Do you live in a high-rise apartment building? Or maybe you don’t have any yard space for an outdoor garden, so your only choice to grow your own plants and food is to do it indoors. But…
Is indoor gardening for beginners a real possibility?
Yes, it’s completely possible for newbies to grow a thriving indoor garden. The whole process of growing plants inside your home isn’t that difficult either, especially with the indoor smart garden options available now.
You just need to understand the basics of growing houseplants and all the tools that you’ll need.
I’ve created this complete guide to indoor gardening for beginners, so you don’t have to go anywhere else. This article will cover all the indoor gardening basics that will give you a jump start with your garden.
We’ll learn how plants grow, what plants need to grow, and what types of indoor gardening systems there are. I’ll discuss different components and factors that’ll help you start an indoor garden.
5 Basics That Plants Need to Grow
There are many things that plants need to grow healthily. Whether indoors or outdoors, these 5 factors are the basics of what plants need to grow healthily.
Plants get their food and energy from sunlight, which is a critical element in photosynthesis. With a lack of proper light, there’s not enough energy created, and plants start starving. Often, especially in indoor plants, you might see brown or yellow leaves if that’s the case.
Plants need water to absorb soil nutrients, which is needed for photosynthesis. Water also helps plants maintain the right temperature and humidity for growth.
3. Carbon Dioxide
Plants absorb carbon dioxide and use it to fuel photosynthesis that results in oxygen. So you know the cycle with humans and plants: humans breathe in oxygen -> exhale carbon dioxide -> plants inhale carbon dioxide -> plants exhale oxygen for humans to inhale. Learn more about the best air cleaning plants.
4. Growing Medium
The most common growing medium for plants is soil. Plants need to stretch out their roots and pull up the nutrients through the growing medium. However, with the discovery of methods like Hydroponics, plants can use water as a growing medium.
5. Minerals and Nutrients
Plants need nutrients, too, to survive and grow. Good nutrition results in better growth results, which in turn leads to a fruitful harvest. Basic minerals and nutrients like N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), magnesium, etc., help plants to achieve a strong system of roots.
Now that we know the 5 basic things that plants need to grow, let’s go through the different factors and considerations in building an indoor garden for your home.
How to Start an Indoor Garden
With many people switching to home-grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs for daily consumption, these are the steps and various sets of conditions to keep in mind.
1. Where Can You Put the Indoor Garden?
The beauty of an indoor garden is that it requires less space to set up. You can place it in any corner of your house where you can easily access all the basic amenities. Balconies are also a popular choice for people living in apartment complexes for the natural sunlight.
Let’s take a look at various home conditions that will help determine good locations for an indoor garden throughout the seasons.
Available Space and Air Flow
Ideally, the gardening space is not in any tight spaces with a lot of other items. Allow it to breathe.
It should also be a spot where you have an undivided electricity supply. Sometimes you need to plug in a heater or cooler to maintain the temperature that certain plants demand.
If possible, choose a spot near a window for fresh air and natural light sources. It’s good to get the natural elements, as long as the temperatures aren’t extreme.
Natural Sunlight vs. Grow Lights
Natural sunlight is hands down a better resource than artificial lighting. However, not every corner of indoor space can access direct sunlight frequently. Grow lights are almost as effective as daylight, but of course an added cost.
An hour under sunlight would be equivalent to approximately two hours under artificial light for similar benefits. Plus, having Grow Lights is an added expense.
One can see all sorts of lighting scenarios such as direct light, indirect light, and low light in an indoor farming setup. Depending on the plant and space constraints indoors, different lighting is used.
Direct light is when the light falls directly on the plants. Indirect light is when the light reflects off a surface and then falls on the plants. Low light is in places with less lighting, especially during cold seasons when daylight hours are in low supply.
For plants to get maximum sunlight exposure, consider setting up the garden near south-facing windows. Natural light is free and will save on electricity costs. Sunlit corner windows are also popular.
If your home does not get enough natural light, there are four types of artificial lights that you can install:
- Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
- High-Intensity Discharge (HID)
Which one to get will depend on the types of plants that you want to grow.
Humidity is critical for photosynthesis to take place, allowing plants to get what they need to grow. When the humidity is high, and there is a drop in air circulation, the process in a plant slows down. It will lead to low absorption of nutrients from the soil, and eventually, the plant will die.
Most plants like a humidity level of 50-60%. That’s not the case for all types of plants though. Tropical plants thrive on high humidity, while succulents love low humidity levels.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, low humidity means dry air, which also leads to slow plant growth. If there’s low humidity, you have a few options to bring up the humidity.
- Humidifier: These add moisture to the air.
- Misting: All you need is a spray bottle and you can mist plants by spraying water on them. It is a temporary solution, but it helps in maintaining the air around the plants.
- Pebble trays: Place pebbles in a shallow tray filled with regular water. Place the plant pot on top of the water-soaked pebbles. The roots do not absorb the water trapped below the plant pot, but water evaporation will gradually occur and that increases the humidity level around the plant.
