A small guide to using grow lights in your Garden – Part 2

Part 2: The right way to use grow lights

In the previous post, we have learnt the different types of grow lights which are available. In this post, we will learn how to use them in the correct way to gain maximum benefits from them.

We have established why plants need light to grow and survive. They need light in a proper wavelength and for a specific duration. Now comes the next question –

Where to position the lights?

The first thing that comes to our mind is where to place them, at what angle, and what should be the distance etc. So here are all the answers to all your questions. You are using these lights to replicate the sun, kind of like an artificial sun. Place them directly above the plants so that the growth of the plants is upright. As plants are attracted to light and will grow in the direction of light, it is advisable to place them directly above the plants. In the case of creepers, it doesn’t matter as they will grow in the direction of support.

How much distance should be there between plants and lights?

Now, this depends on the type of lights. If you are using traditional or incandescent bulbs, better keep them at a safe distance from your plants. They emit a lot of heat and it can be harmful to the plants. If you are using LEDs or fluorescent lights, you can keep them close to the plants as they emit less heat. Fluorescent lights give out more heat signature as compared to LEDs, hence should be kept a little more away.

Traditional or incandescent bulbs – 24 to 30 inches

HIDs, LEDs or fluorescent lights – 6 to 12 inches

Which colour is best for my plants?

We all are familiar with the seven colours of the rainbow. In short, they are abbreviated as – VIBGYOR. This range of light is also known as PAR or photosynthetically active radiation which is required for photosynthesis. We need grow lights to provide PAR to plants with an appropriate wavelength for desired period of time. So, let’s see what colour of light plays what role in a plant’s life?

Violet/Blue light – This colour is important for growth, photosynthesis and cholorophyll formation. This colour is directly related to the vegetative growth of the plants so it will be required at all times and in almost all plants. Blue light is essential for germination of seeds and it stimulates growth of stronger roots too.

White light – When all the colours of a rainbow are combined it gives out white light. It is responsible for growth of leaves. So, if you growing any leafy veggies, salad greens or microgreens, white light is a must which can be turned on after germination. If you are using grow lights for ornamentals, then white light is necessary because most of them are foliage plants.

Orange/Red light – This spectrum is important for flowering and fruiting of plants. So after a few weeks of sowing, look up for the days to flowering for the plants you are growing and start giving them this spectrum of light 5 to 7 days before in order to produce flowers and then fruits. Basically, all the veggies, fruit trees and indoor flowering plants will require this spectrum. 

Note: White light has all the colours of the spectrum but that doesn’t mean you need to just provide white grow lights. Certain colours are harmful and will inhibit many processes in a plant. This small yet important knowledge of lights will help you plan better and will keep your plants healthy. Green light is not at all useful as plants reflect them, that’s why they are green!

Written by
Antra Thada

A small guide to using grow lights in your garden

PART – 1 : Choosing the type of grow lights

Plants are autotrophs, which means they synthesize their own food by converting light energy into chemical energy and ultimately into food through photosynthesis. Now the light utilized by them is emitted through the sun naturally. But since we are shifting to crowded spaces with little or no exposure to the sun in our homes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider growing your own veggies. And in such cases, grow lights will come to the rescue. Even in some cases when you think you have a good source of sunlight, it might not just be enough.

The plants can be categorized as long day, short day and day-neutral plants. The names speak for themselves, short day plants require light for fewer hours to flower and produce fruits while long day plants require light for more hours and day neutral plants will bloom irrespective of the duration of light. Most summer vegetables and flowers are long day plants and may require grow lights. If the light in your garden space is not sufficient then short day plants and day neutral plants will also require them.

So how to decide which grow light is best suited for your needs?

Before choosing a grow light you should first know the difference between a grow light and a normal light.

All of us have seen a rainbow which has 7 colours. Each colour is a result of different wavelengths of light. For eg., red colour is emitted due to 650 nm wavelength. Photosynthesis occurs at a specific wavelength known as PAR (Photosynthetically active radiation) which ranges between 400 to 700nm. Normal lights do not emit radiation in this range, that is why we require to grow lights for plants.

