It’s time to break out the seeds and potting mix to start garden plants indoors. “It’s a great way to keep your green thumb in shape over winter,” says Melinda Myers host of The Great Courses How to Grow Anything DVD series. “Plus, you’ll save money, increase the variety of plants and jump start the growing season. And when you start seeds under LED grow lights you’ll have better results.”
Indoor growing conditions often offer limited light and that can mean tall leggy transplants with weak stems, explained Myers. Gardeners can greatly increase their success by investing in quality grow lights. Adding artificial light to any seed starting regime results in stout transplants with strong stems and deep green leaves. Myers offered these tips for getting started.
Invest wisely when shopping for indoor plant lights. Fluorescent tubes used to be the standard because they provided a wide spectrum of light needed for plant growth and flowering, were relatively inexpensive and readily available. Unfortunately, they used significant amounts of electricity and needed to be replaced every few years. Then many gardeners shifted to full spectrum fluorescent grow lights. Many last longer than the older and larger fluorescent tubes, but new LED grow lights provide even better light intensity with much less energy.
In the past, LED lights tended to be pricey and many suffered from sticker shock. Fortunately, the prices have dropped. Plus, if people consider the fact that LED plant lights typically use half the energy of fluorescent tubes, provide consistent light quality and last up to five times longer, the long-term savings outweighs the initial investment. They’re also mercury-free and won’t add contaminates to landfills.
When replacing fluorescent tubes with LED grow lights, look for compatibility. Some of the newer LED grow lights are compatible with existing T-5 light setups. Consumers simply need to replace the bulb, not the whole lighting system.
Get the most out of this investment and grow better transplants with proper use. Move seedlings under lights as soon as they start breaking through the soil surface. Keep the lights about six inches above the top of seedlings. This means raising the lights or lowering the plants as the seedlings grow. Or make a light stand using adjustable supports to raise and lower lights as needed. Use a reflector above grow light tubes to direct the light downward toward the plants. Bounce light back onto seedlings by using reflective surfaces under and around the plants. Even easier, invest in a quality grow light stand like the SunLite® Garden.
Set the lights on a timer. Seedlings need about 14 to 16 hours of light. Plants do need a dark period, so running the lights longer wastes electricity and is not good for the plants. If using grow lights to supplement natural daylight, gardeners may only need to run the lights a few hours a day. Monitor plant growth and increase the duration if the plants appear leggy or pale.
Increased light along with proper watering, fertilizer and growing temperatures will ensure a bumper crop of transplants for gardens and containers this season.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything: Food Gardening For Everyone” DVD set and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments.