By Heather Blackmore and Glenda Taylor | Updated Mar 30, 2022 8:43 AM
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When it comes to plants, all light is not equal. Unless you have a greenhouse or an unlimited number of south-facing windows, grow lights are your best option for providing the right light to your plants. Though nothing is better than natural sunlight, grow lights are designed to provide Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR) so the plant can undergo photosynthesis like outside in nature. We wanted to know if they worked well enough to keep plants not just alive—but thriving—so we tested the most popular models on the market.
We placed the plants and grow lights in areas that were otherwise too dark for plants to grow, and we tried them out on a variety of plants, from houseplants to herbs, to flowering seedlings. We kept track of plant health, overall growth, and the development of new leaves. Ahead, learn what to look for when selecting the best grow lights for your indoor plants, and find out both the pros and cons of the following models before making your choice.
Whether you’re hunting for a grow light to supplement natural light for indoor overwintering of potted patio plants, or you’re looking to start seeds indoors for transplanting to the garden in spring, a grow light can help. Today’s options range in price from under $20 to $150, or more, depending on quality and light range.
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 a combination of both cool and warm light for the best of both worlds.
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 a 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.
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.
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.
To qualify for a spot in this lineup of the best grow lights, each of the following models had to perform well in our hands-on tests. We paired each light with various plants or germinating seeds, and we tested each function on the lights, including timers, dimmers, and temperature monitors. Overall, grow lights are relatively straightforward helpers—they offer added illumination without creating heat. The following grow lights performed well in our tests, although each is designed for a slightly different growing situation.
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 suspended 18 inches from the top of a seedling tray. The light emitted has a purple glow, which may be something to consider if it will light up plants in a living space.
We hung the Hytekgro lights over flowering seedlings that we purchased for transplanting in the garden, and we turned the panels on for 16 hours per day. The seedlings didn’t grow in height too much during the weeks we tested the lights, but they did fill out, and more blooms appeared.
We watered the seedlings during the testing phase but didn’t fertilize them, so the bulk of any growth that occurred could be attributed to the lights. A real upside to the Hytekgro lights is that they didn’t heat the space, but a slight downside is that they didn’t come with a timer, so we had to set an alarm and manually turn them on and off. The square shape makes them suitable for hanging over square and rectangular flats of seedlings, and we felt as though the health of the plants improved during their time under the lights.
Get the Hytekgro Grow Lights on Amazon and at Walmart.
For those wanting to take advantage of a grow light without investing a lot of money in an elaborate system, consider the GE Full Spectrum Grow Light Bulb. It offers a range of red, white, and blue light, although it appears pure white to the naked eye, which makes it well-suited for use in a living room, bedroom, or any spot in the house where plant-positive light is desired. Best of all, you can use an existing lamp or light fixture.
We used the GE bulb in an aluminum work light fixture and tied it to a rack over pots in which we’d planted lemon balm seeds. Like other types of vegetable and herb seeds, lemon balm seeds need ample light to germinate. The seeds sprouted in about 10 days, so they got enough light to germinate.
Our light fixture was crude, and when hung approximately 18 inches over the soil, the light radiated in a circular pattern about 2 feet in diameter. However, it was very bright and difficult to look at directly. We decided it could be put to better use in an adjustable-arm lamp that could be pointed toward a plant but away from eyes.
Get the GE Grow LED Bulb on Amazon, at Lowe’s, or at Walmart.
Not all homes have room for large hanging grow lights, but the Ankace 60-watt tri-head grow light takes up very little real estate. The three prongs on the Ankace light measure almost 3 feet high, and we decided to use them to supplement ambient light for a houseplant that was looking pretty tired after a winter in a dimly-lit room. Each of the prongs is flexible and can be moved into position over or around the side of a plant—to spread out light as desired.
The grow light is also adjustable—we could choose either red light, blue light, or a combination of red and blue. Even better, the Ankace grow light comes with a timer and the ability to dim or brighten the lights. We selected the 12-hour-on mode on a mid-range brightness setting. When all three prongs were positioned over the plant, the light spread in a radius of about 1.5 feet—just enough for a single houseplant.
Our test plant had quite a few yellowing leaves at the beginning of the test—and that’s not uncommon for that plant, but we wanted to see if we could green it up a bit. After 3 weeks under the Ankace lights, the plant showed signs of new leaves starting—something it typically has not done until it’s taken out to the patio in late spring. The Ankace lights didn’t produce much heat, although we could feel a slight warmth by putting our hands under the lights when the red light was on. When only the blue light was on, no heat could be felt. The light comes with a robust clip-on fastener for attaching to a counter or a desktop.