There are different types of lights available in the market. The three most prominent ones are LEDs, HIDs and fluorescent ones. 

Incandescent bulbs – these are pretty basic bulbs which can work well with some amount of natural light. But these lights throw out too much heat which may damage the plants. So I would advise jumping on the next one.

Fluorescent lights – They produce less heat and come in a wide range of colours. They give out shorter wavelengths hence their use is limited. They can be used for germination of seeds, root initiation in cuttings or to improve the vegetative growth of seedlings. They can’t be used for fruiting, flowering or vigorous vegetative growth. There are two types of fluorescent lights available – tube style and CFLs. CFLs are a more compact version so they are more suitable for smaller spaces.

High intensity discharges or HIDs – These are extremely efficient, produce very little heat and as a cherry on top, they are cheaper than LEDs. They are of 3 types:

  • HPS – High pressure sodiums emit red orangish light which is great for the flowering stage of plants.
  • MH – Metal halides are used for the vegetative phase of plants as they emit blue wavelength of light.
  • CMH – Ceramic metal halides are kind of a mixture of both HPS and MH. They have a broad spectrum and can be used for vegetative as well as flowering stages of plants.

LEDs – Light emitting diodes are the latest addition to the market. They can be customized according to our needs; they can be coded according to the wavelength required and can be operated fairly easily. Their installation and one time buying costs may be a little high, but they are highly efficient in power consumption, long lasting, space efficient and can be customized. 

So as now we have learnt what are the various options available, we can make a wise choice according to our needs. Here is a small summary comparing all the available options.

CharacterLEDsHIDsFluorescent 
TypesHPS, MH, CMHTube style and CFLs
Heat emittedVery lessVery lessHigh 
SizeSmallMediumLarge, CFLs are small
Wavelength/ SpectrumFull spectrumCMH – BroadMH – BlueHPS – redBlueish 
Energy consumptionHighly efficientModerate efficiencyHigh energy consumption
*Lifespan50k to 100k hours or around 14 years6k to 24k hours or 3 years15k to 25k hours or 8 years
CostMedium Medium to highLow

*Lifespan is just an average number based on some survey. Actual life span may vary upon your usage and care and maintenance. 

Part 2 coming up soon!!

Written by:
Antra Thada

Beneficial insects for your Garden

Whenever we hear about insects, our common reaction is to get rid of them as they could destroy our beautiful plants. But let me tell you the other side of the story. Not all insects are harmful, in fact only 1/10th of the total insects can harm your garden. The rest are either beneficial or harmless. The beneficial ones can be classified into three categories –

Pollinators –

The work of these insects is to transfer pollens from male parent to female parent. This leads to fertilization and formation of seeds which help in propagation of plants. Many of the fruits that we eat are developed only after pollination and fertilization. Furthermore, the beautiful flowers that we see, are an adaptation to attract pollinators towards the plants.

Examples – Wasps, ants, flies, midges, beetles, bees and colourful butterflies.

Predators –

These insects eat other harmful insects, pests and bugs. They also feed upon larvae of pests which might be lethal for your plants. Predators feed upon different species of insects. So having them in your garden is a good sign. They are an important part of the food chain and with their presence, you don’t have to use harmful chemicals to kill pests.

Examples – Spiders, ladybugs or lady bird beetles, lacewings and mantids.

Parasites –

This is the third category of beneficial insects. They help us in protecting our plants by feeding on them but in a slightly different manner than predators. The parasites lay eggs on the body of insects and when these eggs hatch, the larvae feed upon the insect’s body. This eventually kills the host.

Examples – Parasitic wasps, Aphidius ervi

So whenever you see these flying or roaming around your plants, don’t scare them away. These insects help complete the food chain and maintains the ecological balance of your garden. You can even include some plants which attract these beneficial insects. Wasps and bees are attracted to coriander, dandelion, zinnia and parsley while bugs are attracted to alfalfa, marigolds and dandelions. So I guess instead of feeling nauseous or creepy around them, we should try to live in harmony with the bugs for the betterment of our plants!

