The 8 Best Grow Lights of 2021
Mimic the sun’s rays with these top picks
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Keeping plants alive and helping them flourish can be hard as is, but growing things indoors is even more tricky. You have to give them enough—but not too much—water and make sure they have enough soil and a large enough pot. Aside from that, one of the most crucial factors of growing plants inside is light.
Positioning your plants in front of a window where they can drink up natural sunlight is ideal. But as you probably know, this is easier said than done. Whether your window situation is less-than-sufficient for plants or you live somewhere that only gets sunny a few months of the year, a grow light is an excellent solution.
Want to flex your green thumb inside? Here are the best grow lights to help your indoor plants live their best life.
Best Overall: Roleadro LED Full Spectrum Grow Light
The best overall option is the Roleadro LED Grow Light. Thanks to the brand’s proprietary spectrum with 460 to 465 nm, 620 to 740 nm, and a 6,000 to 6,500 K waveband, it provides indoor plants with a diverse range of light. This helps promote growth and allows even the most delicate, tropical plants and flowers to not only grow but bloom year-round. You can also grow seasonal vegetables and herbs in the winter, spring, summer, or fall.
This 75-watt grow light also has an aluminum cooling plate to effectively dissipate heat, even on the highest setting. It comes with hanging brackets and is easy to set up. You can put it together in about a minute and hang it from almost anywhere in your home.
“In our test, the grow light gave our seedlings ample nourishment early on, so they didn’t outpace themselves. The light also proved to be the perfect size for a standard seed tray. It distributes light evenly so each seedling gets an equal share of light.”—Stacey L. Nash, Product Tester
Best Bulb: GE Grow Light With Balanced Spectrum Seeds & Greens LED Light Bulb Clear
You can also get special bulbs for growing indoor plants, like the GE BR30. This full-spectrum bulb offers high-quality lighting that encourages houseplants, indoor gardens, cacti, and flowers to flourish every month of the year. Unlike some other grow lights that produce harsh lighting, it provides soft, natural illumination and warmth.
The GE BR30 features innovative LED technology, which allows it to last for 25,000 hours (or about five years) and use only 9 watts of energy. With a balanced light spectrum designed for seeds and greens, you can grow herbs, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables right in your home.
Best LED Bulb: Haus Bright LED Grow Light Bulb Original
The best LED bulb for indoor plants is the original Haus Bright LED Grow Light Bulb. Compared to others in its category, this bulb is notably bright with full-spectrum power.
Though it’s a little more expensive than the GE option, it produces 1,200 lumens of brightness and 140 micromoles per second while only using 20 watts of energy. This LED bulb provides adequate, nourishing lighting for houseplants, bamboo, cactuses, succulents, flowers, tomatoes, vegetables, and seed starts, no matter how cold or dark it is outside.
Best Mounted: Feit Electric Dual Full LED Plant Grow Tube Light
Looking for something you can mount? Your best bet is the Feit Electric Dual Grow Tube Light. This grow light is lightweight, durable, and easy to install. It arrives fully assembled and can be hung or mounted flush against your ceiling or walls. Designed to mimic natural sunlight and work as a replacement for traditional greenhouse bulbs, this product delivers.
It emits 450 nm of blue light and 655 nm of red light, the perfect combo for indoor gardening. The blue encourages the growth of tall, leafy plants and vegetables, and the red promotes budding, fruiting, and flowering. Plus, it has a low heat emission, which prevents burnt leaves and reduces your electric costs.
Best Hanging: Soltech Solutions Grow Light
The Soltech Solutions Grow Light is an aesthetically pleasing hanging lamp. It has a 15-foot fabric cord and comes with an LED bulb, three ceiling hooks, two wall fairleads, and a swag hook. Choose from either white or black, both of which offer a chic, minimalist vibe.
You can get this grow light in size small (5.8 x 3.8 inches with 2,000 lumens) or large (7 x 4 inches with 4,000 lumens). The lamp provides sufficient lighting for houseplants of all sizes and varieties, and it lasts for 15 years.
Best for Herbs: TorchStar Plant LED Kit Indoor Herb Grow Light
The best option for herbs is also from TorchStar. With full-spectrum solar simulation, the LED Plant Kit provides both the right lighting and a container for growing herbs indoors. Mimicking natural sunlight, it illuminates for 16 hours a day and then turns off for 8 hours at night.