Get the Ankace 3 Head Grow Light on Amazon or a similar model at Wayfair.
The Spider Farmer light isn’t designed to propagate arachnids despite its name. Instead, it’s a serious grow light that can be paired with other Spider Farmer lights to provide healthy illumination to a large area of plants. This grow light comes with a built-in dimmer, timer, light color selection, and an intricate hanging system that allowed us to raise and lower the light via a corded pulley system.
We only tested a single Spider Farmer grow light, but it was impressive. The instructions said the system would support up to 11 additional lights—on a single circuit. The top of the light comes with an outlet for plugging in extra lights. It also features a continuous dimmer that lets us select the exact brightness we wanted. The light offers blue, white, red, and infrared (IR). We tested all the colors on the potted herbs we were growing.
The herbs (thyme) were pretty gangly before putting them under the Spider Farmer. To start with, we turned the intensity up to maximum light. Wow! This light lit up the room. It’s that bright. Since we were testing it on just one plant, we settled for a dimmed mode and left the light on for 16 hours. No timer on this one, but that’s because it’s designed for use in a horticultural setting, in combination with other lights and add-on timers.
After 3 weeks, the herb plant seemed to perk up a bit under the light, but it didn’t show a lot of new growth. However, it did become greener in color. This is an impressive light, and we would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone serious about developing a commercial-worthy system.
Get the Spider Farmer Grow Light on Amazon.
A bit of space on a countertop or a table is all that’s needed for the LBW Grow Light. It comes with an adjustable tripod stand that extends from 15 inches up to 48 inches high. If desired, the LBW light can be placed on a floor, but we put it on a table and turned its gooseneck light downward to illuminate our plants from above.
The LBW light requires some assembly, but it’s simple, and the manufacturer includes the wrench needed to tighten the nut that attaches the LED head to the tripod. The flexible gooseneck allowed us to turn the light in any direction, making this grow light suitable for lighting plants at various angles. At 18 inches above the plants, the LBW light shone brightly a 1.5 feet diameter—not a large area, but it wasn’t made to compete with some of the hanging grow lights we tested. It’s well suited for individual houseplants or small seed-starting projects, and it didn’t produce noticeable heat.
The LBW provides white, blue, and red light, and we were able to select which color we wanted. We tested this grow light on various plants—manually turning it on and off as it doesn’t have a timer. We felt it helped perk-up straggly plants, although it’s not as powerful as some, so its benefits were less apparent. Still, it’s an affordable option for those who want to supplement light for overwintered houseplants or start seeds on a tabletop.
Get the LBW Grow Light with Stand on Amazon.
The BESTVA Dimmable Grow Light is for dedicated indoor growers. The 224 powerful LEDs in this panel lit up the room nearly as bright as daylight, making this grow light suitable for getting seedlings off to a good start or growing plants indoors year-round.
Right out of the box, the quality of the materials was apparent—the BESTVA light features a dimmer dial with marked increments. Permanent anchors are cut into the stainless steel top that attaches to a hanging pulley system, allowing us to lower and raise the light as necessary. This bright grow light illuminates an area about 3 feet by 3 feet at the height of 18 inches above the plants when turned to full intensity. It was more light than we needed for our testing, but a pair of sunglasses is included, which would come in handy for someone who ran the light at maximum intensity.
The light produces red, blue, and white light waves, although it appears white. The BESTVA light is a top choice of those who live in locations where it’s legal to grow marijuana, and the light itself is marketed for growing marijuana—its logo is a marijuana leaf. However, it would also be beneficial for growing a wide range of other plants. It did not produce noticeable heat.
Get the BESTVA Dimmable Grow Light on Amazon.
If any grow light has a right to claim cuteness—it’s the GrowLED Umbrella Light. This little light comes with a telescoping spike we inserted in the soil of our pot to direct light downward—directly on the plant. The Grow LED offers only cool white or red light, but it’s enough to supplement ambient light in a home office or another room.
The thing that makes this tiny grow light unique is the ability to power it by plugging it into a USB port or a standard outlet. The light intensity is dimmable, and it didn’t produce any heat—even on the highest setting. The umbrella is 4.5 inches in diameter, and the telescoping spike adjusts from just over 8.5 inches up to almost 30 inches, making it well suited for short or tall plants. However, we felt it was best suited to smaller plants since it doesn’t offer a great deal of intensity.
The light comes with a timer that allowed us to program the light to come on for 16 hours and then go off for 8 hours. While it doesn’t cast enough light for seed starting or for large growing operations, it’s adequate for overwintering a favorite potted plant or for supplementing year-round light for an indoor houseplant.
