Master Gardener Bookshelf: Gardening Under Lights

Gardening Under Lights—The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers, by Leslie F. Halleck
By Susan Wilhelm, Extension Master Gardener

Understanding light (how much, how little, or what kind) is critical to growing plants indoors successfully, whether seedlings, house plants, vegetables, herbs, or succulents. You can learn about light and how to build simple do-it-yourself (DIY) grow lights for seed starting by attending the MGNV class “How to Build Inexpensive and Efficient Grow Lights” on February 3 at Westover Library (Arlington) or February 13 at Burke Library (Alexandria). For additional information, you might also consult Gardening Under Lights – The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers by Leslie F. Halleck.

Gardening Under Lights truly is a “Complete Guide for Indoor Gardening,” covering everything from basic botany to seed starting, to equipment for professional indoor growers. It has three main sections: Light, Growing Conditions, and Plants.


The Light section starts with basic botany covering the roles of light, water, and carbon dioxide in plant growth (photosynthesis), including why plants die when there is an insufficient amount of any of these. It also explains how different colors of light and their duration impact plant development and growth. For example, when seedlings or plants get leggy, they are reaching for more blue light. This is followed by a highly technical explanation of how to measure the light output from grow lights and an analysis of different types of grow lights and the uses for which each is best suited.

Growing Conditions

Growing Conditions delves into the nuts and bolts of indoor gardening such as temperature, humidity, and common pests and how to get rid of them. An extensive section on propagation and plant care includes everything from light, seed preparation, and raising plants from cuttings, to feeding and transplanting both seedling and cuttings. There is also a short discussion of hydroponic growing systems.


The Plants section contains detailed instructions, on a plant by plant basis, for growing both edible and ornamental plants indoors. Here the reader can look up a vegetable or herb, such as lettuce or basil, and find information on the plant’s light requirements (warm, cool); hours of light needed; propagation; temperature; season; growing medium; space, water, and fertilization requirements; pests and diseases; varieties and cultivars; and harvesting techniques. Similar information is provided on growing ornamental plants inside, including bonsai, carnivorous plants, orchids, and succulents.

Halleck’s background includes research in greenhouse production; in this book,  some of the science, mathematics, and equipment described goes beyond the needs of, or is inappropriate for, the home gardener simply looking to start vegetable seedlings or to keep a house plant thriving. (Halleck recommends readers skip the parts that do not apply.) Additionally, there is a heavy reliance on abbreviations (the book would be twice as long without them) and the reader may find herself flipping back to earlier pages to keep track of terminology. However, Halleck strives to make the science of indoor growing understandable, often using analogies to make technical explanations more generally accessible.

Gardening Under Lights – The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers (Timber Press, Inc., 2018) has much to offer if you are looking to grow plants indoors successfully, no matter what your goals or how much (or little) indoor space you have. It is available through the Arlington Public Library and from national booksellers.

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