Why is water essential for plants?

You might be wondering what kind of question is this? Of course water is essential for every living organism, this is like a no brainer. Ok so wait, can you tell me why? Now here you might get a little confused and you might start to wonder and some common answers might pop up like for hydration, keeps the plant cool etc. All these things are correct but there is more. As a plant lover and a plant parent we should definitely have more knowledge about the most essential element for our little green friends. So, today let me take you on a journey of a water molecule right from the beginning of a new plant life i.e., a seed.

For Seed

We buy some seeds, sow them in soil and water them. After that magically it sprouts and a new plant life is born. What role does water play here? If you have a close look at the seed, it has a very hard outer covering or the seed coat which protects it from harsh conditions. In that seed coat there is a small hole which is responsible for absorbing water. Once an adequate amount of water is collected inside the seed, it starts to soften the coat and generates pressure on the miniature version of the plant to get bigger in size. That mini plant will force itself out of the seed and germinate. So, this process of germination cannot be established without water. In fact, it is more essential than soil as we know seeds can germinate purely in water too. You might have sprouted chickpeas, by immersing them in water we activate certain mechanisms inside them and the chickpeas also become soft after one night of soaking. Next time whenever you see a seed germinating, remember that this magic happened due to water.

For plant growth

Once the plant has germinated, now it needs to get bigger and establish its roots. Water plays an essential part here also. The cells absorb water and in turn the water molecules pressurize them to expand. Now imagine millions of cells expanding themselves which will ultimately result in plant growth. And all this is possible only through water.

For Photosynthesis 

It is the process through which plants prepare their own food and food is incomplete without water. There are many reactions during the process of photosynthesis which cannot be completed without water. But we are not going to get into deep scientific things, this much knowledge is enough.

Transport of essential elements

How do plants transport things? The answer is – Water ways! Plants dissolve all essential elements like minerals, foods, nutrients, hormones and other essentials in water and transport them to various parts.

For fruit formation

Who doesn’t like delicious fruits plucked directly from trees? Or those fresh veggies or salad greens? The major component of all these fruits and vegetables is water. And all this water is absorbed by the plants and stored in the edible parts for us to enjoy.

Basically, water makes up around 1/3rd volume of the plants. It is required in almost every reaction and at every step as we have read in the above-mentioned points. So, the next time if anybody asks you why water is essential for plants, you know the answer!

Happy gardening folks!

Written by
Antra Thada

It’s time to get lucky… Here’s how you can propagate Lucky Bamboo Plants at home!

Now a days it is a very common to see little bamboo stems growing in water baths. They can be placed on desks, on coffee tables or on shelves for decorative purposes. They can be found in various shapes, sizes or can be molded into different looks like braided bamboo sticks. They are very easy to train and grow. It is a common belief that this plant brings good luck in your lives if it is gifted to you. Even the number of stalks have specific meaning to them. For instance, two stalks area sign of love, three stalks bring luck, happiness and wealth whereas five stalks represent prosperity in health and so on.

Another interesting fact about these plants is that although they look very similar to bamboos, but they are not mini versions of actual bamboo trees. They are a type of Dracaena (Scientific name: Dracaena sanderiana), which are similar to succulents. So, their care, maintenance and propagation should be done accordingly.

How to propagate lucky bamboos?

They are fairly easy to propagate through stem cuttings. Just follow these few simple steps –

  • Take a clean sharp blade or knife and cut its stem in one fine go.
  • Make sure that the cutting is from the main stalk and has at least one leaf joint.
  • Trim all the excess leaves to expose the nodes
  • The naked cutting should be placed in filtered water or preferably in distilled water.
  • Keep on replacing the water after the interval of 4 – 5 days and keep the container clean.
  • You will see small red hairy roots appearing beneath the surface of water after 3 to 4 weeks or 30 days.
  • After the roots have emerged, transfer the cuttings into a pot. Fill it with water or with some colourful pebbles or a pot of soil.
  • If you want your plant to be bushier, trim the extra shoots which are growing from the main stem or stalk with the help of sterile blades. This will help in generation of new growth in a much faster pace.

