Choose the Right Spot for Your BloomInLight
No window? No problem! Unlike many grow light setups, you don't need to place your BloomInLight near a window. Our indoor gardening system grows healthy plants without needing to be supplemented by natural light. If the spot you pick happens to be near a window, that's no problem either. Put it where it looks good and where you can enjoy the flowers. You can place it in your living room, family room, or rec room, on a carpet or on a nice wood floor, since the drain pan will catch any overflow. Just make sure you put the drip stopper in the drain hole before you remove the drain pan for emptying. Of course some common sense is needed when handling potting mix and water around light colored carpeting.
Buy Some Seeds
You'll find a lot of good ideas in our What to Grow section. Look for any seeds that are listed as annuals that prefer full sun or part shade and have summer as part of their outdoor bloom season. This includes many that are technically perennials in places with warm winters but are treated as annuals everywhere else.
Get Some Potting Mix
The purpose of potting mix is to give support to the roots so the plant doesn't fall over as it grows, and to hold onto the right amount of moisture, air, and nutrients. We recommend potting mix that is labeled for indoor use only or one labeled as indoor/outdoor. One labeled for moisture control is fine but is not required. If you prefer the organic approach you will find several options at the garden center. If you choose a product labeled for containers and avoid the ones that are labeled for garden beds, it will do fine. Just give it the sniff test - you might not want that 'woodsy' smell in your living room. Most garden center or home center mixes will have added enough plant nutrients to give your plants a healthy start.
We discourage using products labeled as garden soil or actual soil or compost from your garden, or anything that has already been used outside, as these can be too heavy to drain well and can introduce unwanted 'wildlife' into your indoor living space.
Choose Your Flowerpots
You can use any kind of flowerpots or growing containers in your BloomInLight. Just make sure there is a drain hole in every container. We don't recommend putting sand, rocks, or gravel in the bottom of your pots as this makes bottom-watering difficult. just fill them with potting mix. It will firm up as you water. We provide six 8-inch pots with deep bottom watering trays. With no bottom tray or with smaller standard trays you can use eight 8-inch pots. You can also use twelve 6-inch pots without bottom trays or nine 6-inch pots with standard bottom trays. To start your bedding plants you can use four standard '1020' flats (11" W x 21.37" L x 2.44" D). Using traditional inserts each flat will hold 8, 18, 24, 36, 48, or 72 individual cells, depending on the size of each cell.
Another option is to use outer decorative pots with plastic pots as inner liners. If the decorative pots have no drain hole you can use them as the vessel for bottom watering the inner pots. Hide the plastic liner with dried floral moss for a finished look.
How to Start Seeds Indoors - Step-by-Step
We recommend direct seeding right into the pots that will be the plants' permanent home, rather than transplanting seedlings. If your flowerpots are not new, It's a good idea to scrub off all the old soil and then swish them in a solution of either undiluted white vinegar or 1/2 cup of laundry bleach mixed into 5 cups of water. This step helps control the various microbes that can cause damping off and other problems. We recommend that you start with new potting mix every time you plant.
Before you fill your flowerpots, completely prewet your potting mix so that it is moist but not soggy. Use about a quart of water for every approximate gallon of potting mix. This step can be a little messy so don't do it on your white carpeting. If it is so wet that it drips when you squeeze it, you can squeeze out some of the water as you fill your flowerpots.
Fill your pots loosely with the potting mix to overflowing. Lightly tamp down the soil to eliminate any air pockets and add more if needed until it is about 1/4 inch below the rim. The flat bottom of a drinking glass or something similar makes a good tamper, or a flat hand works fine, too.
Follow the seed package instructions for sowing your seeds. Some flowers need light to germinate and just get pressed firmly into the surface, while others need darkness and should be buried 1/4 to 1/2 inch according to the package instructions. If the seed package tells you that you need darkness for germination, cover the pots with a square of cardboard, aluminum foil or other light-blocking material. Many seeds don't have a light or dark preference and can be buried. You can use the tip of a pencil as a 'dibble' to make your hole. If the seeds are tiny you can add a layer of about an inch thick of some finer textured seed starting mix (available at garden centers) on top inch of your potting mix (before sowing the seeds. This is also a good strategy if you plan on using a time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote. Mix the fertilizer well into the potting mix before you top it with the seed starting mix, as seeds neither need nor benefit from fertile soil during germination.
At this point some indoor gardeners treat the soil with products meant to insure against problems such as damping off and fungal gnats. If you start with clean pots and use new potting mix every time you might choose to skip this step. Fungal gnats can be treated later if you see them. Damping off is incurable, but bottom watering and avoiding over-watering helps with prevention. Do a web search for damping off and another for fungal gnats to see more info and a variety of products.
Keep the soil surface evenly moist. If the seeds start to germinate but then are allowed to dry out, they cannot recover. Water gently, taking care not to dislodge the seeds. We prefer bottom watering, which means filling the bottom tray with water just until the surface of the potting mix has absorbed enough water. You'll see the potting mix change color as it absorbs water. Until the seeds sprout you should feel some moisture when you poke a finger into the top half-inch or so of soil. You might have to refill several times. Don't over water and don't keep the pots in the water-filled tray permanently. If the soil surface is drying out, you can also spritz the surface of the pots with a household sprayer once or twice a day until you see the seedlings emerge.
