Apartment Gardening: A Beginners Guide For A Plant Paradise
As cities get bigger, apartments get smaller.
Even if you live in a small apartment in the middle of a concrete jungle, there’s no reason why you can’t transform it into a 500-square-foot actual jungle by creating a beautiful apartment garden.
“Going green” isn’t just a phrase; sometimes it should be taken literally!
Plants make us happier and healthier. Apartment gardening is not only a great way to spruce up your space, but it can also improve the health of your apartment, and help you to responsibly deal with your food scraps.
Wondering how to start a garden in an apartment?
Whether you’re looking to convert an inside or outside space, our apartment gardening tips will help you turn your passion for going green into a green thumb.
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1. Planting The Seed: Why Grow An Apartment Garden?
Whether you’ve only got time and space for small indoor apartment gardening or an outdoor area that can be filled with several plants, there are many reasons to get growing.
All plants produce oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, but did you know some plants purify the air?
Plants like peace lilies and spider plants are low-maintenance houseplants that, according to NASA’s Clean Air Study, can remove several toxins from indoor air—including ammonia (present in many non-eco-friendly cleaning products) and formaldehyde.
Indoor air pollution not only leads to “Sick Building Syndrome” (cold-like symptoms caused by dry, polluted indoor air), but also increases the risk of a wide range of health issues.
These include: headaches; dizziness; fatigue; and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Long-term exposure to polluted indoor air has been linked to heart and respiratory disease, and even cancer.
Between just 3 and 6 plants can help significantly reduce these risk factors, according to the University of Technology Sydney.
Support for the urban food movement
Also known as the Urban Farming Movement, this “grow your own” campaign encourages everyone to have a go at cultivating edible plants.
By bringing gardening closer to urban centers (where most of the world’s food is shipped for consumption) we can reduce food production waste, shipping emissions, and greenhouse gasses from industrial-scale farming—all critical steps toward a more sustainable food system.
As individuals, we can reduce the impact of each bite by keeping food sources as close to home as possible—and what’s closer to home than your actual home?!
There are plenty of edible plants that you can grow in an apartment, but we’ll look at these in more detail later.
Reconnection with nature
Plants bring the positive, calming effects of nature right to your home.
A study by the University of Michigan showed that plants increase productivity, creativity, cognitive performance, and memory retention by up to 20%.
Greening our living and working spaces is also part of biophilic design, a type of sustainable interior design that focuses on bringing nature and living processes indoors in order to create healthy human spaces.
Growing useful plants may save you money in the long run.
Aside from growing food like vegetables and herbs, you can grow all sorts of plants that can be utilized for their medicinal properties.
Green spaces suck up carbon
Enhance the air quality for yourself and the planet by increasing the number of plants in the world.
Responsible waste disposal
Apartment gardening gives you more of an excuse to start apartment composting—as if you needed that.
Composting is the perfect way to deal with organic waste (like food scraps and paper products) and reduce your carbon footprint at home.
The best news?
With an apartment garden to accompany your compost bin, you’ll have a complete waste disposal system. No more finding friends with gardens or taking your compost to a community garden.
You could also go a different direction with composting and welcome some new “pets” into your apartment garden sanctuary.
You can also brew their castings into a potent fertilizer in your own garden.
Contribute to conserving biodiversity in your area
It’s not only worms who can benefit from your journey into apartment gardening.
Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are in short supply the world over. The resulting biodiversity loss is considered one of the top environmental issues facing us today.
Providing pollen and a good habitat for insect and animal friends (through things like flowering plants) increases biodiversity in your local area and will make you a citizen conservationist.
Creating a wildlife-friendly balcony garden is a great way to connect with nature and provide much-needed food and shelter for the creatures we share our cities with. You can feed the birds, provide nectar plants and bee houses for pollinators, and even create a mini-pond.
It’s easier than you think!
Cue all those “black thumb” jokes.
Lots of people fear not being able to keep plants alive, but if you select the right plants for your space, outdoor and indoor apartment gardening is super easy and low hassle.
Plus, it’s one of the cheapest ways you can decorate your space—and turn it into a Pinterest-worthy picture.