These stalks can live upto 2 to 3 years if grown in clean, good quality water. Replace the water regularly and clean the container if it looks muddy or stained.

You can even place the plant in rich soil rather than keeping them in water. Lucky bamboo plants in potted soil tend to survive a few more years.

So gift your loved ones with some lucky bamboo stalks to shower blessings and good luck upon them.

Written by
Antra Thada

What’s wrong with my Jade Plant?

Jades are beautiful succulents which grow very easily and brighten up the place with their illuminant green leaves. This plant attracts all the plant parents due to its representation of a mini tree which makes it stand out. But if you are reading about the reasons why your jade plant is dying, you are most probably at home, thinking about your jade and things which could have gone wrong with it. Well, being a fairly common, easy to grow house plant, jade still encounters many problems which can lead to its poor health. Let us have look at these problems.

This phenomenon is also known as limping where the leaves of plant start to shed themselves. If you have moved your jade to a different location and this problem is occurring, there’s probably nothing to worry about as in a few days the plant will adjust to its new environment and start growing. If that is not the case, then one of the major reasons for this problem is – Overwatering!

Jades are succulents which tend to retain water, so overwatering specially in winters or during high humid days can lead to such kind of issues. When such a situation prevails (weather wise), avoid watering until the top most layer of soil appears dry and adapt to spraying or misting.

The other reasons might involve insects, pests, diseases or insufficient light.

Changing colour of leaves

The leaves of your jade may start to change colour. They may turn brown, reddish or yellow and this phenomenon takes place gradually. So if you can spot this in early phases, you might be able to reverse it. This might happen due to deficiency of certain nutrients or due to infestation of diseases and pests.

Root rot

Overwatering might lead to development of root rot. It is a deadly problem which occurs almost in all house plants. It is a fungal disease and once it crosses a certain stage, there is no turning back. Typical symptoms including drooping, falling leaves, yellowing of leaves etc. If you pull out the plant, you will notice that the roots have turned brown instead of milky white. This is a typical sign of root rot. You can sterilize the roots with antifungal solution and repot with fresh soil to save the plant. Next time you encounter such a situation, try and remedy it or better avoid it. As the old saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure!”.

Written by
Antra Thada

It’s time for Eco-Friendly Holi

We all have definitely heard this by now and some of us have even experienced the brutality of chemical filled colours on the auspicious occasion of holi. Many of us have faced allergies, cold, cough and many other skin related issues. We all talk about feeding good organic food to our bodies but we almost forget about other things which may affect us directly or indirectly. One such event is Holi. Just imagine using colours filled with oils and harmful chemicals, which will first ruin our skin and hair, do harm to animals around us and will be ultimately washed off in our beautiful lakes, rivers, oceans or will be absorbed in the soil. All this will affect the food that we consume and will lead to a long-term damage to us and the environment. This happens every year, so this time lets change the scene a little bit. Since holi is approaching, it is high time we search for alternatives that won’t cause all the above-mentioned problems.

Plant based colours

If we are eating plant based then why can’t we make colours from them too? After all we have so many vibrant flowers why not use them?

Basic procedure

The protocol for making colours from plants is simply collecting the flowers or leaves which have colour inside them, dry them, grind them into fine powder and add some sort of base like gram flour (commonly known as Besan) or Multani mitti to them.

How to dry the flowers quickly?

I know that holi is just around the corner and sun drying things would take much longer than a week. So, here are some tips to accomplish this task asap!

  1. Use a microwave or oven – Preheat it, spread the flowers in a baking sheet or tray and keep them in for a few minutes and your flowers will be ready for grinding.
  2. Use a dehydrator – If you like to preserve certain seasonal veggies then you might be having a dehydrator in your home. So spread the flowers on it and wait for the magic to happen. Soon all the moisture will evaporate and you will get petals which can be turned into a fine powder.
  3. Use silica powder – You can pack the flowers in a box full of silica powder to dry them. As silica is a very good dehydrating agent, it will absorb all the moisture from the petals and leave them dry.
  4. The sun – Ofcourse the scorching summer sun is the best dehydrator. So you can plan this for next year. Collect some flowers and spread them on your terrace where they will receive direct sun. In around 2 to 3 weeks, they will lose all their moisture and will be ready for grinding. 

