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“Complete Guide to Indoor Gardening + Top 3 Smart Gardens”

Indoor Tomato Garden

When the winter blahs set in and you’re dreaming of fresh greens from your summer garden, consider growing indoors.

Not only do plants cleanse your household air (read about Greens That Clean) and improve the aesthetics of any indoor space, they can provide your family with a wealth of yummy, organic foods.

City dwellers, or those without a good gardening spot in the yard, may find growing indoors especially useful.

Plants don’t need to take up much space — a windowsill is fine if that’s all you have. For others, the indoor garden may become starter plants for an outdoor garden come spring.

What to include in your indoor garden comes down to your gardening setup indoors.

Our guide will teach you everything you’ll need to grow all kinds of plants from vegetables and herbs, to flowers and fruits.

What is Indoor Gardening?

Indoor gardening can be something as simple as growing plants in a pot or two, to more elaborate setups growing different types of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers.

Simply put, it’s the act of growing different produce inside your home that you would otherwise grow outside.

This could be due to many different reasons ranging from lack of outdoor space, cold temperatures outdoors that prevent growing your desired produce, to wanting to pick your own herbs indoors.

Regardless of your reasoning behind it, indoor gardening can be incredibly fun and rewarding to do.

With the right space and set up indoors, you can easily grow a wide range of plants inside the comfort of your own home. All you need to do is to make sure you pick plants that are suitable for the place you plan on growing them in.

There are two main ways you can garden indoors: the conventional way by creating your own setup or going for smart gardening kits that do most of the work for you.

Here at Planet Natural, we believe in providing you with all the information, ideas, and resources to have everything you need to do indoor gardening however you choose.

And so, we’ll discuss both styles of gardening indoors and at the end of the article, you’ll also share some great indoor gardening kits you can try.

Now you can enjoy growing indoors all year long! At Planet Natural, we’ve carefully selected only the best indoor gardening supplies — from lighting to hydroponics — to make your indoor growing experiences blossom. Got bugs? Check out our Pest Problem Solver for pictures, descriptions, and a complete list of earth-friendly remedies.

How to Get Started with Indoor Gardening

Indoor gardening may sound a little intimidating at first, but it’s incredibly easy once you get started.

There are a few things to consider when growing indoors. Let’s look at each of them in further detail:

Space

An indoor garden can take up as much or as little space as you are willing to give it. Growing plants of all kinds, even tomato gardening can be done on a windowsill or on a table.

Larger growers or the more dedicated may want to set up a table or bench specifically for the garden.

Find an area with a tile or linoleum floor to catch the inevitable drops of water, or place a tarp under your table.

Shelves provide lots of planting room while taking up little space. If using shelves, make sure that adequate light reaches every plant. This may require a separate grow light for each shelf.

Light

Plants need light to photosynthesize and need to photosynthesize to survive. Without adequate light, a plant will grow tall and spindly.

If there is enough energy to grow leaves, they still may not totally expand. And without enough light, don’t plan on seeing flowers or fruit.

Even plants grown near a window will probably not get enough light during the winter months to thrive.

There are a few things to think about when purchasing a grow light.

  1. Plants have photoreceptors that absorb specific wavelengths of light. Your light needs to have the same wavelengths as the sun, which is why a regular light bulb doesn’t work.
  2. The light should be as close to the plant as possible without burning the leaves.
  3. Most vegetables and other plants do best with 14-16 hours of sunlight or simulated light. There are a few ways you can tell if your plant is getting enough light or not. If it isn’t getting enough light, it usually will have small leaves, thin stems, and the color of the plant will be lighter than usual.
  4. A hormone called “florigen” controls budding and flowering. Long-day plants require about 14 to 18 hours of light to produce just the right amount of florigen to flower and reproduce. Short-day plants require about 10-13 hours of light. If short-day plants are exposed to too much light, florigen can be destroyed, preventing blooming.

Selecting a Grow Light

There are a lot of different grow lights for sale out there and it can be confusing to figure out which type is best for your indoor garden. The following run-down should bring some clarity:

Incandescent Lamps

Incandescent Lamps are inexpensive and can be bought at a hardware store or nursery. While they work OK for growing houseplants, they are not ideal for an indoor garden.

Fluorescent Lights

Fluorescent Lights work best for growing herbs and other plants that don’t require a lot of light. They are not good for plants that are budding or flowering because they don’t put off enough light. Inexpensive, they can be purchased at the local hardware or garden supply store.

