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The Coastal Gardener: Shedding light on growing plants

January 14, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • A tiny little indoor grow light system on your kitchen counter to grow salad greens and herbs is easy to set up and takes up very little space.
A tiny little indoor grow light system on your kitchen…

Working at a nursery, a common question is "can I grow this indoors?" Usually the plant in the customer's hands is something like a florists' hydrangea, miniature rose or chrysanthemum. Sometimes it's even a dwarf lemon; often it's a potted succulent.

Almost universally, my answer is "no, not for long, it needs to be outdoors in the sunlight and fresh air."

Customers often either don't like that answer or don't believe. Often the ensuing conversation continues with "why?"

I usually say something like, "There are a lot of differences between indoors and outdoors. First, there isn't enough light indoors, but there's also a lack of air circulation and adequate humidity inside a home."

Customers, God bless them, usually pick up on the first comment about a lack of light and respond with something like, "Oh, I have a really bright room and it has lots of windows and light; I'm sure it will get enough light."

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Truth is, a plant growing indoors is in dramatically lower light than the same plant growing outdoors. Even if the plant is at a window, unless you don't have a roof on your house, it's only receiving at a minimum a half day of direct light, usually much, much less.

Is there anything you can do about the lack of light available to a plant grown indoors?

Plant lights, or "grow lights", are artificial light sources that replace the sun's natural light. They are designed for growing plants indoors. Artificial lighting may be a necessity if you want to grow traditional outdoor plants in indoor environments. Plant lights are also helpful if you want to produce healthy seedlings or transplants indoors, especially during the short, often cloudy days, of late fall, winter and early spring.

Plant lights use special bulbs, usually fluorescent, halide, high-pressure sodium, or LED, which are quite different from incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs. Plant lights emit either cool or warm light. Cool light, which is primarily in the blue spectrum, is good for promoting leafy growth; while warm light, primarily in the red and orange spectrum, is important for developing flowers and fruit. Plants do not actually use the full spectrum of the sun's light, only the red/orange and blue ranges.

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