Potted banana tree by a window beside a brown pouf ottoman

Indoor Gardening: A Beginner’s Guide

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“The safest, easiest plants to grow indoors are tropical plants,” says Stephen Block of Inner Gardens. “These plants grow in the understory of the rainforest where it is relatively dark. Their leaves grow very wide and are able to utilize the available light in low light situations. It’s always best to locate your indoor trees in front of a bright window.” Some of Murray’s favorite plants for indoor gardening are “slow growers,” such as snake plants, devil’s ivy, philodendrons, spider plants, or ZZ plants. Some plants require higher than average humidity levels, so Block recommends displaying these plants in a brightly lit bathroom. The best plants for bathrooms are ferns, begonias and calatheas. Even a well-placed humidifier can make tropical young plants feel at home.

What types of systems are used for indoor gardening?

Natural light can only do so much when it comes to growing indoors. “Adding artificial lighting to a shelf in your living room in a dark corner will help a plant to thrive,” Murray says. And when it comes to getting enough light for all the types of plants in the garden, artificial lighting is only the half of it; technology for indoor gardening enthusiasts abounds, whether you want to DIY your own seed-starting setup or get creative with a full-spectrum lighting system with LED grow lights for a smart garden. If you don’t know where to start, indoor gardening kits can help. AeroGarden gets good Amazon reviews and is self-watering, while Gardyn offers an indoor growing-vegetable gardening system that allows proper germination of everything from bok choy to bull’s blood (a delectable beet).

Tips for indoor plant care

A potted banana tree makes for a more tropical vibe in the home. Tropical plants tend to be great indoor gardening picks, as they can still thrive will lower light exposure.

Photo: Silk And Salt Images/Getty Images

Try as you might, you’ll never perfectly recreate what a plant experiences alfresco in its native habitat. However, we can get close with the proper indoor garden ideas. “Since indoor plants do not grow rapidly and therefore don’t drink a lot of water, it is best to water sparingly, allowing the surface of the soil to dry slightly before watering again,” Block says. “You should check the soil with your fingers approximately two times per week. If the soil is cool to your touch, then it still has a reasonable moisture level—do not water. If the soil is warm to your touch, then you can add water. Ideally, you’ll want to keep the plants evenly moist over a long period of time. Plants don’t like extreme variations in watering.” Interestingly, most plants prefer a bit of neglect over constant attention. “It is always better to under-water than overwater,” Block says. “Plants can recover from underwatering, whereas overwatering can kill the roots so the plant can’t survive.”

How do you garden in a house?

Ladder shelves or hanging baskets can help make the most of limited indoor square footage.

Photo: Olga Peshkova/Getty Images

When it comes to indoor gardening like a pro, Block advises buying plants recommended by your local nursery and being discerning about where you station them in the house. “Successful indoor planting has everything to do with placing the right plant in the right location,” he says. “Pay attention to the amount of light required for each plant. The proper amount of sun is the most important part of being successful with indoor gardening. The right lighting conditions makes the whole process easier, and the wrong plant in the wrong light assures you of failure.” In other words, it’s no wonder I failed to get the diva of houseplants, a maidenhair fern—native to the misty forests east of the Mississippi—to love my dry Colorado abode.

How do you make an indoor garden for beginners?

If you don’t have a green thumb yet, fret not. There are ways to make the inside gardening process easier. “Choose good specimens,” advises Murray. “I recommend purchasing your plants in person, not online. That way, you can inspect the plant before bringing it home. Check for pests, check for healthy plant roots, and check for new leaf growth.” You’ll also want to maximize your space; consider hanging plants in baskets, or (ahem) planting them on windowsills or ladder shelves for an abundance of greenery at every level.

What vegetables can you grow completely indoors?

Bok choy and chili plants line a windowsill in this indoor garden. While many vegetables can survive on limited sunlight, most prefer an outdoor garden environment and will likely require grow lights to truly thrive indoors.

Photo: Joel Sharpe/Getty Images

The short answer: not many. Murray touts a herb garden, which she describes as having great potential on a brightly lit windowsill—perhaps even in your kitchen, where they’ll always be handy for recipes. “Some of the best varieties for indoor gardens include chives, parsley, oregano, mint, rosemary, sage, and thyme,” she says. But plants like carrots and zucchini may be a different matter. “I would not recommend trying to grow vegetables indoors,” Block says. “Vegetables need six to eight hours of full sun to thrive. One could try to grow them indoors if they invested in sets of grow lights to replace the sun. It is difficult and costly at best.” If you’re ready to plunk down some green to grow some green, it may be worth an investment; however, radishes, beets, and other edible greenery can have a decent growing season indoors. “My personal favorite vegetables to grow indoors are leafy salad greens,” Murray says. “Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and arugula are the most reliable vegetables to grow indoors. They can grow in compact spaces, which is space saving, and can grow in as little as four weeks.”

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