The new Compact Fluorescent Systems, however, are quite bright and efficient and in some cases might even be better than the fancier high intensity discharge (HID) lights.

Compact fluorescents are smaller and more efficient than older forms of fluorescent lighting so they can be used for all plants. They also produce less heat than incandescent and HID lights and consequently can be placed much closer to the plant.

High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Bulbs

High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Bulbs are the brightest and most efficient lights available, but they can be expensive. One 1,000-watt grow light bulb can produce the same amount of light as 50 40-watt fluorescent lights.

If you’re looking for the best HIB bulbs, we recommend Hortilux HPS Bulbs.

They fine-tune your lighting system to provide optimum spectral energy levels (2100K) that promote vigorous plant growth and abundant yields.

They also provide 17% more total spectral energy and 25% more energy in the violet, blue and green spectrum than standard sodiums.

Types of HID Bulbs

There are several types of HID bulbs:

  • High Pressure Sodium
  • Metal Halide
  • Low Pressure Sodium
  • Mercury Vapor

The High Pressure Sodium and Metal Halide bulbs are the only ones indoor gardeners will need.

High Pressure Sodium (HPS) Bulbs produce a red-orange light that benefits flowering. With an average lifespan 2X that of metal halides, high pressure sodium lamps are economical.

However, this isn’t a great light if you are only going to use one, as it doesn’t produce light in the blue spectrum needed for leafy growth.

Metal Halide (MH) Bulbs produce a blue-white color that is conducive to encouraging leafy growth and keeps plants compact.

A bulb will last about 10,000 hours and produce up to 125 lumens per watt compared to 39 lumens per watt for standard fluorescent lights and 18 lumens per watt for standard incandescent bulbs.

This is a good light to start plants out with. When it comes time to flower, switch to a High-Pressure Sodium bulb.

There is more to a grow light than just the bulb. You can purchase the reflector, cord, ballast, bulb, and other parts separately, or buy a whole system that just needs to be plugged in

What Size Grow Light Do I Need?

This will vary depending on the mounting height of the reflector (how far above your plants the light is) and the size of your indoor garden.

In general, the following recommendations apply:

Size of Light
(Wattage)
Area Coverage
Recommendations
Mounting Height
Above Plants
400 Wattno outside light
some sunlight
5′ x 5′ area
8′ x 8′ area
1 to 4 Feet
600 Wattno outside light
some sunlight
 7′ x 7′ area
10′ x 10′ area
1.5 to 5 Feet
1000 Wattno outside light
some sunlight
 8′ x 8′ area
12′ x 12′ area
2 to 6 Feet

 

If you want to read more on grow light coverage, check out our complete guide to learn everything you need to know about supplying adequate light coverage to your indoor plants.

Temperature

Temperatures of 65-75°F are best for most plants. A variance of 10°F either way will probably be OK.

Plants that are too hot will be small and weak. Plants grown at too-cold temperatures may have yellow leaves that fall off.

Control cooling or heating within your growing environment with the Autopilot Cooling Thermostat (APCET).

Choose different day and night temperatures automatically maintained by the built-in photocell. Current conditions and set-points are shown via the easy-to-read LED display.

Humidity

A lack of humidity in the house can be a challenge for indoor gardeners. Winter tends to be drier than summer, and if you run the heat in your house the problem is further compounded.

You know you have a low-humidity problem if:

  1. The tips of your leaves are turning brown
  2. Plants look withered or puckered
  3. Plants lose their leaves
  4. You’ve researched how much humidity your particular plant needs and it isn’t getting it.

To increase humidity:

  • Mist plants daily, or more often as needed. (Do not do this with hairy-leaved plants since the water hangs around longer and could cause disease.)
  • Place a tray of water near your garden (don’t put plants in the tray, this can lead to other problems). Fill the tray with lava rocks to increase surface area for evaporation.
  • Place plants close together to create a microenvironment with a higher relative humidity.
  • Run a humidifier (this might benefit your skin as well!).
  • Purchase an environmental controller, which can humidify or dehumidify depending on your needs.

Growing Medium

Indoor gardens benefit from a good planting medium — soil found outside is not appropriate, since it’s often too heavy and may contain weed seeds and insect pests.

Instead, look for a mix that is specific to indoor plants. A good growing media should remain loose and drain well, yet contain enough organic matter to hold nutrients and moisture.

Most commercial organic mixes will work well, or you can create your own. If you check out our guide on Potting Mix Recipes to learn how.

