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How to Make the Ultimate DIY Grow Lights

In this post, I’ll show you how easy it can be to build your own DIY grow lights so you can master the art of growing organic vegetable plants at home. I’ll give you a video tour of my home set up and share links to the short list of materials you’ll need to get started.

After you’ve been growing your own food for a while you might start to wonder about starting seeds at home for your garden. It’s a ritual many gardeners eagerly look forward to every winter.

Growing your own vegetable plants is a fun way to get a jump on the gardening season and start getting your hands dirty before you’re able to get out into your yard.

A huge world of interesting and unique vegetable varieties are available to gardeners who start their owns seeds, so you can experiment with lots of unusual choices you probably can’t find at your local farmers market or nursery.

And once you learn the process of seed starting it’s easily repeatable year after year.

One of the first questions most people have about seed starting is, “Can I start seeds in front of a window?”

Although it sounds great – so simple and easy! – it’s virtually impossible to grow healthy seedlings at home in front of the window.

The #1 reason it’s not a good idea is that seedlings need overhead light.

And when they don’t get it? They start to extend themselves towards the sun that’s coming through the window, and end up growing really tall and stretched out (this is called “leggy”, and it’s not good).

A tall and skinny seedling is the opposite of what you want. Short, stocky, and strong seedlings are much more able to withstand the wind, rain, and other weather pressures they’ll face once they get out into your garden.

Growing under lights is the best way to ensure your seedlings are healthy and strong when they finally make that trip outside to your garden beds.

If you’re going to spend the time and money to grow your own plants at home, I highly recommend doing it right and assembling your own DIY grow lights. (Keep reading for a bit and then come back to watch the video.)

If you browse online you’ll discover that conventional seed starting lights are quite expensive. Luckily, I have great news — you don’t need one of those fancy light racks. You can easily assemble your own seed starting rack with materials from your local hardware and big box store.

Come along on a tour of the DIY grow lights I’ve been using for the last 15 years and learn how to build your own.

If you’d like, you can watch the video above where I show you the simple list of parts that make up my home grow light stand and then you can read the post below to find links to all of the supplies I talk about in the video.

How to Make Your Own DIY Grow Lights

This post contains affiliate links.

The Rack
I highly recommend using metal wire shelving for your grow light stand. They’re versatile, so after the seed starting season is over you can use them for storage in your basement or garage.

I move mine to the garage and use it to cure my onions for winter storage after their harvest in the summer.

The shelving units come in different sizes, so you can choose one with fewer shelves if you have a small garden and only need to start a handful of seeds. I have a large garden and grow a lot of seedlings, so I have a tall unit with five shelves.

Important note!! Make sure you choose a rack whose width matches the length of your lights. For example, most shop lights are 48″ long, so you would need to choose a wire shelving unit that has shelves that are also 48″ long.

I also created DIY grow lights Amazon list with all of the supplies I share in this blog post.

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The Lights
There are lots of LED and high performance grow lights out there, but you don’t have to get anything fancy if you don’t want to. For many years I’ve been using standard 48″ long shop lights that hold two fluorescent bulbs.

These are getting phased out and replaced by LED bulbs, so if you’re going to buy new fixtures you’ll likely have to purchase the LED versions.

Make sure you buy lights that can be hung from the shelves by chains (see photo below), not ones that are meant to be mounted on the ceiling.

On each shelf, I use two sets of shop lights (see photo below). Each shop light takes two bulbs, so you’ll need four bulbs total for each shelf. I find that one shop light isn’t enough light for the seedlings and causes that leggy problem we talked about.

The LED version of the same lights here. They only hold one bulb, but since LEDs emit more light than fluorescent bulbs, I bet you could get away with only two fixtures/bulbs per shelf. I’ll be trying this experiment soon and will report back!

Another question that regularly comes up is whether you need to use grow lights for your seedlings. I use one grow light bulb per shelf and three soft white inexpensive flourescent or LED bulbs.

I position the grow light in one of the middle two bulbs on the shelf so its light is more likely to reach all of the seedlings.

The lights are hung with metal chains and s-hooks so I can move them up and down. This is essential! You’ll need to be able to lower the lights when your seedlings are small and continually raise them as they grow taller.

Another option for a light is this fixture, which I purchased a few years ago in order to compare it to the standard shop lights. After using it for several years I don’t necessarily prefer it over them.

I like that one of these light fixtures replaces two shop lights. And it emits way more light than your standard shop lights.

But, the bulbs produce a lot of heat and can get hot to the touch. If I forget to raise the light fixture as they grow and they touch the lights their leaves can get burned.

Due to the heat the fixtures produce the soil dries out very quickly and the seedlings under this light need to be watered more regularly than the seedlings on the other shelves. Neither of these things happens with regular fluorescent or LED bulbs.

Link to the grow light for standard shop light fixture here.

There are different gauges of chain, so I suggest buying the chain from your local hardware store once you have the s-hooks. That way you can make sure they fit together well. The store should be able to cut whatever length chain you need.

I gathered all of the supply links for DIY grow lights into an Amazon list here.

The shelving unit, lights, bulbs, hooks, and chains are the main building blocks of this easy to build DIY grow light stand. Pretty simple, right?

Once you get those things in place, there are a few other supplies you’ll need to continue setting up your successful seed starting operation.

Although you’ll need some extra cash to get started, most of these things are a one-time investment. You can use them over and over again every year.

Additional Materials For Your Grow Lights
Timer: Your lights should be on for 12 hours per day and off at night. The easiest way to ensure this happens is to plug everything into a digital timer.

Extension Cords & Power Strips: You’ll need to plug all of your lights into the power strip and then plug the power strip into the timer so they’re all turning off and on at the same time. Depending on your set up you may need some extension cords to help all of the lights reach the power strip.

Watering Device: I like to use bike water bottles because the stream of water is easier to contain than a watering can. That means less spills on my living room floor! I find mine at the local thrift store.

Seedling Heat Mat: Optional. The heat mat helps with the germination of heat-loving vegetables like peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. I’ve found that I can’t successfully get pepper seeds to germinate without an extra bit of heat. (Read more about that here.)

Most of the supplies you need for your DIY grow lights you can probably find at your local hardware and big box stores. It may help to go in person so you can visualize how everything will fit together.

If you prefer to shop on Amazon, find all of the supplies here.

Assembling your own grow light stand will allow you to grow higher quality seedlings at home, which will save you money long term, especially if you have a large garden!

It’s also a fun skill to add to your gardening tool belt. It might seem complicated, but once you get the hang of it you can use the same process over and over again every winter. You’ll be a pro in no time, believe me!

If you think it would be helpful to have a knowledgable and thoughtful teacher (me!) to guide you through the process this year, check out my how-to video series, Super Easy Seed Starting.

Whether you’re new to seed starting and don’t know where to start, or you’ve tried growing your own plants but could use some help refining your process, this series will help you achieve excellent results this year. Watch sample videos here.

Want to read more about seed starting?

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It's very difficult to grow healthy seedlings in front of a window. Instead, assemble your own DIY grow light stand with supplies from the hardware store.