How to start an indoor garden

Angela Watson

Decide which herbs, flowers, vegetables or fruits you want to grow to make starting an indoor garden as easy and fun as possible.

Grow plants year-round in an indoor garden

Indoor gardens are a great way to grow herbs, vegetables, fruits and flowers at any time of year. Even people who live in high-rise apartment buildings or in neighborhoods with minimal yard space can start a garden inside.

But growing an indoor garden requires some planning and preparation. So, before you start picking out seeds, there are some things you should know to make sure your garden is successful.

What you need for an indoor garden

Indoor gardens need many of the same things to get started as traditional gardens. But because resources are more limited inside, the first step is to figure out what you need.

Decide what to grow

Many types of plants can be grown inside. Some people prefer a simple selection of low-maintenance flowers, succulents and herbs. Others want crops with great yield. Both are viable options, but what you plan to grow has a major impact on what you need to grow it. Choose the seeds first. Then, decide what your indoor garden needs to grow.

Choose the best pots

When it comes to the plant pot, consider the material and how much space the plant (and its roots) will need.

Pots are made of different materials such as clay and plastic. While plastic pots are best for water retention, they can easily lead to overwatering. Clay, meanwhile, is more absorbent but doesn’t retain water well. Choose the type of pot based on how much water your plant needs. Get a pot with drainage holes and a drip tray to prevent overwatering and to catch any extra water or loose soil.

Size matters, too. A pot that is too small can stunt plant growth, but one that’s too large can lead to improper drainage and root rot. Some plants also need to be repotted at different stages of growth, so be prepared with a couple of different sizes.

Don’t forget the roots. Some plants have clumped roots and don’t require a lot of space. Others have far-reaching roots that need a lot of vertical room to grow.

Pick a growing medium

Unless you’re starting a hydroponic garden, you’ll need well-fertilized potting soil. Heavy potting soil is best for plants that need a lot of light because it doesn’t dry out too quickly. Lighter potting soil works better for plants that require less water or light. If the potting soil doesn’t come with fertilizer, or if your plants need more nutrients to grow, get a separate plant fertilizer so they can thrive.

Get gardening tools

Just like with any garden, a durable pair of gardening gloves will protect your hands from thorns or prickly bits while digging in soil, transplanting plants or harvesting produce. Common tools include a small garden trowel, hand rake and hand weeder. Another essential is a versatile watering can with a detachable sprinkler attachment or long spout. Small gardens may not require all the same tools as larger gardens, so keep that in mind when selecting tools.

Install grow lights

Some indoor gardens get enough natural sunlight from windows, but most need a substitute. Depending on the plants, they may need a full or partial spectrum grow light to grow. Consider installing a timer as well to keep track of how much light the plants get each day.

Plant the seeds

For traditional gardens, it’s best to start the seeds inside six weeks before the final frost. Indoor gardens can grow at any time, as long as the conditions are right. Simply prepare the space and tools you’ll need in advance and plant the seeds.

Keep the soil aerated

Plant roots need oxygen to survive, so if the soil is not properly aerated, they can die. The soil in potted plants becomes compacted over time, which prevents the roots from getting oxygen. Being careful not to break any roots, use an aerator or a stick to move around the dirt every so often to prevent this from happening.

Best plants for indoor gardens

Some plants are easier to grow than others, and some produce more yield than others. The easiest plants to grow inside include:

  • Herbs – mint, rosemary, basil and thyme
  • Flowering plants – lavender and jasmine
  • Succulents – aloe vera and cacti
  • Fruits – strawberries, banana plants and tomatoes
  • Vegetables – carrots, bell peppers, kale, onions, lettuce and chives

Keep in mind that plants requiring more space and other resources will be more difficult to grow indoors.

Benefits and limitations of indoor gardens

While indoor gardens have their advantages over traditional gardens, they also have drawbacks.

Benefits of indoor gardens

Here are the key advantages to growing plants inside.

Control of the environment: While traditional gardens are subject to limited resources and sudden changes in environment and weather, indoor gardens are not. Things like a short growing season or planting the seeds too late aren’t problems either.

Resource control: Plants grown inside can thrive with the right resources, including nutrients, water and temperature.

Fewer pests: Insects, slugs, rabbits, deer and other critters are a problem for outside gardens. Plants inside have little to worry about when it comes to pests and vermin.

No weeds: Potting soil does sometimes bring a small risk of weeds, but for the most part indoor gardens don’t require weeding.

Flexibility: You can grow an indoor garden wherever you live. When grown indoors, there are also ways to optimize space. Shelves, hanging baskets and mobile raised garden beds are all great ways to save space.

Limitations of indoor gardens

Despite their convenience, indoor gardens have a few noticeable drawbacks as well.

Lack of natural resources: While resources can mostly be controlled, potted plants often suffer from limited natural light, reduced space for their roots and poorly aerated soil.

Overcrowding and disease: When plants are grown too close together, they often end up crowding each other out. Not only that, but if a single plant happens to get a disease, any nearby plants could be impacted as well.

Overwatering: Plants grown indoors are at a higher risk of being overwatered and can drown if you’re not careful.

Pests and pets: Although uncommon, pests like mealybugs or aphids may frequent indoor plants. Since there aren’t natural predators to limit the spread of these harmful insects, they can damage the plants. Also, if you have indoor pets, they may chew on leaves, knock over pots, or even destroy plants. Some plants are toxic and can cause cats and dogs minor to severe health problems.

Cost and maintenance: Indoor gardens often cost more money because they require specialized equipment. They also require more patience, technical know-how, and overall maintenance. One system doesn’t fit all plants either, so it’s necessary to accommodate each plant.

Yield: Depending on nutrients and other resources, indoor plants may have less yield or less flavorful yield.

Pro tips on indoor gardening

If this is your first time growing plants indoors, start small. Figure out what types of plants you plan to grow and what they need to thrive at different stages of their growth cycle. This can prevent future headache and unnecessary expenses. To make starting an indoor garden easier, consider getting an all-in-one indoor garden kit. These kits include the essentials for growing a thriving garden.

Ultimately, monitor your plants carefully and make adjustments as needed. Growing a garden can be tough, but it’s also very rewarding.

Angela Watson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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