If you’re looking for a great option, we recommend FoxFarm® Ocean Forest Soil. It is ready to use right out of the bag and provides the ideal environment for young seedlings to become thriving plants.

Lightweight and well-aerated, it’s the perfect all-natural mix for container grown plants!

Hydroponics

Instead of growing indoor plants in a soil mixture, you may want to try out hydroponics. Basically, this means gardening without soil.

Soil holds nutrients and anchors plants’ roots. When growing hydroponically you provide the nutrients directly.

Instead of being bound up in soil, the nutrients are readily available to the plants.

Some of the advantages of growing hydroponically include:

  • Faster plant growth (up to 50% faster) since plants can easily access water and food.
  • Roots grow throughout the media without becoming root bound, so containers can be smaller.
  • Plants start in a disease-free medium and are less likely to become infected.
  • If plants do become sick, the disease is usually in one plant, not all of them.
  • Plants droop before they wilt, so you’ll know to water them before they are damaged.

Check out the Hydroponics Glossary at www.hydrofarm.com. Hydrofarm is the nation’s oldest and largest manufacturer of hydroponics equipment and grow lights. We offer many of their products here at Planet Natural.

Choosing Plants

Almost anything can be grown indoors — as long as it eventually doesn’t get too big.

However, do consider growing plants with similar light, humidity, and watering needs together.

Some obvious choices for an indoor garden include:

VEGETABLES

Peppers
Salad Greens
Kale
Chard
Carrots
Onions
Tomatoes, especially cherry types
Beans, Bush
HERBS
Basil
Parsley
Oregano
Lavender
Cilantro
Rosemary
Chives
Catmint
FLOWERS
Geranium
Pansy
Zinnia
Roses
Candytuft
Alyssum
Marigold
Petunia
Begonia
Shasta Daisy
FRUITS
Strawberries
Blueberries
Apples, dwarf varieties
Citrus

 

Don’t stop there, as mentioned above, almost anything — fruits, flowers, herbs and vegetables — can be grown in a container.

Plants can be grown from seed (started inside and staying inside) or they can be transplanted from your outdoor garden at the end of the season.

Plants will need to be acclimated before bringing them in the house and again when you put them outside in the spring or fall.

How to Move Plants Outside

Plants and seedling grown inside need a period of ‘hardening off’ before they can permanently live outdoors.

The hardening off process gives them time to develop a thicker cuticle and avoid water loss while being better able to withstand the harshness of weather.

The following steps will help acclimate indoor plants to life in the great outdoors.

  1. 7-10 days before you want to transplant your plants, place them outside in a shady spot or cold frame for 3-4 hours.
  2. Each day, increase the time spent outdoors by 1-2 hours. Bring plants back in each night.
  3. After 2-3 days, place plants in morning sun, then move them into the shade in the afternoon.
  4. If the temperature stays around 50°F, plants should be able to stay out all day and night after 7 days.
  5. In about 7-10 days transplant your seedlings or plants. If possible, transplant on a cloudy day and water thoroughly.

To acclimate plants by withholding water or by using a cold frame, read How to Harden Off Plants.

How to Move Plants Inside

At the end of the growing season you may want to move plants inside to your indoor garden.

After potting these plants (if they are not already in containers) they will need a period of acclimation, just as plants going the other direction do.

Maintenance

Now that your garden is planted and growing, it’s time for the watering, staking, pruning and overall general care to begin. Ahhh! The fun stuff. Need help? Our expert guides will ensure that your favorite crop is a huge success.

Watering

Plants grown in containers dry out more quickly than their soil-grown counterparts and require frequent watering (see Watering Potted Plants).

Always use room-temperature water and add enough water that it runs through the drain holes of your pot or container (do not let water collect in a saucer or under the plant — this can lead to rot or disease).

Use your finger to feel the soil or use a moisture meter to be sure you are not over or under-watering plants.

Signs of OverwateringSigns of Under Watering
Wilting from stem towards leavesWilts along the outer tips of the leaves first
Lower leaves droppingDry soil
DiscolorationBrown edges along the leaves
Plant might stop growingWilting foliage
Wilting foliageLeaves or flowers drop prematurely

 

Do you have a hard time remembering to water the plants? Read How To Make a Self Watering Garden or How to Make a Self-Watering Seed Starter in Ten Minutes to learn how to start a garden that waters itself.

