Young plants prefer 'grow' lights, but fluorescent will do

Backyard Q&A

In The Garden

January 25, 2004|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

I would like to set up a light table to grow my own plants at home. Do I need to buy special "grow" lights, or can I use regular fluorescent lights?

Because grow lights are expensive, most gardeners use fluorescent bulbs. However, if plants had a choice, they would take the grow lights. This is because grow lights produce ample quantities of both red and blue light, the two colors of light that plants prefer.

While fluorescent bulbs and incandescent bulbs may produce as much total light as a grow light, the quality of light is not as good because it has a more limited range. Fluorescent bulbs produce primarily blue light. This is what gives them a cool color. Incandescent bulbs produce primarily red light. This gives them a warm color. They both help plants grow; they just do not do it as efficiently as grow lights.

If you can afford the grow lights, I would use them. If not, go with good fluorescent bulbs. They should work fine.

I am building a compost bin for my yard and would like to use wood. Is there any danger in using treated lumber for this project?

Several studies have indicated that toxic levels of arsenic may leach into the surrounding soil from lumber treated with CCA (chromated copper arsenate). However, the research is not entirely conclusive and the extent of this danger is still being debated. I have used treated lumber to build a compost bin in my own yard, but if I had to do it over, I would probably use untreated lumber. If you build your compost bin from untreated lumber, you will need to replace the wood every few years.

This can be expensive unless you use recycled wood. For example, you could build your compost bins out of recycled wood pallets. Another alternative is to build them out of a new treated lumber called ACQ (alkaline copper quat). This lumber does not contain arsenic, and is therefore considered by many to be safer than CCA lumber. The choice is up to you; however, with new alternatives available, I would lean away from using CCA lumber, especially if you will be using the compost to grow vegetables.


1. Houseplants repeatedly watered with tap water can build up toxic levels of salts. The salts can be flushed from the soil by running water through the pot for several minutes.

2. Houseplants generally need less water in the winter months, but those near heating ducts or radiators may dry out quickly. Keep an eye on them.

3. Save those coffee grounds. They are an excellent addition to the compost pile.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site

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