Do More With Less: 5 Tips and Tricks for Getting The Most Out Of Your Small-Space Indoor Garden
Imagine being able to turn an otherwise empty windowsill or corner of your countertop into a garden that offered not only physical and mental health benefits but also became a source of the most deliciously fresh herbs and veggies you’ve ever tasted.
In this blog, we’ll discuss 5 Tips and Tricks on indoor growing, how you can grow more with less, and make the most of your small space or indoor garden.
Plant Selection Tips for Indoor Growing
One of the most important decisions you will make when starting indoor growing or gardening is deciding which plants to grow.
Amongst the ‘house plant’ tribe this decision is usually heavily influenced by aesthetics, but when you’re getting into edible plants there are a bunch of other things you should consider.
- Grow Plants that You Like To Eat - I personally love Cilantro. But if you’re one of those people who think it takes like grass, then you’re obviously going to want to skip it.
- Grow Things That Are Best Eaten Fresh. While all produce starts breaking down right after it’s picked, some keep a lot longer than others. We think it makes sense to focus our home-grown gardening efforts on plants that experience a very rapid degradation of quality after they’ve been harvested. We’ve got a separate article that lists these out.
- Where A Little Goes A Long Way. Herbs like basil, dill, and parsley are all strong candidates here. Until you’ve experienced the difference firsthand, it’s hard to imagine just how different home-grown vs store-bought herbs really are!
- Grow herbs, vegetables, or fruits you can’t find in stores. Did you know that there are over 10,000 varieties of tomato? I bet you can’t even find 10 in your local supermarket. Food grown for its suitability to sit in the back of a truck than on a supermarket shelf is completely different from food that is grown for taste, flavor, or nutritional value. Go out and explore.
To learn more about any of the above topics, we recommend our separate blog titled ‘What Should I Grow Indoors?’
Cultivar Selection Tricks for Gardening Indoors
Now you know that ‘tomatoes ain’t tomatoes’ we should probably let you in on a little secret. Basil ain’t basil, either. And parsley ain’t parsley.
You see, within most varieties of common herbs, there are often dozens of different ‘cultivars’ (if we were talking about weed we might use the word ‘strains’). Some Thai Basil cultivars (for example) have green stems, some purple. Some have small leaves, some big. Some of dense foliage, others sparse.
Here’s where this concept gets important to you: some cultivars tend to be much better suited to indoor growing conditions than others.
Attributes that tend to be helpful for indoor and small space gardening are things like:
- dense foliage
- compact stature
- lower light tolerance
- draught resistance (cos, ummm, sometimes we’re not good at remembering to water them!)
- pest and disease resistance
When you strut down the local hardware store and buy whatever they happen to have hanging on the rack, chances are you are buying a cheap + generic cultivar that is for outdoor gardening.
If you’re looking for cultivars that have been selected for indoor gardening, then you need to be shopping elsewhere.
Here at Urban Leaf, our focus is indoor and urban gardening. It’s all we do. To learn more about cultivars and what makes an indoor & urban gardening company different from an outdoor one you may find ‘5 Reasons Why You Should Not Buy From Urban Leaf’ worth a read.
Lighting Tips for Indoor Growing
Having an indoor garden and not knowing how much light to give it is a bit like having a pet and now knowing how much to feed it.
You have two basic options when it comes to lighting for your indoor garden:
- Make do with what you have. If you’re lucky enough to have a large unobstructed south-facing window then you’re in luck, and chances are you can probably grow your plants in it year-round. But if that’s not the case, and your lighting situation is less than ideal, then you need to select plants that are going to be ok with what you can offer. In order of lighting preference, this means
- Microgreens - these need very little light. A window facing any direction is likely fine, and even if you have no windows at all growing microgreens is still possible.
- Lettuce and Leafy greens - these are the next most demanding in terms of light requirements.
- Flowers and Fruiting plants - these are most demanding in terms of light requirements. There need roughly 2x the amount of light that lettuce and leafy greens do. Do not attempt these plants unless you have 6-8 hours of unobstructed Spring/Summer lighting (OR a grow light - more on that below).
- Upgrade your lighting. If you’re not going to be able to grow the plants that you want with your natural light, then you will need to find a way to upgrade it. There are two main choices here:
- Improve your natural light utilization. This can be as simple as using a window shelf to add more space to the brightest parts of your home.
Use a grow light for your indoor plants. These are way less intimidating than they might sound, and you can get started for as little as $12. We also have a ton of content on grow lights on this site. Grow Lights - An Introduction for Indoor Gardeners and their plants is a good place to start.
Use Alternating Canopy Heights for Indoor Gardening
Unless you are growing microgreens from a tray, then chances are it won’t be the planter/container you’re using that determines how much you can grow. Rather, it will be the canopy width of your plants.
You might recall planting a packet of seeds before, and noticing that they have recommended spacing on the back of the packet. This is because the foliage of the plants needs a certain amount of space to spread out.
When all your pots are the same height, it means all your canopies are the same height, and clashing plant canopies from adjacent plants are likely to be what determines your density.
One way around this is to use alternating canopy heights. This can mean either
- Place short wide plants next to tall skinny ones. This should mean they are less likely to clash with each other.
- Use alternative pot/planter heights. Our bottle garden kits are a good example of a plant grown in a very high container, but you could also just use different height pots if you’re growing your indoor plants with soil.
Go Vertical with Your Indoor Garden
The final trick and tip for making the most of your small-space indoor garden is to go vertical. This means growing your indoor garden with rows planted above one another.
In a window, this is easy to achieve with something like a Window Shelf. You could also build your own window farm (see picture above), which could even include a pump that waters your indoor plants by itself.
If you’d like to learn more about how to get the most out of your small-space garden, we recommend grabbing a FREE copy of our 156-page eBook below. It contains comprehensive guides on the best way(s) to grow dozens of different edible plants indoors.