While today’s gamut of gardening varieties is seemingly endless, indoor gardening offers both a way for first-time gardeners to ease into the hobby and a way for those with little yard space to enjoy greenery year-round.
Just because you have a small—or non-existent—yard doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice a dream to a garden. Indoor gardening provides gardeners a whole new way to get creative in the field.
As opposed to outdoor gardening, where elements such as climate and light or water supply are naturally determined, indoor gardening is controlled entirely by the gardener. While this can present some conundrums—you must be aware of the easily avoidable indoor gardening troubles—indoor gardens are well worth the extra time and care they require.
About Indoor Herb Gardens
To get your indoor herb garden started, simply use regular potting soil. Experts agree that it is the best and easiest way to get started because you don’t have to worry about mixing different materials together, especially if you are a novice at gardening.
Remember that different types of herbs will have different needs, so be sure to follow the directions on the back of the seed package in order to get the best results. Once you have planted the seeds in their pots or containers, keep the soil moist until they germinate by misting the soil lightly. You also want to be sure that your herbs get plenty of sun, so place them in a window where they will receive a lot of light during the day. Once the herbs sprout, be careful not to over-water them, or else they could be harmed.
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Once your herbs have sprouted, it is beneficial to snip them down. Snipping your herbs will actually promote further growth and will allow you to incorporate your fresh herbs into your meals almost immediately.
Other Indoor Gardening Tips
- For aesthetic purposes, choose a container for your herbs that fits in with the overall decor of your home. Remember that almost anything can work as a planter, so be creative; however, if you are going to use a galvanized container be sure to line it with plastic first.
- Some people like to add bark chips and stones to the container to provide aeration.
- Most herbs come with identification tags that stick into the soil quality. This is important for identifying your herbs so that you can cater to their very specific needs.
- If you purchase already grown herbs you have two options: you can take it out of its container, dig a hole and place it in a new one, or leave it in its original container.
- Herbs can thrive inside their original pots for the first season of growth. After that, they may outgrow their pot and require a larger container.
- Adequate sunlight is extremely important when growing healthy herbs. Most herbs require 10 to 12 hours of sunlight a day. If your home is not conducive to this much light, consider investing in a grow light to help supplement. Artificial lighting is available at most home and garden stores.
- Indoor herbs require less fertilization than outdoor herbs. Be sure to read the directions on the seed packages to make sure your herbs are getting the proper amount of fertilization.
- As a general rule, you don’t want to put anything in the herb’s soil that you wouldn’t want to consume. Be careful about what types of pesticides you use when dealing with your herbs. There are many organic pesticides that have no harmful side effects on humans.
- Air circulation is also extremely important when dealing with herbs. You might consider placing a small fan, on low, near your herbs. This will also help keep the pests away.
- Know when to move your herbs to a larger container. When the roots begin bursting out of the current container, it’s time for relocation. Place some wood chips at the bottom of the new container then transplant the herb, root system and all, into the new container and fill with soil.
If you grow herbs in your outdoor garden, fall is the perfect time to begin dividing them. That way you can have a healthy, indoor herb garden all winter long. You may choose a single, large container to place multiple herbs in or separate containers for each herb.
Read More: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Gardening
Indoor Gardening 101
First, let’s get the difference between indoor and outdoor gardening out of the way. Outdoors, plants rely on natural light and water sources and are subject to frosts, droughts, and any other weather changes.
Indoors, you control the plants’ environment entirely; plants’ sources of light, shade, water, and other elements are all in your hands. The benefit to indoor gardening, aside from the obvious gardening opportunity for property renters, is that you can cultivate plants in special environments (say, tropical plants in a terrarium) that will last for more than a season (like an outdoor plant).
While special plants can require more work, the labor pays off beautifully. Here, we’ll go through the basic steps for setting up your own indoor garden.
Space for Indoor Gardening
First, determine where your garden will go. Look for open spaces that receive indirect sunlight; though some plants will prosper in full sunlight, many will actually burn in it. Instead, look for areas that receive indirect sunlight. If you don’t have any spaces lit naturally (or you don’t have any big enough for a few pots or a planter), choose a different spot with ample overhead room for grow lights. Also, look for a relatively low-traffic location; too much motion can disturb the plants’ environment and cause unsightly soil spills. Unused closets and basements are well-suited to indoor gardens as you often can control their temperature and humidity easily.
For spaces lit by natural light, virtually no preparation is really required. However, for the more serious indoor gardener, or in spaces where light is lacking, prepping the space for an indoor garden does take a little effort.
