In the Garden:
Fluorescent lights can provide adequate lighting for many types of indoor plants such as these African violets, as well as for starting new seedlings.
Winter Gardening Indoors
Although cold weather is shutting down much of our outdoor gardening activities, there is no need to give up gardening for the winter. Around our home we turn our focus indoors this time of the year. With a little help from a couple of plant stands and some fluorescent lights, our home becomes a thriving indoor garden.
Easy Indoor Lights
Several types of plant lights provide the range of wavelengths plants need to grow and bloom well. I use a standard fluorescent fixture with the tube-type bulbs sold for plants and aquariums. They work fine and, although they don't provide the high-intensity light levels that some other types do, they're less expensive and are fine for starting seeds or providing houseplants with a little supplemental light. For a few dollars more you can choose a special high-intensity light such as sodium-vapor or metal halide.
Houseplants Like Light
Our houseplants used to suffer from the combination of low indoor light levels and naturally low outdoor light levels during the winter season. Now, with the supplemental lighting provided by a few light fixtures, they're thriving. The African violets and episcias are blooming up a storm, and the moth orchids are sending up bloom stalks for a late-winter show.
Seed Starting under Lights
Winter is prime time for starting seeds for the spring garden. In the next month or so most of our warm- season transplants such as petunias and peppers should be started indoors to get a jump on spring. I like to experiment with some less common plants too. This year I plan to start some papaya seeds during the holidays. By starting them early indoors we may just have enough time to get some to fruit before next winter arrives. If not, they'll make very nice ornamentals, giving a wonderful tropical look to an outdoor deck area.
Our children are raising a bunch of plants for a youth gardening show later this winter. Some are crowded under the light fixtures, but most had no place to grow other than the southern window, where they lean and stretch for the light.
To keep those plants growing tall and sturdy, we built an indoor light reflector of aluminum foil attached to foam- core poster board. It surrounds the plants on three sides, and the window is on the fourth. Light from the window is reflected to the backside of the plants. The plants seem to love it and are thriving in this unusual creation.
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