FAQ - Light


Question: Because I'm completely inexperienced with artificial lighting, I need someone to quite literally point me in the direction of an appropriate lighting source to fit my needs. I've relatively few African violets (8 miniatures and a few young standards) and relatively limited space due to the fact that I'm a college student and will be living in a dorm. And of course, there's the fact that while I am willing to spend what I need too to help my plants, cost is definitely a factor. I would, if I could, like to have specific product and lighting recommendations.

Answer: My first light unit was a 4-foot shop fixture (purchased at a discount store) which had two 48 inch fluorescent tubes, was made of metal, and hung on two chains from an old sheet of plywood that was held up by 2 stacks of cement blocks. The total investment (a few years ago) was less than $10. It won't cost you much more today.

The fluorescent tubes may be simple "cool white" tubes available in almost any lighting department of garden or discount stores. The lowest grade of bulbs will burn out rather quickly. Cool white is the next step up and worth the extra dollar or so. If you want to improve the color of the light a bit (not so blue) and probably get a little more quality growing, use a combination of one cool white and one "Gro-lux wide spectrum" (also pretty easy to find in local stores).

Once you have the metal fixture and the two tubes, you will need to rig a way to hang it so that the tubes are about ten to twelve inches above the foliage of the plants. You can use a stacks of bricks, or you might be able to build a rack using PVC pipe (in the plumbing department) fitting pipes together with elbow joints. Our setup today is built with 2x4 lumber and plywood.. not much fancier than the first rig we built. It needs to be on for just ten to twelve hours a day, so a timer is a good idea. Look in the same lighting department for a timer.

My best guess is that all of this will cost about $30. If that is far under the budget you had in mind, an excellent supplier online is Indoor Garden Supplies www.indoorgardensupplies.com which sells wonderful light carts and higher quality light fixtures, etc. If nothing else, check out their site just to see specific information on the types of bulbs to buy. One caution, when you first start using brand new light tubes, the light intensity is pretty strong. Run the lights for a shorter day (starting at eight hours) and increasing the day-length by a half an hour each week. When you have to replace a worn-out tube, replace only one tube at a time to avoid bleaching the leaves. If you have any additional questions, please ask! Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: I've had my African violet for over a year now. My house is very shaded, so I took it to my classroom (I'm a teacher) so it could get more light. The good news: it grew beautiful blooms throughout the fall and part of the way into the winter. The bad news: the blooms have recently started wilting and dying. Its leaves look very healthy, but the blossoms look terrible. What happened?

Answer: Winter happened. The short days and decreased light are often not adequate for African violets to produce flowers. As the days get longer, you should be getting flowers again soon. You might consider putting the plant near a fluorescent light (on top of a high shelf near a ceiling fixture works for some) during the darker times of the year. Also, try squeezing the sides of the pot to disturb the roots a little bit... it is a little bit of a scare that triggers the survival of the species instinct and often resulting in faster flowering. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: I will be purchasing a set of shelving from Indoor Gardening Supplies - I would prefer the 4-shelf unit in order to accommodate more plants but am concerned the lights will be too close to the standard plants. Would this work if I kept the lights on for fewer hours a day, or should be sacrifice shelf space and get a three-shelf unit? Thanks for any input. Since the shelving is expensive, I want to get the best results.

Answer: You would probably be just fine if you shorten the number of hours per day. Watch the plants closely for bleaching (in which case the on-hours should be shortened or plants that tend to bleach should be moved to the outer corners) or for stretching (in which case the lights should be on for more hours per day or the stretchiest plants should be moved to the center of the shelf.) Your miniatures will love being closer to the lights. The only real problem you might have is if you grow large standards for show, since they need bigger pots and can sometimes hold the flowers up so high that it could be a delicate process to move them around under the lights. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: What distance should mature standard African violets be from fluorescent tubes? I am using 2 tube fixtures..48 inch 40 watt t12 Gro-lux wide spectrum. What distance for leaf cuttings? and leaf cuttings with plantlets? Some of my plantlets I have separated are now a bronze color instead of light green color, what caused this? Will they green up again? If you could answer all of these questions I’d really appreciate it.

Answer: Mature well-rooted plants should be positioned about 12 inches below the tubes (distance between the tube and the foliage) and the lights should be on for approximately 12 hours a day. If the tubes are very new, the time may need to be reduced by as much as 4 hours (to only 8 hours a day) and gradually increased by fifteen to thirty minutes a week until you reach 12 hours. Generally if the leaves are reaching upward, there isn't enough light. If the leaf are bleaching (bronze or white-green color) there is too much light. Plants that are rooting (such as recently divided clumps and propagated leaf cuttings) often seem to need less light and can usually be set around the edges of the shelf rather than right under the middle where the light is the most intense. Usually leaves will green up again after bleaching, provided that the light is reduced and that they are receiving a balanced fertilizer on a regular basis. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

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