What are you doing to provide the needed light for your indoor plants now that shorter, gray days of winter have arrived?

Many homes, apartments and offices do not afford enough natural light to bring foliage plants to their potential of beauty and it is frequently impossible to have any flowering plants at all.

To a plant, light is life. Sunlight provides the energy with which plants convert natural elements (water, carbon dioxide and fertilizer) into green growth and flowers. Fortunately for indoor gardeners, plants can carry on this process (called photosynthesis) when man-made sunlight is the sole source of light.

Artificial lighting for plant growth is being used by more and more indoor gardeners.

Two types of artificial light are available, incandescent and fluorescent. Light energy from electrical sources is not unlike the sun and can be broken into the colors of the rainbow. Reasearch has shown that plants use chiefly the red and blue bands of light. Blue light is needed for growth and red light for flowering. Few indoor light sources emit all the colors.

Incandescent lights, used alone, are unable to support plant life because they emit insufficient blue radiation. They can be used, however, to increase the number of light hours sun-grown plants receive. For instance, when lights are turned on in living quarters in the evening, this light supplements the amount of intensity of indirect sunlight the plants have received earlier in the day. Plants must be placed far enough away from an incandescent light source so that heat from the bulbs will not burn leaves.

Excellent quality tropical foliage plants can be maintained with predominantly blue light such as that from fluorescent lighting. Fluorescent tubes release little heat. Because they do not get hot, they can be placed close to plants, usually a distance of 6 to 12 inches. They are two and a half to three times as efficient in use of energy and last about 15 times as long as incandescent bulbs.

With a comparatively simple addition of fluorescent lighting, you can greatly increase your success and satisfaction in indoor gardening. Two parallel fluorescent tubes provide sufficient light for a shelf of plants the same length as the tubes.

A light fixture holding two fluorescent tubes of 20 watts each 24 inches long is the minimum practical size for setting up a light garden. Table units of this size are featured in seed catalogs or are for sale at local garden centers.

A 24-inch electrical fixture, available at electrical supply shops, an be adapted for kitchen shelves, bookshelves, or elsewhere in the home or office, where plants are grown.

A more ambitious beginning in indoor light gardening can be made with installation of a fixture ordinarily referred to as shop light. The shop light is 48 inches long and holds two 40-inch tubes. With this type of fixture hung over a work bench or table in the basement or spare room, the indoor gardener can keep plants in good health propagate new plants from cuttings or seeds or get on early start with seedlings for use in the outdoor garden.

Ordinary cool white and warm white tubes, one of each per fixture, are adequate for the all-purpose light garden.

Experience and increased interest in gardening under lights are almost certain to lead the indoor gardener to try other tubes developed especially for plant growth, which emit different qualities of red and blue light. Some special lamps, with trade names such as Gro-Lux, Wide Spectrum and Verilux Trubloom, throw a soft white light that is easy to incorporate into home decorating schemes.

In addition to color and intensity, the duration of lighting is important. Most plants grown under lights, need 14 to 16 hours a day. The plants must be watered and fertilized regularly. To assure maximum benefit from the light source, the surface of tubes should be cleaned periodically to remove dust, and plant foliage also should be cleaned often.