What Is Apartment Gardening?
So, what is apartment gardening its most basic level?Apartment gardening is the act of growing crops, herbs, or other plants indoors, typically in a container or planter box.Of course, apartments don’t always offer enough space for large containers, or broad sunlit windows, especially if you live above ground floor.
So, why not just garden outdoors?As inspiring as urban farming sounds, doing it outdoors is not always practical, and many of the obstacles faced by the apartment gardener makes it difficult to indulge in bringing the natural beauty of plants indoors, particularly fruit trees or farm crops.The good news is that, on a smaller scale, it is still possible indoors. You just need to learn your space, learn the limits – and maybe you can’t fit your full-size lemon tree into the plans, so you’ll have to work with a Meyer lemon for now.
Those workarounds are common to the apartment gardener. Learning what kind of workarounds to expect is the hurdle. That’s where this guide comes in.There is no one-size-fits-all garden plan that will tell you exactly where to place your plants according to your apartment blueprints, but you can take what you learn from this guide and apply it to your own unique situation.As far as what to plant – don’t worry; we’ll help you with that, too.
Planning Your Indoor Garden
Now that we’ve answered the question of “what is an apartment garden?” we can start getting our hands dirty with the exciting part: planning your indoor garden.
Let’s start from the beginning:
What kind of plants do you want to plant?
If you want to plan your indoor garden, then the first step is to decide on the type of plants you want to grow.Of course, each plant has different soil and container size requirements, but also sunlight and air requirements. These considerations help determine what room in your apartment is best for the plants you’ve picked out.We’ve included a list of considerations below.
- Water and Sun Requirements
Depending on the plant, they’ll need different water and sun requirements. It’s important to think about how often you will be able to water your plants, or how many times you’ll have to move them. Is that answer practical?For example, if you put a shade-loving plant in the corner, but halfway through the day it’s getting direct, hot sunlight, then the leaves may begin wilting and burning; your choices are either to move it daily, or find a new place in the house for it.
Typically, while some herbs are sun-loving, many are tolerant of partial shade. With luck, you can also find shade-loving varieties. Be careful of burning the small leaves in full direct sun.Larger vegetables and crops are more inclined to direct sunlight as they need to shuttle more energy to the developing plant.Trees will need long periods of direct, full sunlight. Be prepared to experience some wilting and purchase grow lights.
- Fertilizer Requirements
Most plants do well indoors with good potting soil and proper care. A few plants, like fruit trees, will need fertilizer.Typically, you don’t need to fertilize your plants often. Once every few months will take care of many plant’s needs, but it is an extra expense and care requirement that will need to be taken into consideration.Herbs can typically get away without fertilization. If you want to get the most out of your crop yield, then follow the recommended amounts for each plant.
Vegetables may need fertilization every three months, or once per year depending on the crop. Without fertilization, the crop yield is not likely to feed your household.Trees are the most nutrient-hungry of the bunch. Typically, a tree only needs fertilization once per season, some varieties will need monthly fertilization to thrive. Be sure to purchase a fertilizer that focuses on the needs of that type of tree.
- Be Aware of Pet Toxicity
It is incredibly important to consider your pets.If you have a pet, or plan to adopt any, this can affect what type of plants you grow, or where you place them.Many common “house plants” are toxic to dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles, and birds. Always research your plants’ compatibility with animals.
Where Will You Plant Your Garden?
One key rule to remember is that plants are found in layers; rainforest plants are still lush and green under a canopy because the sun-loving plants are at the top, and the shade-loving plants are below.Don’t be afraid to emulate nature.If it doesn’t work, starting over is as simple as moving a few containers around. In this way, despite what many people fear about gardening indoors, apartment gardening is much easier than outdoor gardening. Your environment is controlled, and it’s easy to make changes.