- Reflect: Cover walls with reflective mylar or white paint; the layer will allow more light to reflect on your plants and, thus, your plants will absorb more energy.
- Protect: Place drop cloths or plastic trays under plants set on wood, carpet, or tiles surfaces to prevent water or other damage to those surfaces.
- Ventilate: Utilize an oscillating fan (or, for a windowsill garden, an ajar window) to foster air and humidity flow around your plants. Make sure air is constantly moving; if an air supply fixes directly on a plant for too long, it can dry the plant out.
- Illuminate: While you can use fluorescent lighting as a substitute for natural light, most indoor growers use HID, or high-intensity discharge, lights above plants. HID lights efficiently convert electricity into useable energy for plants; though they can be pricey, they’re very durable and usually long-lasting. Most HID lights will hang down from the ceiling, and the size of both your garden space and plants will determine the wattage required.
Plants, Containers, and Troubleshooting
Keep in mind that an indoor garden need not be large to make an impressive statement; oftentimes, a few ferns or creeping plants in striking containers will do the trick.
Certain types of showy plants thrive indoors as well, and a few well-placed varieties will enliven your interior landscape easily. For example, many tropical plants, such as palms, do well indoors.
Houseplants are susceptible to a few problems. Over-watering or inadequate container drainage can cause root rot, inadequate lighting, and excessive climate changes can prevent plants from flourishing, and pests can cause significant damage.
Combat these problems by monitoring waterings carefully, using distilled water over tap water. Move plants out of harmful light rays or supplement them with artificial light, and use natural pesticides, such as dish soap, to keep unwanted houseguests from taking up residence in your garden.
How to Care Indoor Herb Gardens
Many first-time indoor gardeners opt for an indoor herb garden, which is typically both smaller in scale than many indoor gardens and more easily maintained. Here, we’ll give you a simple indoor herb garden plan, a list of basic start-up supplies, and some recommendations on which herbs thrive where.
Really, all you need for an herb garden is a cool place with access to lots of natural sunlight (yes, a kitchen windowsill fits the bill) and a few small containers that could hold several plants.
- Small containers: Six-inch pots are a good standard herb pot; you can plant multiple seeds or small bulbs one inch apart in them.
- Small stones or bark chips: Layered at the bottom of containers, stones and bark chips allow proper aeration.
- Good soil: A good quality, loose soil should contain all the nutrients your herbs will need.
- Ventilation: Airflow will enhance the growth of your herbs, so place a small, oscillating fan nearby to foster the distribution of air particles and humidity.
- Herb seeds or small bulbs: Many herbs are grown from seeds or small bulbs. You can also transplant outdoor herbs to indoor pots.
- Light: Herbs require 10 to 12 hours of sunlight a day to really flourish. If your herbs are floundering, you may need to purchase a small, supplemental grow light.
How to Planting Indoor Herb
First, place a layer of small stones and bark chips at the bottom of your herb container; fill the container with soil.
If planting seeds or small bulbs, bury them under the soil surface an inch apart across the entire surface. Nursery-bought or transplant herbs that have already begun to grow can be planted in one of two ways; you can remove herbs from their containers and place them in holes dug into the potting soil, or you can plant the herbs and their containers in the potting soil. The latter method will contain root systems making growing and transplanting multiple herbs in one pot a cinch.
Herbs can grow in one pot for a season; when roots start to burst out of the container, you need to transplant them to a larger area using the same planting method described here.
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How to Grow Indoor Herbs
So which herbs will grow well in your indoor herb garden? Here are a few (and even some ways to use them):
A member of the onion family, chives have a delicate, onion flavor. The leaves of the chive plant resemble blades of grass, though the tubular green leaves are hollow. Chive seeds or small bulbs will take about 10 to 12 weeks to mature to edible status. Plant them in a 6-inch pot and place them in a window.
Parsley, which comes in both curly and flat-leaf varieties, has a mild lemony flavor; the flat-leaf variety is slightly stronger and commonly used in Italian cooking. Plant parsley seeds directly into six-inch pots, but limit one plant per pot as they can become quite vigorous. Parsley plants also take 10 to 12 weeks to mature. It’s also a biennial plant that dies in its second year.
Cilantro, the leaves from a coriander plant, has a sharp, slightly spicy flavor that makes it a favorite in both Asian and Mexican cooking. Plant seeds directly into 6-inch pots and limit one plant per pot. Cilantro also will take 10 to 12 months to mature for cooking use.