This herb grow light measures 19.9 x 2.2 x 14 inches. It’s the perfect size to place on your windowsill, desk, kitchen counter, mantle, dresser, or side table.
Best Adjustable Spectrum: iPower 10W Dual Head LED Grow Light
The iPower LED Grow Light has two flexible gooseneck arms and two light heads. But the rotatable necks aren’t the only thing that’s adjustable on this lamp. It has three light modes (red, blue, and a red/blue combo) and 11 dimmable settings. The smart timer allows you to set it to turn off after a certain amount of hours, and then turn on at the same time the next day for a 24-hour cycle.
Like the CFGROW lamp, this grow light has a large mounting clip, which you can attach to a desk, table, shelf, or any other slim ledge. It comes with a USB cable and plugs into standard outlets.
Best Desk Garden: AeroGarden Harvest Elite with Gourmet Herb Seed Pod Kit
Are you in the market for a desk garden? If so, we think you’ll love the AeroGuard Harvest Elite. The high-performance 20-watt LED light provides full-spectrum rays for growing a wide range of herbs and veggies. We’re talking mint, basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage, and dill.
With a sleek design and an LCD control panel, it looks almost like a high-end countertop kitchen appliance. The Harvest Elite comes in light green, white, black, or a stainless steel finish. At just 11 x 8 x 15 inches, it’s the perfect size for a tiny desk garden. The kit also includes seeds for six different herbs—and since they grow in water, you can get started right away.
Our top pick for grow lights is the Roleadro LED Grow Light (view at Amazon) due to its unmatched waveband emission. If you want a complete indoor garden kit, opt for the AeroGarden Harvest Elite (view at Amazon), which comes with a starter pack of seeds.
What to Look for in a Grow Light
When deciding what size grow light you need, think about how many plants you’ll need to cover. Also, if you’re planning to move your light from place to place, you may want something lighter and portable, whereas if you know it’s going to stay put, that may not be as much of a factor. Also, consider the space where you plan to put it and make sure there’s room for it to operate safely and not up against furniture, drapes, or other items.
There are various types of grow lights to consider, from panels to ones that hang overhead or screw into a regular light fixture. The type of plants you have, the amount of existing natural light, and where your plants are located will help you narrow down your choices.
Ease of use
From installation to keeping them operating properly, some grow lights require more effort than others. Also consider how much noise a grow light makes, particularly if it’s going to be placed in a busy area.
The best grow lights will support your indoor garden to achieve maximum growth. We researched the top options for making your garden light up.
Growing Seedlings Under Indoor Grow Lights
Anyone who’s tried growing plants from seed knows that proper lighting is critical to producing an abundance of stocky, green seedlings. For those of us lucky enough to have a south-facing window with 12+ hours of full sun, lighting isn’t an issue. But for the rest of us, an indoor lighting system of some kind is a necessity.
This primer on indoor lighting for seed starting will help you choose the options that work best for you.
Light color is also referred to as color temperature, with cool light describing the blue end of the spectrum and warm light being the red end. Sunlight contains the complete spectrum of light, including all colors of the rainbow.
Although plants use the full spectrum for photosynthesis, red and blue light seem to be most critical. Red light stimulates vegetative growth and flowering (but if a plant gets too much, it will become tall and spindly). Blue light regulates plant growth, which makes it ideal for growing foliage plants and short, stocky seedlings (but too much will result in stunted plants).
You can tell which color a grow light produces by looking at its Kelvin rating. Lamps with a rating of 5000 Kelvins will appear bluish, while those with a 2500 Kelvin rating will be reddish.
The intensity of light that a plant receives is determined by the wattage of the bulb and the distance between the plant and the light source. So, for example, a brighter bulb that’s farther away from the plant could provide the same light intensity as a dimmer bulb that’s closer to the plant.
Different plants have different light intensity needs, but most seedlings grown for the garden will need higher intensity light to flourish. In general, the leaves should be about 2 – 4 inches away from the light source (assuming use of a fluorescent bulb – see below).
Duration of Light Exposure
There’s still debate about how many hours of supplemental light is ideal when starting seeds and growing plants indoors.
Most vegetables and garden plants require at least 16 to 18 hours of light each day; without enough light, they get pale and leggy. The conventional advice was to turn lights on for 16 hours each day. However, some growers maintain that 24 hours of consistent light every day provides a better outcome when growing seedling (i.e., there’s no need to give seedlings a nightly rest but this advice doesn’t necessarily apply to full-grown plants).
