How To Start an Indoor Garden in 6 Simple Steps

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Do you want fresh herbs and vegetables steps away from your kitchen? Or, maybe you’re needing some plants to help boost your mood or help with self-therapy. If so, consider starting an indoor garden. Indoor gardens are ideal for those living in a small rental space that doesn’t have a backyard or large patio area. 

If you’re hesitant to start an indoor garden, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. 

From selecting gardening supplies to choosing the best location and lighting options for your plants, our step-by-step guide will walk you through how to start and successfully grow your indoor garden. These tips will help you grow where you’re planted (even if it’s a rental) and they won’t impact your lease. You can also quickly view our fun printable plant labels, watering reminders and plant puns here.

Gardening Materials and Considerations

All right, I hope you’re excited to start your indoor garden! You’re not aloe-ne — we’re excited to help. The below section will go over the most important aspects of starting an indoor garden and will set you up for growing success.

1. Garden Placement 

Before you purchase a single plant or pot, consider where you want your indoor garden to be. 

When planning plant placement, it can be a bit tricky: Should you determine placement based on available space or which plants you want? For instance, some plants thrive in more humid areas, like your bathroom, while others will need eight or more hours of sunlight each day and will thrive in a well-lit window sill or near your balcony.

Know that you don’t have to designate one specific area, even in a minimalist living or small rental space. You can place plants around the rental unit in different living areas. 

We recommend first deciding which plants you want to grow. Sometimes you’ll have to move furniture around to fit your plants’ needs. If you live in a small living space, our guide on organizing small spaces should help. The visual below also displays unique and stylish placement ideas.

space-saving ways to display and hang houseplants including a wall trellis, towel hanger, dowel hanger, and ladder display

2. Lighting Conditions

When determining placement, you should also consider lighting. Plants need different amounts of light. Too much light, and therefore heat, will cause plants to overheat and wilt. Here are a few signs that your plants are receiving too much light:

  • Leaf edges or tips begin to brown
  • Yellow or brown patches on leaves
  • Wilting, especially in younger plants

On the other hand, plants that receive an inadequate amount of light don’t produce chlorophyll (the green pigment in plants). Too little light will cause your plant to become sick and possibly perish. Here are a few signs that your plants aren’t getting enough light.

  • Leaves turn yellow then white
  • Stems become long and thin and reach toward the light source
  • Plant begins to grow long spaces between the stem and leaf nodes (where the leaf and stem meet)

If your living space is lacking natural light, consider artificial lighting (light bulbs or electronic screens). Generally, plants grow best in sunlight since artificial light cannot replicate the specific wavelengths that natural light does, which helps plants produce their food. That being said, you should use artificial light if your plant isn’t getting enough sunlight, particularly during the winter months. Take a look at our helpful guide on the best indoor winter plants.

Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of natural and artificial light for plants.

Natural light vs artificial light pros and cons t-chart list

3. Pots and Planters

It’s time to choose which pots or planters you want your new plants to grow in. You’ll need to consider the current and expected size of your plants, drainage and your home’s interior style. 

Pots vs. planters:

Technically pots are meant to hold one plant and are rounder and smaller than planters. Planters can contain multiple plants and are generally used outdoors. We’ll use these terms interchangeably, though.

Size:  

When it comes to pots and planters, size matters. In the United States, pots are typically measured by diameter. For example, a 12-inch pot has a diameter of 12 inches at the top.

Note that you’ll need to take plants’ growth into account. If your plant is currently in a 10-inch pot or smaller, you should select a planter that’s 1-2 inches larger. If your plant is currently larger than 10 inches, then opt for a pot 2-3 inches larger in diameter. 

Drainage:

The amount of drainage needed depends on the type of plants you’re growing. If you’re using a planter to grow multiple plants, we recommend grouping together plants that require a similar amount of water, drainage and light. 

Depending on what you plant, some pots will need drainage holes. If you’re using recycled household items for planters, make sure that you can puncture holes in the bottom for good drainage. We also suggest placing trays or saucers underneath your pots to collect the drained water. 

Pots and planter ideas:

Regardless of where you are in your indoor gardening journey, select pots and planters that fit your lifestyle and interior decor. There are plenty of online options. If you want to forge an eco-friendly apartment, you can reuse household items. Below is a list of both traditional and unique, eco-friendly planter options.

Chart of traditional pots and planters versus reused or DIY alternatives and a header full of plants in a tire, cans, pots, and coffee mugs

4. Potting Soil

There are a lot of options when it comes to soil. Since you’re growing plants indoors, you have more control over the temperature, humidity and amount of light than in outdoor gardens. That being said, soil type matters. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different types of soil: 

  • Clay soil is sticky and lumpy when wet and super hard when dry. It has few air spaces and doesn’t drain well, and is best for perennials or summer crop vegetables.
  • Sandy soil is gritty and drains easily. Shrubs and bulb plants, such as carrots, lettuce, potatoes and squash, like sandy soil. 

  • Loamy soil is a mix of silt, sand and clay. It’s typically slightly damp and fine-textured. It’s ideal for gardening and often holds lots of nutrients. Most vegetables and berry crops enjoy loamy soil, as do bamboo and perennials. 

