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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Starting Plants Under Lights

Just wanted to share this process we go through every year
starting around March 15th.
If I can make space in our small house and be successful starting plants under lights...ANYONE CAN !
I hope this info below is helpful if you've never tried it.

My husband and I have been starting seeds under fluorescent lights for about 6 years now. There are factors to take into consideration like...number of weeks under the lights,whether to germinate in dark or light, that some need to be nicked and soaked before sowing, and there's also some that need stratification.
It's a must to read the seed packet first!
Our set-up consist of a $50. five shelf metal rack plus some other found space.
Two fluorescent fixtures above each shelf. Special over priced bulbs are not necessary, we use "40 watt t-12 fluorescent natural" bulbs. One Fixture and two bulbs cost about $20 at places like Home Depot/Lowe's. Three trays will fit on each shelf. I get two shelves and with my method (mentioned at bottom of page)this means 192 PLANTS !!


To get started there are some materials needed first.

1-Your seeds
2-Greenhouse seed starter trays
3-Transfer pots or garden seeding cells
4-Potting soil
5-One or more shelves
6-One or more Fluorescent lamps and thin chains



Leave all pellets in tray and add warm water as recommended.

With a fingernail file, add seeds then cover with soil as recommended on back of seed pkg. (With tomatoes and peppers, husband goes no more than 1/4" deep).

Try and keep in 80 degree location away from light until the majority germinate.
Or to speed things up...put on top of a heating pad and just keep turning it on when you think of it(don't let them dry out).A household heating pad is good for seeds like cannas. Never used special pads.

Once most germinate remove plastic lid.

sorry no pic of newly sprouted plants


Place pellets (with or without mesh)into pots.
Use Same Tray provided to germinate as support tray for pots.
We also use flat trays bought separately. You can't fit 72 potted plants in just one tray.
Husband uses 3 1/2 inch Pots to transfer into after germination.
(Kord Pots-durable)

Get cheap fluorescent lights (NOT GROW LIGHTS)and chains that you'll need to attach to the light fixture, so it can hang from the shelf above.
Adjust the height of the lights as needed.
Keep lights within 2 inches over the plants and just raise the lights as plants get taller. If lights are too high above plant, they'll get leggy. Set with a timer for 16 hours/day (8 hours off in evening) and keep moist.Don't go more than 2 days without checking the moisture and the height of the lights. Also try and keep temperature where plants are growing at 60-70 degrees. A fan helps for circulation and can keep the temperature down.

NOW WAIT 5 TO 8 WEEKS (most plants)

After the plants have served their time under lights,
put outside when temperatures will no longer drop below freezing.
Find or make a table to keep off ground.
Keep in shade the first few days then gradually introduce to the sun, a touch more each day......this period should last 1-2 weeks to get them ready. Check moisture every other day
Once they go outside they DON"T COME BACK IN THE HOUSE.(unless an unexpected frost threathens).

Once the transaction of adjusting to the outside has been accomplished dig a hole and put them in the ground.

I never initially fertilize,because it was in the potting mix.
But do after a few weeks in the ground, and then every 2 weeks thereafter.


I skip the step of transferring germinated plants into pots like my husband does. Once the pellets are expanded with water, I take them out of the trays they came in and put directly into Plastic Seeding Cells with potting mix already in them. Add seeds. (In other words, the germination AND the 5-8 week indoor startup take place in the same unit for my stuff. Husband moves to a somewhat larger pot because his veggies have early need to accomodate fast growing roots).
The seed cells can go back into the trays you expanded the pellets in, place plastic lid on, and now germinate !! Once most of the green pops up, take lid off and just put under the lights with no transfering . Less moves !

This is what they look like empty.

Remember to save the Garden Seed Cells from flats of flowers that you buy.
This method saves time, a big mess, and most importantly I can grow more plants.
Other than the pellets(fine mix),potting mix and seeds needed every year...
Wow ! It took longer to do this post than I thought. Whew.


  1. Hubby has been trying to use this method for two years now but he always relies on the weak light coming through our back windows. This year I might encourage him to hang up the old florescents I used to use to foster my mother's plants when she was unable to take care of them. He might actually have more success with his seedlings for a change.

    Half-bleep gardeners really tick me off, I wish he'd keep up with your blog and get inspired!

  2. This is a splendid presentation on how to grow plants from seeds. Your method seems to be not only successful, but also time-saving. Thanks!

  3. I have a heated greenhouse, so I will be starting sowing seeds in March.....UK...

    BUT I have to say that was one of the most detailed and interesting posts on sowing and seedlings that I have read......I would not have had the patience to do it......I am sure you have helped a lot of people get started.......

  4. Genie,
    Lights are a MUST !
    Unless you have a green house.
    You just have to find some out of the way area that you can keep cool.
    My method is time saving. You could skip the pellets BUT their are some seeds so fine that would get lost in the slightly chunky potting mix.
    It was a little hard writing it,finding the correct pictures and trying to keep it simple.
    Sure hope it is helpful !

  5. I used to grow lots of plants from seeds with a grow light on bricks, and the plants on the floor. We don't have room to do that where we live now. I do have some shelves like that, and Larry says he thinks my grow light is in the garage. Maybe I'll move the box of cookbooks off the shelf upstairs, and plant some seeds.

    I do plant a few and put them in my garden window, but there isn't a lot of room there.

    Thanks for the awesome detailed post. Would it be OK with you if I mentioned it on my blog and put a link to it?