- Identify Your Level of Sunlight
How much sun do you get each day?Where is that sun throughout the day?Sun-loving plants should typically live in a South-facing window. This will allow them to get consistent sunlight throughout the day. Plants that are more shade-tolerant will enjoy a nice, North-facing window.
If you notice leaf burn or wilting from too much sunlight throughout the day, move the plant further indoors, towards the middle of the room.Of course, it can be hard to work with cardinal directions when living in the big city. Tall buildings and narrow alleyways can make urban gardening tough – but that’s not to say it’s impossible.
If your heart is set on a certain plant or a certain room, consider supplementing sunlight with a proper grow light.Before you invest in grow lights, however, it’s important to consider whether you can bring on the extra expense, especially if you are on a budget with your indoor gardening.
Beyond the initial fixture, you also need to consider replacement bulbs and electricity usage. While many manufacturers have greatly improved grow lamps’ energy efficiency, that doesn’t take into account the time your lamps are on.For example, a citrus tree may need supplementary grow lamps for ten hours or more per day. If you live in a particularly dark apartment, you may need to enlist the help of multiple lamps.
- Roots Need Room to Grow Too
It’s also important to consider that the roots of your plant need room to grow as well.As a rule of thumb, your container should be 1.5 or 2x larger than the grown plants. This allows the root system room to grow and flourish underneath. Because the roots are what carries many of the nutrients and water up above ground, this is key to a happy, healthy plant!
Of course, this isn’t strictly necessary for every plant. Some plants may need less, and some may need more. Large root vegetables or trees will need all the space they can get, while some leafy above-ground herbs will do well in just about any environment.Keep in mind that larger plants, like vegetables or trees may be difficult for window boxes because of their size and weight. These plants may only be viable for a container gardening indoors or on a balcony.
Typically, small crops and herbs are the best choices for indoor gardening, especially if you don’t have access to a window box or balcony.Think culinary herbs, dwarf trees, and smaller vegetables such as celery or onions. Trying to care for full-sized plants indoors may prove to be more trouble than they’re worth.
- Mind the Draft
Drafty areas can be a killer for plants. If you live with central air, or your apartment is heated by a radiator, take these areas into consideration.Where does the air flow and circulate in the room?While many plants are indeed used to natural wind, they’re also used to regular moisture from the morning dew and rainstorms. Likewise, some plants are more inclined to dry climates than others.
Those tropical plants you fell in love with are going to require a lot more care than they would in their native climate. Unless, of course, you live in their native environment.If that’s the case, consider yourself lucky and give yourself a pat on the back for working hard to get there.
If you live with drafts or vents, you will need a few tools in your toolbelt. One of these tools is a fine-spritz water bottle, or atomizer.Depending on the plant, giving your phyto-babies a good spritzing may become a daily ritual, especially in the hotter months. This simulates natural humidity and will give your plants a healthy glow, keeping them lively and green much longer in your indoor garden.
Spritzing your plants during the morning or evening will give the plant the best chance of absorbing the moisture, rather than sunlight stealing it away through evaporation.
- Which Came First, the Seed or the Plant?
Just kidding, you don’t have to answer any existential questions today.One question you will need to answer before starting your indoor garden, however, is whether you want to purchase fully-grown plants or germinate them from seed.Purchasing grown plants will cost more than seeds but will be ready to admire and harvest sooner. It’s always better to purchase from a nursery rather than a supermarket as they’ve been properly cared for, and likely germinated from seed in the same building you purchased them from. No more coming home with diseased plants for you!
Seeds are much less expensive but will take a longer time – typically several months – before they are fully grown. They have to germinate, sprout, grow, and then bloom.Keep in mind that some plants only germinate under special circumstances, such as scoring or freezing, so always do your research on the requirements before you decide to grow your own plants from seed.
Now, you’ve considered where your indoor garden will be, you’ve learned the pattern of sunlight throughout your home for this season, and you’ve checked for drafts. You’re good at this!Next, we’ll take a look at a list of common indoor crops and some of the best plants to grow indoors.
