Don’t let a lack of outdoor space discourage you from gardening! Many people have designed beautiful indoor garden spaces. Here is a guide on things to consider when creating your apartment garden.
What You Need:
- Planting media (soil replacement)
- Plants of course (or seeds)
Chances are, you already have sunlight, water, and space in your apartment – and even even you don’t have much, you have enough for an apartment garden. For apartment gardening, larger amounts of the big three will simply give you more freedom for more plants, and more varieties of them.
Everything else required will take money, and the amount needed will scale with how large you want your own garden to be. You can develop a green thumb on the smallest of budgets – a small herb garden can cost as little as thirty dollars.
While an outdoor space is preferable, growing vegetables indoors is very doable. With grow lights, we can produce fresh vegetables to enjoy eating year round from our indoor apartment gardens.
When container gardening, planting media of choice will invariably be potting mix (not potting soil).
Where To Keep Your Apartment Garden
To answer this question you need to understand the variable requirements of plants you wish to grow, and the level of light available.
If your plants need:
- Low to medium light = inside and away from windows
- Bright direct or indirect sun = outside or next to window
Next is to think why you want an apartment garden? Maybe you want a sanctuary away from the concrete jungle, in which case you may want a dedicated balcony garden. Or perhaps it’s to cheaply produce your own vegetables, fresh herbs, or fruits.
Any spots near windows, or an outdoor space such as a balcony/roof, will be the best candidates for vegetables. These areas will receive more sunlight, which means your plants will be much healthier.
Common Limitations & Solutions:
- Not much space? Hanging gardens, vertical gardens or multiple plants condensed into the same container.
- Not much direct light? Purchase indoor plants that developed in low light conditions and need less sunlight, or supplement sunlight with grow lights.
- Not much time to tend to gardening? Opt for soilless gardening (hydroponics), or dry plants like cacti/succulents.
- Low budget? Start with smaller edibles to save money on fertilizers/pots, and then expand your apartment gardening arsenal over time.
We should prioritize spaces where the plants get optimal light exposure.
North facing windows receive the most light in the southern hemisphere, and south facing windows receive the most light in the northern hemisphere. If you are on, or very close to the equator, this distinction matters less because the sun is above you.
Despite the east and west facing windows receiving long hours in the direct light, they receive less intense light due to the steeper angle.
Do the plants you want require a lot of direct sun i.e flowering plants? Then you will want to prioritize the window that faces the sun in the middle of the day. If you don’t have an area that is exposed to midday sunlight, or you need more sun than seasons allow, then try choosing plants that need less light, or use grow lights
Direct sunlight is sunlight without obstruction. If tall buildings or clouds block the sun, then your plant will be receiving indirect sunlight. Direct sun is ten times more intense than the strongest indirect sunlight (cloudless skies), and many plants require it. Windows diffuse light and reduce its strength, but that is primarily UVB rays which are not vital to a plants well being. UVA rays required for photosynthesis still penetrate.
It will be easy to tell whether a spot you’ve picked out is in direct, or bright indirect sunlight. Distinguishing between medium and lower light levels can sometimes be tricky. A useful trick to tell, is to look at your finger tips. If you can see the details of your fingerprint, you’re in medium light.
A clean water supply is important, but good news is that any water supply you can drink from, your plants can drink from as well. To water your plants, a generic watering can or pouring directly from a glass (if container is small) is fine.
For convenience, you could purchase a retractable hose which attaches to a tap, and is easily compacted after use. You also want to make sure the water is not extremely cold or hot, as temperature fluctuations will damage roots.
When you decide to water, you should ensure the entirety of the media is moist. Generally you will water until water starts leaking through the drainage holes. This method also keeps the roots healthy, by ‘leaching’, meaning washing away any minerals that may be dormant in the media, that come from fertilizers and harder waters.
Watering schedule should be flexible, and catered entirely to the specific needs of your garden.
