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Published Oct. 14, 2021

Many plants are wonderfully resilient while others wilt at the first sign of hardship. They all share a need for light, however, but figuring out exactly what kind can be tricky. No matter what you’re trying to grow, though, the sun could always use a little helping hand. Adding grow lights to your gardening setup can extend your growing season or open up your opportunities for new plants that don’t necessarily grow in your climate. 

These grow lights won’t have you ready to open your own professional operation, but they can treat your plants right and fit nicely into your needs to get you and your plant pals exactly the right amount of light to thrive.

How we picked the best grow lights

Methodology

There are some certified plant fanatics on the PopSci editing and writing crew. I’m an avid gardener and have been for nearly two decades. I regularly start my seedlings inside before moving them out into the New York climates. 

To create this list, we surveyed dozens of different models online and drew from real-world experience. This list represents a wide swath of options that could cover a variety of very different situations. Some are more appropriate for serious growers, while others are fine for those who have a casual interest or are just getting started. We try to lay out the different technologies and options here in a clear way to help along the way.

Best grow lights for micro greens: SereneLife Smart Starter Kit-Hydroponic Herb Garden

Salad shooter

Grow your dinner–or at least your appetizer–on your counter. SereneLife

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Why it made the cut: If you don’t want to buy an individual light and build a grow room, you can simply buy this compact hydroponic kit that automatically tends to your plants. 

Specs:

  • Light type: LED
  • Power consumption: 18 watts
  • Adjustable
  • A full hydroponic garden that can sit on your counter
Pros:Cons:
  • All-in-on hydroponic solution
  • Requires peat pellets
  • Adjustable height light
  • Limited to 8 plants at a time
  • Automatic light timer
  • Compact enough to sit on a counter
  • As the best grow lights for micro greens this miniature hydroponic setup includes its own 18 watt LED grow light that stays on for 16 hours per day and turns off for the other eight. That simulates the natural cycle of the sun, which makes plants happy. 

    The base of the light is a full-on hydroponic setup. Insert seeds in the compact peat pellets and water will circulate through it automatically to give the ideal hydration. Everything happens automatically so you don’t have to tend to it. 

    This approach works wonderfully for microgreens, which grow quickly and easily under these conditions. Once the plants start getting too tall, you can raise the light in order to make more room for the plants. It’s ultimately a solid alternative to buying individual pieces for a small grow room if you’re just getting started.

    Best grow lights for outdoor plants (when they’re indoors): LED Grow Light

    Plant staycation

    When outdoor plants need to come inside, they can use the extra light. Relassy

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    Why it made the cut: When outdoor plants need to come inside for the winter, they don’t necessarily need an onslaught of light. These adjustable lights have what they crave.

    Specs:

    • Light type: LED
    • Power 75 watts (equivalent)
    • Adjustable
    • Full-spectrum
    Pros:Cons:
  • Adjustable lights
  • Not super powerful
  • Full-spectrum illumination
  • 4 dimmable levels
  • Built-in timer
  • Some plants can thrive outside in the summer, but need to come into the warmth for the winter. In that case, they almost certainly need a little bit of help in the photosynthesis department from supplemental light. This adjustable light uses high-intensity LEDs in order to pump out the equivalent of 75 watts of light while consuming 25 watts of power. 

    These best grow lights for outdoor plants have a built-in timer that’s highly customizable in three, six, and nine-hour chunks. The flexible gooseneck design allows you to pinpoint where you want the light, so it’s easy to move it closer or farther away for more control. 

    The full-spectrum light mimics the sun and doesn’t cast weird shades in your home when it’s on, which is good for both the plants and the vibe in your house.

    Best fluorescent grow lights: Hydrofarm FLT44 System 4′ Fluorescent Grow Light

    Feel the flo

    These pro-grade light banks are ready for moving up in the plant world. Hydrofarm

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    Why it made the cut: Many pros opt for fluorescent light. This one offers a huge output that covers lots of area in case you’re going big.

    Specs:

    • Light type: Fluorescent
    • Dimensions: 3″H x 13.5″W x 46″L
    • Up to 18,800 lumens
    • Replaceable tubes last up to 20,000 hours
    Pros:Cons:
  • Very bright
  • Expensive
  • Covers lots of area
  • Big
  • Full-spectrum
  • Heavy power usage
  • Bulbs last a long time
  • If you want a pro-grade grow room, this Hydrofarm fluorescent light bank measures nearly four feet long and can put out almost 19,000 lumens when fully outfitted with high-output T5 bulbs. That’s a lot of light. Specular aluminum reflectors sit behind the bulbs to direct the light rays where they need to go. 