2. Space & Sunlight: How To Grow A Garden In An Apartment
For most apartments, space is a precious commodity.
It can be hard enough to find enough room for you and your belongings, let alone a garden. But with a little creativity (and maybe a plat or growing kit), even the smallest of spaces have the potential to become a green haven.
Outdoor apartment gardens
The balcony is the obvious first choice for your apartment garden, or the backyard if you have one.
Do take into consideration the weight limit of your balcony (large pots of soil are heavy, especially when freshly watered) and make sure to secure containers and window boxes so they can’t fall down.
Alternatively, if your building has a roof or courtyard, check with your super to see if you can use those spaces for a few plants. If so, maybe you’ll encourage others to join!
Indoor apartment gardens
No problem. You can grow your garden on windowsills or on your sustainable furniture placed near windows. You can also make use of vertical space by using various eco-friendly planters and pots, like wall planters or hanging planters suspended from shelves or the ceiling.
There are plenty of ways to make a jungle of your apartment with a bit of creative thinking.
The great thing about gardening inside your apartment is that containers are generally movable so if you don’t get it right the first time, there’s room for experimentation.
Natural light for indoor and outdoor apartment gardening
Aside from the space you have available, the biggest factor to consider when planning an apartment garden is sunlight.
In gardening, there are four main classifications of light:
- Full Sun: 6-8 hours of direct sun or slightly less if it receives afternoon sun, which is more intense than morning sun (i.e. suitable for most veggies, herbs and flowering plants)
- Partial Sun: 4-6 hours of direct sun (i.e. suitable for many flowering plants, succulents, and certain herbs such as chives, cilantro, thyme, and parsley)
- Partial Shade: 2-3 hours of direct sun. These types of plants generally need a well-lit area like a windowsill but one that doesn’t receive much direct sunlight (i.e. spider plants and variegated leafy plants like ivy and vines)
- Shade: <1 hour of direct sun (i.e. peace lilies)
How do you determine which areas fall into which categories?
Just observe. Pick a day when you plan to be home all day and observe your potential planting areas once an hour, taking notes about whether they’re in sun or shade. At the end of the day, add up the number of hours of sunlight each area has received.
Don’t fall for the common myth that lack of sunlight means you can’t grow a successful garden. For each of the sunlight categories, there are plenty of planting options.
Artificial light for indoor apartment gardening
You can also supplement with artificial UV light, especially if you intend to keep your garden thriving through short days in winter months.
Grow lamps come in all shapes and sizes and are quite affordable for small-scale purposes.
Just be careful not to overdo it. The potency of direct UV light can easily burn plant leaves, so experiment with what your plants seem to do best with, beginning with conservative exposure times.
3. What To Plant For Indoor Apartment Gardens
After you’ve decided on location and lighting, it’s time to pick out the best apartment plants for your indoor jungle.
The best indoor garden plants for apartment gardening will be determined by how much time you can spend with your plant babies—and what you hope to get out of them.
What plants grow in apartments?
There are literally hundreds of plant options depending on what your goals are—purifying the air, growing food to eat, producing plants for medicine and zero waste beauty, or just creating something aesthetically appealing.
A word of warning for parents and pet parents: Check the toxicity of all plants before bringing them into the home. Some are safe for kids but not for pets and vice-versa.
The Bamboo Palm Chamaedorea seifrizii and Boston Fern Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’, are non-toxic to pets and children, so are a good choice for homes with both.
Plants for purifying the air
Air-cleaning plants are a plant-astic place to start.
- Golden Pothos: Filters formaldehyde which can seep into the air from carpets, insulation, and furniture glues and finishes.
- Spider Plants: Filters formaldehyde, benzene, and xylene and are known to be as well as being powerful carbon monoxide consumers. Place these in the kitchen, especially if you have a gas-burning stove, and near heating vents.
- Peace Lilies and Chrysanthemums: Filters Tetrachloroethylene (PCE or PERC), which is present in paints, glues, and water-repellent finishes.
- Areca Palm: Increases humidity levels leading to respiratory benefits.
- General air purifying plants: succulents (like aloe vera), dracaena, English ivy, rubber plants, ferns, bamboo, indoor palm trees, and (beginner-friendly) snake plants.
