Have you ever been on a walk and stopped to admire a garden, wishing that you could have one of your own? Does living in an apartment or having a backyard with limited space keep you from growing fruits or vegetables? It may surprise you, but many annual plants grown outside can survive indoors. Still nervous about getting started? Don't worry, because indoor gardening for beginners can be fun and easy.
In this article, we will be exploring indoor gardening 101 by examining various techniques and strategies to help answer questions like:
- What is indoor gardening?
- Types of indoor gardening techniques
- Top 6 considerations for indoor gardening
- What plants are best for indoor gardening?
- Essential products and tools every indoor gardener needs
- 5 Useful indoor gardening tips for beginners
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a step back and talk about indoor gardening.
What is indoor gardening?
Indoor gardening is similar to growing an outdoor garden with the benefit of year-round harvests. You can grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and even flowers that brighten your living space. The climate-controlled features of your home make it possible to produce table-ready food with a few inputs.
Growing a garden is more than a way to reduce trips to the grocery store or provide greens to a kitchen composter like Lomi. Whether it's walking through the rows of tomatoes or sneaking past potted peppers, gardening can be an excellent source of stress relief. So when the climate limits what people can do outside or for those of us who are apartment dwellers lacking a backyard for a garden, indoor gardening is can be a great way to unwind. And since it's up to the grower, not the climate, to determine what they want to grow, an indoor garden can be as complicated or straightforward as it needs to be.
But before we dive into indoor gardening techniques, if this is your first time gardening indoors, take a deep breath. Agriculture has been a part of humanity since the dawn of human civilization. So even if you don't think you have a green thumb, it's there, engrained deep in our history. And with a bit of understanding of the basics of indoor gardening, you'll be obtaining a yield of fresh produce in no time.
Looking for some unique gardening gifts? Check out our indoor gardening gift guide here for 20+ great gift ideas!
Types of indoor gardening techniques
Indoor gardening comes with various choices, ranging from easy to more adept techniques. Here are three options to consider before beginning.
- Hydroponics system: This system removes the soil medium from the growing equation and replaces it with water and nutrients. Hydroponic growing ranges in complexity, requiring an understanding of pH and how to balance nutrients, meaning that additional research on the growers' end may be necessary.
- Aquaponics system: The Aquaponics system combines the nutrient-rich effluent of a managed fish tank and the accessible roots of garden crops to produce a closed system. While the initial setup can take time to establish a proper balance, it's possible to yield a great harvest of fish and vegetables in a small space.
- Soilless system: With nothing more complicated than a container filled with potting soil, a soilless growing medium is your standard indoor gardening strategy. Easily transportable, you can move your garden freely around the house or even onto a balcony or patio for a little extra light.
Top 6 considerations for a garden indoors
There are lots of tips on indoor gardening for beginners, but let's dive deeper into the most accessible and versatile system: working with a soilless medium. There are six things to consider as you prepare your indoor garden: location, light, water, temperature, a growing medium, and nutrients. Let's jump into each of these a bit more.
1. Location, Location, Location
Determining the ideal location for your future indoor garden is fundamental to the success of indoor plants. Consider your indoor environment first. Plants positioned farther from a south-facing window (for those located in the Northern Hemisphere) may require supplemental lighting to be equally as productive. The location in the house also determines what you can grow. For example, a bathroom window may not be the right place for a large tomato plant, but it could be ideal for a small tropical plant.
Ideally, when indoor gardeners want to grow larger plants, they find a space that accommodates their eventual max size. But when limited on space and wanting to produce something like a tomato or eggplant, consider "patio" or "miniature" varieties. These plants grow into a more compact size and are less likely to overtake your other crops.
PRO TIP: Consider choosing a location based on a plant's hierarchy of needs. Does the location have light? Is it close to a water source and is it in a place that won’t easily be forgotten?
2. The right light for photosynthesis
Plants require light for photosynthesis, the process that fuels them, but how much light? When choosing a location, ask yourself if you can utilize natural sunlight with a south-facing window or if you will need to grow under the glow of artificial lighting? On average, annual vegetable plants will need between 6 and 8 hours of direct sunlight to produce flowers and fruit.
When working with limited natural light, remember that the opposite sides of the house produce a different quality of light. Eastern morning light is less harsh; excellent for delicate plants that only need 4 hours of direct sunlight. Meanwhile, the western afternoon sunlight is hot and intense, great for those sun-loving hot peppers.
Finally, there are various options to consider when exploring artificial lighting, ranging from Fluorescent to LED and even High-Intensity Discharge (HID) for the home-grown professional. Be sure to research which light may be best for your unique space. And while we're here, it is essential to note that some plant growth stages require various sunlight hours (a response that informs the plant that the seasons are changing). If you are growing with grow lights, make sure to research how to adjust your sunlight hours to match your chosen fruits and vegetables.
