T5 fluorescent lighting makes a countertop a suitable place to grow a variety of houseplants. Photos courtesy of Leslie Halleck.

July 17, 2018

Your sixth grade biology teacher lied to you: plants don’t need sunlight.

With this illuminating revelation as a jumping off point, Dallas-based horticulturalist Leslie Halleck shows how everyone from the land-poor condo dweller to the would-be farmer who hates summer heat can grow plants indoors year-round without ever leaving the comfort of their living room in her new book Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers.

Leslie HalleckBy using grow lights and supplying the right conditions, indoor growers can grow baby salad greens and herbs on a spare shelf in the kitchen; overwinter heat-loving succulents indoors; harvest their own bell peppers from a spare bedroom; and bring the beauty and air purifying qualities of houseplants to a windowless bathroom. 

Dallas-based horticulturist Leslie Halleck came out with a book on indoor gardening in June.

“The book is comprehensive, and includes chapters that highlight many specific plant crops such as vegetables, herbs, citrus, cannabis, succulents, orchids and bonsai, and how to grow them indoors,” Halleck says. “Grow lamps are often required to grow many types of plants indoors successfully, especially if you want to grow food crops.”

Indoor gardening - book coverPublished in June 2018 by Timber Press, the 248-page guide includes nine illustrations and 320 color photos that demonstrate everything the indoor grower needs to know to grow strong and healthy plants without the sun. From measuring available light and supplementing - or even replacing sunlight - to starting seedlings and managing pests, Halleck shares the knowledge she’s gained from years of experience as an indoor grower to help readers start their indoor growing venture without the guesswork.

Indoor garden - closet garden“Whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced gardener, growing indoors is very different than outdoor gardening,” Halleck says. “Readers will learn some basic science about grow lighting, the types of grow lamps and how they work, as well as other growing gear you can use for indoor gardening. They’ll also learn some basics of plant propagation, seeds and cuttings, pest and disease information and then detailed growing tips for many popular houseplants and edibles they can grow indoors year-round.”

Houseplants grow in a closet under artificial lighting. Below, lettuce grows on a windowless countertop.​

Indoor garden - counter lettuceHalleck’s credentials include a B.S. in biology/botany from The University of North Texas and an M.S. in horticulture from Michigan State University. She's spent time spent in field research, public gardens, landscaping, garden centers and horticulture consulting and communications. She’s also a life-long indoor and outdoor gardener whose career path has included a position at the Dallas Arboretum, a joint position with Texas A&M and eight years as the general manager of the retail garden center, North Haven Gardens in Dallas. 

Since 2012, Halleck has run Halleck Horticultural, LLC through which she provides consulting and marketing services to sustainable industries. In the last 25 years, she’s taught countless gardening classes to home gardeners, written gardening articles for local media and appeared as the gardening expert on local TV news segments.

“I was asked by Timber Press to write this book, given my background in controlled greenhouse growing environments and knowledge of grow lighting science,”she says. “I also do a lot of indoor growing myself, so it seems like a natural fit for me to help the mainstream gardener learn about the topic. I always enjoy digesting down scientific topics for the mainstream gardener so they can grow their skills.

Indoor gardening - kitchen herbsA kitchen herb garden fits into the room's decor. Below, a seedling starter shelf gives a head start on the gardening season.

“Many people these days don’t have the luxury of a lot of outdoor gardening space. If you live in a condo or apartment, or even a zero lot-line home, your only option might be to grow indoors. The climate they live in might not be suitable for certain plants. If you’re like me and do garden outdoors but you want to extend your growing season, or grow crops indoors when conditions outdoors aren’t suitable for them, indoor gardening really expands your options. There’s nothing better than freshly harvested homegrown tomatoes in the middle of winter. You might also be a budding plant collector who loves succulents, orchids or bonsai, and often indoor conditions don’t provide enough light for such plants to thrive and bloom without some supplemental light.”

Indoor gardening - seedling rackHalleck says the book shows how novices will have the most success with leafy salad greens, microgreens, mints and basil grown on a shelf with a special fluorescent grow lamp or LED light setup. Such a setup costs about $50 to $75 to get started. 

“I like to use metal kitchen shelving with these grow lamps to start seeds, cuttings and grow small edibles such as lettuce or strawberries. Setups like these can fit in the corner of your office, spare bedroom or kitchen. Or you can go a little bigger with a grow tent and an HID grow lamp to grow fruiting crops such as tomatoes or citrus. Grow tents come in small sizes for just a couple of trays of seedlings, or can be the size of a spare bedroom if you want to grow lots of plants at once. You can grow as simply, or as complicated as you like.

Indoor gardening - houseplants“For fruiting crops, pepper plants are always a good beginner crop, as peppers are fairly easy to grow and are forgiving of forgetful waterers. For houseplant lovers, African violets are a good starter plant, as are phalaenopsis orchids. But you can grow almost anything indoors if you can create the right environmental conditions and provide the right kind of light. If you have more experience with general gardening, then you might jump into growing tomatoes and citrus indoors.”

Above, LED grow lights sustain houseplants in a dim interior. Below, a tabletop grow light planter​.

Although the book is written for home gardeners, Halleck says the information it presents is also applicable to commercial growers. A growing interest in indoor gardening has cropped up as product developers and plant researchers have narrowed down how light fixtures can supply just the right spectrum for optimum plant growth, which ordinary residential lamps and lighting fixtures fail to do. 

Indoor gardening - fern“Not all grow lamps are the same, or can be used with the same plants. Standard home lighting equipment is often not adequate for good plant growth due to the type and volume of light output. With urban farming and indoor food production growing in popularity, understanding grow lighting is key to getting a good harvest,” Halleck says.

Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers is available hardbound for $29.95 or at a reduced price as a digital file for electronic readers. The book may be purchased from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bam and Indiebound, or ordered through any independent bookstore. Signed copies are also available from Halleck’s website.

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