Potting soil achieves three things: It allows for air so roots can breathe, helps anchor roots and retains moisture and nutrients for your plants. Here are a couple of things you should be mindful of when selecting soil:

  • Purchase fresh: Fresh store-bought soil is preferable to digging up outside soil from your apartment complex. Some soil near buildings has been contaminated by pesticides or other chemicals by property managers or landscapers. Other outside oil might contain pests or pernicious fungi.
  • Organic content: Try to find out how much compost is in the soil mix and whether your plants are compatible. For instance, manure-based compost can contain a lot of nitrogen, which isn’t suitable for plants that produce shoots, roots or fruits.
  • Soil pH: Your topsoil pH (acidity level) should be between 5.5 and 7.5. If the plant’s label or soil kit doesn’t state the ideal pH level, look into purchasing an inexpensive at-home measuring kit.
  • Volume: Determine the amount of soil needed by calculating each planter’s volume. Let’s go back to your high school math class — it will be painless, we promise. Here are volume equations for different shapes:

Equations for Calculating Different Planters’ Volume:

Key: ()= multiply, ^2 = squared and / = divide.

  • Rectangle or square: V = (l)(h)(w) or (length)(height)(width)
  • Right cylinder volume: V = 𝛱(r)^2(h) or pi(radius squared)(height)
  • Right circular cone: V = 𝛱(r)^2(h)/3 or pi(radius squared)(height) / 3

Note that these measurements will likely give you more soil than needed since they calculate the full volume and you typically don’t fill pots to the brim with soil.

5. Watering

Onto one of the most important steps: watering your plants! Yes, like light, water is one of the main lifelines for your plants. Each plant requires a different amount of water. When purchasing your plants, talk to the botanist about each plant’s needs.

Since your plants are indoors, be mindful of each room’s humidity or your air conditioning in the summer. If your plant is too close to the AC unit, it will strip it of moisture. The first signs of dehydrated plants are dry soil, wilting and dry or dead leaf tips.

If you have trouble remembering to water your plants here are a few tricks:

  • Set repeating daily or weekly reminders on your smartphone to water plants.
  • Purchase a self-watering planter.
  • Ask a trustworthy friend or neighbor to water your plants when you’re out of town.

We’ve also provided fun plant-specific printable tags. These tags consist of funny plant puns, plant identifiers and water reminders. You can cut them and glue them to tongue depressors and then stick them in the soil, or simply cut and tape them onto each pot.

 A white marble background and succulents next to two printable labels with watering reminders and plant puns

download plan label printables

6. Fertilizer and Composting

Fertilizer goes hand in hand with planting and watering your plants. If you’re buying seeds from your local nursery or grocery store, they will likely come with fertilizer. 

Composting also provides a healthy and eco-friendly way to fertilize your plants once they show signs of sprouting. Once you begin a compost bin, it takes around three months for the material to be mature enough for you to use in your indoor garden. To add composted fertilizer, carefully mix and mash the composted items gently into the soil. We recommend wearing gloves for this!

Items that can be composted:

  • Raw fruit and vegetable peels
  • Coffee grounds
  • Pulverized eggshells
  • Leaves, twigs and wood chops 
  • Grass clippings

Items that cannot be composted:

  • Dairy products
  • Bones
  • Meat and fat scraps
  • Leftover cooked food

You’ll want a 50/50 split of green (leaves, twigs and grass clippings) and brown (food scraps) in your compost. Compost works especially well in sand or clay.

Best Plants to Grow Indoors

We’ve done the research for you — now it’s time to get started. Below are some of the best herbs, vegetables and plants to grow indoors. They’re all rather easy to grow and maintain. They’re also diverse in colors, looks and flavor (if edible). Moreover, all of these plants are non-toxic to your pets if ingested.

Herbs

If you’re a fan of cooking at home, then you should definitely consider growing your own indoor herb garden. Many herbs thrive indoors and can be cut or pruned for when you’re ready to make that one delicious recipe. Below are a few must-have herbs for your indoor garden.

Basil: Basil is a warm-weather herb that will live a long time if you keep harvesting the leaves. The most common type is sweet basil, but you can also find and grow purple, lemon and Thai basil. Basil does best in the summer, so you want to start the growing season in the spring after the last winter freeze.

  • Light: Full sun
  • Temperature: 50-80 ºF
  • Water: Once a week
  • Pot type: Any container
  • Soil and drainage: Well-drained, moist and neutral soil (6-7 pH)
  • Best to make fresh pesto or to serve on top of pizza

Rosemary: Rosemary is a sturdy herb that grows very well indoors. It’s quite flavorful when fresh and tastes significantly better than pre-packaged rosemary. Rosemary plants need lots of bright direct sunlight, six to eight hours per day. You should also be careful when watering rosemary; there needs to be good drainage and only water when the top of the soil is dry to the touch.

