This article is my guide to indoor gardening for beginners interested in growing plants indoors.
Gardening in a four-season climate, I often get questions about indoor gardening. Most people get stuck on how and whether it is difficult or time-consuming to start.
The herbs yield fast results with minimum effort, and hot peppers may be slower to develop but are fun to follow as they start to flower and fruit.
But indoor gardening is, of course, so much more and involves everything from herbs and vegetables to houseplants and fruiting plants.
Starting an indoor garden with plants bought at a local nursery is not cheating. But as you will see, starting your plants from seeds or cuttings is relatively easy.
Indoor gardening is a great way to improve air quality, reduce stress, and add greenery to your home while growing fresh produce for your family.
And success is almost guaranteed if you pay attention to a few essential key factors.
With the right knowledge and tools, you can create a beautiful and thriving indoor garden that will brighten your home and put food on your table all year.
What you will learn today: - Choose the right plants, containers, and growing conditions to ensure a healthy, thriving, and high-yielding indoor garden. - Understand seed germination, soil and nutrients, plant care, and maintenance to keep your indoor garden healthy and productive. - Key indoor gardening techniques to fit all budgets to help take your indoor gardening to the next level.
- Understanding Indoor Gardening
- Choosing the Right Plants
- Seed Germination
- Optimal Growing Conditions
- Choosing the Right Container
- Understanding Soil and Nutrients
- Plant Care and Maintenance
- Advanced Indoor Gardening Techniques
- Budgeting for Indoor Gardening
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What are some essential supplies needed for indoor gardening?
- What are some easy indoor plants to start with for beginners?
- How do you properly care for indoor plants?
- What are some benefits of indoor gardening?
- What are some tips for maintaining an indoor herb garden?
- What are some common mistakes to avoid when starting an indoor garden?
Understanding Indoor Gardening
If you are new to home gardening, indoor gardening is a great way to start.
Indoor gardening allows you to grow year-round, regardless of climate and outdoor weather conditions. And you can start as small or big as you want, making it perfect for beginners with limited space.
As the name suggests, indoor gardening involves growing plants inside your home, apartment, or other indoor space using containers, hydroponic systems, or soil-based systems.
Read about the small indoor hydroponic systems I use and recommend.
Choosing the right plants for your space is important, but you must also consider factors like lighting, temperature, and humidity.
Your Indoor Gardening Space
It all starts with an inventory of your available gardening space. And here, it is easy to get too ambitious.
Start small and ensure you get light, humidity, and temperature right.
To be successful, you need to choose an area with abundant access to natural light or be prepared to use artificial grow lights.
For some parts of the year, south-facing windows are ideal for plants that require a lot of sunlight where I live. And east or west-facing windows work great for plants that prefer indirect light.
But what about the darker times of the year when there is hardly any natural sunlight?
This is when you need to use grow lights.
When choosing your gardening space, ensure at least 8 hours of light per day for your entire grow area. And if your gardening space is large, this could mean buying larger and more costly grow lights.
You also need to consider the temperature and humidity of your indoor growing space.
A temperature between 15 – 24 degrees Celsius / 60 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity levels between 40-60% works well for most plants. But when you are starting out, use the rule of thumb that your plants are comfortable if you are.
Buying a humidifier, dehumidifier, or thermostat is an optional expense as you are starting out.
Regarding containers, there are a variety of options to choose from.
You can use traditional plant pots and containers or even repurpose items like mason jars and food-safe containers.
Ensure your containers have drainage holes to prevent water from accumulating, causing waterlogged soil and increasing the risk of root rot and other diseases.
Also, always place containers on a saucer or tray to collect water runoff and protect the surface.
Choosing the right growing medium is crucial for the success of your indoor garden.
Potting soil or soil-less potting mixes are great choices, but you should avoid using outdoor soil from your garden. This soil is too dense, and you risk introducing pests and diseases into your indoor garden.
You want well-draining soil with good moisture retention.
Regardless of your chosen growing medium, you need to fertilize your plants regularly to ensure they have a steady supply of nutrients.
Regular watering is important for all indoor plants. But regular does not necessarily mean often.
Each plant has individual needs, but as a rule, you should strive to maintain even soil moisture.
So when and how often should you water?