PRO TIP: When growing next to a window, it is natural for indoor plants to want to lean towards the bright light. Be sure to rotate your containers frequently to ensure distributed growth.
3. Remember to water your plants regularly
Novice and expert gardeners alike have had a moment of panic from forgetting to water their plants. Under watering a plant can lead to stunted growth while over-watering can result in root rot. An incorrect watering strategy can lead to the death of your plant, so be sure to check your plants at least once a week to see if they need a drink.
The easiest way to see if a plant needs water is to poke a finger an inch into the soil to see if it is still damp. For larger containers, gently lift them to determine how much water remains. Suppose you have to transport your plants frequently. In that case, it is essential to know that a fully saturated container can become very heavy. Carry carefully or wait until the plant's roots wick up some of the water before moving.
PRO TIP: The best way to ensure your plants' roots don't drown is to guarantee the bottom of the container has a drainage hole. Place a tray beneath the container and catch any runoff water.
4. Choosing the temperature plants prefer
Regardless of how hardy your plants are, even the strongest will struggle against the hottest days of summer or frosty nights of fall. Luckily, indoor plants can take advantage of the climate-controlled security of your home.
Your indoor garden will generally enjoy temperatures between 60-75F (15-24C). But each plant will have different preferences, growing best at select temperatures. If you like your home or apartment at a specific temperature, consider finding plants to match your unique environment.
Some perennial plants use the cool winter months as a period for them to go dormant. If you have selected one of these plants, research its dormancy period. Depending on the specific plant's recommendations, withhold fertilizers and reduce watering, as plants don't require near as much during this stage.
PRO TIP: While you're choosing a place to house your indoor plants over winter, take care not to place your tender plants in cold zones that can shock them, limiting plant growth. These can occur around windows and doors that you may open, even briefly.
5. Select a soilless medium to grow
A growing medium can be as simple as traditional vegetable potting soil and complex as a custom-crafted mixture. Regardless of your medium, ensure you select one that contains enough minerals and nutrients to support early plant growth.
It is essential when growing indoors not to use outdoor dirt. The dirt outside is a combination of sand, silt, and clay, which is great for the ground but not for potted plants. This mistake can lead to a compacted pot that drains slowly and chokes plant roots. Outdoor dirt can also bring harmful bacteria and pests to your plants, potentially damaging or killing them.
PRO TIP: Choose a well-draining soil or make one that combines compost, peat, and vermiculite, providing an airy soil with good moisture retention. Consider using an equal part combination as seen in Mel's Mix and the Square Foot Gardening method.
6. What nutrients to feed your plants
Beyond selecting a proper potting soil, choosing the proper plant food can help plants to thrive indoors. Composting at home, whether in a backyard space or inside, can allow you the opportunity to grow plants using your own processed nutrients.
But as your plants grow, they will slowly consume the initial nutrients present in the growing medium. Depending on how quickly your plant feeds, you will need to feed it monthly, or potentially even less. As you provide food for your plant, it is helpful to understand how each nutrient deficiency varies visually. This knowledge will allow you to remediate the problem without potentially overfeeding your plant the incorrect nutrients.
It is essential that your plants get a balanced diet of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K), as these are the primary nutrients. Often overlooked, Calcium (C) and Magnesium (Mg) are secondary nutrients that are just as important to the healthy development of a crop.
What types of plants are best for an indoor garden?
Once you've gathered the supplies necessary for your indoor garden, it's time to plant your seeds or seedlings. Each plant has different needs, so instead of looking at the perfect single plant, let's examine three separate categories: Leafy Greens, Aromatic Herbs, and Vegetables.
1. Leafy greens
Great for making salads, these herbaceous vegetables do well in moderate light and are more tolerable to cold. As a bonus, some leafy greens can be used in a cut-and-come-again strategy, allowing you multiple harvests over an extended time. But be cautious when choosing your leafy greens, as certain varieties like Kale can grow to be quite large.
Some popular leafy greens include cruciferous vegetables—such as arugula and collard greens—and other plants such as spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, and even flowering Nasturtiums. And, like with all kitchen food and organic waste, toss the leftovers into your Lomi.
2. Aromatic herb garden
Herb gardens make a great addition to any indoor garden. With their alluring aromatic oils, it can be difficult to walk past your favorite fresh herbs without rubbing the leaves between your fingers or sneaking a nibble of the robust flavor. But, like leafy vegetables, be sure to select your indoor herb garden wisely, as many plants can vary drastically in preferences.
Plants such as oregano and sage do well in dry conditions, while mint and parsley do better with regular watering. While chives prefer full sun, they benefit from the early morning light. On the other hand, thyme also enjoys full, late-afternoon sun, likely due to its Mediterranean origins.