The best way to double check if your plant needs water, is to check the moisture of the media. Checking is just a matter of running your hands through the top inch of media. Some plants do like dryer media, so depending on the needs of your plant you may want to wait a little longer before watering, however as a general rule for the broadest range of plants, it will be hard to go wrong.
Be wary if your media dries out too much, because the outsides will crack, creating spaces for some water to pass through without moistening the media. So long as you’re aware of this, you can take account and simply water the media more often.
If your plant starts to wilt, it needs urgent watering. Excessive wilting will damage, often to a point of no return.
Planting media saturated with water can be roughly three times the weight. If you are considering filling your garden with large plants, and in large quantities, make sure the space can handle the weight by checking with your building management. This is especially relevant if you’re planning for a balcony garden.
Some plants require higher humidity levels than others. For those that need higher humidity, you’ll want to supplement watering of the media with a water spray bottle. Plants grouped together also raise humidity levels. Any spare empty spray bottle i.e perfume, sanitisation spray will work when filled with water, so long as they have been thoroughly cleaned beforehand.
Ok so you now have an apartment gardening space allocated after considering; your location, available outdoors areas, the direction of any windows, any obstructions to the sun, and free desk/floor spaces.
Firstly, we can place plants into shared containers, in shared soil. This both adds texture and interest to our garden, and also minimizes how much space we require. Just be sure that all of the plants have similar requirements for sun and water; a dry plant that requires little water + a lot of light, paired with a tropical one that requires a lot of moisture and shade = recipe for disaster.
You can also place plants with different water requirement together by keeping them in their own containers. Then placing those containers within a larger container, and covering the surface with moss. Both plants will need to be watered individually.
Window boxes are also great when working with limited room, and are well suited to growing fresh herbs, or salad greens.
Secondly, we can get creative. By using the walls and ceilings we can fit a surprising amount into an otherwise tiny space. Vertical wall gardens, are a fantastic option, which are simply containers on a frame, attached to the wall. These can be purchased or made yourself with minimal tools. Some industrious small apartment gardeners even use hanging shoe racks. Anything that can be fitted sturdily, and that can hold media could be a candidate. Home made solutions can add a huge amount of personality.
Hanging baskets also make use of any vertical space, either hanging from ceiling fittings, undersides of shelving, or off anything secure and can handle the weight. These work best with plants that also hang, creating a waterfall like effect.
Some plants grow directly upwards, into the supports/ceilings where light is less plentiful. Hanging plants have the best chance of receiving the same amounts of light across their entirety.
Coconut fiber as a lining works well to support the root ball and media within the basket, but absorbs a lot of moisture, so another lining of plastic with drainage holes cut into it, i.e a garbage bag will keep moisture in.
For apartment gardening in small spaces, i.e a corner, with suitable lighting, we can ‘stack’. Stacking refers to placing multiple pots at different heights, so they don’t bump into each other, and each plant gets it’s share of the light. Include hanging baskets, and a hanging wall and you’ll have a complete garden within a couple of square feet.
If you have a balcony, balcony gardens are a fantastic substitute for an outdoor garden. You can keep your plants out of the way, whilst still easy to access and enjoy. Perfect spot for a vegetable garden, and other typical outdoor plants such as fruiting and flowering plants.
All plants will require effective drainage, allowing any excess water to pass through the soil. Without it, the water is trapped in the pot, and ‘drowns’ or ‘waterlogs’ the roots causing root rot from the lack of oxygen, and killing the plant.
Any container with holes in the bottom, will be well draining. We don’t want that water to drip over our floors, so we will also need drainage trays for the pots to sit on.
Another option is double potting, which is how it sounds; we place our container inside another. This second container can both act as our drainage tray, whilst also being decorative and eye catching at the same time. Gravel lining at the bottom of the outer pot will allow excess water to drain through, keeping the inner pot from sitting in water.
