Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: Get growing this winter with a grow light

Nov./Dec. 2008 California Country magazine

You can begin a small garden indoors using grow lights designed to emit the wavelengths of light that plants need to grow.

I love growing things, especially things I can eat. Fortunately, living in Southern California allows me to do just that, 365 days a year. I pity the gardening enthusiast who is not so lucky—who lives in an area where the cold, short days of winter mean no growing anything.

If you live in one of those no-grow areas, I have good news. You can begin a small garden indoors using grow lights. Grow lights are designed to emit the wavelengths of light that plants need to grow—a different wavelength than our regular light bulbs emit. You can purchase inexpensive bulbs from your local home improvement store such as Lowe’s or Home Depot.

It’s easy to garden indoors. Here’s how:

  • Gather some small pots (4 to 6 inches) with saucers. A narrow window box would suffice as well.
  • Select a premium potting soil. Some cheaper soils may stay too wet and rot your plants.
  • What to plant? Probably the easiest indoor vegetables for winter growing are the leaf lettuces. They grow rapidly and can be harvested just a few leaves at a time, keeping the plant growing for an extended harvest.
  • Herbs are also a good choice. Try rosemary, thyme, sage or any of your favorites. Nothing brightens a winter meal as much as your own fresh-grown herbs.
  • Set up your lights according to the manufacturer’s directions. To determine how much light a plant will require, consider where and how it grows best in its natural environment.
  • To prevent rotting, drain excess liquid from saucers after watering.
  • Promote vigorous growth by using a water-soluble fertilizer at least twice a month. My favorite brand is Dr. Earth liquid organic.
  • Keep a bottle of pyrethrin spray handy in case you get bugs in your indoor garden. This natural organic compound is safe to use on edible plants up to the day of harvest.

Good luck and enjoy. Spring is just around the corner!

Gardening to-do list for November/December

If you haven’t done so already, start paperwhite narcissus indoors for the holidays. They take about six weeks to bloom.

Spray deciduous fruit trees to manage overwintering insects and diseases. Copper and lime sulfur are most commonly used. Be sure to follow label directions. Note: Don’t use lime sulfur on apricot trees.

Cut way back on irrigation. Established trees and shrubs should be able to go all winter without being watered. If we have occasional rains, lawns may not need to be watered either. Turn off sprinklers, then check plants regularly for water needs. Turn sprinklers on only if necessary.

Don’t forget to water container plants regularly. They may need water even after rains.

If you’re one to set New Year’s resolutions, here’s an important suggestion for 2009: Don’t bring fruit or plants into California from anywhere. Not only is it illegal, but new pests are threatening our farms, ranches and nurseries more and more every year. Please help.

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