  6. Sue,
    Go for it ! Start some seeds...i'ts very rewarding. Of course you can link to this post.
    Have fun !

  7. I enjoyed reading this tutorial. I have no luck with seeds. One reason is probably that I keep my house so cool (65-degrees) and don't want to change. Maybe someday I'll get a heating mat and see how much that helps.

  8. A most impressive tutorial, Patsi! When younger, I sowed seeds but now it seems I'm gone too much and also (shame on me) too impatient!

  9. Hi Patsi, this was so thorough, I loved the photos of everything but especially the peat pellets before and after! HA This is my first year for lights and heat mats, I bought the expensive stuff, too late to undo that, but follow most of the other steps you have outlined. A few things are at the hardening off stage now, kale, dill, cilantro and lettuce. It is fun now to take them out and bring them back, but later it will be a chore. There is not room for everything to stay under the lights. I have way too much of everything and can't bear to sacrifice any. You can imagine the numbers here. :-)

  10. Patsi, I'm so impressed by this post that I can't stand it!! I think perhaps I could do this! :-) Thank you so much. I'll let you know what happens!

  11. Marnie,
    We put up a shelf very close to the ceiling in our laundry room...the temps there are just right. Since heat rises you might have a place you never thought of to germinate seeds.
    My husband, the heirloom tomato grower taught me how to do seeds properly. Yes, you need some patience.
    That's a shame you don't have enough room.
    Can't imagine how many plants you're growing.:)
    Once you've provided a location for your lights and do it just one can't stop!

  12. Hi Patsy,
    You've inspired me! I'm ready to go out and get seeds and get started. Thanks for a very informative post.


  13. This is a great tutorial! I do basically the same thing you do. Our growing system looks almost identical too!

  14. Great tips today on indoor seed starting!

  15. Good tutorial for the beginner gardener.
    You should have a great garden this summer.

  16. Wow! What a gift to your readers! Being in CA I have never done any of this, but it's inspiring! Thank you for sharing. You are so organized! Impressive! And so helpful!

  17. Donna,
    I'm thrilled that you will give it a try. It really is easy !
    I believe this system is the most sensible,especially when you starting a large number of seedlings. So I'm guessing you do also.
    We'll have to compare notes :)
    Glad you think so. Hope it may motivate some gardeners.
    I'll never make a good do need certain skills. Hope it's useful!
    Did you say organized ? Wish I took way too long to do this post. Had to give the most important information only so it wouldn't discourage anyone.

  18. So cool Patsi! Thanks for all your work in doing the blog! I LOVE tomatoes and grow 60-80 plants with some other veggies in Illinois. I do this as a hobby and sell some too. I was wondering how to get a head start in my growing and YOU are the SECRET! I do grow the BEST tomatoes in the hole wurld or whole world if you like that better. I have several 4'- florescent light fixtures in stored in my shop, now I just need tubes, no problem. I've never seen the greenhouse starter trays before so I'll have to find them, or just grow in regular trays. Patsi, does this type of starter tray work a lot better than just regular trays with starter soil?

  19. Hi Anonymous,

    I think you're talking about not using pellets, and placing seeds in a tray full of "starter soil" instead. Can't say which is better overall, but for us we like organized pellets, for purpose of easy tranfer to larger pots, etc. shortly after germination takes place.
    Hope that answered your question.

  20. Maybe if I follow your advice, I can actually start something from seed indoors. Every time I have tried in the past, I have failed. Gotta love gardening, lots of trial and error.

  21. WOW--I am just about to post the same thing! I bought the same kit at Lowes and planted my seeds, it came w/a heating pad, so I've done everything! I am doing it the way your hubby does it, because I've already put them in the tiny peat pots; I did buy larger ones to transfer them to. I am so excited, I've never done this before !!! It's my fun experiment for February. It'll be amazing if I get anything that actually grows--and then blooms!!!

  22. Chad and Brandy,
    I think most people fail because they use window light. Don't know what you may be doing wrong but fluorescent lights are a must for healthy and stong plants.
    Ask me anything,I'll try and help.
    You'll have to post your seedling when they come up ! It's very rewarding.

  23. Such a cool and useful post!

  24. Patsi, this is a fabulous post and I know how these long, detailed posts take so much of your time to do. I'm sure those just getting started and even those of us who have done it before will appreciate these detailed instructions. THANK YOU!

  25. Parsec,
    I guess in your zone you can just direct sow. Summer is never long enough here.
    You're most welcome. I hope it will kick-start some gardeners to try something new. It's very rewarding!

  26. Very good Article. Specially its with pictures. It helps a lot of beginners like me.I was able to get my seeds germinated but didn't provide any light. Just kept them close to the window. They looked ok in the beginning but no growth like yours. Stopped growing at 2 leaf stage and now slowly the stem is drooping down... and some are dying..
    I will provide some light and see if it helps.


  27. DreamGardener,
    I think we all try the easy way at first.
    You can see at labels... flowers that I started from seed.
    Good luck.

  28. Hi Patsi,
    I have now put small flourescent bulbs above my plants and they look very happy. I like your 5 shelf metal rack. Where did you buy from? How much is it?


  29. Sorry Alice but deleted your e-mail....
    Anyway, deeper works great for tomato plants but any flowers I've ever grown don't go deeper when transplanted,it may kill them.

    My mother in law did the window thing for years and had leggy sad plants...some worth planting.
    Then she got's the only way to go !!!


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