Edible and medicinal plants
From culinary herbs and salads to tomatoes and peppers, there are plenty of edibles that can be successfully indoors, if you can provide the right conditions. Most need a good amount of sunshine, so a sunny windowsill is ideal.
Compact varieties are more suited to smaller spaces—such as cherry tomatoes and small chili peppers.
Growing microgreens is another excellent choice for an edible apartment garden, especially since their maturation time is among the fastest of veggies.
Packed with nutrition, microgreens are simply the young seedlings of leafy greens and vegetables, sown closely together and harvested when they are still young. Options include arugula, beetroot, broccoli, kale, mustard, radish, and spinach, and more.
Herbs such as lemon balm, basil, cilantro, mint, oregano, and sage have dual culinary and medicinal benefits and are a great choice for a small apartment garden. Good quality organic herbs are also expensive to buy, so you’ll save money by growing your own.
Note that Mediterranean herbs like basil, sage, and oregano will need full sun to grow. Others including lemon balm, mint, and parsley can grow in partial shade.
Other plants for an indoor apartment garden
You can also beautify your space with some color-popping aesthetic plants.
If you have access to direct sunlight, plant some flowers and other adorable light-loving plants.
Other choices include succulents, cacti, and air plants (which are far lower maintenance than many flowering plants).
If you’re looking for something larger, a ficus tree is a great indoor plant that can survive for ages and grow quite big. You can even decorate them in place of a holiday tree to save you holiday hassle and waste of either a plastic or real disposable tree.
4. What To Plant For Outdoor Apartment Gardens
When it comes to outdoor plants for apartment gardening, the opportunities are endless—depending on your climate zone and sun exposure. But what if you only have a balcony or postage stamp backyard?
Outdoor plants for small spaces
If you’re working with limited outdoor space, choose smaller, compact, “dwarf” varieties which don’t require large containers. You can still have fruit bushes, and even small trees, as long as you opt for miniature or “patio” varieties.
For fire escape or balcony gardens, you can grow vines and other climbers in pots at the base of the railing so that they can climb up. Edible climbers include beans, cucumbers, and peas.
If you have a sunny balcony, have a go at planting veggies. Tomatoes and lettuce, for instance, grow well in pots and strawberries grow well in multi-level planters.
Maximize vertical space with hanging baskets filled with trailing flowers like nasturtiums and tumbling tomatoes.
How to grow flowers in an apartment garden
Provided you can provide the right conditions (light, water, healthy soil), there are plenty of flowers that will grow happily on balconies and patios.
For upright flowers, geraniums and heliotrope are wonderfully scented options. Note that many flowers require full or nearly full sun, but there are some shade lovers too, such as fuchsia (a hummingbird magnet) and begonia.
Growing flowers is also a great way to attract bees and other important pollinators to your outdoor space. Chives and lavender are two of their favorites—which also provide something useful for you.
5. Cultivating The Crop: Care & Maintenance Of Your Indoor Apartment Garden
When thinking about indoor apartment garden care, the key thing to remember is this: plants want to grow. All you need to do is provide the right conditions for them to thrive.
If you’re an apartment gardening newbie you might want to start with a few low-maintenance, robust plants (read: they’ll survive even if you neglect them).
And if you’re juggling the demands of a busy schedule, you certainly don’t want to spend all your downtime tending to plants (as nice and therapeutic as it is).
What does low maintenance mean?
Ideally, you’re looking for plants that:
- Don’t need full sun, which can be tricky to find when urban apartment gardening
- Prefer drier soil
- Don’t require pruning or deadheading (though having a few of these plants here and there isn’t terribly time-consuming)
- Are not particularly susceptible to pests
Here are five basic tips to help you grow a successful container garden inside.
1. Water your plants regularly
How often to water depends on various factors including how warm your apartment is, the time of year, and how big and how thirsty your plants are. As a general rule of thumb, check the surface of the soil. If it’s dry, time to water, if it’s moist, wait a while.
PRO TIP: If the soil is dry at the time of watering, don’t just water until it starts to run from the bottom of the pot. Dry soil acts like a sieve, and if you stop here, your plants actually won’t be able to absorb any of the water. It’s all just running straight out.
