that measure around 30 inches H x 23 inches W x 13 inches D.

Lighting Fixtures

Shop Lights: The lights I use are your standard 4-foot shop light fixtures found in big box stores or online for around $30. These come with chains and a couple s-hooks. You will need to pick up extra s-hooks to hook the chain to the wire shelving.

Lights: Lights come in cool, warm, or full-spectrum. Full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs provide a balance of cool and warm lighting that represents natural lighting. Cool white bulbs provide blue/green spectrum while warm white bulbs provide red/orange spectrum. Full-spectrum bulbs were more difficult to find locally so I use the standard cool white bulbs. Most seedlings and greens do well with cool white bulbs. You can also mix and match a cool and warm bulb for a wider spectrum artificial light Just be sure to rotate your trays every few days so your plants receive the benefits of both as they grow. Check the packaging of your lights to be sure you are buying the correct bulbs.

LED Grow Lights: Also consider the new LED grow lights, which offer full spectrum lighting ideal for growing seedlings and plants indoors. The pricing on LED lights has come down significantly over the years. Be sure to select the correct sizes for your shelving unit.

Power Strip with Timer

Seedlings require at least 12-16 hours of light each day. I set my power strip timer for 16 hours on, then 8 hours off. The power strip with a timer is also commonly available in big box stores or online.

Plastic Gardening Trays

You will need trays or containers to help prevent water from dripping. These black growing trays measure about 20 x 10 inches and one tray fits perfectly on each shelf. These trays are perfect for seed starting using cell packs, soil blocks, or recycled containers. I like to double them up for a more secure tray that can be moved around without flexing. You can also use recycled produce trays or small plastic storage totes.

How to Setup Your Indoor Grow Light System:



  1. Assemble shelving units per instructions. Since these shelves are adjustable, make sure they are at the same level for both units.
  2. Locate your growing area near an outlet. Try to choose a place away from heavy traffic, pets, cold drafts, and excess heat. Place the shelving units side by side. I situated the shelves on a little used workbench, but they could also be raised up on a folding table to make it easy to tend to the seedlings.
  3. Hang your lights from the top and middle shelves using the chains and s-hooks. Plug the lights into the power strip timer and plug the timer into the outlet.
  4. Place your plastic gardening trays on the shelves, set your timer, and start growing seedling, and edibles indoors. Keep the lights about 2-inches above the seedlings and adjust as the plants grow.

Here are Some Gardening Tips to Get You Started:

  • Using Soil Blocks for Growing Seedlings
  • 10 Steps to Starting Seedlings Indoors
  • 7 Herbs to Start from Seed
  • Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Make a Seed Starting Schedule
  • How to Grow an Indoor Garden
  • 10 Reasons to Grow Your Own Organic Food
  • Also check out this article on Expanding the Seed Starting Area to see how I increased my growing space by adding on to this DIY grow shelf.

I hope I have encouraged you to assemble your own inexpensive grow light system that will serve well for starting seeds indoors. Once you have your Grow Light Shelving System, it is fun to experiment with growing some edibles indoors during the winter months. Visit How to Grow an Indoor Garden to see what will grow under lights during the winter.

You can assemble your own inexpensive grow light system that will serve well for starting seeds indoors or growing an indoor garden.