It’s certainly easier to leave your grow lights on all the time and that’s what I do. If you choose to go with 16 hours on, 8 hours off, put the lamp(s) on a timer so you won’t forget to turn the lights on or off.
Types of Bulbs
You can choose between incandescent, fluorescent, LED, and high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs, each of which has its own pros and cons. Choose the grow light that works best for the type of plants you want to grow and where you plan to grow your seeds.
These include halogen bulbs and are the type of light bulbs still used in most homes (although they’re getting harder to find now that stores are carrying only more efficient bulbs, such as CFLs and LEDs).
Incandescent bulbs are a good source of red light, but a poor source of blue, meaning that plants will likely become spindly when grown under incandescent light.
Incandescent bulbs, and especially halogen bulbs, also produce a lot of heat in relation to the amount of light they give off; plants growing too close to the bulb can be easily burned.
Generally speaking, these are not the best type of lamps for growing seedlings.
These types of bulbs produce two to three times more light than incandescent bulbs for the same amount of energy and are the most inexpensive lights for indoor gardening. However, they usually require bulky external ballasts (like, for example, overhead shop lights) so aren’t as easy to work with as incandescent and LED bulbs.
Cool white bulbs are a good source of blue and yellow-green light, but are a poor source of red light. Plants grown under cool white bulbs will be stocky or even slightly stunted. Warm white bulbs emit plenty of orange and red light, but less light in the blue and green spectrum. These bulbs, when used alone, result in tall, spindly plants. If you are growing seedlings under two-bulb fluorescent fixtures, you can usually achieve a good color balance by combining one cool white and one warm white bulb.
A set of stacked shelves with fluorescent T5 lamps (or LED lamps) makes it easier to grow a large number of seedlings.
Full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs produce a balance of cool and warm light that replicates the natural solar spectrum, although these are less energy efficient than other fluorescent bulbs and tend to produce more heat. But, given the wider range of light frequencies emitted by these bulbs, they are a good choice for growing seedlings.
T5 lamps are fluorescent lamps that are 5/8″ of an inch in diameter, making them much less bulky than typical fluorescent bulbs. These are the lamps you’re most likely to find in grow light kits.
When using fluorescent lamps, be sure that all plants get ample light. For a typical seedling tray, that means using 2 bulbs, ideally with a reflector hood over them to focus all the light on the seedlings below.
LED Grow Lamps
Unlike other bulbs which produce light across a broad spectrum, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) give off light within a narrow band. LEDs designed for growing plants emit light in the two bands that plants need – red and blue. The result is a purple glow that not everyone likes.
LEDs are mercury-free and won’t shatter like glass. These bulbs are long-lived (up to 5x longer than fluorescent lamps) and very energy efficient, but they cost considerably more than fluorescent bulbs.
Research is still ongoing to determine which combination of light frequencies are best for plant growth and how LED grow lights compare to fluorescent bulbs in producing healthy seedlings. I haven’t seen a definitive answer on this one yet but more and more companies are producing LED grow lights and seed-starting kits, and even commercial growers are slowly moving in that direction.
High-Intensity Discharge Lamps
These lamps are used by commercial growers and serious horticulturists. These energy-efficient bulbs generally emit twice the amount of light (lumens) as a fluorescent bulb. However, the bulbs and special fixtures are considerably more expensive than those needed for incandescent or fluorescent lights. They also tend to be high-wattage bulbs, so you need to be sure your electrical system can handle the load. Some of these lights burn so brightly that they must be located in a special room and you’ll need to wear eye protection when working around them.
Metal halide lights emit an intense, bluish-white light that is excellent for growing plants. The foliage stays green and vigorous, and plants are usually stocky and strong. Metal-halide lights are currently the number one choice for serious indoor gardeners. Mercury vapor lamps emit a bluish, relatively well-balanced, high-intensity light. High-pressure sodium bulbs are usually used to promote flowering and fruiting but, when used exclusively, they produce leggy, weak-stemmed plants.
What’s the best option?
For the average home gardener starting seedlings indoors, a fluorescent or LED lamp will usually be the best choice to ensure that your plants get the quality, intensity, and duration of light they need to stay in peak condition.
A description and comparison of different grow lights for starting seeds and growing plants indoors. Covers incandescent, fluorescent, LED and high intensity discharge lamps, as well as issues around light color, intensity and duration.