There are no clear-cut rules but several helpful guidelines
- Smaller pots hold less growing medium and dry out faster
- Larger plants have larger root systems and dry out faster
- Growing mediums dry out faster in warmer temperatures
- Some plants prefer a slight dry-out between waterings – read the seed packet
- A slight dry-out is “better” than plants sitting in constant wet
- A pot with dry soil weighs less than a pot with moist soil
- Bottom watering allows the growing medium to absorb what it can hold
Check the soil regularly, and always water at the base of the plant. Investing in a watering can with a long spout makes it easier to water without getting the leaves wet.
Choosing the Right Plants
Choosing the right plants is crucial for success in all indoor gardening. Some plants are easier than others, and with so many great plants, why choose ill-suited or overly challenging plants when you start your first indoor gardening?
Here are some of my favorites, ideal for indoor gardening beginners:
I am more of a grow-to-eat type of home gardener, but I will, of course, include house plants in this guide.
Because gardening is also about beauty and the well-being created when practicing this wonderful hobby.
And indoor plants are a great option for beginners since they are typically low-maintenance and can thrive in various conditions. Some popular indoor plants include the snake plant, peace lily, and aloe.
These broadleaf plants add a touch of greenery to any room and are great for purifying the air.
Herbs, especially aromatic culinary herbs, are among my favorite plants to grow indoors.
They are easy to grow and will add fresh layers of flavor to your cooking.
Do not think that only great chefs need fresh herbs to cook complicated recipes. Quite the contrary, fresh herbs help so-so chefs add flavors and interest to everyday cooking.
Some popular herbs for indoor gardening include basil, parsley, chives, and thyme. These delicate plants require a lot of sunlight, so place them near a sunny window.
Related: Grow herbs (category page)
Growing vegetables indoors is more challenging than growing herbs or plants – but it can be done.
Popular veggies for indoor gardening include carrots, spinach, kale, arugula, and leafy greens.
These veggies require a lot of light, so consider investing in a grow light to ensure they get enough.
Related: Garden vegetables (category page)
Fruit trees are not the best option for indoor gardening beginners as they require a lot of space and can be difficult to care for.
Instead, opt for smaller fruits like strawberries, tomatoes, and hot peppers that can be grown indoors.
Again, you must invest in a full spectrum grow light to succeed.
Microgreens are probably the easiest plants to grow when starting your indoor garden.
Grow on soil, in water, or in a self-watering paper towel system – whichever you choose; you are almost guaranteed to be successful.
Microgreens can be grown in small containers and are perfect for adding color to your indoor garden.
Starting plants from seeds is an affordable and rewarding way to grow your indoor garden. Here are the essentials you should know about seed germination.
When selecting seeds, choose high-quality seeds from a reputable source. I prefer to look for organic, non-GMO seeds suited to indoor growing conditions.
Consider the type of plant you want to grow and the conditions it needs to thrive. Some plants, such as herbs and leafy greens, are easier to grow from seeds than others.
- Start by checking the last expected frost date in your area. You can find this information through your local nursery or a simple internet search.
- Choose a container with drainage holes and fill it with a good-quality seed-starting mix. Pre-moisten the seed-starting mix.
- Plant seeds according to the instructions on the seed packet. If you are unsure, as a rule of thumb, most seeds should be planted at a depth of 2-3 times their diameter.
- Water the soil lightly and cover the container with plastic wrap or a clear lid to create a mini greenhouse.
- Place the container in a warm, bright location, such as a sunny windowsill or under grow lights.
- Check the soil moisture regularly and water as needed. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to mold and root rot.
- Once the seeds sprout, remove the plastic cover and move the container to a cooler location with good air circulation.
- Water the seedlings as needed and fertilize them with a balanced fertilizer once they sprout their first true leaves.
Remember that not all seeds will germinate, so it’s a good idea to plant a few extra seeds to ensure success. With a little patience and care, you can enjoy a bountiful indoor garden, from seed to sprouts.
Optimal Growing Conditions
Indoor gardening requires specific growing conditions to be optimal for growing plants. And whereas all plants have individual needs, there are some essential factors you should consider when starting your indoor garden.
Plants need light for photosynthesis, essential for their growth and survival. When it comes to indoor gardening, light is one of the most important factors to consider.
Most indoor plants require natural sunlight to thrive, but not all plants require the same amount of light.
Some plants, such as succulents and cacti, prefer direct sunlight, while others, such as ferns and spider plants, thrive in low-light conditions. It’s important to research the light requirements of your specific plants to ensure they get the right amount of light they need.
