Gardening Under Lights Page

Growing Under Lightsby Brad Thompson

Whether you are trying to grow begonias indoors for added growing space, starting seed, to add greenery to your indoor decor, or out of necessity because of your climate, using flourescent light set-ups can be a nearly fool proof growing method. Once you have learned a few tricks and methods you’ll find that begonias grow nearly as easily under lights as if you had a greenhouse.

Types of Light Set-ups: Although you can go out and buy some pretty impressive commercial light stands, you can also quite easily under inexpensive light stands you construct yourself. If you are concerned about how the stand will look because it will be in a prominent place in your home and you have the funds, you may want to invest in a custom light stand. These come in various models and sizes, and range in price from under $100.00 for a single shelf to several hundred dollars for a four tier shelf. They come in chrome or sometimes wood and are complete with lights and trays for catching the water from pots. The custom shelves are great and you will have excellent results from them. If you are of more modest means, or are putting your light shelves in an out of the waylight area, you should consider making your own. An inexpensive shop light from your local hardware store works fine and can be found for under $15.00. Your set-up can be as simple as suspending the shop light from chains over a bench to building a set of wide shelves several tiers high. One light will cover a growing space up to 2 feet by 4 feet. I have built many different light shelves but a very successful set-up that functioned well and also even looked good was made from 2 x 4’s and plywood. The bottom, top, sides and back were covered with the plywood over the 2 x 4 frame. I also bolted swiveling cart-type wheels under it so that it could be moved easily. Shop lights were suspended on short chains above each shelf so they were adjustable. Each Shelf was 2 feet apart but that can be less.

Types of Bulbs: Flourescent bulbs can range in price from $.79 to $30.00 or more. Although I’m sure those expensive bulbs must have special merits such as a wider spectrum of light and more intensity, I’ve never really found them to be necessary. Also, considering that you may need to replace them every 6 or 12 months, if you have very many you may grow broke buying new ones. I have 34 light shelves with 2 bulbs for each; if I only had to replace them once a year with $10.00 bulbs that would be almost $700.00. $700.00 is a little bit more than I want to spend on my bulbs. I have had bulbs last 8 years but usually one year is about their limit and even if they haven’t burned out by then they still have lost some of their intensity and should be replaced. I buy the cheapest cool white bulbs that I can find and they have worked fine. There arelightstand differing opinions about mixing one cool white and one warm white per fixture but I haven’t tried that or found it a necessity for good growing.

Running the lights: I usually run my lights for about 14 hours every day but have also run them for years for 24 hours a day and the plants grew well. I cut back on the hours to save electricity and money. I run my lights at night for two reasons. In the summer I run them at night because that is the coolest time of the day and in the winter I run my lights at night to help them stay warmer. For the best timing, you can invest in an inexpensive timer that will turn your lights on and off automatically. I hang my lights so that they are about 6 inches above the plants but have had plants that were actually touching the lights without hurting them. The lower the lights, the less area they cover effectively.

Soil Mix: I’ve found that for growing under lights you may need a slightly different mix than you would use outdoors. I usuallyuse a soilless mix to avoid soil born diseases and to have a lighter mix. I’ve found that a mixture of peat moss and perlite makes a good mix except that you have to be careful not to let the mix go too dry or it’s almost impossible to rewet. A couple of commercial mixes that work well are Pro Mix and Sunshine Mix #3. These are also peat based mixes. Sunshine mix does have a slight advantage in that it has polimers in the mix that make it easier to wet and rewet. I do add perlite to the commercial mixes to lighten them more.

Misc: One item that will help you immensely when you grow under lights is flat trays to catch the water when you water the pots. The trays I use are about an 1 1/2 inches deep and I fill them to the top with larger perlite. The advantages of using these trays are that you don’t have to have saucers for each plant and if you keep the perlite moist, you’ll always have good humidity around your plants. Clear containers with clear lids or trays with clear lids are also a big help(and nearly a neccessity for growing seed)when you are using your lights for starting cuttings or small plants. In containers like these the plants are almost carefree for long periods of time.

One problem you’ll find growing under lights is that pests can spread rapidly in the warm, humid, close environment that you create so you should be diligent in watching for them. If you remember to take the plants out individually and inspect them regularly you should be able to catch problems before they get out of hand.

I hope that I’ve encouraged all of you to start growing under lights. Don’t be afraid to e-mail me with any questions you have.

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