Burnett: Propagating plants in the winter

In the past couple of years I got the “bug” again and dabbled in growing my own seedlings.

Often I hear from newcomers to the valley especially those from the prairies, complaints about how dull the skies are here in the winter.

According to the various charts you can get by Googling for the information, they are correct, as documents show Alberta skies are open 50 per cent of the time while Okanagan skies show off the sun just 40 per cent. That is an annual average and in winter the difference is even more evident.

Sunshine or lack thereof has a real effect on our general well-being and health according to the experts.

Of course we all should by now know there is detrimental effects from too much exposure from direct sun however it is also known that some sunlight is good for us. In particular it helps keep out vitamin D supply up to snuff.

But this is a gardening column not a medical one so I want to focus on the necessity of light when growing plants and the importance of light in the production of starches and sugars which make the plant strong and stalky. When there is little and or dull light getting to a plant it will tend to “stretch” as if it were trying its best to reach out to the light source.

This can even happen outdoors in summer when a plant requiring full sun is planted in a shady area. When I was in the commercial greenhouse business we had to supplement the sunlight in the winter with grow lights of which we had dozens. These lamps lit up the greenhouses as if it were the middle of summer and the plants responded accordingly.

Since I closed my greenhouse and garden centre operation I have done very little winter propagation choosing to purchase all my plants from local garden centres. However, in the past couple of years I got the “bug” again and dabbled in growing my own seedlings mostly in a south facing window in my workshop.

Even though I had the plants in as much light as there was available I was still battling lack of light issues. This winter I acquired a used 250 watt high pressure sodium lamp along with a 600 watt ballast which I set up in our sunroom adjacent to the kitchen. The ballast has the option to run at 300 watts and that is all I need.

Wow talk about getting better results. I have sun loving plants growing under the lamp such as sweet potato vine and geraniums that are growing as if we were in Mexico. I have short stalky plants that respond really well to fertilizer and the added benefit of the beautiful light shining into the kitchen makes us feel like its summer.

At first I was a little concerned about using too much power for what I am getting out of it but after a conversation with my retired electrician buddy Reg Huebner I figure it costs me about 50 cents a day to run; now that’s an inexpensive trip to somewhere sunny.

On a sad note Kelowna lost one of its great physician icons Dr. Bowers recently and I wish to pass on my condolences to his family. Dr. Bowers was the go to cardiac specialist working many years out of the Knox Clinic (now Glenmore Medical) alongside other notable doctors including B. Moir, H. Moir, Allan France, G.D. Athans, and of course Dr. Knox himself.

The Don Burnett Garden Show is on AM 1150 News Talk Sports Saturday mornings from 8 to 10 or log on at  www.am1150.