Temperature is another important factor to consider when growing plants indoors. Most houseplants prefer temperatures between 21-26 degrees Celsius / 70 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some plants, such as tropical plants, prefer warmer temperatures, while others, such as succulents, prefer cooler temperatures.
Maintaining a consistent temperature is crucial for the health of your plants. Fluctuations in temperature can cause stress to your plants and affect their growth.
My wonderful wife likes to place attractive plants around the house when we have guests. And I keep telling her it is a bad idea as plants growing well in a spot are best left alone. Changing the environment can be detrimental to the plant's well-being. (Yes, we still move them)
Water is essential for the growth and survival of plants.
But both overwatering and underwatering are detrimental to your plant’s health.
And as not all plants are equally thirsty, you must research the water needs of your specific plants to ensure you are providing them with the right amount of water.
Most plants prefer to be watered when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. When watering your plants, use room-temperature water to avoid shocking your plants. It’s also important to ensure your pots have proper drainage to prevent water from accumulating at the bottom of the pot.
Humidity levels can also affect the growth and health of your plants. Most indoor plants prefer humidity levels between 40-60%. However, some plants, such as tropical plants, prefer higher humidity.
Use a humidifier or place a water tray near your plants to increase humidity levels. Misting your plants with water can also help increase humidity levels.
Unless you specialize in tropical plants, I recommend placing a tray of water or simply misting plants that require extra humidity.
Airflow is important for the health of your plants. Good air circulation can help prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
Giving each plant enough growing space is usually sufficient to promote healthy airflow. But if you are growing your plants in an ill-ventilated area, using a fan to help circulate the air can be helpful.
Avoid placing your plants in a drafty area, as this can cause stress to your plants. And remember that air vents also create drafts and streams of air.
Choosing the Right Container
The container you choose will affect the growth of your plants, so it’s important to choose wisely.
Luckily, choosing a pot or container is relatively easy as long as you consider two main factors: pot selection and space requirements.
Selecting the ideal pot scones down to three factors: Drainage, pot size, and material.
Make sure the pot has drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. If the pot doesn’t have drainage holes, your plants may become waterlogged and eventually die.
Secondly, consider the size of the pot. The size of the pot will depend on the size of your plant and its root system. If the pot is too small, the plant’s roots will become cramped and stunted. If the pot is too large, the soil will retain too much moisture, which can lead to root rot.
Lastly, consider the material of the pot. Plastic pots are lightweight and inexpensive but may not be as aesthetically pleasing as ceramic or terracotta pots. Ceramic and terracotta pots are heavier and more expensive, but they are also more durable and can add a decorative touch to your indoor garden.
When choosing your container, it’s also important to consider the space requirements of your plants. Some plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, require larger pots to accommodate their root systems. Other plants, such as herbs and lettuce, can thrive in smaller pots.
In addition to the size of the pot, consider the space requirements of your indoor garden. Make sure you have enough space to accommodate all of your plants and that they are not too crowded. If your plants are too close together, they may compete for resources and become stunted.
Understanding Soil and Nutrients
Understanding soil and nutrients is crucial for the health and growth of your plants. This section will cover the basics of soil types and nutrient requirements.
There are several types of soil that you can use for indoor gardening. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Potting Mix: This is a soilless mix made of materials like coco coir, peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. It is lightweight and provides good drainage, which is important for indoor plants.
- Potting Soil: This is a mixture of soil, sand, and organic matter, such as compost. It is heavier than potting mix and provides more nutrients to your plants.
- Outdoor Soil: Do not use outdoor soil for indoor plants as it is too compact, and you risk introducing pests and diseases from outside.
If you must use garden soil, it is important to sterilize it first to prevent pests and diseases from spreading. You can sterilize soil by baking it in the oven or microwaving it.
Plants need three main nutrients to grow: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These are often referred to as NPK.
Nitrogen is important for leaf growth, phosphorus is important for root growth, and potassium is important for overall plant health.
You can provide these nutrients to your plants through fertilizer. Many different types of fertilizer are available, including organic and synthetic options.
Always follow the instructions on the fertilizer package to avoid over-fertilizing your plants.
In addition to fertilizer, it’s important to maintain proper soil moisture levels. Over-watering can lead to root rot, while under-watering can cause your plants to wilt and die.
Plant Care and Maintenance
Let’s look at some basic plant care and maintenance tips that every beginner should know.
Plants should be watered as needed rather than on a fixed schedule. And always bottom water or top water your plants at the base. You want to avoid getting the leaves wet.
