Indoor Plant Lighting

Indoor plants with electric lights is fun and rewarding. Learn about where to set up, what lights to use, and how to care for plants.

Growing plants under electric lights indoors can be an interesting and rewarding hobby with the proper planning. Gardeners can harvest year-round as well as grow specialty plants when they move to the great indoors! Here are some things to think about when planning an indoor garden:

Selecting a Location

Successfully growing plants under electric lights indoors starts with selecting the right location for the garden. Ventilation is always an important consideration. With the heat of the electric lights, good airflow is needed to keep plants cool. Fresh air also provides more of the carbon dioxide plants need for photosynthesis. If possible, use a room with a window(s). Cool basements, although not always well ventilated, can also help counteract the heat from the electric lights.

Once ventilation has been considered, it is time to think about how many and what size of plants will be used. Generally, plants growing indoors will need just as much space to grow as they would outside. These demands with vary from plant to plant, and information about them should be available from the retailer or in gardening literature. Plants may even need a little more space indoors since less powerful electric light cannot penetrate through leaves as sunlight can. Another thing to keep in mind is that someone has to be able to move around the room in order to take care of the plants. If every inch of the garden is occupied, it will be difficult to maintain the garden.

When growing plants indoors, vertical space must also be considered. How tall will the chosen plants grow? Including what space the lights occupy, which will be discussed later, the ceiling of the garden must be high enough to allow the plants to mature. Another space consideration is what size of container will be used. The height of the chosen planter must also be added in to the total required for the garden. When growing in an attic or basement, vertical clearance often becomes an issue.

Purchasing Equipment

There is a wide range of light choices for the indoor gardener. Choosing the right light will be critical to your indoor garden's success. Again, the choice of light will depend upon the plants and their location as well as how much an individual wants to invest in the project.

Generally, lights can be broken into two groups: florescent and high-pressure. Florescent lights are the long narrow tubes with which we are all familiar. Their advantages are that they are cheap, easy to work with, readily available, and give off little heat. Their main disadvantage is that they do not give off nearly as much light as the high-pressure lights. Because of these factors, florescent lights work well for seedlings, other plants that don't need a lot of light, and any other situation where the gardener has limited resources to invest. Special "grow" versions of these lights are on the market. Using an equal combination of blue and red tinted bulbs can provide the same benefits without the added cost of the special bulb, however.

High-pressure lights are used frequently for street lights, industrial lighting, and indoor gardening. These lights can be broken into two more groups: high-pressure sodium (HPS) and metal halide (MH). HPS light are redder and are better for plants that are flowering, while MH lights are more blue and are better for plants that are growing. Both types can be used together, or alternatively according to what stage plants are in. The advantage of these lights is that they give off significantly more light than florescents. On the other hand, they also use a lot more electricity and give off quite a bit of heat. These lights are so hot, in fact, that it is a good idea to keep plants at least a foot away from lit bulbs. It is also important not to get lit high-pressure lights wet or they may explore. Always use caution watering around these bulbs!

Other equipment needed includes fans, reflectors, and a timer. Fans will help to maximize ventilation while strengthening plant stems by exposing them to constant movement. Normal household fans work fine, but high-power industrial units are ideal. Air conditioners also help out with ventilation and cooling. Some type of reflective material around the edge of the garden reflects the electric light back on to the plants. Avoid aluminum foil because that also reflects heat. Use either an opaque white paper or reflective mylar, which is sold is specialty indoor gardening catalogs. A simple electric light timer will regulate the light cycle with little effort. Many times setting the light to a shorter period will trigger plants to flower.

Caring for Your Plants

The exact care of plants will vary according to variety. Plants grown indoors will generally need to be watered more frequently because of limited root space and the heat from the electric lights. Growing with a hydroponic self-watering system can eliminate this worry, however. Pests are another important consideration. Indoor gardens are closed environments. Pests are not driven away by wind, predators, or other food sources. It is a good idea to keep all other houseplants away from your indoor garden in order to prevent the spread of pests. Once pests have become a problem, use a retail preparation or a weak mix of soapy water to combat them.

Good luck on all of your indoor gardening!

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