Living in New England, my outdoor garden slows to a halt by late September. I used to get sad thinking about how long I’d have to wait before growing another crop of fresh tomatoes and peppers. (Is there anything worse than a grocery store tomato in January?) Then I decided I would try my hand at indoor growing, so I could enjoy fresh tomatoes and peppers all year long. At first, I experimented with hydroponic grow kits, some with built-in grow lights. Now my set-up includes both hydroponic and soil methods. Even in my sunniest room, my indoor tomatoes and peppers require supplemental light. Through trial, error, and research, I’ve discovered the best grow lights for tomatoes and peppers.
Regardless of location, tomatoes and peppers need six to eight hours of sunlight (artificial or natural) each day.
Grow lights are generally safe to be 12″ or more from your seedlings when they are first starting out. 12″ is usually the distance I keep for any general-use full-spectrum LED grow light. After a few weeks when they are stronger and have a root system, you can move them closer as needed.
To get that 12″ (or more), there are various structures and rigs you can assemble for your indoor tomato and pepper plants. You can even opt to just use your indoor system to start your tomato and pepper seeds and eventually move the seedlings outside when the weather warms up. Whatever you decide, the most important element for growing your indoor tomatoes and peppers is choosing the best grow lights.
Types of grow lights
There are a few different categories of grow lights, each with its own benefits. Note: I’m not including incandescent lights (standard home-use lightbulbs) in this list because they aren’t a preferred choice for growing vegetables as they end up producing more heat than light.
CFL grow lights are generally a bit cheaper to purchase. However, most fluorescent lights won’t give off full spectrum light deep into tomato and pepper plants, and you’ll wind up with a smaller yield of tomatoes and peppers. The CFL grow lamp featured here can be found on Amazon.
- SunBlaster CFL Self ballasted Propagation lamp (26 watt)
- Hydrofarm Agrobrite FLC32D Compact Fluorescent Spiral Grow Lamp (32 watt)
- Hydrofarm Agrobrite FLCDG125D (125 watt)
HID (high-intensity discharge)
There are two subcategories in the HID type of grow light (HPS – high-pressure sodium; MH – metal halide) and you need to use both kinds at different stages of a plant’s growth cycle. These lights are very powerful and require specific rigging and fixtures. The HID bulbs need to be replaced more frequently adding to the cost. These are great bulbs for a professional or semi-professional set-up, but for growing tomatoes and peppers at home, I don’t recommend starting here, but the setup featured above is available on Amazon.
Saving the best for last, full-spectrum LED grow lights are more cost-efficient in the long run since they use the least amount of power and they are safer because they don’t produce the hot surface temperatures like other types of lights. Beyond being energy-saving, the light wavelengths are fuller which will yield more tomatoes and peppers per plant. This is my recommendation for the best grow lights for growing tomatoes and peppers in a home set-up. I also really like that these lights are fully integrated and don’t require purchasing and replacing extra bulbs. These are the bulbs my hydroponic setup uses too.
- VIPARSPECTRA LED Grow Light (3×3’ coverage)
- Spider Farmer SF-2000 LED Grow Light (3×4′ coverage)
- Spider Farmer SF-4000 LED Grow Light (5×5′ coverage)
What to look for in grow lights for tomatoes and peppers
When I first started researching different types of grow lights, my head spun! I wasn’t familiar with many of the terms used and thought I was decoding a secret language. Here are a few terms you might run into when shopping for the best grow lights:
In grow-light marketing terms, “full-spectrum” means the light can reproduce the effects of sunlight on plants. For tomatoes and peppers, using a “full-spectrum” light is a must and full-spectrum LED lights are, in my opinion, the best.
A heat sink is a part of a light fixture (most often found in LED lights) that increases the heat flow away from the hot light. While not necessary, a heat sink is an important feature that will prevent too much heat from being cast onto your plants causing them to dry out faster. A heat sink also improves a grow light’s longevity.
For lighting purposes, the K (Kelvin) value is the scientific measure of the color of light. Values over 5000 are white and higher numbers even give off a blue tint. 4000K is more of a neutral off-white, and lower numbers in the 3000K range are tinted yellow/brown. In terms of growing tomatoes and peppers, grow lights that are similar to natural sunlight (something in the 6000K range) are best.
Our somewhat official list of the best grow lights
No list is ever complete, so let me explain some of the thought process that went into the selections here. I’m not a commercial grower, so I’m sticking with home-use lights here. I’m also sticking with LED lights, as they are generally less expensive and safer to operate and they’re easier to find in the full-spectrum range. Basically, I want something I can plug in and not worry too much about. With that in mind, here we go:
- ViparSpectra XS1500: This recently updated ViparSpectra light has a lot going for it – high-efficiency Samsung LED lights, high-tech Mean Well Driver to power the unit, a state-of-the-art heat sink to aid in cooling, and a dimmer you can adjust to coincide with the growth stage of your vegetables. It comes with a hanging kit, including ratchet hangers so you can adjust the height of the light (an important factor as your plants grow). The cons? You will still need hooks or a bar from which to hang the light. And there is no timer, so it will be up to you to turn the light on and off. Aside from that, however, this is pretty much a plug-and-play setup. At the time of publication, the ViparSpectra XS1500 retails for around $160.
- Black Dog LED PhytoMax-3 2SP: Black Dog LED designs and manufactures an array of commercial and home-use grow lights. To be clear, the focus of Black Dog is equipment for growing marijuana. However, the PhytoMax-3 2SP is a stellar grow light for indoor gardening. In addition to a full-spectrum of visible light, the LEDs offer some light in the UV and infrared ranges. The lights are daisy-chain compatible should you wish to expand at some point. These dimmable fixtures include long-life fans and an industry-leading heat sink. Additionally, these lights come with a 5-year warranty and a 90-day return policy. The downside? It’s not cheap. The PhytoMax-3 2SP retails for nearly $400 and you’re closing in on $800 for the next model up.
- Covert UFO 150 Watt Full-Spectrum LED Grow Light: Like the ViparSpectra, the Covert UFO light retails for around $160. And like the ViparSpectra, you only need a hook or bar from which to hang the light; otherwise you can just plug it in a go. With passive cooling, there are no fans or associated noise, but you may need to keep an eye on the heat output when your light is close to the plants.
In terms of size, tomatoes and peppers are high-light plants, and you’ll need about 40 watts per square foot for the best growth and production.
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Do you grow tomatoes or peppers indoors? What grow lights work best for you? Let me know in the comments.
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