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Grow Lights: The Story of one Brave Petunia

A friend of mine posted recently on her Instagram feed, after bringing in her outdoor plants to save them from frost. She wrote, “What am I going to do with all the plants? They didn’t do so well in the basement last year, but they did survive….what do you do with your precious outdoor plants?”
 
I was happy to be able to comment, “We got a UV grow light last winter! It helped a ton, and we had lovely flowers blooming in February.”
 
My experience with grow lights began before it began, really, when I found a stub of a petunia bravely growing new leaves during a late-autumn warm spell. I dug it up, brought it in, put it into a pot with fresh soil, and placed it in a south-facing window. It proceeded to survive, but I wouldn’t have said it was thriving.
 
Now, I confess, I am a just-past-novice gardener. My partner is the experienced gardener in our family, and I continue to learn a great deal from him. As I gather gardening knowledge experience by experience, I’m guided by his years of knowledge (also, hooray for the Internet). Anyway, in January, he decided to invest in an LED UV grow light to eventually start seeds for our vegetable garden, and at his suggestion, I put “Lady P” — as we began to call this brave petunia — under its steady and bright UV rays.

Brave Petunia

Prior to acquiring a grow light, every winter had found us filling our windows with plants, setting up tables here and there, or whacking up temporary “just for winter” window shelf expansions. So many plants! This strategy worked, to a degree. But, after years of having our much-loved plants essentially manage to just make it through on the short hours of winter light, I have to say — the UV light was a (pardon the expression) game-changer.
 
Not long after she began to spend time under the grow light, Lady P started to flourish, growing larger and brighter leaves. Then she started to bloom! Beautiful, rich dark purple flowers. We were so pleased, we constructed a shelf set-up to allow more plants to access the light, so “everyone could get a chance under the sun”. It was amazing how much they benefitted. Our gerbera daisies, accustomed to surviving in window light, were suddenly making huge (wondrously so) flowers, glorious pink and red beauties. Our geraniums also did very well, making beautiful pink flowers and growing expansive dark green leaves. Truly, all the plants we put under the light did better than they had previously in their over-wintering.
 
I’ve learned that there are different kinds of grow lights. My mother-in-law has, for a number of years, used a set of fluorescents she’d purchased at her local Canadian Tire. They provide enough light for her (many) outdoor-to-indoor plants to comfortably survive the winter in her cool basement, and she uses them to start seeds for her spring planting.
 
LED lights, like ours, are relatively new to the scene, picking up in popularity over the last number of years as they’ve become more affordable. They range in size and usage, from single bulbs and smaller lights like ours (about as big as a large serving tray) all the way to vast arrays that work for larger growing operations. Some research tells me that until around 2010, grow lights were big, complicated affairs that used a lot of energy, but our small UV didn’t seem to make a difference to our winter energy bills.

LED Grow Lights over plants

In the latter part of winter, we took some cuttings from our bountiful Lady P, and, with the assistance of the grow light, grew a number of new plants. In the spring, we placed Lady P’s offspring into large pots around our yard, where they went on to flourish like crazy, giving us tons of flowers, right up until October, when we brought a few of them in, to start the process all over again. It’s nice to think of generations of petunias growing from the rescue of one little brave plant.
 
Oh, and the vegetable seeds we’d planted? They did quite well! For example, our pole beans reached for the proverbial sky (we needed a ladder to harvest some of the beans!). Quite gratifying.
 
All of this is to say — If you’re thinking of getting a grow light for your plants, I can tell you that our experience has been terrific. We did some research before we bought ours, and I strongly recommend you do the same. With so many lights now available, with different lights for different needs, I’m sure you’ll find just the right one for you and your needs. Happy growing!

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