For both options, be sure to empty the excess water regularly to avoid drowning the roots
If you are planning for a balcony garden, there are planters specifically designed to sit on railings. We wouldn’t recommend if too high up or the water from the drainage holes are likely to fall onto people below.
Window boxes could also allow us to make extra use of limited space.
Porous or non porous?
Porous containers dry more quickly, and in the case of pottery, can crack in cold temperatures as water trapped in the pores starts to expand. They can also prevent out of control root growth – the higher oxygen and lower humidity kills the root tips, thus keeping the root structure tidy.
Porous containers absorb water more quickly, and as a result will need to be watered more often. Using a less porous plastic liner, ie. garbage bag, with holes for drainage, will mitigate this. In the case of pottery, trapped water can expand in the cold and crack the container.
Certain containers require extra consideration before buying because different materials are affected by temperature and weather conditions. Pottery has pores that retain moisture, and if frozen, this water will expand and crack your pot. Metal containers fluctuate in temperature more, and as such can heat up the soil so much in summer months, that it damages the roots, and dries the soil too quickly. Likewise the roots also become damaged when excessively cold. These problems can be resolved through an insulated and waterproof lining, such as foam.
Plastic is a great material to use, because although it fades and becomes brittle over time, it’s long lasting and insulates against temperature changes, and because it’s not porous, it efficiently retains moisture. If you don’t like the aesthetics, then you can always double pot them into something more decorative
If you expect the plants to grow large, in relation to the pot, or your free standing containers are going to stay in high winds. you’ll want to get a pot with a base wider or equal to its upper rim i.e any pot with straight sides, and that is proportional to the plant. Also strapping the plant to a support structure like a latticed wall, will help to distribute the weight. Or a wind block.
Other Container Considerations
- Larger thicker pots protect from overwintering (roots getting too cold).
- Use shallow containers for plants that need to dry out.
- Larger pots need less frequent watering.
- The root ball/system should fit comfortably.
- If the pot is too big it will retain moisture for longer, raising the chances of root rot.
The media we want to be using, whether it be for indoor gardening or outdoor gardening, is potting mix, which is the soil alternative used for potted plants. You don’t want to be using ordinary garden soil, or potting soil(which partially contains garden soil).
The reasons for this:
- Garden soil can often contain disease, or weed seeds.
- When used in pots, garden soil compresses over time, throttling the amount of aeration (air flow) and drainage (water flow) necessary for the root survival, and root growth.
Potting mix contains extra minerals such as perlite, or vermiculite, which allow the mix to retain its structure without caving on itself, and suffocating the roots. It also has the added benefit of typically containing some fertilizer, making it more convenient for new growers.
You won’t need to replace the media, unless your plant has outgrown its container and needs to be moved, or has become root bound
How do you choose plants, with practically endless varieties available?
If you want to grow your own vegetables, herbs or fruit, there are dwarf and semi dwarf varieties of fruiting/vegetable plants which are more suitable for indoors, so long as they get direct sun (four to six hours for veg, six to eight for fruit)
The best plants for you will be primarily a matter of taste, but if you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas, for each type of light:
- Purple Passion
- Spider Plant
- Jade Plants
- String of Pearls
Bright indirect sunlight (exposed to lots of sky)
- Rhapis Palm
Medium light (typical ambient lighting in the daytime) –
- Cast Iron
Minimal light (shade) –
- Snake Plants
For garden care, light general maintenance is typically all that is required. Most of the work is already done through proper lighting, watering and fertilizing.
Common Problems & Solutions
Problem: Leaf damage / Solution: Trim or pick leaves
Problem:flower damage/decline / Solution: Trim from stalk
Problem: branches growing too long, losing shape/ Solution: pinch ends of branches to stunt growth, and encourage new branches to sprout.
Problem: Root binding / Solution: Prune roots with shears outside of growing season (once every three years or so)
There you have it. That’s our complete primer on everything you need to know in order to set up your own apartment garden, and to keep it healthy, vibrant, and beautiful year round! We hope it has been helpful.