The winter snow is slowly rolling in, and the chilly temperatures and frosty conditions are keeping your garden from growing outside. If you don’t want to give up your favorite hobby during the winter, or you’ve decided you want to pick up gardening, but think it’s too late–it’s time to discover indoor gardening!
Why Should I Garden Indoors?
After the harvest, your crops are gone, but you don’t have to wait until the spring to begin again! Starting to grow your crops and plants inside will mean that, once the threat of frost is gone, you will have vegetables and herbs already growing before they’re even in the ground. Not to mention the fact that growing plants indoors improves the air quality of your home, as many plants filter toxins in the air around them. If you are worried about the lack of variety of plants that are available in garden centers this time of year, there are plenty of online stores that carry a wide variety of seeds all year round. Seeds are extra affordable, and you will always receive more than you need, so you can save them for the next year when you start another indoor garden!
Where Should I Start?
The first step to ensuring that your indoor garden is successful is to find the right location to grow your plants. Remember that seeds will thrive in light, warm, and humid conditions. Find a place in your home that is large enough to hold all of the plants you wish to grow. The right location either has lots of natural light, or room for you to put lots of artificial lights in the room. Consider investing in some heat lamps near your plants, or a portable heater to keep in the room. When it comes to light, often times grow lights can be more beneficial for your plants than sunlight, as your plants love to be in direct light for as long as they can be. Another way to ensure your plants are getting enough light is to place something shiny or white around your plants, which will reflect the even more light onto them.
Containing Your Plants
Now that you’ve found the perfect location for your plants, it’s time to decide exactly what to put them in to ensure they start off their growth on a good foot (or root). The first thing to consider when looking for a container is that it should have a place for excess water to drain. If not, the excess water will stay in the soil at the bottom of the container, and may cause rotting or mold in your roots or soil. If you find the perfect-sized container, but it does not have holes–simply add your own! When you are just beginning to plant seeds, use a very small container. If your container is too large, the plant cannot use all of the water in the soil, and this may cause root rot. If the container is too small, the soil will soak up the water too quickly, leaving you with stunted roots and a plant that will not grow. Remember that you will need to re-pot your plants as they grow, so don’t be afraid to start off small! We recommend using old yogurt cups, paper drinking cups, or even old egg cartons to plant your beginning seeds in.
The Planting Stage
You have your location and you have your containers, now it’s time to plant your seeds! Find the correct soil for your planting needs. The normal instinct is to reach for a big bag of potting soil. However, potting soil may be too fine for your little seeds to properly root through, so we advise you to steer away from just potting soil. Instead, consider using peat moss, or even jiffy pellets, as these will hold enough water for your plants while still allowing oxygen to get through to the roots. Fun tip: remember to label your seeds when you plant them, as no one likes forgetting which plant is which! The next few things your plants will need are:
Watering your seeds is a careful process. You must not water them too forcefully, too little, or too much. Your seeds will be happy if the peat moss or jiffy pellets around them are moist, but never completely wet. The same rule goes for when the plants begin to sprout, and you move them to soil. It is easier to bring back a plant that is under-watered, as plants typically do not survive over-watering. Err on the cautious side, and water your plant every other day.
Light & Heat
When your seeds are first planted, they do not need light as much as they need heat. If your plant is too hot, it will be weak and will not grow; if the temperature is too cold, the plant will have yellow leaves that fall off easily. Keeping your plants at a temperature between 65-75°F will ensure a happy seed! If you prefer to keep your home cooler, consider investing in a heat lamp. If you like your home to be warmer, consider placing your plants closer to a window, or in cooler part of your home, like the basement. When the seedlings begin to sprout, that is when you ensure that the little greens have plenty of light! If you chose a location with little to no natural light, we suggest you use Grow lights. They are a great investment for indoor gardening, and this way your plants can have more hours of light than the short winter days provide. If you are keeping your plants by a window, make sure you are turning your sprouts so that each side receives equal amounts of light.
Your plants do not only need water and light, but humidity. Your plants need humid air to thrive in, as dry air takes the moisture out of the pores the plant uses to breathe. The water from the roots of the plant does not replace this moisture, and thus your plants need a humid environment to thrive in. A good rule of thumb is: the thinner the leaf, the more humidity it needs; the thicker the leaf, the more moisture it can retain.
Fun tip: when you first plant your seeds, take a plastic bottle and cut it in half. Then, unscrew the cap, and place it over your seed with the cap side in the air. This will create a mini greenhouse for your plant, retaining the humidity! This is also a great way to recycle your plastic bottles. If you don’t have plastic bottles on hand, simply place a large pan of water near your plants. This will provide a large space filled with moisture for the air to take in, keeping your plants from drying out.
Your plants do need hydrogen and oxygen, which the receive from water and light. However, your plants also need other natural chemicals to thrive: potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus. These are found in most fertilizers, which help strengthen your plant and make it grow to its full potential. It is important to fertilize your seedlings, but you must be careful; too much fertilizer can harm your seedling. Also, granular fertilizer should not come into contact with your seedling, as it will cause burning or harm to your seedling.
The Re-potting Stage
When your seedlings have sprouted, it’s almost time to re-pot! After the second set of leaves have grown on your sprout, prepare a slightly larger pot with potting soil and fertilizer. Now is the time to remove the make-shift greenhouse from your plant, and gently plant your sprout in your prepared pot. Your plants will be in a state of shock from being transplanted, so water them well one time, and keep them out of direct light for a few days. This will allow your sprouts to adjust to their new environment, and begin to root. Keep your sprouts at the same temperature, keep their leaves moist, and water according to the amount of light they receive. The more light the get, the more water they will need!
Re-pot your plants as necessary as they continue to grow. It is normal for plants to need to be re-potted multiple times before they are moved outside! A seedling that is ready to be re-potted will come out of its container in one piece, with all the soil attached. If the soil is loose and falls out, your sprout is not quite ready to be re-potted! Some signs that your plant is ready to be re-potted are: the roots are pushing through the bottom of the container, or pushing the plant up; the plant has stopped growing; or the plant dries out faster than normal.
With these tips and tricks in mind, you should be ready to begin your indoor garden this winter! Follow our blog for more ways that you can grow green this winter, and send us pictures of your indoor gardens on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #PLGKC.