Pro tip – Hang the flowers for 2 – 4 days in a dark room upside down. This will make them lose moisture and retain maximum colour.

After your flowers have dried, convert them into fine powders, add some base to them to make up the volume and you will have your natural gulals ready for enjoying the festival.

Which flowers/ plants to use?

Let’s learn this by colours. The type of flowers you need to depends of on what colours you wish to have.

Red/ Pink – Whenever we think about red colour, roses do cross our minds. Roses will make an absolutely beautiful red colour. Apart from that you can use red hibiscus flowers as they are less expensive and easily available. Add some rice flour to maintain its consistency.

Yellow – I don’t know but yellow colour makes me happy so I would definitely want it. You can prepare it with the help of marigold and chrysanthemum flowers. You can add turmeric powder, besan or fuller’s earth as base.

Orange or Kesari colour – This colour is a representation of our country and can be mage with the Palash or tesu flowers which is also known as the ‘Flame of the forest.’ Alternatively you can also use orange coloured marigold or dried peels of the fruit orange.

Green – This colour is available all around us. You use leaves of plants, petals of flowers, henna or mehandi etc. to prepare this colour.

All these flowers can be used for preparing dry powdered colours as well as wet colours too for your children and their water guns. Preparation of wet colours is far more simple. You can take some beetroots, some green leaves or some flowers, boil them and keep the overnight and it will be ready! You can also add some food colours if you feel that diluting with water will make them dull.

So what are you waiting for? Start your preparations soon and bless your family and friends with these awesome home made nautral colours. Why should we harm the environment and ourselves for a single day of enjoyment when we have such perfect alternatives available? After all this festival is celebrated from centuries and they used naturals colours only na?

Let’s make a difference and say no to hazardous colours and celebrate this auspicious occasion of holi – Guilt free!

Written by
Antra Thada

Ants – Harmful or Beneficial for plants?

With summers approaching, this is a much needed post as you will be seeing a lot of ants around your plants or in your soil. In a sub-tropical country like India, a good amount of biodiversity is present due to different ecological conditions. This means we would have different types of plants along with variety of insects and pests. The hot and humid climate of soil is a perfect for harboring ants. Ants can be found in our backyard gardens as well as in our potted soil.

What attracts ants?

Ants usually come out of their nests in search of food. Plants synthesize sugars by the process of photosynthesis which attracts them. The plant sap consists of sucrose which makes it sweet. In soil (or sometimes on plants) certain insects like mealy bugs and aphids are present which secrete sweet honeydew like substances. These in turn again attract ants in pots and garden soil.

Are ants harmful?

The answer to this question depends upon the number of ants. If the anthills are in a moderate number then you don’t need to worry about them. They will help you get rid of insects eating your plants. While collecting plant sap, they disturb the life cycle of insects which can harm your plants. Ants even disturb their egg laying positions which controls their population. But if the number of anthills is more, they will do more harm than good. Excessive feeding on plant sap will render the plant devoid of essential nutrients and sugars for energy. Furthermore, they can attack the roots of the plants and disrupt the supply of water and minerals. Excess movement of ants on leaves or stems may cause wounds which may lead to secondary infections.

How to get rid of them?

The basic home remedies include –

 Sprinkling turmeric around the potted plant or ant hills. This will drive away ants up to some extent.

 You can over water the potted plants which will suffocate the ants and then drain the excess water as soon as possible.

 Pour hot water on ant hills.

 Boil citrus fruits in water and sprinkle it around the plants.

 Make a soap solution using liquid soaps in water and pour it around the plants

 Peppermint oil is also known to repel ants.

 You can also use vinegar to get rid of ants. Dilute it with water in the ratio 1:2 or 1:3 and spray it around the ants.

Don’t panic if you see too many ants around your plants especially during summers as they collect food for winters. You can use chemicals like chlorpyrifos if the problem persists. Just try the above listed remedies and you will be able to drive them away.

