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 is rarely bright enough to give plants what they need to thrive. Look to grow lights to cultivate healthy plants all year long.
Unless you have a greenhouse or an unlimited number of south-facing windows, grow lights are your best option 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 their cool.
Read on to learn how to select the best grow light for your indoor garden and to see which five models earned top marks in our comparison.
- BEST OVERALL: Hytekgro LED
- BEST VALUE: Ankace Grow Light
- UPGRADE PICK: Gardener’s Supply Company 3-Tier Stand
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.
Bells and Whistles
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.
1. BEST OVERALL: Hytekgro LED
Lightweight and easy to install, the Hytekgro LED 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.
2. BEST VALUE: Ankace Grow Light
For desktop plants at the office or those that could use a dose of light at home, the Ankace 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.
3. UPGRADE PICK: Gardener’s Supply Company 3-Tier Stand
This 3-Tier stand from Gardener’s Supply Company is a splurge, sure. But if you’re serious about starting a lot of seeds under ideal conditions, it’s a wonderful option. Three shelves, equipped with watertight trays to protect floors, provide 15 square feet of growing space. The stand comes with energy-efficient full-spectrum bulbs attached to pull chains for easy height adjustment. Casters on the bottom of the powder-coated aluminum frame make moving the light stand very easy.