Some indoor gardeners increase humidity by covering the pots by covering the pots with clear plastic wrap or food storage bags with venting slits cut into them. If you choose to do this, you will not need to water as much, and you can skip the spritzing. Remove the covering as soon as the seedlings begin to emerge. If you skip this step, check the pots several times a day to make sure the top layer of potting mix stays evenly moist.
Every plant has its own preferred soil temperature for germination, usually listed on the seed package, but 70 to 80 degrees is a good range for many plants. If your BloomInLight is in a room that is at a comfortable-for-you temperature, then keeping the lights on for fourteen to eighteen hours per day with the light hood positioned about a foot above the pots will provide enough warmth for germination of most plants. We don't use warming mats below our pots, but if you choose to, make sure you get one of good quality that is thermostatically controlled.
Many seedlings emerge with one or two 'false' leaves, followed by the growth of true leaves. When the true leaves are established you can begin thinning. Our BloomInLight experience is to thin just enough for the plants to not compete with each other for light. Its better to snip out the unwanted plant rather than pull it out by the roots, to avoid disturbing the root of its neighbor. We find that the final spacing for indoor plants can be closer than the outdoor spacing recommended on the seed package because they will not have to compete as much for light, water, or nutrients. Use the growth and spreading habit of your plant as a guide. For an 8 inch pot, we generally plant 4-6 seeds (fewer if the seed is costlyand allow 2 or 3 healthy well-spaced plants to mature unless they start blocking each other's light. If your seed package is mixed colors, be aware that different colors can emerge at different times and be different sizes, so don't snip away all the little thin ones, or you might end up with only one color of flower!
Be patient. Some seeds emerge in only a few days, while others take several weeks. If you do have germination problems, the main thing is to check that the soil is consistently warm enough and moist without being waterlogged. If your BloomInLight is not located in a room with comfortable-for-you room temperature, then you might consider a soil warming mat. If you don't have time to check the moisture level of your soil several times a day, then you might consider covering the pots with vented plastic wrap or food storage bags to help hold in some moisture. If you occasionally encounter problems after germination such as plants wilting or flying creatures emerging, you can find help plenty of help online or at your state's agricultural extension service website.
How Often Should You Water?
After the seedlings are established, we recommend allowing the top inch of potting mix to dry out before watering. It's best to check every day or two. If your fingertip feels dry when you probe past your first knuckle, it is time to water. If your fingertip feels even a little moist, then wait another day. We recommend bottom watering, but if you water from above, try not to get the leaves wet, and water thoroughly until you see a little water coming out of the bottom. Make sure it's not running down the edge of the pot without moistening the potting mix. You don't want the roots to find water only in the top layer, so make sure to water until the potting mix is completely saturated. If you prefer bottom watering, as we do in our BloomInLights, then fill the bottom tray with water and keep refilling for a half-hour or so. Keep refilling if needed until your fingertip feels moist when you probe past the first knuckle. You'll also find you can lift a pot and tell by weight when it needs water, or learn to notice the color of dry compared to moist potting mix. If you come back in an hour or so to find that the top of the soil is still not moist, it's OK to top water. As a temporary vacation watering strategy you can water well and then leave the bottom trays filled with water.
Adjusting The Light Hood
As your plants grow we recommend that you keep the lights about 12 inches above the highest leaves and about 6 inches above the highest flower. Sometimes it's better to trim away a tall flower to keep things in balance.
What Should You Grow First?
French Marigolds! Of course you can grow anything you want, and you'll want to grow everything at once. But if you want a recommendation, a packet of mixed French Marigolds seeds will reward you with loads of blossoms in no time and give you your first BloomInLight success story! Just set the timer for 14 hours of light per day, keep the light hood approximately 12 inches above the top of the plants, and keep the potting mix moist but not wet. Our BloomInLight experience says that you will have flowers in 5-7 weeks!
What Should You Feed Your Plants?
Seeds don't need any nutrients to sprout. Moisture, temperature, and sometimes light or complete darkness are the main things that trigger sprouting. The nutrients present in your potting mix should be enough to get young plants started and in many cases it is all the nutrients the plants need. As the plants grow you can supplement with fertilizer from the garden center ( use 1/4 to 1/2 the usual dose at first). We have a detailed article on understanding fertilizer labels posted on our newsletter/articles page.
Indoor Gardening Routines
Check out our article about garden routines here. You should check daily or at least every other day to see if your plants need water (daily dose?) While you are checking you might as well pinch off any brown leaves or stems or anything that does not look healthy and pinch off any spent blooms (deadhead daily?) Once a week (trimming Tuesday?) get your flower snips or index finger and thumbnail out and prune as much as one-fourth of a plant to encourage new growth and a desirable height and shape. See our detailed article about pruning. Feed your plants once a month (feeding first Friday?) unless feeding is not recommended (put a plant stake or marker in those that should be skipped.) Also once a month decide if it is time to retire a plant and plant something new in its place (succession Saturday?)