Gardening

Make the Alaska growing season longer with indoor grow lights

OK, I just have to do it. I would be shirking my responsibilities if I did not. So, with apologies to the one or two readers who have actually complied, let me note that now is the time to set up winter grow lights indoors. Regardless of the weather outside, the shortening days mark the time.

Now, I readily admit that out of all of the garden writers in America, I am the only one who nags so much about the need for Alaska gardeners to have a grow-light set in place for the long winter. Then again, there are not many of us writing these days who live in a place where there are nine months of possible indoor growing versus a mere three outdoors.

So every year, I write a column trying to get more of you to use lights and grow plants in the winter. It is always my hope that every Alaska gardener would recognize we can grow plants during these winter months. I would love to see our nurseries cater to winter gardeners, not just supplying houseplants that make it so we don’t need vacations in tropical isles. I wish we could buy tomato plant starts, herb starts or cosmos seedlings — in the fall — and that there were as many seed racks at local outlets in the fall as there are in the spring. Setting up the lights is the easy part. You can go to a “grow” store or one of the local hardware outlets and get a system suitable for your needs.

Instead, we live our winter lives like everyone one else in this nation and by doing so we pretend our winters are not as long as they really are. We buy disposable orchids, which would bloom and bloom again under lights, ignore our houseplants to the point of death and try to forget how many times we had to mow the lawn. It is no wonder we go crazy for growing when the summer rolls along and then ignore our humble indoor plants during the winter.

You can easily get away with this attitude if you live someplace where they don’t have to endure darkness with such a long duration. Here, we can’t. So some of us have embraced the difference and create at least a small space where we can send our houseplants away for a vacation from time to time or grow some vegetables, herbs or annual flowers, too.

The idea that a lighting set up for plants is an Alaska necessity should be pretty obvious by now if only for my constant nags. But the idea should come across clearer as you see article after article covering the burgeoning indoor vertical grow industry. Set one up in your space.

Given Alaskans’ fervor for outdoor gardening, you wouldn’t think I would need to come up with inducements to encourage a try at winter gardening. Obviously, saving houseplants is not enough as Alaskans don’t seem to mind houseplants that look like they belong to Dr. Seuss. I am told that when one of Du Ponts entertained royalty from Europe here in the United States, he would ask what kind of fruit they would like even if it was winter. Then it was retrieved from one of the greenhouses on the property and served. Think of it: You could grow herbs in your winter garden. I am pretty sure that will impress royalty.

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If you have read my rants before, you know that your set up can be a simple, two-florescent bulb, shop light with a timer that costs less than $25. Or you can buy a professional lamp. There are a lot of choices. What is not up for argument, however, is the need for some kind of system to get you and your plants through the winter. Do it this week.

Jeff’s Alaskan Garden Calendar:

BOOtanical garden: Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Oct. 24.

Houseplants: Keep an eye out for aphids that hitchhiked indoors.

Leaves: Ours all blew away!

Driveways and walks: Stake yours to keep winter traffic in line.

Jeff Lowenfels | Alaska gardening and growing

Jeff Lowenfels has written a weekly gardening column for the ADN for more than 45 years. His columns won the 2022 gold medal at the Garden Communicators International conference. He’s authored several books on organic gardening, and his latest book, "Teaming With Bacteria," is available on Amazon. Reach him at jefflowenfels@gmail.com.

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