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What you need:
  • 48" fluorescent light fixture
  • 1 48" cool white fluorescent light bulb
  • 1 48" warm white fluorescent light bulb
  • Light rack
  • Timer
Gardening under lights is a great way to extend your gardening season. It is most useful for starting new plants from seed in the spring and growing houseplants, including certain orchids, all year-round.
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The first step is to choose the right light source. Incandescent bulbs do not provide enough or the right kind of light. The color of the light is too red and causes the plants to become stretched out. The bulbs are also too hot and expensive to operate.
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Commercial growers use high-pressure and low-pressure sodium and metal halide lamps. These are very efficient growing lamps, but are not usually the practical choice for home gardeners. They are large and expensive to purchase.
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The most economical choice is fluorescent lights. You can purchase a special light cart designed just for growing plants or, to start in a more limited way, you can purchase any fluorescent light fixture. The two tube shop fixtures commonly sold in most hardware or electrical supply stores will work fine for a small amount of seed starting and for plants that grow well in low light like African violets. After you purchase a fixture, you must then choose which tubes you will put in them. There are many "grow tubes" on the market, but they are rarely necessary and are much more expensive. Most gardeners who have been growing under lights for many years find that a 50/50 combination of warm white and cool white tubes will grow plants very well and are much less expensive to purchase than the "grow tubes".
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Once you have your light garden set up, place the plants so that the foliage is about 4 to 6 inches from the bottoms of the tubes. If you put them too far away from the lights, the plants will become gangly and stretched. If you let the leaves touch the tubes, the tips of the leaves will usually burn and turn brown.
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To provide humidity for the plants growing in your light garden, place the pots on a waterproof tray that is filled with pebbles. Keep this tray partially filled with water so that this moisture evaporates and provides humidity.
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Fluorescent lights produce a relatively low light intensity. In order to get rapid growth and best flowering, it's recommended to leave them on for 10 to 14 hours each day. Use an inexpensive timer to maintain this long length. Follow the same fertilizing, watering, and other cultural procedures as you would for growing any of your houseplants.