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Lawn & Garden

2 Easy and Economical Hacks for Indoor Winter Gardening

I love to grow plants! Spring is my favorite season; plants are sold everywhere and the selection never seems to stop.  Since I live in a high-rise and the garden is the balcony, the hardest choice is where to put all those new beauties! Summer is spent keeping them thriving despite the humid and hot Atlanta weather. Fall means harvest, pruning, seed collecting, or in the case of most annuals: a simple goodbye at frost. Winter used to be slowest time of the year in my gardening cycle. For many years I spent my winters poring over seed catalogs, reading every garden book I could my hands on (thank you to the local library), and dreaming of my next great plants. 

Then I discovered begonias. Yes, there were the beautiful ground covers and angel wings at the store every spring. However, two years ago I discovered a completely new world of exotic begonias. The American Begonia Society states that "there are over 1,500 named species (so far) from exotic tropical places around the world." I starting collecting begonia plants last year and now have over 100 of my own! Starting last spring, I purchased from specialty nurseries, took cuttings to make more plants, and shared plants and parts with my garden club in hopes of growing even more plants. I enjoyed sitting on the balcony in the evening to primp the plants to lovingly end my day. Life was wonderful. Then summer slowly faded into fall; the days grew shorter and cooler. These exotic plants would not be able to live outdoors in the winter and they needed to come indoors. At that point, I realized that there were SO MANY plants and SO LITTLE space in my home!

Winter preparations were immediately set in motion: the begonias were pruned, repotted, and inspected for insects and disease; a mild fungicide was applied several weeks before moving indoors. Space was made in front of every available window. But the sheer numbers of plants would not be able to get sufficient light to survive through the winter. 

The solution: I created my very own “Begonia Palace” which I stationed in front of double windows.  The HDX 48 inch wide x 72 inch high x 18 inch deep Decorative Wire Chrome Heavy Duty Shelving Unit served as the foundation of the stand. I used four (4) of the shelves which were adjusted to meet the specific height requirements of the plants: short plants were grouped together on top, medium sized plants were situated on the middle shelf, and the largest plants were placed on the lower shelf.  The shelves were spaced to accommodate the height of the plant plus grow lights (shop lights on chains attached to the underside of the shelf above) plus 6-12 inches of space between the lights and the plants.  The spacing was definitely the hardest part of the construction process; I adjusted the middle shelf twice to get the best fit for all the plants. Fortunately, the plants were growing quite slowly at that point so I was able to keep the final spacing throughout the entire winter.

I wanted to put a more solid surface on each wire shelf for pot stability as well ensure no water or leaves would fall on the floor. Since the shelves were 18 inches wide and 48 inches long, I simply had 18 inches cut from a 12-foot roll of sheet vinyl at the local store. The vinyl was cut into thirds (48 inches each) and trimmed around the corners to fit each shelf.

For a uniform light source, I added 4 foot shop lights with plant bulbs to meet the spectral needs of the begonias. Each shop light was secured to the underside of the shelf above by using S-hooks (included in the packaging). Since the plants were watered every 4-5 days, they were rearranged at that time for equal light distribution for all. Some plants had more leaves than others and I wanted every begonia to get their fair share of the light. Those six (6) light bulbs (2 each in 3 fixtures) created a bright room; the cat enjoyed “sunning” herself in front of the palace! I analyzed the cost to operate the T-12 fluorescent plant light bulbs and found that the additional cost to my electric bill would be under $5 per month if the lights were turned on for 12 hours each evening.

I am happy to report that most of the plants survived their life on the “Begonia Palace” and enjoyed a new season of growing this past year!


Well, my begonia-propagating prowess has also improved and I am seeing greater success with stem and wedge cuttings (small parts of existing plants). In layman’s terms, this means making more little plants. These babies need more light, more warmth, and more love to get through the winter so they will be large enough to live outside next spring.  So I created the “Begonia Nursery.” I simply installed an under cabinet light fixture to the underside of a cabinet and placed the cuttings and small plants in trays. Since they are literally on the corner of the kitchen countertop, I check them out while I make my morning coffee. The little ones get the extra attention they need while I get some caffeine to start my day. The fluorescent light fixture includes an 18 inch bulb in the packaging and is bright enough for task lighting; in this case, the task is growing begonias!  The under cabinet height is about 18 inches from countertop to cabinet so the small plants have plenty of room to grow.  I also calculated the cost to operate the light for 12 hours each evening and it adds less than $1 to my electric bill each month. 

As spring approaches – not soon enough! – you may want to start vegetable and herb seeds for your outdoor garden.  The countertop garden is a great idea if you can find about two (2) extra feet of counter space; no window is needed. It is also a great idea to ensure you have sufficient plant light when teaching children (and adults) how to start plants from seeds. You could also place several larger plants under the lights if the room or window light is not enough for your plant’s needs during winter; I call that a plant tanning bed!

One special note: after a winter season of growing indoors, the plants require a hardening off period before being exposed to sun in the springtime.  Since I have a balcony garden, I place my plants outdoor against the wall – well after fear of late frost – and put a shade cloth over the railing to cover the plants similar to an awning or pergola. After 10-14 days, the plants acclimate to their new surroundings and off they grow.

Best wishes on your gardening efforts during the winter and all throughout the year!

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Posted 2018-01-05T20:40:55+0000  by Eileen_HD_ATL Eileen_HD_ATL