The Best Grow Lights for Your Indoor Plants

Whether you’re starting seeds on the kitchen windowsill in early spring or corralling houseplants around your sunniest window through the winter, indoor lighting isn't always bright enough to give plants what they need to thrive. Fortunately, grow lights can help you cultivate healthy plants all year long.

The Best Grow Light Options for Indoor Gardens

Photo: istockphoto.com

Unless you have a greenhouse or an unlimited number of south-facing windows, grow lights are your best bet for reliably providing the right light to your plants year-round. Though nothing is better than real sunlight, grow lights allow you to trick plants into believing they’re getting the real thing.

Regular light bulbs for lamps and other light fixtures don’t deliver the full color spectrum needed to support plants in every stage of the growth cycle. And without the right light, a plant can’t photosynthesize or make food to grow. Further, regular light bulbs that emit a lot of heat can potentially cook tender seedlings or burn houseplant leaves. Grow lights, on the other hand, always keep cool.

Read on to learn how to select the best grow light for your indoor garden and to see which models earned top marks in our comparison.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Hytekgro 45W LED Grow Light
  2. BEST VALUE: Ankace 60W Tri Head Grow Light
  3. BEST LED BULB: GE Full Spectrum Grow Light
  4. BEST CFL BULB: Agrobrite FLC32D
The Best Grow Light Options

Photo: istockphoto.com

Key Shopping Considerations for Grow Lights

Cool, Warm, and Full-Spectrum

Grow lights are labeled with numbers like 2,500K or 6,500K, which tells you the temperature of the light according to the Kelvin scale of measurement. The higher the number, the cooler the light. So a bulb with a Kelvin rating of 6,000K will have a white or bluish tint, whereas a 3,000K bulb will be yellower.

Each type of light—warm or cool—stimulates specific plant behavior.

  • If your goal is to improve foliar growth in your houseplants or grow leafy greens or seedlings, choose a cooler spectrum bulb around 6,500K.
  • Warm light will have a lower Kelvin rating and is ideal for flower production in houseplants and fruiting plants like citrus.

When in doubt, full-spectrum lights take out the guesswork and offer cool and warm light for the best of both worlds.

LED vs. Fluorescent Bulbs

Standard fluorescent bulbs are a weak home light source but they’re great for supplementing natural light for houseplants or starting seedlings. Their cooler light makes them one dimensional so they’re ideal when lush foliage, not flowers, is the goal. Because their light cannot penetrate plant leaves with strong intensity, the grower must locate the light within a few inches of the top of the plant to be effective. Full-spectrum compact fluorescent lights (CFL) are a better option. Available in tube and bulb forms, CFL grow lights are more intense than standard fluorescent lights.

LED grow lights, not to be confused with regular LED lights, are more expensive than fluorescent lights but they make up for that with longevity and energy savings. LEDs have both blue and red lights to mimic the full-color spectrum of the sun and might emit a bright, purplish glow. That’s not a big deal if the lights will be in a basement or garage, but it’s something worth considering if they’ll be in a living area. Like fluorescent bulbs, LEDs are available in tubes for lighting a tray of seedlings or as bulbs when you want to light a specific plant.

Bulb or Stand Setup

The number of plants or seedling trays you want to grow is a good indicator of the kind of grow light best suited to your situation. Although a single bulb is perfect when positioned above a sun-loving succulent during the winter, seedling trays are better suited to a stand system that allows you to raise the light as the seedlings grow taller. So, whether it’s a premade stand with lights attached or one you build from scratch with an inexpensive wire rack and a hanging grow light bar or two, ultimately, your budget will have the final say. Premade stand setups are pricey and if your seed-starting plans are modest, consider building your own system. However, houseplant enthusiasts might gravitate toward a more aesthetic premade grow light stand better suited to indoor living spaces.

Additional Features

For houseplants, consider a full-spectrum grow light attached to a bendable, or gooseneck, arm that allows you to position the light directly above the plant. Some are stationary lamps for tabletops and others have a clamp at the end of the bendable arm so you can attach the light to the edge of a desk or table. Intended for use with one or two houseplants, these lights often come with timers so you can cater to a plant’s specific light needs and a USB connector for plugging into a computer.

For seed starting and flowering houseplants, some full-spectrum grow light panels come with timers as well as remotes that allow you to change the type of light emitted based on the plant’s growth stage—cool light for seed starting, warm light for flower production, and full spectrum when you’re uncertain about the type of light you need.

Our Top Picks

Consider these top-rated lighting options when selecting the best grow light for your seedlings and/or houseplants.

The Best Grow Light Option: Hytekgro LED

Photo: amazon.com

1. BEST OVERALL: Hytekgro 45W LED Grow Light

Lightweight and easy to install, the Hytekgro 45W LED Grow Light panel puts out a full spectrum of color to support all stages of plant growth. The two-panel kit includes steel hanging brackets for proper height adjustment. Each 12-inch by 12-inch panel distributes light across approximately 3 square feet when hung 6 to 10 inches from the top of a seedling tray. The light emitted has a purple glow and is something to consider if it will light up plants in a living space.

The Best Grow Light Option: Ankace Grow Light

Photo: amazon.com

2. BEST VALUE: Ankace 60W Tri Head Grow Light

For desktop plants at the office or those that could use a dose of light at home, the Ankace 60W Tri Head Grow Light is perfect for a plant or two. Growers can manipulate the bendable gooseneck arm to hover the full-spectrum LED light directly over a plant. A timer takes the guesswork out of remembering to turn it on and off and a USB connector means the light will work without an electrical outlet as long as there’s a computer nearby. Five light levels and three spectrum modes allow you to adjust the light to warm or cool, as well as the intensity, based on the plant’s stage of growth.

The Best Grow Light Option: GE Full Spectrum Grow Light

Photo: amazon.com

3. BEST LED BULB: GE Full Spectrum Grow Light

Unlike other full-spectrum bulbs that emit a bright purple glow, the GE Full Spectrum Grow Light provides natural-looking light, making it ideal for indoor living spaces where houseplants are part of the decor. Small-space gardeners with no choice but to start seedlings in living areas will appreciate the gentler light too. Install the non-dimmable bulb in any standard light socket, preferably in a downward-facing light fixture so the houseplant or seedling tray can sit directly below the light. The light intensity, while not adjustable, supports all stages of growth from germination, to foliage, to flowering.

The Best Grow Light Option: Agrobrite FLC32D

Photo: amazon.com

4. BEST CFL BULB: Agrobrite FLC32D

With a light temperature score of a cool 6400K, the Agrobrite FLC32D is best for localized lighting of seedlings and encouraging lush foliage in houseplants. This bulb won’t increase flower production and is best suited for plants like philodendron and pothos that are prized for their foliage. The bulb is compatible with all standard light sockets and lasts approximately 10,000 hours.