VAIL, Colorado --I am happy to hear when someone is growing their own herbs or vegetables in their home in Colorado's Vail Valley. It is so easy to do, it is a great use of space and it really does help elevate and even eliminate the winter blues.
I know a customer who started a new batch of tomatoes back in late September. His goal was to have the crop producing and maturing by the Christmas holiday and into January and February.
It is ambitious to try for fresh, homegrown produce year-round in our harsh mountain environment. Tomatoes are a great, easy plant to grow indoors, as is lettuce and kale. For herbs, easy growing options include chives, parsley, mint, basil, oregano and thyme.
The biggest misconception about growing indoors in the winter is that you can succeed by simply relying on existing sunlight in a brightly lit room. Direct south facing sun is typically more than sufficient for aggressively growing plants, but since we live north of the equator, this concept only works during the longer days of summer.
The shorter sunlight hours of the winter season will naturally steer plants away from aggressively growing vegetation. Here are four different winter growing scenarios that you may experience.
If you have a flowering plant that is mature, it may transition nicely to a flowering stage and could support a lot of blooms. If your plant typically doesn't flower, which is true for many house plants, it will simply not grow as much new foliage during this time. For flowering plants, if they are immature, the shorter light will result in a dwarf, stunted plant with minimal blooms. When starting seedlings, shorter light hours will result in slow or abnormal growth.
To avoid stunted vegetation or prevent a plant from prematurely flowering during this time of year, longer hours of daylight must be provided via a grow light. These longer hours will help grow more consistent vegetation.
Indoor plants are much like dogs in this respect, they need 'headmasters' to train them toward success and they need a clear consistent message. If you train your plants to grow on a specific schedule, you will be rewarded with a bountiful harvest.
Artificial light can help plant growth in many ways. It can provide all the light a plant needs to grow, and specifically in the winter it supplements sunlight when daylight hours are short. Providing longer periods of light will speed up seed starts and vegetative growth on vegetables.
Remember, if a plant starts to bloom at a smaller, immature stage or if the vegetation is growing slowly, this means your daylight hours are too short. And if you want to get a head start on our short outdoor growing season, a vegetative light will help establish nice, large plants by the time summer rolls around.
To push vegetative foliage growth, more than 12 hours a day is needed, 12-18 hours is the ideal range. As summer nears and days get longer, your fruit harvest may benefit from decreasing the daylight hours to really promote the flowering. An eight to twelve hour daily light cycle is ideal for flowering and fruiting.
To enhance your hobby of growing indoors, keep in mind that the quality (spectrum) of light is also an important consideration. Plants use different parts of the color spectrum for different parts of the growing process.
Full-spectrum light bulbs are necessary, and tailored spectrums can steer plants toward a more specific production outcome, such as flowering. Remember, the single most important thing you can do to help your plants thrive indoors is to use supplemental grow lights. So flick the switch and watch them grow.
Stacey Jones works with the team at Colorado Alpines and the Wildflower Farm, located in Edwards on Highway 6. Your feedback is valuable! Please send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org