How to make a DIY plant shelf with grow lights

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How to make a DIY plant shelf with grow lights

If you are into indoor gardening or have many houseplants, the day will come when you will start looking at growing racks with lights or installing a plant shelf with grow lights for your plants. Light is one of the most important needs that any plant parent has to fulfill in order to make their plants grow happily indoors.

But not all of us are in spacious homes with lots of natural light coming in.

A plant shelf with grow lights, such as LED fluorescent bulbs or other artificial lights, mimic the natural light that plants need. Perfect!

A gardener’s supply list is ever-growing; aside from pots, heat mats, and starter trays 🙃…

…plant shelves are added to this plant lover’s shopping list since it is the best way to corral plants and seedlings. 

There are a lot of outdoor growing racks with multiple shelves that can be used indoors for growing plants and seedlings. Some come with grow lights and some do not. I’ll walk you through setting up your own plant shelf with lights using zip ties and hooks to attach grow lights to your shelves. 

I’ll also review my experience with different setups and lights so that you can find the exact right setup for your home.

Read my guide if you just want to buy the best plant stand with grow lights!

What kind of grow lights do you need for a plant shelf with grow lights?

When choosing a grow light for your indoor plants, consider the size of your growing space, the type of plants you are growing, and your budget.

For most indoor growing situations, full spectrum LED grow lights are the best bet due to their efficiency and versatility. However, if you have a large growing space or need more powerful lighting, HID grow lights may be a better option.

When setting up plant shelves with grow lights, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind to provide your plants with the best possible growing conditions.

Here are some tips for setting up shelves for your indoor garden:

  1. ✔️ Choose the right grow light: There are many types of grow lights available, including fluorescent, LED, and high-pressure sodium lights. For most indoor plant growth, full-spectrum LED grow lights are a good choice as they emit a balanced color spectrum of light that mimics natural sunlight. These electric lights have high energy efficiency, which will help save money in the long run.
  2. ✔️ Position the grow light correctly: Depending on the size and intensity of your grow lights, you’ll want to position them on the shelf at the appropriate height and distance from your plants. A general rule of thumb is to place the lights 6-12 inches above the top of the plants and adjust the height as needed to ensure that the plants get enough light without being scorched.
  3. ✔️ Choose the right plants: Not all plants require the same amount of light, so be sure to choose plants suitable for the light level you can provide. For example, low-light plants like pothos or snake plants will do well with less intense grow lights, while high-light plants like tomatoes or peppers require more intense light.
  4. ✔️ Provide adequate air circulation: When plants are growing indoors under artificial light, it’s important to ensure that they are getting adequate air circulation to prevent mold and other issues. Consider adding a small fan to your growing area to help circulate air and prevent stagnant pockets of moisture.

Be mindful of the light spread dispersion. The higher you hang your lights, the more area the light can cover. The most direct and intense light will be coming from straight above.

light spread dispersion

It doesn’t have to cost much money to create a lighting system for your indoor garden. I slowly bought light fixtures and now my light system looks pretty crazy – there are different LED grow lights, bulbs in lamps, and grow light strips.

And since I tried different brands, the color of the lights also differ.

But the plants are happy, and I do not want to swap out everything! I guess I’m not bothered by all the different grow light colors from white, soft white, and blue to pinkish.
Photo by: Marquis Matson

My grow light journey

When I first started using grow lights, I had a specific use in mind. I didn’t have a lot of space and mostly had my plants by the window. When my collection started to grow, I noticed that the plants needed more light, so I turned to artificial lights. I wanted a grow light with a small footprint that didn’t need a lot of setup. 

I bought this plant light from Amazon because it has a telescoping rod and an adjustable height. I could easily stake it in the soil and add it to my plant shelf.

It still remains to be one of my favorite plant lights today, and I often move it around to different plant shelves, depending on the needs of my plants.

GrowLED LED Umbrella Plant Grow Light

As my collection grew, I started placing plants around the house and needed artificial light to keep my plants happy. I had three shelves full of houseplants in a dark corner and used clamp lights with an aluminum reflector.

I paired the lamps with LED grow light bulbs from Feit. It worked out because I didn’t want to attach lights to the ceiling. It also didn’t cost a lot for this kind of light fixture, and it was also a very flexible grow light setup. It was easy to attach the lamps to the wood plant shelf or adjust depending on how the houseplants were growing – if they needed more light, needed to be placed further away, etc.

Then came the time when I started adding rare houseplants to my indoor garden. Because these types of indoor plants cost a lot, I had to level up my grow light shelves. Barrina lights are a full spectrum light fixture that plant hobbyists recommend the most. (Read my review of these Barrina lights to see how they worked out!)

Luckily, they had a short version that fit my 2-foot wide metal shelving unit. I attached the grow light strip to the shelf with magnets which made the installation super fast.

There are multiple LED light strips in the light system that are easy to daisy chain. This plant shelf with grow lights is my favorite setup since it looks nice, and the rare plants love the Barrina grow lights.

barina lights
Photo by: Marquis Matson

Sometimes there are awkward spaces in our homes that end up being unused, like the areas around steam heat radiators. To maximize how many plants I can add to my space, I got these wire shelves from Amazon and placed the shelving unit above the radiator. 

Photo by: Marquis Matson

The lower shelves are where I start seeds in the winter since it gets the least light, and then move the seedlings when they are ready. The adjustable shelves are great since I can use them for different purposes. On the middle shelf is a mini greenhouse where seedlings and cuttings are growing. 

Above it is a Feit adjustable full spectrum grow light held in place with zip ties. On the top shelf is a lamp with a Sansi grow light bulb that lights the plants on the floor down below. This grow light is super strong, and it ended up being better to place it far above plants so it wouldn’t burn the leaves. Beside it on the top shelf are whale fin plants that do not need as much natural light and are happy up there.

This wire rack is the most useful grow rack that I’ve used through the years. It can accommodate all kinds of grow lights. 😈

Obviously, lamps can be placed on the shelves. Clamp lamps can be positioned on the poles, and grow lights can be hung from the wire shelves. I wouldn’t recommend hanging the clamp lights on the wire shelves–the lights do not stay in place! These clamp lights are aimed at the front of the metal shelves to give additional light to the plants.  

The metal shelves worked out great for me since I can use magnets to secure the grow light strips in place. However, some magnets do not work with the metal attachments of some lights.

A workaround I found is to use magnetic hooks! Some grow lights have holes where they are easy to hang off the hooks. 

Sometimes I also use zip ties to hand the grow lights on the magnetic hooks. Magnetic hooks are also good for wrangling all the wires of the lighting system.

Most grow lights are LED and save energy, so it shouldn’t cost a lot to run your light systems. It doesn’t mean you have to break the bank when creating a light setup; there are many ways to get the best value and save money – from choosing affordable grow lights, using wire racks, and installing wood shelves. Your shelf with grow lights can be fully customizable to you, your needs, and your plant’s needs too!

How’d you go? You gonna make it yourself? Let me know in the comments and share any tips you learn along the way!

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