If the longer and warmer days of spring aren’t coming fast enough for you, go ahead and take the plunge: buy a grow light and start your seedlings now.
Unlike the days when unsightly grow lights and tray racks were banished to the basement (making it especially difficult for urban gardeners) there are many options now that allow you to enjoy your plants in your living room at a variety of price points. There are also many options in terms of size, regardless of how much space you have to start your indoor seedling – even if you’re an urban gardener.
Gardener’s Supply Co. and Harris Seeds carry a wide variety of grow lights. I like the Compact Tabletop SunLite ® Jump Start Kit, from Gardener’s Supply which can easily sit on my kitchen counter, or the Compact 2-Tier SunLite® Garden, a sleek black tray and light combo that’s kitchen-worthy, but can also be conveniently wheeled into another room to make room for company.
Another option is the AeroGarden line of garden appliances, which grow plants in a method of hydroponics called Aeroponics. Aside from throwing a nutrient solution in the water base, and refilling the water every few weeks, the AeroGarden does the rest. Using its full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs, the devices can grow everything from herbs and tomatoes to peppers and flowers. Gardeners only have to raise the light on the AeroGarden as the plants grow; lights are all on an automatic timer. When I ran my AeroGarden for several years, I always had fresh herbs winter-long.
Here are some tips for starting your plants indoors:
- Light: If you use an automated system – it can take the guesswork out of lighting needs, which vary from plant to plant. If you need to set your own timers, carefully read up on how much light your plant requires before you start. For instance, most vegetable seedlings and garden plants need 14 to 18 hours of light a day.
- Timing: Depending on your zone, you can start many plants inside in February, just count backwards from their germination dates. For instance, the last-frost dates for zones 5 and 6 are between March 31 and April 30. If cauliflower takes between 6-8 weeks to germinate, and should be transplanted outside just before the last frost, then mid-February is a good target. Resist planting any earlier or you’ll risk weakening the seedlings by keeping them indoors too long. You can start flower, herb and vegetable seeds indoors.
- Materials: You’ll need seeds, potting soil and containers, which can be store-bought or as simple as an egg carton or a homemade newspaper pots. Some experts suggest topping off the seedlings with vermiculite to help prevent damping off, a horticultural disease that afflicts seedlings.
- Labeling: Don’t forget to label your plants as many seedlings look the same during their early stages, especially various varieties of squash and pumpkin seedlings.
- “Mood” lighting: There’s an added perk of grow lights. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or the “winter blues” affects up to 14% of Americans, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, and many doctors are prescribing light therapy with a light box for patients. Grow lights can help achieve the same results. So, when you go to buy a grow light, consider it a dual investment in your garden and your mood.
Patricia Riedman Yeager first started growing flowers and vegetables on her fire escape in Manhattan.