Get the GrowLED Umbrella Light on Amazon or at Walmart.
Our second bulb in the lineup, the Hydrofarm Agrobrite Fluorescent Bulb, fits into a standard light socket, offering versatility while providing clear white light to enhance plant growth.
The compact fluorescent light (CFL) is expected to last for up to 10,000 hours, making it well suited for adding the extra light seedlings or overwintered potted plants crave. We used the Hydrofarm light in a reflective aluminum light fixture and suspended it over dill seeds we’d sown in small pots. After sprouting, the tiny dill seedlings grew on sturdy stocks, which would not have been possible without a supplemental light source.
However, this is a bright bulb and needs to be used in a fixture that directs the light away from the user’s eyes. We detected a minimal amount of heat from the light, but not enough to be problematic. The Hydrofarm light illuminated an area almost 2 feet in diameter when suspended 18 inches above the seedlings. For the best results, consider pairing it with a fixture that comes with a timer to keep from having to turn the light on and off daily.
Get the Hydrofarm Agrobrite Grow Bulb on Amazon or at Walmart.
For indoor growers concerned about the heat and humidity of their plant’s environment, the Phlizon Grow Light is just the ticket. It comes with a separate temperature and humidity module that can be placed anywhere near the plants.
The light itself offers a range of blue and red light waves. We mounted the Phlizon light over a potted ivy plant that was showing signs of fatigue after a long winter indoors. We selected a combination of blue, red, and white light in order to stimulate new leaf growth and improve its green color. After 3 weeks under the light—we saw marked improvement in the ivy’s overall health. New, tiny leaves appeared along the vining stems, and the foliage color improved dramatically.
That said, the Phlizon is probably better suited to growing multiple plants rather than boosting the health of a single houseplant. Users can choose between either red or blue light, depending on their plants’ needs. At 18 inches high, the oblong light provides enough light for a 1.5-foot by nearly 3-foot area. It comes with everything we needed to hang it from an overhead support, and it features a handy pulley system for raising the light as plants grow taller.
Get the Phlizon Grow Light on Amazon.
All of the grow lights in our lineup are suitable for supplementing natural and ambient light to enhance plant growth and health. Our best overall pick, a set of two Hytekgro LED Light Panels ticks off all the boxes—offering full-spectrum light and comprehensive coverage for the average indoor gardener. For those looking for the benefit of added illumination without investing a lot, the GE Full Spectrum Grow Bulb is among the best options. It offers ample light and can be used in an existing lamp or fixture to save money.
After reading information about the benefits of grow lights, we wanted to determine for ourselves whether the hype was true. While we’re not professional growers by a long shot—we do enjoy starting seeds, and we have several houseplants that always seem a bit on the leggy side due to inadequate light.
We tried to keep the testing as scientific as possible by providing the recommended amount of light—by plant type—with the grow lights. To determine each light’s practical coverage, we darkened the room, turned on the grow light, and then measured the distance of the brightest part of the light pattern.
We tested timers on the lights that came with them to see how accurate they were, and we frequently tested for heat generation by putting our hands beneath the grow lights to see if they were producing heat or not. We recorded our observations and awarded points based on a rubric throughout the testing.
We observed the plants and noted any significant changes, but keep in mind that this part was subjective since we used different plants, including seedlings, houseplants, and overwintered patio plants. In addition, they were all in various states of health when we began the testing.
We selected the grow lights for testing based on manufacturer reputation, such as the GE Hydrofarm light. Still, we didn’t automatically eliminate lights made by smaller manufacturers as long as they provided an ample amount of light and were well made.
After the tests, we added up the accumulated points and used them to create the best category for the individual grow lights. While each is better suited to specific situations, any of the models in our lineup will benefit various growing situations.
Grow lights open up a whole world of indoor gardening possibilities. From starting seeds to transplant outdoors to overwintering houseplants, grow lights are a popular and economical way for keeping all types of plants healthy, even if they’re tucked in the back corner of a dimly lit room. Those looking to boost their plants’ health with grow lights will likely have questions.
Today’s best grow light brands include well-known names such as GE and Phillips and up-and-comers, such as Hydrofarm.
Cooler, white light is beneficial for producing healthy foliage in houseplants, but those who are hoping to see some blossoms or fruit, will want to expose their indoor plants to warmer, yellower light.
While plant needs vary, most plants do best with full-spectrum light that contains red, blue, green, and yellow waves. Interestingly, full-spectrum lights often look white to the naked eye, although they contain a variety of colors.
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