How to Start Vegetables with Fluorescent Bulbs


Starting your own vegetable plants indoors saves money over buying nursery-grown seedlings. You also have a larger choice in varieties of plants, as many nurseries only grow a limited amount of varieties. Seed starting advice often encourages you to put young seedlings in a sunny window, but if you don't have one available or must place the seedlings somewhere away from pets and children, you can use fluorescent bulbs. Special grow bulbs are available, but aren't necessary for successful vegetable seed starting.

Step 1

Fill seedling trays or starter pots with a seed starting potting mix. Fill the containers to within 1 inch of the rim.

Step 2

Sow seeds in the center of each pot or space them 3 inches apart in trays. Sow to a depth twice that of the seeds diameter. Sow small seeds on the soil surface and cover in a ¼-inch layer of soil.

Step 3

Water each container until the soil is evenly moist throughout. Cover in plastic film and place in a warm, dark room to germinate. Germination takes approximately 7 to 21 days, depending on seed variety.

Step 4

Check containers daily for sprouting. Remove the plastic film as soon as sprouts appear in the pots or flats.

Step 5

Hang two fluorescent light fixtures or one fixture that hold two light tubes using the package hardware. Place a cool light fluorescent bulb and a warm white fluorescent bulb in the fixtures.

Step 6

Place a table under the light fixtures. Set upside-down seed flats, bricks or stacked wood on the table, and then set the seedling containers on top. Pile stuff up until the seedlings set 4 inches beneath the bulbs.

Step 7

Leave the lights on for 14 to 16 hours a day. Remove layers of bricks or wood as the seedlings grow to maintain the 4-inch space between the seedlings and the lights.

Step 8

Water as needed to keep the soil moist at all times. Transplant seedlings outside after they have two sets of leaves and the recommended time for outdoor planting as detailed on the seed envelope has arrived.

Tips and Warnings

  • Placing seedlings too close to lights may burn foliage. Too far away and they won't get enough light to grow.

Things You'll Need

  • Seed trays or pots
  • Potting soil
  • Plastic film
  • Fluorescent light fixtures
  • Fluorescent tube bulbs
  • Table
  • Bricks
  • Wood planks


  • University of Illinois Extension
Keywords: grow lights, starting seedlings indoors, growing vegetables under lights

About this Author

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Dollar Stretcher." Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.

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