- Grouping plants together: Another effective technique is to group a number of indoor garden plants together, which naturally increases humidity.
- Related Article: Best Humidifiers for Plants
2. What Do You Want To Grow?
Based on your indoor space constraint, you should choose plants with similar maintenance needs such as humidity, light, water consumption, etc. Different plants have different needs, so it’ll be more convenient and cost-effective if plants have similar needs.
Few plants can survive in a dimly lit and cold environment, while some would require constant hydration and mist. These factors determine the indoor location for the kind of plants that would like to grow in your apartment.
Parsley, mint, coriander, and basil are some of the most popular and most common home-grown herbs. Home chefs love picking fresh herbs out of their garden and adding to their favorite recipes, rather than going to the supermarket. Lavender, oregano, chives, and thyme are a few more that you can find in indoor gardens. All these herbs require minimal maintenance, no Green Thumb needed to grow these.
Indoor vegetable gardening has become one of the most popular activities in recent years, because people want to eat fresh. The most common home-grown vegetables are tomatoes, potatoes, onions, carrots, lettuce, okra, and bell peppers, to name a few. All of these can be grown in small spaces, including balconies or lawns.
Most of these are also grown via Hydroponics and Aeroponics technologies (discussed later in the article) at home. Although these technologies like hydroponic gardening are yet to reach people on a large scale, there are more people shifting from soil-based farming to other efficient and healthier ways.
Fruits can be grown easily indoors like lemons, blueberries, strawberries, calamondin oranges, kumquat, etc. Fruits are generally grown on huge trees that take up loads of space. Researchers are continuing to find ways to grow more fruits indoors in compact spaces. Fruits like mangoes and guavas can be grown at home, but outdoors due to the need for trees and large spaces.
Flowers and Succulents
Flowers and succulents make your indoor space lively, while the environment feeling fresh. The beautiful colors can bring light even in dimly lit spaces. Cyclamen, roses, amaryllis, orchids, kalanchoe, African violets, and peace lilies are some of the beautiful and fragrant flowers you can use to decorate your space.
3. Choose Your Growing Medium
The right growing medium is essential for plants to grow and yield fresh produce. Let us look at the different growing mediums that you can incorporate in your garden.
Growing medium in outdoor gardens is commonly soil, but if we’re looking at indoor gardening plants and you want soil, we’ll want to look at potting soil.
Potting soils (also known as Potting Mix) are generally a mixture of pine bark, peat moss, and vermiculite or perlite. Unlike garden soil, potting soil contains no actual “soil” in it. On the other hand, garden soil is the regular natural topsoil / sand blended with organic material or artificial fertilizers.
While potting soil does contain a mixture of great quality components, none of them are rich enough in essential nutrients. Additional plant fertilizer will need to be added to help plants thrive in the soil over time.
One other advantage to indoor gardening is that organic potting soil attracts less common garden pests than outdoor soil. But one disadvantage is the commonality of mold if soil moisture is too high for days at a time, so you’ll need to plan for proper water drainage by using proper storage containers.
Potting Soil vs Potting Mix Note: These two terms are usually used interchangeably by people, but there is a slight difference. Potting Mix has no “soil,” while Potting Soil products may or may not contain soil. If you had the choice, select Potting Mix and soilless Potting Soil, because they’re sterile and safer for plants. Soil can be a carrier for fungus and disease, while soilless growing medium won’t be.
- Related Article: How to Build an Indoor Organic Garden
Smart soil is NASA-inspired nano-technology infused faux-soil that balances water, oxygen, and nutrient levels for optimum growth. This new technology helps keep soil healthy and the soil quality high to grow from seeds.
Smart soil allows plant roots to get necessary air flow. Plant roots don’t always get ample air in regular soil, which can slow down the nutrition extraction process in plants.
Nutrient distribution is controlled by the smart soil technology. You cannot control nutrient levels in regular soil, and adding excess fertilizers can permanently damage the roots.
Click and Grow Smart Gardens were the first to create smart soil indoor gardens. Check out their Smart Garden 9 that includes plant pods for mini-tomatoes, basil, and lettuce.
- You can control the nutrition of plants.
- There are more air pockets compared to regular soil, thus leading to faster growth.
- Unlike Hydroponics, plants are more secure and stable when planted in smart soil.
- There is no need to add fertilizers.
- The pH level is more consistent throughout.
- It requires uninterrupted internet connectivity, making it challenging to use in developing nations where having a 24/7 electricity supply is still a vision in some areas.
Hydroponics is the soil-less cultivation of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and crops, with water being the medium for growth. Plants extract all the necessary nutrients from the water alone.
This liquid fertilizer technology is growing fast because plants can get nutrients from water cycles and soil is no longer a necessity.
Hydroponics has been around for decades, but has grown in popularity due to being able to grow plants indoors. It was even used during World War II to feed the troops in the Pacific region with fresh produce.
There are many DIY hydroponic options, as well as many hydroponic indoor garden kits. For example, the Aerogarden Farm 24 Plus is a great way to set up your own hydroponic garden at home.
- Plants tend to grow faster when absorbing nutrients directly from the water.