Fertilizer/ Nutrients

Plants grown indoors will need an extra boost of nutrients or fertilizer since most of the nutrients in the soil or growing medium are quickly taken up by the plants or leached out during watering.

Organic fertilizers and hydroponic nutrients for indoor plants abound. Follow the instructions on the package for how much to use and how often to fertilize.

If you compost at home, you can make a compost tea to water your indoor plants. Here’s how:

  1. Fill a bucket about 1/3 full with finished compost.
  2. Add water until the bucket is full.
  3. Let the bucket sit for a few hours, if not three or four days (don’t let it freeze!).
  4. Using cheesecloth or a fine screen, strain the mixture into another container. (Anything leftover can be thrown into the garden or back into the compost bin.)
  5. Add water to the liquid until it is the color of weak tea.
  6. Apply the compost tea to the soil around your plants.

Troubleshooting

Growing Indoor Plants with Success (PDF) – To be a successful indoor gardener, you need to understand how the interior environment affects plant growth and how cultivation differs from growing plants outdoors (University of Georgia Cooperative Extension).

 

Top 3 Smart Gardens for Indoor Gardening

Indoor gardening is incredibly rewarding, but it does require some time. If you’re usually short on time but still crave an indoor garden, you can try out these indoor gardening kits!

With their built-in self-watering systems and LED grow lights, these smart gardens require virtually no maintenance or attention. They also come in various different sizes and are designed to grow different types of produce.

Here are our top 3 picks of the best smart gardens in 2022:

Click & Grow Smart Garden 3

Click and Grow Smart Garden 3

 

This great smart garden unit is small but efficient. It’s the perfect size for growing essential herbs such as basil, chives, mint, or salad greens in the kitchen.

It’s incredibly simple to operate, and a great choice for someone entirely new to gardening. It comes with self-contained seed pods, LED grow lights and a water tank that you need to refill once every 3 to 4 weeks.

The Click & Grow Smart Garden 3 measures only 11.8 inches by 4.5 inches, which makes it the perfect size to fit on top of your kitchen garden.

This particular unit itself comes with 3 basil pods, but you can pick from a bunch of different salad greens, fruits, and vegetable seed pods from their website. The price starts from $9.95 onwards for 3 pods.

But in case you’re looking for a bigger size, don’t worry! Click & Grow comes in various different sizes from the Smart Garden 9 which holds 9 seed pods, to all the way to 27 seed pods with Smart Garden 27.  We cover every model they make in Click and Grow Products: A Complete Guide for Beginners.

 

Aerogarden Harvest

AeroGarden Harvest

AeroGarden is a great brand and one of the leaders in the market. Their smart gardens come in many different sizes from small ones that can fit on your countertop, to larger units that can grow up to 20 plants at a time.  We cover everything model in AeroGarden Products: A Complete Guide for Beginners.

It also happens to be the brand with the most widespread availability, making it a great option when you’re looking for replacement pods at your local garden centers and stores.

The Harvest is a great option to start with and you can grow 6 plants at a time. There are 4 different 6-pod options you can pick from when purchasing this unit, including an herb seed kit which comes with thyme, curly parsley, dill, Thai basil, Genovese basil, and mint.

It also comes in three different colors to choose from and has simple illustrated buttons to help care for your plant. With up to 12 inches of grow height, it’s a great unit to grow herbs, lettuces, cherry tomatoes, etc.

 

Rise Gardens Single Family Garden

Rise Gardens Personal Garden

If you’re looking for a stylish indoor garden to match your modern interior, Rise Gardens Single Family Garden is a great choice!

This unit comes with a self-fertilizing and self-watering system and is completely hydroponic, which means it doesn’t come with any soil pods that you’ll need to handle.

It comes with a 5-gallon water tank and LED lights which can all be controlled and monitored through their integrated app. The app tracks plant growth and will let you know when to adjust nutrients, water, and light. Plus, you can even control this unit with Alexa!

You’ll need 36” by 16” space for this unit along with power access. It’ll allow you to grow 12 plants at a time, but you can also add levels to increase the shoot capacity for a steady supply of fresh herbs or greens.

What sets this one apart from others on the list is that it’s built with a solid wood design, along with heavy-gauge steel, which makes it look a lot like a modern piece of furniture rather than a small smart garden unit.

If that’s too big for you, you can go for their Personal Garden unit which is great to grow a small herb garden, microgreens, or salad greens at home.

But, instead, if you’re looking for a really big system, their Triple Family Garden can hold more than 100 plants!

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