Basil, mint, lavender, and thyme are also common, easy-to-use herbs that should do well in indoor herb gardens.
Indoor Gardening Dos and Don’ts
Indoor gardening is ideal for those without backyards or gardeners interested in fostering plants not native to a particular outdoor climate, but the task is not without its downsides. Here, we’ll go over a few necessary dos and don’ts of indoor gardening to help you, and your garden, meet with beautiful success.
- Do use distilled water: Watering plants with cold tap water not only can shock them, but also can harm them with mineral deposits and unhealthy pH levels. Opt instead for room temperature distilled water when serving thirsty plants.
- Do keep air flowing around plants: Airflow will move humidity and air particles around your plants, allowing them to really breathe. Keep a small oscillating fan constantly moving air across your indoor garden.
- Do use natural pesticides: To keep your plants, family, and furry friends safe while combating houseplant pests, use natural pesticides such as dish soap, alcohol, and hot peppers.
- Do keep plant label: The small, informational paper stakes that come with plants at the time of purchase can come in handy should you need to fertilize or adjust light and temperature settings.
- Do make sure indoor plants are pet-friendly: Whether you’re introducing a pet to a plant or a plant to a pet, you’ll want to make sure your pet will survive if he or she decides to take a taste-test. You can find lists of safe plants on the Web or consult your local humane society for recommendations. A simple test you can do yourself is to snap a leaf off a plant and rub a bit of sap on your skin. If the area becomes red and irritated, leave that plant and its sap at the nursery for another pet-free home.
- Don’t over-water: The number one enemy of household plants is over-watering. Many plants succumb to root rot as a result of over-watering and/or insufficient container drainage. Don’t automatically water your plants on a set schedule; rather, water them when he is no longer moist, and then, water them only until he is moist. Never water to the point of draining.
- Don’t over-fertilize: A good quality, loose soil should contain enough nutrients to keep plants healthy for at least 10 to 12 weeks. Should you opt to fertilize, especially regarding herbs, make sure to use natural fertilizers or those safe for human consumption.
- Don’t neglect humidity levels: Interior air in your home can be dry. You’ll know your plants lacking enough humidity when they become brown at the tips.
- Don’t leave your plants in the dark: Indoor plants still need light, and when they aren’t getting enough, they’ll appear pale and have spindly, rather than full, growth. If your plants aren’t getting adequate light, supplement natural light sources with fluorescent or high-intensity discharge (HID) growth lights.
- Don’t overexpose plants: Exposing plants directly to both heat and drafts will speed up their drying processes and essentially be the same as leaving outdoor plants unprotected against the elements.
- Don’t ignore pests: Prevent houseplant pests before they even reach your home by checking plants over thoroughly at your nursery or garden center. Household plants are typically susceptible to spider mites, aphids, and other tiny nuisances, but these little guys can quickly turn into big problems when they spread to neighboring plants.
- Don’t let a plant overgrow its home: Plants’ roots become a jumbled mass when they’ve overgrown a pot; leaving plants in pots too long with this kind of root overlapping will eventually restrict the plant’s further growth and health. When a plant becomes too large for its container, re-pot it.
Indoor Gardening: Supplies to Get you Started
Starting an indoor garden does require a little preparation. Your space and lighting will likely be the biggest factors determining what supplies you’ll need to get your garden growing. Here, we’ll take a look at some basic and special needs supplies.
The Basics Indoor Gardening
No matter what type of indoor garden you’re planning, you’ll need these supplies for each of them.
Use drop cloths or plastic trays under your garden pots and planters to protect your surfaces from water damage and unsightly soil spills.
A good quality, loose potting soil should contain all the nutrients your houseplants will need for at least eight to 10 weeks. Plants growing for longer time periods may require some fertilization; add a water-soluble fertilizer at a recommended rate for your plant every few weeks. You can also add some nutrients to the soil by sprinkling pots with compost or fish emulsion.
Other than the plants themselves, one of the other key components in your home garden will be your plant containers. Choose containers big enough for their particular plants and make sure they drain well; standing water at container bases can cause deadly root rot. Plant tropical plants in plastic containers, which retain humidity better than clay or terra cotta containers.
- Distilled water:
Tap water can contain mineral deposits or harmful pH levels that can damage plants. Instead, water your plants with purified distilled water.