3. Indoor vegetable garden
Most people think of larger vegetable crops when fantasizing about their ideal indoor garden. And while you'll never get rows of carrots or towers of tomatoes, you can grow plenty of food from your windowsill. The only downside with more vigorous vegetable production comes with light and container limitations. These vegetables may require supplemental lighting and the occasional repotting if you want to get the most out of your garden. Ultimately, not all vegetables will prosper indoors.
For the indoor gardening beginner, some great crops to consider include carrots, hot peppers, and tomatoes. Carrots are great root crops, needing a deep container to grow appropriately. The incredibly hard-to-kill tomato plant is also an excellent starter for new gardeners. When searching for the right plant, select a patio variety and install a trellis or cage in the pot over the young plants. If you don't, you'll have a runaway tomato in a few months!
If you're struggling to get the 8-hours of direct sunlight for your plants, consider other root crops such as beets and radishes. These crops can still produce a quality crop with 6-hours of daily light. And finally, avoid both heavy feeding plants and adventurous travelers like pumpkins, squash, and watermelons.
The 4 essential products & tools every indoor gardener needs
The best way to tell which tools will work best for your garden is to begin and see what you can use to make your life easier. Ultimately, your gardening shouldn't become a daunting task that you dread, so let's explore a few essential products that will help you and your indoor garden.
Lomi is a kitchen appliance that can break down food waste, organic waste, and other Lomi Approved materials. Using Lomi's Grow Mode, you can turn leftover food and organic waste into nutrient-dense dirt. This soil amendment can be used as a top-soil in your indoor gardening routine at a ratio of 1:10.
Why you need it: The Lomi is helping to make garbage optional by taking your waste left from your garden's harvest and using it instead of sending it to the local landfill. Once your garden is producing ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, you're going to wish you had purchased a Lomi.
The Smart Garden by Click and Grow takes all the effort of growing plants indoors and puts them into a single product. The basic kit comes with space for three plants and is calibrated to automatically water, light, and feed your crops.
Why you need it: This kit is an excellent product for beginner indoor gardeners and pros alike. This product takes the prep work out of your gardening experience, providing everything you need to literally "click and grow." Whether you want to start small because of time restrictions or space, the Smart Garden is an excellent addition to an indoor garden.
If this is your first time gardening, purchasing a complete kit to have handy would be worth it. Look for necessities such as hand trowels, gloves, pruning shears, spray bottles, and garden ties.
Why you need it: While it is possible to garden using materials you find around the house, having access to a complete garden toolset will make the process faster and cleaner. Even if you don't mind getting your hands dirty, using the proper tools will reduce the chance of damaging your vegetables, leading to infection or death to part or all of the plant.
Seeds must meet specific heat, moisture, and oxygen criteria to germinate. Seedling heat pads are a great way to ensure your tender seeds have adequate heat to promote germination.
Why you need it: If you're growing your vegetables from seed, heat pads provide uniform heat to the entire tray of seeds. This warmth helps to simulate the warm spring/summer soil. It may be necessary if you are germinating your crop in a cold location, such as a basement.
Top 5 useful indoor gardening tips for beginners
Learning how to start an indoor garden can be overwhelming. No matter how much reading and preparation you make, there is always a chance that your garden's needs will eventually catch you off guard. Just remember these five helpful indoor gardening tips.
- Water regularly: It is essential to keep your plants well-watered, but don't confuse this with overwatered. Plants prefer to have their roots in a moist environment, so allowing the soil to dry out can damage the vital root system of the plant. Make sure your pots have holes in the bottom to let excess water leave the container.
- Feed on a schedule: Plants get hungry and show signs of stress to let you know they've gone too long without plant food. The feeding frequency will change depending on how mature the plant is, so closely monitor your garden's feeding schedule to prevent unnecessary stress.
- Watch for disease and pests: When a plant stresses from a lack of water or food, it becomes weak and susceptible to both disease and pests. In a closed environment, such as an apartment, when problematic insects find their way into the garden, it can lead to an infestation that affects all neighboring plants. Keep an eye out for the common pests (aphids, spider mites, thrips, etc.) and be prepared to act fast.
- Give your plants room to breathe: The bushy bodies of your plants will block airflow and trap moisture when they're too close together. Keep some space between your plants to promote airflow and reduce the likelihood of mold or fungus forming.
- Give yourself room to breathe: Whether this is your first, tenth, or hundredth time gardening indoors, remember to take a step back and breathe. Every time you grow a new plant, it is an entirely new moment full of unique challenges and rewards. Remember to enjoy the moment, be present, and learn from any successes and failures you experience.
With these tips and tricks, you're well on your way to starting your indoor garden! If you’re curious about how to compost all extra organic waste, you’ll soon be producing, check out our blog on how to compost in an apartment. Then head over to our Lomi page to learn more about how it works and see what others are saying about it!
Written by: Tanner Sagouspe