Tabletop SunLite® Garden: Product Review
If you don’t have enough natural light to start seeds indoors (and most of us don’t, especially during the winter) then you’ll need to provide supplemental light to grow strong, healthy seedlings.
Related Article: Growing Seedlings Under Indoor Grow Lights
You can make your own lighting system using 4-foot shop lights, fluorescent grow light tubes (or daylight tubes), and either cords to hang the whole contraption (from the ceiling, sawhorses, or other support) or blocks/supports to hold it up. I’ve done that for many years but it’s heavy, unwieldy, and takes up a lot of space. So a “real” lighting system was high on my gardening wish list.
The Tabletop SunLite® Garden from Gardener’s Supply fit the bill perfectly. It’s lightweight, easy to move, and doesn’t take up more space than necessary. However, be aware that while it’s not bulky, it isn’t small either – it measures 54″ long x 18-3/8″ wide x 37-1/8″ tall.
When It Arrives …
The light garden arrived in a box that was much lighter than I’d expected. The parts are made of powder-coated aluminum so they weigh very little. And the light fixture itself weighs only 6 pounds – that’s about 1/3 the weight of a typical 4-foot shop light.
There are a lot of individual pieces; all of the larger pieces are clearly marked with labeled stickers and the smaller parts are fairly obvious. It’s best to lay out all the parts before you begin assembly.
You’ll need a Phillips head screwdriver, a rubber mallet or hammer, and a pair of pliers to put the light table together (although I managed it without the pliers).
Simple Assembly But Instructions Need Improvement
Assembling the frame was fairly straight-forward but the instructions weren’t always detailed enough. For example, make sure that the larger pre-drilled holes are facing upward when you attach the base to the uprights.
When attaching the ball chain to the split rings (used to support the light fixture), attach it first to the large rings. Tip the whole unit on one end before inserting the chain through the guide hole and into the top bar. Go slowly, check against the drawings in the instructions and do one chain at a time. I did it wrong the first time and had to redo everything – and it wasn’t easy to take it apart.
The other area in which to be super careful is when installing the ballasts for the light tubes. Be sure that you put them in the right way – there should be one “male” socket and one “female” socket at each end of the fixture. This will allow you to attach the cord that links the two light tubes together (so they both go on when you turn on the light switch).
Although the instructions don’t mention it, I found that it matters which side the male vs. female socket goes on as the link cord only fits into the sockets one way. See the picture to the right for the proper installation of the ballasts and light tubes.
Bright, Even Light
The two T-5 full-spectrum light tubes provide bright, even light. According to Gardener’s Supply, these bulbs use 45% less energy than standard fluorescent bulbs and provide up to 10,000 hours of use.
Because the light hood is 14 inches wide, light goes right to the edge of the tray, providing even coverage for all the plants below. I found that seedlings grew straight up, rather than leaning toward the center of the light fixture.
The light fixture itself is lightweight (only 6 pounds) and is flatter than most other light hoods, allowing even more head room for the plants below. It’s also very quiet – there’s none of the buzzing sound that I’ve come to expect from fluorescent bulbs. And perhaps best of all, the tubes don’t get hot so you don’t have to worry about burning tender plants.
Some people have had problems with faulty ballasts or tubes that flicker. Shipping these items can sometimes loosen internal parts and possibly cause the lights to malfunction. If this happens to you, just call Gardener’s Supply at 1-888-833-1412. They generally have very good customer support and will promptly replace the damaged or defective items.
Be sure to dispose of the light tubes properly as they contain mercury and so should not be thrown in the trash.
Clips Don’t Stay Put
The light fixture is suspended from the top bar by thin chains with clips that allow you to easily raise and lower the lights. Unfortunately, the clips that hold the chain in place tend to slip, letting the light fixture drop down on one or both sides – usually when you don’t want it to. I ended up wrapping the chain around the top bar of the frame to hold it in place.
The SunLite® Garden comes with a waterproof tray that’s perfectly sized to fit inside the base of the frame. With 2-inch high sides, it protects the surrounding area from accidental spills – or you can water your seedlings by putting water directly into the tray. It easily holds four standard seed starting trays (like the Seed Starting Grow Kit) placed side-by-side and you can place a seedling heat mat underneath for additional warmth when germinating seeds.
If you don’t want to take the frame apart at the end of the indoor growing season, you’ll have to find a large space in which to store it. I ended up standing it on one end and shoving it into a corner of the basement. If you have less storage space, you’ll probably want to take the bottom off the frame. Put the bolts in a plastic bag and tape it to the frame so you don’t lose them!
I give the Tabletop SunLite® Garden a 4-shovel rating. It’s generally well-made and does a nice job of keeping seedlings evenly illuminated. Assembly can be a little difficult and the light fixture doesn’t consistently stay in place without some help but overall this is a very good product for indoor seed starting.
Given the price ($249 for the 4-foot tabletop version reviewed here), the question you’re probably asking right now is whether or not it’s worth buying theSunLite® Garden when you could put together a DIY version. My feeling is that yes, it’s worth it. Having used a DIY contraption for years, I appreciate the lightweight, sturdy, and easy-to-use functionality of theSunLite® Garden. Add to that the fact that seedlings grew stronger and straighter than under shop lights with grow light bulbs and I can honestly say that this is a good investment if you want to start seeds indoors.
Where to Buy
The SunLite® Garden is offered exclusively by Gardener’s Supply. You can buy it on their website or through Amazon for slightly less. The standard (4-foot) tabletop version retails for $249 while the 2-foot compact version is $159. There are also 2- and 3-tier SunLite Gardens and replacement T-5 bulbs.
Shipping is $27 on Amazon or $29.88 through Gardener’s Supply for the standard tabletop model. Larger versions cost more.
- Standard TabletopSunLite® Garden
- Standard 2-Tier SunLite® Garden
- Standard 3-Tier SunLite® Garden
- Compact Tabletop SunLite® Garden
- Compact 2-TierSunLite® Garden
- Compact 3-Tier Sunlite® Garden
- T-5 Replacement Bulb, 24″
And now over to you – Have you tried growing seeds indoors under grow lights? What did you use and how did it work? Let us know in the comments below!
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Disclaimer – GPReview would like to thank Gardener’s Supply for giving us a free Tabletop Sunlite Garden to review and Renee’s Garden Seeds for providing the seeds. There was no expectation that it would be a positive review and we received no compensation for writing it. All opinions expressed here are those of the author based on personal experience using the product.
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