How to Bring the Outdoors in With Indoor Gardens

Your indoor garden certainly doesn't have to be this elaborate, but there really are few limits to what you can do. See more greenhouse pictures.
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If you're eyeing a nice plant at your local nursery but don't have room for it outdoors, bring it inside and see some unexpected advantages, like cleaning the air and helping to elevate your mood. Once you know a few simple tricks, an indoor garden is easy to care for. Don't smirk; it's true. Indoor gardens, or arrangements of plants that complement one another and your interior landscape, are beguiling and useful. If you don't have the space for an outdoor garden, or just want to add some outdoor ambiance to your rooms, invite some flowers, herbs or vegetable plants to share quarters with you.

Tips and Tricks for a Successful Indoor Garden


Most plants have simple needs. As guests go, they're relatively undemanding. There are only four basic things you need to understand before you decide to invite a plant home: light, water temperature and air. If you can master these four elements, from a plant's perspective, you can create an indoor garden just about anywhere in the world and during any season of the year.

  • Light - Most garden plants need at least six hours of light a day. But it has to be good light. If you put your hand in front of the window and it doesn't cast a shadow, chances are the light isn't adequate for most plants to live a happy life. However, you can always supplement low light conditions with grow lights.If you have modest natural light in your home and don't want to fuss with special lighting, stick to plants that normally need low-light conditions, or try moving your garden to a sunny windowsill.
  • Water - Plants need conditions close to those in their native habitats. A plant that calls the desert home will need less frequent watering than a plant that lives in a bog. Knowing what water conditions a plant prefers is a good first step to keeping a successful indoor garden. It's easier than you think because the plants themselves will often give you clues. Plants with thick rubbery leaves are water hoarders and can typically survive with less water than plants with thin, delicate leaves. If you hate to water your plants, choose varieties that can thrive on less, or pick plant-pots with hidden reservoirs to cut down on your watering chores.
  • Temperature - Plants also need the right temperature to grow in. Your home is probably warm enough for many plants, but because some places in the world experience distinct seasons, including freezing winters, plants from these areas need the cold to tell them it's time to do something, like hibernate for the winter. You can usually trick these plants into thinking it's winter by putting them somewhere cold for a while, like inside your fridge. There are also some seeds that need warmer temperatures to trigger sprouting. A bump in the mercury tells them that spring is on the way, and it's time to come out and join the party.
  • Air - As a byproduct of photosynthesis, plants produce oxygen and filter nasty gasses, like formaldehyde, from your home environment via their leaves. To keep plants healthy, you need to keep their leaves clean and keep the air around them moving and moist. To do this, you can place them in a spot with good air flow or provide them with a small fan. This is particularly important if you maintain plants in a conservatory or terrarium.To keep that nicely circulating air moist and plant-friendly, elevate your plant pots on a dish filled with marbles or pebbles that you've filled with water just below the top. That way the plants will get humidity, but their roots won't be sitting in water. Another great idea is to keep plants grouped together. They'll create a mini-environment that's a little more humid than other areas of your room.

Other Indoor Garden Considerations

Beyond these four essentials, plants need good soil, but you can usually find a convenient potting mix for most of your indoor plant needs. Some options include vegetable mix, cactus mix, African violet mix, orchid mix or general houseplant mix. When you buy a new plant, the soil it comes in is probably fine for the first few weeks.

When you bring plants indoors to grow in an artificial environment, you may have to make some trade-offs.

  • Plants that need lots and lots of strong light might not flower or set fruit, but they may give you enough nice greenery and fragrance to make keeping them worthwhile.
  • Plants that send out large or abundant roots may grow into smaller specimens than they would outdoors.
  • You may have to set your vegetable plants and dwarf fruit trees outdoors for a few days in spring or pollinate them artificially.

Depending on what you want or need from your indoor garden, there are usually work-arounds for most challenges.

Cool Plants to Grow Indoors

If you need some neat suggestions for indoor plants to keep you interested, how about a flowering indoor garden with lots of moth orchids (Phalaenopsis) and African violets (Saintpaulia)? They need similar growing conditions, and miniature African violets make a dramatic presentation in a container garden while some moth orchids can bloom for months at a time.

For a unique conversation starter at your next dinner party, try a carnivorous garden with pitcher plants (Nepenthes) and a few Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula) for good measure.

Growing your own indoor plants can be handy if you're into the occasional salad, too. With a very sunny location, or the help of a hydroponics kit, you can grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables that are bug-free and very convenient for snacking. If you like to cook, make potpourri or just enjoy growing fragrant plants, try an indoor herb garden with chives (Allium schoenoprasum), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), to name a few.

Now that you have some plant roommates, you can clean your indoor air, create a space where you can discover your inner farmer or start a green revolution one seedling at a time.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Hessayon, D.G. "The Greenhouse Expert." Expert Books. 1998
  • Jantra, Ingrid and Ursula Kurger. "The Houseplant Encyclopedia. Firefly Books 1997
  • Kramer, Jack. "Easy-Care Guide to Houseplants." Creative Homeowner. 1999
  • Newdick, Jane. "At Home With Herbs. Storey Communications. 1994.
  • Through the Garden Gate. "Indoor Vegetable Gardening." Undated. 3/22/10.