All plants benefit from airflow, so position them near windows or oscillating fans. Do make sure plants are not exposed to direct airflow for too long; if they are, they’ll likely dry.
To keep your family and pets safe, combat houseplant pests with natural pesticides such as dish soap, alcohol, and hot peppers.
The Special Needs: Lighting
Some houseplants will survive and thrive in simple pots placed in open, undisturbed areas of indirect sunlight. For these areas, you’ll need the basic supplies listed above. Some homes, though, might not have the large, low-traffic spaces indoor gardens demand; instead, you might find your garden fits best in a relatively dry unused closet or basement, where you’ll need to install special lighting.
Some indoor gardeners maintain fluorescent lighting is a fine substitution for natural or incandescent light; other indoor gardeners claim the pricier HID, or high-intensity discharge, lighting is the real way to go.HID lights are the same kind of energy-efficient, industrial lights used in street and parking lot lights; the bulbs turn electricity into a usable light and energy source for plants.
HID lights for home use are scaled-down and produced with the same commercial parts used in industrial HID lights for durability and longevity. The size of your garden and garden space will determine what HID bulb wattage you’ll need; most plants will sit a foot off the floor in a container, and most HID fixtures will hand about a foot down from the ceiling. For small rooms with 10 to 40 square feet of floor space, one 400 watts HID lighting system should be sufficient. Larger spaces should do well with a 600 or 1,000 watt HID lighting system.
While not typically necessary, light movers can certainly improve light dispersion around your garden. Electronic movers should be mounted securely to the ceiling. You can also use rope or chain pulleys to adjust the height of your lights.
More on Indoor Gardening Supplies
There are a number of things you will need in your arsenal to begin indoor gardening. Below are some of the major suppliers that are commonly used in indoor gardening.
Indoor Hydroponic Vegetables Growing
Hydroponics gardening has been around for literally thousands of years. Believe it or not, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon used hydroponics. The main feature of hydroponics gardening is that it does not use soil. A hydroponics system provides the plant with all the nutrients and water it needs. Hydroponics is extremely popular indoors not only because of the lack of messy soil, but also because it eliminates the disease, pests, and weeds. Hydroponics growing systems come in all sizes for your personal use and are fast and easy to set up and arrange by following a simple set of instructions.
Choosing Grow Lights
Plants need a lot of sunlight to survive and thrive. For people who live in areas where sunlight is not abundant, or simply for those dark winter months, grows to make a great artificial supplement to natural lights. Fluorescent lighting has long been the most popular form of grow lights. They are often used for seeding or low-light plants. However, more mature plants require a bit more light intensity. HID, or high-intensity lights, are now commonly being used on indoor plants. HID grow light systems are perfect for large groups of plants and can be easily strung from ceiling hooks. They plug right into an electrical outlet.
Nutrients and Fertilizers
- Foliar Sprays
You might be surprised to learn that plants can absorb water nutrients just as well through their leaves as their roots. Foliar sprays contain nutrients essential to house plants.
There is always debate over what is better for plants, organic or man-made nutrients. The truth is that both have their benefits as well as their drawbacks. Organic fertilizers provide the best flavor for vegetables and fruits. Man-made fertilizers have a much higher concentration of minerals that are essential in the growth of indoor plants.
The sad truth is that there isn’t a single fertilizer out there that can meet all your gardening needs. Supplements are often needed to maintain the health of your plants. Supplements often contain hormones, acids, and enzymes that do a good job of rounding out your plant’s dietary needs.
- Air and water purifiers:
Maintaining clean air and water in your home is essential for the life of your plants. Purifiers eliminate harmful contaminants such as mold and mildew from the air.
Reservoirs, trays, and pumps:
Think of these as the infrastructure for your indoor garden. Plants need trays to hold them, reservoirs for the water, and pumps to run the hydroponics systems.
When it comes to containers you have a number of different options in terms of sizes, drainage, and materials. Be sure to choose containers according to your particular plants’ needs.
Timers are great because they will remember to turn things on and off at the appropriate times even when you don’t. Timers eliminate many daily and hourly chores involved with gardening.
Being able to adjust the atmospheric conditions of your plant’s growing environment can be a huge benefit. Environmental controls allow you to control various things such as temperature, humidity, ventilation, carbon dioxide levels, lighting, and irrigation.
Exhaust Fans and Filters:
Indoor grow lights can create a lot of excess heat in your home, which can subsequently be harmful to your plants. Exhaust fans work to remove both excess heat as well as harmful carbon dioxide in your home.