Overwatering can damage the plant’s roots and prevent it from growing, while underwatering can flat-out kill it.
I recommend using one of the following three techniques to determine if your plant needs watering.
- Finger-knuckle method: Check the soil moisture level by sticking your finger about an inch deep into the soil. If it feels dry two knuckles deep, it’s time to water the plant.
- Watering by weight: Here, practice makes perfect, but lifting the plant and feeling its weight will tell you if the soil is dry and needs watering.
- Soil moisture meter: Soil moisture meters are inexpensive and will indicate whether the soil is dry, moist, or wet and the depth of the probe. Be sure to use room temperature water and avoid getting water on the leaves, as this can lead to fungal growth.
Regardless of the method, use room-temperature water to avoid shocking the plant.
Pests are less of a problem in an indoor garden but can still be a problem for indoor plants.
To prevent and control pests, regularly inspect your plants for signs of infestation, such as yellowing leaves or webbing. If you notice any pests, isolate the affected plant and treat it with an appropriate insecticide or pesticide.
Apart from regularly inspecting your plants, your best defense against pests is to keep your plants clean and healthy.
Make it a habit to remove dead leaves or debris from the soil and wipe leaves with a damp cloth to remove dust or dirt.
Plant Growth Stages
Understanding the different stages of plant growth is essential to ensure you provide the right care at the right time. Plants go through four stages of growth: germination, vegetative, flowering, and fruiting.
During the germination stage, the seed begins to sprout and form roots. In the vegetative stage, the plant grows leaves and stems. The flowering stage is when the plant produces flowers, and the fruiting stage is when the plant produces fruit.
To support your plant’s growth, ensure it has adequate light, water, and nutrients. Plants need chlorophyll to photosynthesize and grow, so be sure to provide enough light for your plant to thrive.
When you start out, it is safe to feed your plants a balanced liquid fertilizer with equal parts Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK 10-10-10).
For the more ambitious indoor gardener, feed your plants more Nitrogen when developing leaves and stems and more Phosphorus and Potassium during the flowering and fruiting stages.
Related: Plant care (category page)
Advanced Indoor Gardening Techniques
You can try a few advanced techniques when ready to take your indoor gardening to the next level. These include hydroponics, terrariums, living walls, and aquaponic systems.
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. Instead, plants are grown in a nutrient-rich water solution.
Hydroponics is more efficient than traditional soil-based gardening because plants can absorb nutrients more easily. It also allows for more control over the growing environment.
To set up a hydroponic garden, you’ll need a few key components:
- Grow lights: Hydroponic gardens require a lot of light, so you’ll need to invest in high-quality grow lights.
- Growing medium: Instead of soil, you’ll need a growing medium like perlite, vermiculite, or coconut coir to support your plants.
- Nutrient solution: You can purchase pre-made nutrient solutions or mix your own using fertilizer salts.
- Reservoir: This is where your nutrient solution will be stored.
- Pumps: Dependent on the setup, you need an air pump to aerate the growing bed or a water pump to circulate the nutrient solution through your growing medium.
Related: Hydroponics (category page)
Terrariums are a great way to create a mini indoor garden. They are self-contained ecosystems and require very little maintenance. You’ll need a glass container, some soil, and a few plants to create a terrarium.
6 steps to creating a terrarium:
- Choose a container: You can use any glass container with a lid, like a jar or a fishbowl.
- Add a layer of gravel: This will help with drainage.
- Add a layer of activated charcoal: This will help keep the soil fresh.
- Add a layer of soil: Choose a soil appropriate for your plants.
- Add your plants: Choose small enough plants to fit in your container.
- Water your plants: Be careful not to overwater, as there is no drainage in a terrarium.
Living walls, also known as green walls, are a great way to add some greenery to your indoor space. They are vertical gardens that are attached to a wall. Living walls can be made using various materials, including felt, metal, or plastic.
To create a living wall, you’ll need the following:
- A frame: This will hold your plants in place.
- A growing medium: You can use soil or a soilless growing medium like coconut coir.
- Plants: Choose plants that are appropriate for your growing conditions.
- Irrigation system: Living walls require a drip irrigation system to keep plants watered.
Aquaponic systems combine hydroponics with aquaculture. In this system, fish are raised in a tank, and the waste they produce is used as fertilizer for plants. The plants, in turn, filter the water for the fish.
To set up an aquaponic system, you’ll need the following:
- Fish tank: This is where your fish will live.
