In the first few years I planted a vegetable garden, I either bought plants from nurseries or started seeds indoors, using a sunny window to provide sunlight to my plants.
While you will save a lot of time and effort buying seedlings that someone else has already started, it is a huge waste of money. While a pack of hundreds of seeds costs less than $3, you’ll pay a lot for seedlings.
At the same time, it is also not a good idea to use sunlight to provide the needed light to your plants. That’s because the weak energy provided by the sun isn’t always enough to give your plants a strong start. At best, this can cause them to germinate poorly, and at worst, it can lead to leggy seedlings.
So, in a couple of years, I decided to invest in some grow lights instead.
Gardening with grow lights is a great way to maximize your yields while minimizing your efforts. While this is relatively easy to do, there are a few tips you can follow to be sure you’re successful.
Here’s what you need to know.
- 1 Why Use Grow Lights?
- 2 Tips for choosing the right grow lights
- 3 How to Garden with Grow Lights
- 4 Give Gardening With Grow Lights a Try This Planting Season
Why Use Grow Lights?
There are countless benefits associated with the use of grow lights.
For starters, you will be able to grow many plants indoors that would not be possible outside. This can either be due to limited space or your climate.
You can grow fruits and vegetables, houseplants, orchids and more. They will help your plants produce strong, green stems that hold up well to transplant.
You can also grow plants year-round under grow lights. This will make it possible for you to enjoy the winter harvest of all your favorite foods, such as salad greens and herbs.
Because grow lights provide the right spectrum of light at the right intensity, you don’t have to worry about pulling your plants out to a window looking for light.
They will have everything they need and will be as strong as possible.
Tips for choosing the right grow lights
When you start gardening with grow lights, you need to consider two things more than anything else – the color of the light, and the type of bulb.
Color is important for a reason – it needs to mimic natural sunlight. Sunlight naturally contains the full spectrum of light, which includes all the colors of the rainbow, from red to blue.
Plants grow best when located under full-spectrum lighting, so you need to mimic this by providing a balance of cool and warm light with full-spectrum bulbs.
Full-spectrum lighting works best for all types of plants, from houseplants to seedlings and more.
You also have to decide between LED or fluorescent lights. Both can produce full-spectrum light, but LEDs are better for the environment and your wallet.
They may be more expensive, but you’ll likely see huge cost savings when it comes to your electric bill, so try not to let sticker shock deter you from choosing an LED.
LED lights provide the full spectrum light your plants need and can help with photosynthesis. They are good for your plants and use half the electricity of fluorescent bulbs. Plus, they last five times longer. They don’t overheat and they’re safe to use because they don’t break like glass.
How to Garden with Grow Lights
Looking for some tips on how to garden with grow lights? Look no further – I have everything you need right here.
1. Get the Intensity Right
Not all plants have the same needs when it comes to light intensity.
While a plant that is native to dry, sunny climates such as the Mediterranean (like most herbs) will require intense lighting, a plant that has grown in a tropical forest will prefer a more muted lighting.
You’ll have to play with your light intensity depending on what you’re growing. This will be determined by how bright the bulb is as well as how close the plant is to the light source.
If you have plants with different lighting, you can adjust them all by moving them closer to or away from the light source.
There are some plants, like begonias, that thrive only 10 or 11-inches away from light, while others, like ivy, prefer to stay about 3 feet away!
Pay attention to the unique lighting needs of your plants as you figure out the proper intensity.
2. Get the Period Right
A common mistake that many novice grow light users make (including me) is leaving their grow light on 24/7.
Think about it – plants are not naturally exposed to light 24 hours a day when they are being grown outside. They are regularly exposed to periods of darkness and no more than 18 hours per day of light.
Plants need periods of light and periods of darkness, using dark periods for respiration.
Respiration is an important part of growth and without it, you may notice that your plants are not as strong or have problems setting fruit and buds later. This is another area where each plant has different needs; short-day plants, such as azaleas, do well with less than 12 hours of light each day.
Long plants require up to 18 hours – this category includes most garden flowers and vegetables. Then, some are right in the middle, which takes about 8-12 hours. African violets are an example.
3. You May Need to Water More Often
When you’re gardening with grow lights—especially with fluorescent lights, which produce more heat—you may find that you need to water your plants more often.
Keep an eye out for signs of low water, such as wilting and dry, crunchy leaves.
Make sure the soil is kept consistently moist while seedlings germinate and mist the plants regularly to ensure they get the moisture they need.
4. It may not be the best choice for all plants
Not all plants thrive when grown in grow lights, but I’ve yet to find a plant that hasn’t worked wonders for them.
Leafy greens and most other fruit and vegetable crops (along with houseplants and orchids) grow well in low light.
Keep in mind that there are some plants for which it makes no sense to start seed indoors—the list includes things like carrots, squash, and beets, all of which are delicate and don’t hold up well to transplants. .
Unless you plan to keep them there permanently, skip growing these under grow lights – you won’t want to attempt to transplant them later.
5. Consider moving the plants closer to (or farther from) the lights
Overheating can happen if you have too much light – but it can also happen if your plants are too close to the lights.
Keep your lights at least 12-18 inches from your plants to start.
If it looks like your plants aren’t getting enough light, you can always move them closer later.
Conversely, as your plants get taller, you may find that you have to increase the light so that the leaves don’t brush from under the light.
6. Don’t forget to fertilize
When you’re gardening with grow lights as usual, it’s important to be mindful of your plants’ nutrient needs.
The challenge with fertilizing delicate seedlings, especially plants grown under increased light, is that the intensity of the light combined with the added nutrients can burn delicate young seedlings.
Using a natural liquid fertilizer diluted to a quarter of the recommended strength can help.
You’ll have to apply it more often — about once a week — but you won’t have to worry about damaging your plants.
7. Try a Timer
I mentioned earlier that grow lights don’t need to be on 24/7.
However, remembering to turn off the lights when you go to bed is another challenge entirely—especially if you’ve installed your grow lights in an area of your home that you don’t frequently visit during the day.
Consider using a power strip with a built-in timer so you don’t have to remember to turn off the lights. That way, your system will be automated and you don’t have to worry about anything.
Give Gardening With Grow Lights a Try This Planting Season
Trust me when I say this. Once you start using grow lights, you’ll never want to do gardening any other way.
There is a slight learning curve involved in using them. However, they are very beneficial in promoting plant growth and overall health.
Try it yourself. It involves some trial and error.
However, once you start using grow lights your biggest challenge will be figuring out what to do with all the plants you grow! Trust me – your germination rates will be off the charts.
Now that we’ve hopefully convinced you, here’s an article describing the best grow lights to make your plants happy.
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