  • Light: Full sun
  • Temperature: 55-80 ºF
  • Water: Every one to two weeks
  • Pot type: Clay or terracotta container
  • Soil and drainage: Well-drained, loamy and neutral (6-7 pH)
  • Best used as a garnish on meats like salmon, lamb, steak or chicken

Parsley: No more grabbing wilted bunches at the grocery store — parsley is the perfect herb to grow at home. It’s fairly easy to grow and requires nutrient-rich soil. Once flower stalks begin to appear, it’s time to yank and start a new plant, because the leaves are now bitter.

  • Light: Full sun
  • Temperature: 50-70 ºF
  • Water: Once or twice a week
  • Pot type: Plastic or glazed ceramic container
  • Soil and drainage: Well-drained, organic-rich and neutral (6-7 pH)
  • Best for chimichurri sauce on top of salmon, lamb or steak

Vegetables

Not much is healthier or better-feeling than knowing exactly where your vegetables come from and what kind of care was put into them. It’s also quite convenient when cooking to walk a few steps and grab a handful of fresh vegetables. The vegetables listed below are easy to grow in your indoor garden and are used in a variety of dishes. 

If you own pets, we recommend keeping vegetables out of reach. They might eat them before you can!

Green onions: Green onions — or, if they’re younger, scallions — are easy to care for indoors. They can grow in both full- and low-light conditions. If you’re using green onions often or need them to grow quickly, they thrive best in bright sunny spots (six to eight hours of sunlight each day). Green onions need lots of water. Their soil should be moist (not sopping wet) most of the time, especially before sprouting.

  • Light: Partial or full sun
  • Temperature: 68-77 ºF
  • Water: 2-3 times a week
  • Pot type: Any short container
  • Soil and drainage: Well-drained sandy loam or loam and neutral soil (6-7 pH)
  • Best for soups or stir fry

Radishes: Radishes are another vegetable that grows well indoors. They grow quickly, taking only 30 to 40 days from germination to harvest. They do well in both partial and full sunlight but need a large potting area so their roots and bulbs have space to grow. Radishes prefer cooler weather, so keep the soil moist, but not drenched.

  • Light: Partial or full sun
  • Temperature: 45-85ºF
  • Water: 2-3 times a week
  • Pot type: Any wide container
  • Soil and drainage: Well-drained sandy loam and slightly acidic soil (5-6 pH)
  • Best with potatoes or thinly sliced in salads

Carrots: Despite their size, carrots are quite easy to grow indoors. They aren’t particularly wide, but you will need deeper soil than other vegetables in your garden. Pots should be 10-12 inches deep for standard carrots. In general, carrots prefer a cooler temperature, but need lots of sunlight, at least 12 hours a day. If you keep your home between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll be in good shape. Carrots need a minimum of one inch of water each week, so water weekly. 

  • Light: Full sun
  • Temperature: 55-75 ºF
  • Water: Once a week
  • Pot type: Any deep container
  • Soil and drainage: Well-drained crumbly and neutral soil (6-7 pH)
  • Best baked with other vegetables or freshly chopped in a salad

Plants

The plants listed below don’t require a lot of work to take care of and are fairly simple to grow. They’re also non-toxic to cats and dogs if ingested. 

Bird’s-nest fern: This particular fern is safe to digest for your overly curious furry friends. They’re native to rainforests in Asia, Australia and Africa so do well in more humid areas. If you live in a dryer climate, consider placing them in your bathroom where they can enjoy the moisture from your showers.

  • Light: Partial
  • Temperature: 60-80 ºF
  • Water: Once a week
  • Pot type: Any medium to wide container
  • Soil and drainage: Well-drained organic compost and acidic soil (5-5.5 pH)

Rubber plant: Rubber plants, also referred to as rubber trees, are part of the fig family and grow up to 50 feet. Don’t worry, though — you can still care for younger ones at home. They come in a variety of shades and do well in medium to bright light. They thrive best next to a window with curtains or drapes. They demand little care and actually produce oxygen while also eliminating toxins.

  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Temperature: 65-85 ºF
  • Water: Every 1-2 weeks
  • Pot type: Any large-bottomed container
  • Soil and drainage: Well-drained, well-aerated and acidic to neutral soil (5.5-7 pH)

Parlor palm: Parlor palms are native to the subtropical regions of the Americas. They’re in the same family as coconuts and dates. They even produce (inedible) fruit. Moreover, they’re easy to take care of, requiring water every one to two weeks, and enjoy bright, indirect sunlight.

  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Temperature: 65-75 ºF
  • Water: Every 1-2 weeks
  • Pot type: Any deep container
  • Soil and drainage: Adequately drained, loamy and slightly acidic soil (5-7.5 pH)

Starting an indoor garden helps seed responsible habits since you’re taking care of living organisms. The plants also give back to you by cleaning your home’s air, providing fresh produce and helping to create a calming and quiet place

You can also surprise your neighbors with an act of kindness by sharing your organic produce with them. For tips on how to help protect your plants, head over to our guide on natural bug repellents.

If you’re a landlord or property manager, you can start a community garden to bring residents together and provide organic nutrients to them. It’s a great way to meet and get to know residents. Additionally, tenants with a green thumb will likely be happy to help! For more residential advice and tenant screening services, view our landlord resources.

Sources: NCBI | NASA

 

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