- Hydroponic plants tend to have smaller roots, so more plants can be fit in smaller spaces.
- Very convenient to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs in indoor spaces.
- You have control over the climate and can grow crops any time of the year.
- Higher equipment costs.
- Since the roots are smaller, plants with heavy fruits/veggies will require extra support.
- Frequent monitoring is needed.
Aquaponics is the combination of Hydroponics and Aquaculture. It’s a soil-less medium for plants to grow and reproduce. Plants consume fish waste, and in return, the plants process clean water back to the fish.
The bacteria on the plant roots convert the fish waste into nutrients and helps them grow organically. You don’t need to add synthetic fertilizers at all.
Even the fish waste ends up recycled in the process. Aquaponics is a very feasible way of growing plants. It mimics a natural ecosystem, and the entire technology is very environment-friendly.
AquaSprouts Gardens are an excellent way to get started at home.
- The process is suitable for plant production.
- It eliminates the use of soil.
- Water and fish waste keep recycling, thus saving resources and maintaining a healthy environment.
- The system setup is easy to maintain and space-saving, especially if you already have a fish tank.
- Limited options of crops to grow; however, researches are being done to include more plants.
- Electricity consumption is high for round the clock maintenance of fish tanks and water pumps.
- External help may be needed for the installation of larger setups.
Aeroponics is a way of growing plants in a misty environment, eliminating soil as a growing medium. Using this process, you can grow plants horizontally and vertically, thus saving space.
NASA with the Mir Space Station even experimented with this technology, where they grew Asia bean seedlings in zero gravity.
Plants are inserted in horizontal frames and special A-frames. The top part of plants and the roots both remain suspended in the air. Plants receive their nutrients from nutrient-rich water that’s sprayed regularly.
One such product is the Viagrow VCLN24 Clone Machine 24 Site Aeroponic Hydroponic System, it doesn’t take up much space and is easy to set up.
- It is one of the most effective ways to grow fruits, herbs, and vegetables in an apartment.
- Allows for higher density plant placement, more plants in smaller spaces
- Lower amounts of water used.
- The water used within the system gets recycled, thus saving water consumption
- The technology requires a specific system setup without which the plants don’t survive.
- Some technical knowledge and skills may be needed to maintain the system yourself.
- You can grow only a limited variety of plants with this method.
4. Choose Your Grow Containers
A container’s size affects the growth size of a plant. So it’s important to think about what you want to grow before buying a container.
Avoid small containers for vegetables as the roots do not get ample space to stretch out. Small pots are not ideal for plants to attain complete maturity. Also, you need to water smaller pots more frequently. They are good for initial stages, though, and then later, you can re-pot the plants in a larger container.
If you want to go with an aquaponics system, you may want a larger tank for the fish to have space to swim in.
In case you are placing your plants next to a windowsill, a long and narrow pot will work perfectly fine. You can even pot two different small pants in the same container.
It’s also important for any container to have proper drainage holes to allow excess water to pass through.
Consider container material depending on your growing medium as well. There are all types of materials and sizes, bushel baskets, clay pots, metal pots, and plastic pot.
Think about medium. Hydroponics won’t use the glass fish tanks that Aquaponics might have for home aquaponic systems. Think about the types of plants you want to grow, whether fruits, vegetables, etc.
There are certain criteria for choosing a container for your plants.
- The pot container should be compatible with the size of the plant.
- Deeper pots are ideal for plants with long roots.
- The container should be heavy enough to carry the weight of the plant and soil. Also, it should be heavy enough to avoid tipping.
- There should be an outlet for water drainage.
- Based on the growing medium and technology, choose the potting material (plastic, metal, clay, etc.) accordingly.
5. Watering the Indoor Garden
The watering schedule and amount of water consumption depend on the types of indoor plants. Generally, gardening experts advise you to water potted plants once a week, especially broadleaf plants.
The trick is to not overwater or it becomes messy with water overflow. Allow the soil to dry a bit and then re-water. In some cases, overwatering can lead to premature rot, so keep an eye on how much water you’re giving the plants.
You can keep a water tray below the pot for delicate plants and allow the plant to suck water from the bottom through the drainage holes. The upward absorption is an effective method.
Usually, a plant thrives well when the temperature indoors is between 65 to 75°F. If it gets warmer, you need to water frequently, and the opposite when it gets cooler.
Depending on the plants, do check what humidity levels your plants are used to. Plants like orchids prefer a high humidity environment. Mist them daily to maintain their humidity.
For houseplants in a Hydroponics/ Aquaponics setup, you can install a drip line around the plants to evenly distribute water throughout the container.
Final Thoughts – Indoor Gardening for Beginners
With the increasing amount of pollution and consumption of synthetic fertilizers, indoor gardening has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years.
People are prioritizing health and incorporating healthy diets into their lives. Growing plants at home has increased exponentially as more and more people want organic food over processed.
Grow your own smart garden in days and weeks.
With technologies like Smart Soil, Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics, the future looks promising.
If you think you need a lot of space, check out this jungle in a New York apartment.