Hope you liked this article and found it helpful.

Written by
Antra Thada

Ideal pH for plants and how to measure soil pH at home!

If we talk about the ideal pH for plants then it would be a little difficult to generalize as different plants have different requirements. But most of the plants growing in our backyards and in our houses are more or less of the same nature. Their nutritional requirements, water requirements and pH level requirements are almost same. The ideal pH for houseplants is between 5.5 to 7. If we want to talk about more accurate values then a pH of 6.5 is best suited for them.

Maintaining a proper pH is very important as it determines the nutrients which can be absorbed by the plants. If the plants are too sensitive, improper pH can lead to severe deficiencies and death of plants.

Usually plants require pH which is slightly acidic. Some house plants like ferns require a slightly basic pH which is between 6 – 8. Most of the vegetables, except for asparagus also require pH between 5.5 to 7. And what about our beautiful flowering plants? Well, they also require a slightly acidic pH with a few exceptions like geranium, begonia and day lily which require slightly basic pH. Some fruit trees like apple and blueberry require pH between 4-6 which is medium acidic. Rest of the common fruits like orange, strawberry, grapes etc. thrive well between 6-7.

What happens when we add fertilizers to the soil?

Addition of any kind of chemical may cause a shift in soil’s pH. The most common supplements that we give to our plants consist of NPK. Nitrogen can be given in the form of nitrate or ammonia. Addition of ammonia can lead to a decrease in soil pH making it more acidic while nitrate based fertilizers like sodium nitrate hardly cause any noticeable change in soil’s pH.

Phosphorus and potassium fertilizers cause a very slight change in pH of soil. So they are nothing to be concerned about. Phosphoric acid fertilizer can lead to change in soil pH levels towards acidic.

Micronutrients like manganese, zinc, iron etc. are required in very small quantities and cannot cause any significant change in soil pH.

If you are concerned about the soil being too acidic and can harm your plants, there is a very simple solution to it. Add a little bit of lime (Calcium Carbonate) to the soil which acts as an amendment. This will increase the pH levels and save your plants from any further damage.

First of all let us understand what exactly pH is?

In a simple non scientific language, pH is the value which indicates whether a solution or a substrate (i.e. soil) is acidic, basic or neutral. But even this little information can help us manage our plants more efficiently.

How can we measure the pH value?

There are various methods to determine pH levels. Some are complicated and require sophisticated lab equipment while some work with just a little piece of paper. Here is a list of methods for you –

Using vinegar and baking soda – This can be a DIY kit for you to measure or at least have an idea about the pH level of the soil. Dig up soil from a few inches below the top layer and clean it. Remove pebbles or dried up leaves and dissolve the soil in clean water to make it into a solution. Pour the solution in two separate bowls and add vinegar in one and baking soda in another. If the soil is acidic it will form bubbles or fizzes in the bowl containing baking soda while a basic soil will fizz when mixed with vinegar. This will not give you an accurate measurement but will indicate the direction of your soil’s pH.

Litmus paper – It is a small strip of paper which comes in either blue or red colour. All you need to do is place a small drop of solution on it and wait for a few moments. After some time the red coloured paper will turn blue indicating that the sample is alkaline or basic. If the paper doesn’t changes colour, that indicates acidic solution. An interesting fact to know here is that this paper is derived from organisms known as lichens which change colour after coming in contact with acid or base. A colour indicator strip is also available along with litmus paper. This will help in determining the various ranges of red and blue colour which will give us a more appropriate value of pH.

pH meter – This instrument uses aqueous solution of soil to measure pH. All you need to do is to dissolve some amount of soil in clear water and measure the pH using pH meter. It will give an accurate value without much hassle.

The optimum value of pH for plants is between 5.5 – 7. Addition of fertilizers or even watering the plants can sometimes disturb the pH level of the soil. Hence it becomes important for us to know whether our plants are in some kind of distress or not. Try and measure the pH in 6-8 weeks or after addition of any fertilizers to maintain healthy plants.

Written by
Antra Thada