- Grow bed: This is where your plants will grow.
- Pump: A pump is needed to circulate the water between the fish tank and the grow bed.
- Fish: Choose fish that are appropriate for your growing conditions.
- Growing medium: You can use a soilless growing medium like gravel or clay pellets.
Overall, these advanced indoor gardening techniques can be a fun and rewarding way to take your gardening skills to the next level. Whether you choose hydroponics, terrariums, living walls, or aquaponic systems, research and choose the best method for your space and level of ambition.
I label hydroponics as an advanced indoor gardening technique as it does require you to buy a few more pieces of equipment. Other than that, from my experience, hydroponics is often less challenging than indoor gardening with soil.
Budgeting for Indoor Gardening
Indoor gardening can be a great way to bring the beauty of nature into your home while also providing fresh produce to your table. However, one of the biggest concerns for beginners is the cost of getting started. Here are some tips to help you budget for your indoor garden:
Assess Your Needs
Before shopping for plants and supplies, take a moment to assess your needs.
- What do you want to grow?
- How much space do you have?
- What kind of light do you have available?
Answering these questions will help you determine what you need to buy and how much you can expect to spend.
And it is better to start small than to plan big and never get off the ground. Pick easy plants that you use in your cooking, like basil and lettuce, and then expand from there.
There is no reason to break the bank to start indoor gardening.
Plenty of affordable options are available at your local supermarket or hardware store. Look for plants and seeds that are in season and on sale. You can also find great deals on pots, soil, and other supplies online or at discount stores.
Another way to save money on indoor gardening is to make your own supplies.
For example, create your own planters using recycled materials like plastic bottles or mason jars. Mix your soil with compost, sand, and peat moss. DIY solutions can be a fun and creative way to save money while adding a personal touch to your indoor garden.
Set a Budget
Finally, it’s important to set a budget for your indoor garden.
Decide how much you are willing to spend and stick to it.
Remember, indoor gardening is a long-term investment, and most tools and equipment can be used for many seasons.
By setting a budget, shopping smart, and then introducing a touch of DIY, you can create a beautiful and productive indoor garden without breaking the bank.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some essential supplies needed for indoor gardening?
To start an indoor garden, you will need some basic supplies. These include pots or containers, potting soil, fertilizer, water, and light. You can choose from a wide variety of pots and containers, including plastic, ceramic, or terracotta.
Make sure the container has drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. For potting soil, choose a high-quality mix specifically designed for indoor plants. You can also use a general-purpose potting mix and add perlite or sand to improve drainage.
Fertilizer is essential to provide nutrients to your plants. When you start, choose a balanced fertilizer that contains equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
What are some easy indoor plants to start with for beginners?
If you are new to indoor gardening, start with easy-to-grow plants such as spider plants, pothos, philodendrons, snake plants, and peace lilies. These plants require minimal care and can thrive in low-light conditions. They are also known for their air-purifying properties, making them a great addition to your indoor space.
How do you properly care for indoor plants?
Proper care is essential for the health and growth of your indoor plants. Water your plants regularly, but avoid overwatering as this can lead to root rot.
Check the soil moisture level before watering and adjust based on the plant’s needs. Provide adequate light to your plants, as most indoor plants require at least eight hours of sunlight daily.
You can also use grow lights to supplement natural light. Fertilize your plants monthly during the growing season to provide essential nutrients.
What are some benefits of indoor gardening?
Indoor gardening has several benefits. It can improve air quality, reduce stress, and enhance your mood. Indoor plants can also help regulate humidity levels and reduce the risk of respiratory problems. Additionally, indoor gardening is a great way to add greenery to your home and grow fresh produce for your family.
What are some tips for maintaining an indoor herb garden?
Herbs are a great addition to any indoor garden. To maintain an indoor herb garden, choose a sunny location or use grow lights to provide adequate light.
Water your herbs regularly, but avoid overwatering as this can lead to root rot. Fertilize your herbs once a month during the growing season to provide essential nutrients.
Prune your herbs regularly to encourage bushy and more compact growth.
What are some common mistakes to avoid when starting an indoor garden?
Some common mistakes to avoid when starting an indoor garden include overwatering, using the wrong soil mix, providing inadequate light, and not fertilizing your plants.
Choose the right plant container and soil mix, and provide adequate light and water. Avoid placing your plants near drafts or heating vents, as this can cause stress and damage to your plants. Finally, choose the right plants for your space and experience level.