Gardening

There’s no reason you can’t grow amazing plants all year in Alaska

Right now our lawn is clear of snow, but I realize some of you are contending with half a foot of wet and heavy stuff. I may be able to dig in the gardens, but many cannot. So, instead of suggesting you plant a tree or put in more spring flowering bulbs, this is my annual harangue urging all Alaskan gardeners to get — and to use — indoor grow lights.

So, here goes: I counted them. We have 140 or so days of real outdoor gardening. That leaves 225 days when we have to garden indoors or not at all. A perennial question is why Alaskans spend so much time and money during those 140 outdoor days, but ignore their hobby for the bulk of the year?

I also calculated the cost of buying new starts every spring and compared it to the $10 in seed you could buy and start your own under lights instead. Isn’t growing plants what you love to do anyhow? And, if the rule is real gardeners start at least one thing from seed, imagine what kind of gardener you will be when you start almost everything you grow from seed. All it takes is a good set of lights.

And then there are your houseplants. We all have them. Some were started from cuttings from friends, maybe even given to you by a relative in the Lower 48. You want to keep these in their best health, and given our dim winters, supplemental grow lights are in order. Each of your houseplants can do with a bit of light during winter darkness so they can photosynthesize their chloroplasts out even if it is only for a week or so at a time.

I could go on, but given the number of times I have urged readers to act in the early days of the darkness and get some sort of lights, I won’t. I will point out what a joy it is to have lights go on in the early morning and remain shining until early or even mid-evening. Who needs a SAD light when you have plant lights?

This year I am finally abandoning old advice to simply get a two-bulb, shop-type fluorescent lighting fixture and a timer. Sure, you can put something together for 25 bucks, but let’s get serious. Shop fixtures were fine when all we had were those purple-light-emitting fluorescent bulbs. Today there is an array of lighting options to fit every single need a reader might have. They are all way better than a shop fixture.

Take LED lighting systems. These have greatly advanced — thanks to indoor cannabis growing. Fixtures for other types of lighting, including fluorescent ones, have changed as well. So have the size and types of bulbs. It is time to go modern and get serious, just as we do for outdoor seasons. Alaskan gardeners shouldn’t fool around; gardening is too important to us.

So my advice is to either visit a “grow” store if one is conveniently located and ask for advice, or hop on the web and do some exploring to get educated. Search for “indoor grow lights,” “LED lights” and “plant lights.” This way you can take into consideration your level of interest, size of your particular grow area — room, table or kitchen counter? — and the kinds of plants you want to grow. There is some really neat stuff out there.

And, let me toss in just a little pitch in case you still need a push here. Dare I suggest indoor growing is easier than outdoor growing? You have consistent, controllable conditions, fewer insect pests and no moose. Best of all, once you have lights, you can grow some really great things. Just think of the flowers, the fragrances, the herbs and even vegetables you will have given the right lighting system.

So, don’t roll your eyes when I mention supplemental lights. Go out and get something to satisfy both your plant needs and your gardener needs.

Jeff garden calendar for the week:

Cat owners: There should be a law that all cats who go outside wear a cat bib to prevent them from getting birds: catgoods.com.

Houseplants: Check for bugs and slugs.

Amaryllis: Make yours go dormant. Withhold water and place the pot on its side in a dark, cool location for the next eight weeks.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Snow does not stop life at the garden. Check out all the activities at alaskabg.org.

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