    The bank ships with four 6400K light tubes that mimic the color of the sun, which means they won’t throw wild tints around your grow room, just clean, white light. The powder coated steel housing is huge, but also burly so it can survive bumps and bruises if you need to move things around. 

    This isn’t as power-efficient as LED, but you do get a much higher overall power level out of this bank than you would a typical LED. As the best fluorescent grow lights, these fluorescent banks can also daisy chain together to run multiples off of a single outlet, which is handy if you’re low on sockets.

    Best grow lights for seedlings: Jump Start JSV2T JumpStart T5 Light Timer System

    Bloomers

    It has what seeds crave. Jump Start

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    Why it made the cut: If you want to start your plants indoors before taking them out for the season, this is a great solution.

    Specs:

    • Light type: fluorescent
    • Light source: T5 tubes
    • Light color: 6400K (sunlight)
    Pros:Cons:
  • Only requires one bulb
  • Can’t accommodate taller plants
  • High output
  • Low heat
  • Automatic timer
  • Adjustable height
  • If you get your seeds going before the growing season officially starts in your area, you can effectively extend the season and get more out of your veggie plants. Jump Start, the best grow light for seedlings features a lighting system that suspends a single fluorescent tube above the growing area. You can raise and lower it with the electronic ballast. You typically want to keep the full-spectrum light roughly three to six inches away from your fresh little growers, but adjusting is simple. 

    The built-in timer lets you automated the on/off process by splitting the day in half or breaking it up into 18 hours on and six hours off. Fluorescent lights are high output but don’t produce much heat, so they’re also good for plants like orchids, which can be very finicky.

    Best grow lights for home: Bamboo LED Grow Light Garden

    Shelf improvement

    It’s like a luxury condo for your seedlings and other plants. Gardener’s Supply Company

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    Why it made the cut: This shelving system is basically a vertical indoor garden that helps nurture plants from their start.

    Specs:

    • Light type: LED
    • Fits plants up to 12 inches high
    • 6400K light
    • Dimensions: 38-1/4″ L x 18-3/4″ W x 54″ H
    Pros:Cons:
  • Galvanized plant tray won’t degrade with watering
  • Expensive
  • Attractive bamboo construction
  • Requires lots of space
  • Built-in lights
  • Huge capacity
  • The shelves on this bamboo setup are lined with LEDs that pump out full-spectrum light to the plants sitting below. The bottom shelf can hold up to 50 pounds of plants, while the upper shelves can hold up to 30 pounds each. 

    The bottoms of the shelves are lined with galvanized steel so water won’t destroy the surfaces if you spill during watering. The furniture-grade bamboo frame is built to last for decades without much upkeep. You can stack the segments in any order, but all three rows of grow lights draw all the power they need from a single power outlet. Buying the best grow lights for home is a great way to start and show off a whole bunch of house plants without spreading them out all over your home.

    Some things to consider when buying grow lights

    Type of light

    The two types of light on this list are LEDs and fluorescents. The latter has been a very popular choice with growers for decades. High-output T5 tubes can produce an impressive amount of light that will nurture plants at any level. Fluorescents are high output, but low heat, which is good if you don’t want to burn your fledgeling plants. 

    LEDs are extremely efficient and use less power. They’re also often much more flexible in their physical size and shape because they don’t require long tubes in order to generate illumination.

    Power consumption

    If you’re keeping grow lights on up to 18 hours per day, they’re going to consume considerable power, even if you’re using efficient LEDs. You want something with a built-in timer because then you won’t forget to turn it on and off, which is bad for your electric bill as well as the plants. 

    Remember, watts used to indicate relative power with incandescent bulbs, but it doesn’t quite work that way with LEDs. You can directly compare lights if they say how many lumens they produce, but watts is no longer an effective way to directly compare output when you’re talking about LEDs

    Adjustability

    Some plants can be picky about how close or far away a light can be for it to get the desired benefits. Adjustable lights help ensure that the source of illumination stays the desired distance from the plants themselves so they don’t starve or burn.

    A final word about grow lights

    The sun does a wonderful job nurturing plants with its light, but it can’t always get to plants inside your home. That’s where the best grow lights come in. Just be sure to choose the right kind for your plants, your home, and your budget.

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