Best Plants to Grow Indoors
Sometimes, the best plants to grow indoors are the common houseplants, or herbs that you’ll use in cooking.This is fantastic news, of course, if you love to experiment with new flavors in the kitchen.Enjoy a list we’ve compiled of the best plants to grow indoors:
Picture your ideal kitchen garden. For many people, when they think of indoor gardening, they think about little leaves sticking out of pots on the kitchen windowsill.Herbs are some of the best plants to grow indoors, and one of the most common type of plants as well because they do well in smaller pots, they don’t require a lot of care, and it’s wonderful to have them close by when cooking, particularly for those of us who enjoy a home-cooked meal.
While herbs won’t grow as large and bushy as they would outdoors, growing an indoor herb garden is one of the easiest types of gardens to maintain.Common herbs include:
Better in warmer climates, basil is one of the most popular sun-loving plants to grow in a kitchen. If not for the slightly peppery and minty flavors, the fragrance wins the prize.The leaves are ripe with an almost sweet fragrance, and they can be boiled on the stove to help release this smell throughout the apartment. They are excellent in tomato-based dishes and help bring out earthy flavors of root vegetables.
Bay leaf has a fantastic fragrance and adds a sharp herbal taste to soups and sauces. This is a small shrub or tree that can easily be grown in a small pot under full sun or partial shade.
You may not be surprised to learn that Bay leaf is actually a small tree. This means the plant will require fertilizer or compost every few months and will benefit from pruning during the growing season to keep it from outgrowing your kitchen’s accommodations.
Chives are a close relative of garlic, leeks, and onions. Chives have very minimal care requirements, making it easy to grow on a windowsill.This little plant brightens up any room with bright green colors, thriving in full sun. It showcases a delicate onion flavor to dishes when added near the end of cooking.In the hot months, extra watering may be required to keep the soil moist.
Rosemary’s pine-y aroma is a delight to many cooks and plant lovers alike. The woody flavor brings out rugged, wholesome flavors in root vegetables, soups, and meats. Rosemary is a sun-loving herb that also makes a great ornamental plant.Regular pruning keeps the plant from getting leggy and should be watered thoroughly once soil dries out.
Mint is a popular and easy plant to grow in the kitchen as it is fast-growing, easy to care for, and fragrant. Flourishing in indirect sunlight or partial shade, this plant is excellent for apartments with tight alleyways and small windows.Taste wise, mint is excellent in drinks or sweets, imparting a cooling, sweet taste. It is, by far, our winner for apartments that struggle with lighting.
Lemongrass is a plant that does best in warmer climates. It adds a sharp, tangy taste of minty lemon to many dishes without the typical citrus bitterness. It is popular in juices, teas, and oriental cuisine. You can even use it to clean air fryer elements. Best in hot, humid weather and full sun, lemongrass prefers well-draining, slightly acidic soil.
Parsley adds a splash of color to any dish and helps bring out flavors that are already present. Parsley prefers full sun to partial shade and monthly liquid fertilizer to thrive.One of the biggest challenges with parsley is root rot – any leftover water in the bottom of the pot should be dumped or drained so the roots don’t sit in moisture.
With a sweet and slightly bitter flavor profile, sage adds an herbal, warm taste with notes of eucalyptus and citrus. Sage is great with meat, root vegetables, or in winter soups. Sage is fairly drought-tolerant and enjoys full or partial sun.
Cilantro adds a fresh and cooling lemon-y flavor, typically added to tacos and fish. Cilantro is, surprisingly, one of the more challenging herbs on this list as hot weather will make it bolt; a condition where the plant permanently loses flavor. It does best in well-draining, moist soil, and thrives in full sun or light shade.
With warm flavors akin to celery and anise, dill is an excellent addition to light sauces, creams, and dressings, fish, soups, stews, or root vegetables. Popular in French cooking, it prefers well-draining, slightly acidic soil and full sun or light shade.