herb garden with grow lights on windowsill in apartment.  City skyline in the background.

How to start an indoor garden

By Teresa J. Frith

Growing your own vegetables is a great way to both save money and get healthier, but what can you do if you don’t have the ground space to plant a traditional garden?  No worries! It doesn’t matter if you live in a small apartment or a large house, starting an indoor vegetable garden can be easy and fun!

Here’s a few steps to take that will allow you to put together an indoor vegetable garden full of your favorites:

Determine where to put your indoor vegetable garden – Firstly, you must figure out the best spot to place your garden. Plants need the right temperature, as well as adequate light, water and nutrients. You need to choose an area which can provide all these things, though you can substitute an artificial light source such as a grow lamp for natural sunlight.

Your indoor garden needs enough space to hold whatever containers you choose to use. It could be as small as a kitchen windowsill if you only plan on growing a few herbs to spice up your cooking or as big as a spare room for growing multiple types of vegetables.

Choose the proper growing containers – You don’t need special containers to grow vegetables indoors. You can use anything from old jars to buckets or even trashcans. It all depends on the type of vegetables you want to grow. For instance, tomatoes might need a large bucket for each plant, while something like leaf lettuce could be grown in a small tray.

Choose the vegetables you want to grow – Many different vegetables can be grown in an indoor garden, but some are easier to grow than others. Some of the easiest to grow indoors include the following:

Carrots – Carrots require a container deep enough to hold the full grown final product, as well as wide and long enough to plant them in rows with enough space to allow proper expansion.

Beets – Beets need a container which provides a minimum of 17 inches in depth, as well as enough width to allow planting them about a foot apart.

Lettuce – Several varieties of lettuce can be grown indoors to include head lettuce, but leaf lettuce is the simplest. These grow quickly and don’t need a lot of space for a few plants. These can be grown from seeds or even regrown from food scraps (will be explained later).

Spinach – Spinach can be grown inside as long as your containers have proper drainage holes in them. The containers must be between 6 and 8 inches deep and wide enough to provide each plant with 3 to 5 inches of growing space.

Broccoli – Broccoli needs to be started in a tray for the seedlings and then transplanted after the appearance of five true leaves. They need three feet of space, so you need a fairly large area. They can only be grown inside if you can supply at least 6 hours of direct light daily.

Tomatoes – Tomatoes will not produce as much of a harvest if grown inside, but it can be done. They must be placed where they can get plenty of light and temperatures must be 65 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, in pots at least 6 inches deep for cherry tomatoes and bigger for other varieties.

Potatoes – Potatoes require a container of at least 2.5 gallons. They must be started with plenty of natural light, or they won’t germinate, but can be grown inside. After they sprout, be sure the eyes are facing the top.

Mushrooms – Mushrooms are simple to grow inside, and you don’t need any sort of light source at all. The best choice is oyster, white button or shiitake.

Various types of Peppers – You can grow just about any sort of peppers indoors from ghost peppers to bell peppers. Start in a seedling tray and after at least two leaves appear you can transplant into pots.

Dwarf Beans—It’s best to choose dwarf or bush varieties of beans for inside growing. They will need at least 6 hours of light. You can also choose bean sprouts, which are easier than regular bean plants.

Herbs – Several kinds of herbs do well inside to include mint, basil, thyme and rosemary. They can be grown from either seeds or cuttings. They need at least 6 hours of light.

Peas – Peas are a bit harder, as they require sufficient space for their vines, as well as 10 hours of light daily, but can be grown inside.

The above doesn’t include all plants that can be grown indoors, and if your favorites haven’t been mentioned, you can do your own research to see if they can be grown inside.

Other factors to consider

There are several other factors to keep in mind when growing an indoor garden. To include:

Pollination -- One of these is pollination needs. Since you are growing the plants inside, they cannot be pollinated by natural pollinators like bees and may need to be pollinated manually. This can be done by taking a small paintbrush and gently dabbing it inside the flowers and then dabbing it onto the next flower, and repeat. Be sure not to do it hard or you will knock off your flowers and won’t get any fruit.

Proper watering – Be sure your plants get sufficient water dependent on the variety of vegetables grown. The dirt should be moist, but not muddy. There also has to be good drainage, so the plant containers should be placed on top of trays to allow the excess water to drain and not get all over your floors.

Good air circulation – Plants also need proper air circulation since there’s no wind indoors. This protects them from things like mold or fungus. It can be supplied via an open window or a small fan (doesn’t have to be blowing directly on plants).

Light needs – Plants need proper light, and this can be given via natural sunlight if they are placed near a window or via a special grow lamp, which can be purchased online or at garden centers, etc. Be sure to get the proper type of grow lamp for your variety of plants.

Temperature and Humidity needs – Plants normally need temperatures between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They also need proper humidity, which can be produced via misting them each day, providing a humidifier or putting a small container of water near the plants and keeping the containers close together.

Proper Soil – Indoor plants need good soil. It is best to buy proper potting soil vice just using dirt from your yard, which could contain weed seeds, pests or other problem ingredients.

Proper Nutrients – Plants also require the right kind of fertilizers, dependent on the type of vegetables you are planning on growing. Check online to see which kind your plants need or speak with a specialist at your garden center. The main nutrients needed include Potassium, Phosphorus, Nitrogen and NPK. Secondary ones include sulfur, calcium, magnesium, boron, copper, chlorine, iron, manganese, zinc and molybdenum.

Regrowing Vegetables from Kitchen Scraps

Another interesting method of growing plants is to use your leftover kitchen scraps. For instance, you can grow carrots from carrot tops, as well as other root vegetables like beets, onions, etc. Just soak the bottoms in some water, and when they sprout, you can place them in soil in your containers. It’s a great way to use up scraps which otherwise would have gone into the trash.


On the whole, its fairly simple to grow an indoor garden featuring your favorite vegetables as long as you follow a few basic steps. Soon you will be enjoying luscious salads and crispy healthy vegetables all year round.

Happy gardening!