Continue to water until the soil is thoroughly wet (just poke your finger in to feel) or place pots in a shallow bath or sink of water and let the roots soak up water from below.
2. Be attentive to lighting
Check how much light a certain plant needs and try to meet that need. It will almost always specify either on your seed packet or plant label if buying already sprouted plants. If you have neither, the Internet is your friend.
Light levels change with the seasons and you might need to adjust your plants positions accordingly. Dedicated plant parents may move pots around the apartment to maximize soaking up those rays.
Too much direct sun for shade-loving plants will result in wilting and burnt leaves. Too little sun for sun lovers results in pale green or yellow leaves (and a lack of flowers in flowering plants).
3. Change the pots and soil every once in a while
Over time, your soil will become devoid of nutrients. Feed plants with worm tea or an organic fertilizer, and add fresh compost to your soil to keep it nutrient-rich.
It’s a good idea to repot plants about once a year using fresh compost and when plants outgrow the size of their container, it’s time to size up. Wash recycled plant pots with hot soapy water before reusing.
In the spirit of low waste living, reuse the smaller pots for cuttings and new plants.
4. Prevent insects by keeping healthy, fertile soil
Keeping your plants healthy is the best thing you can do to make them resistant to pests and diseases.
But sometimes insects happen. Indoor plants sometimes fall victim to aphids, spider mites, and other tricky-to-get-rid of (but relatively easy-to-prevent) pests.
Still, you don’t need chemicals to keep them at bay. Add some herbs to the mix, as these will repel many types of pests.
For stubborn ones, you can use natural homemade insecticides, such as Diatomaceous Earth (just be sure you’re getting OMRI-certified food-grade stuff), Neem oil, garlic, chili powder, or even just natural, zero waste dish soap diluted with water.
Or spray diluted worm tea on the leaves, as it’s also a natural insecticide—yet another reason to start composting with worms.
5. Use pre-planting preparation to make plant-care easier
You can save yourself some time when apartment container gardening by using self-watering containers. These are also super helpful if you’re away a lot and want to be able to safely leave your plants for extended periods of time.
If you don’t have time to make one yourself, there are lots of elegant, inexpensive options to buy on Etsy.
Overall, get creative! There are lots of unique DIY planter ideas out there, so you can fine-tune your indoor apartment garden to your taste.
For some thrifty, upcycled planters, have a dig through your recycling. This is one of the best garden recycling ideas out.
Painted aluminum cans make cute planters, old trash cans or buckets can be repurposed for larger plants, and broken clear plastic storage bins become handy potato pots that allow you to see when the potatoes are ready for picking.
Don’t forget to drill some holes in the bottom for drainage and pop an old plate or saucer underneath.
6. Outdoor Apartment Garden Care
Gardening outside (like ecological gardening) can be both easier and harder than creating indoor gardens for apartments.
On one hand, it’s easier for plants to get sunlight and plenty of ventilation, but you still have weather, climate, pests, and soil type to deal with.
With proper planning, you can help control these variables. Here are five top tips for growing a successful apartment garden outside.
1. Build a raised bed
If growing in the ground isn’t possible (e.g. for a concrete or paved yard), then building a raised bed is the way forward. For smaller spaces, this might look like a collection of different-sized containers.
Again, the only limit to what items you can repurpose is your imagination.
Depending on the size of your space, an old bathtub, sink, and trash cans can be used. If growing on your balcony, just be sure to take container and soil weight into consideration.
A self-watering “wicking bed” is a smart choice if you go away a lot. These are the big brother to the self-watering planters mentioned above and an excellent way to keep your outdoor garden watered when you’re away.
While not all plants need (or want) constant moisture (double-check when choosing plants), fruits, vegetables, and most flowers are very thirsty—and will likely benefit from a wicking bed. Build your own or buy one pre-made.
2. Give your plants room to grow
Make sure you not only plant your outdoor plants in a pot deep enough to accommodate their root growth, but with enough space around them on all sides.
Plants that are crammed together compete with each other for light, nutrients, and space.
Some plants, however, do actually grow very well together. This is known in the sustainable gardening world as companion planting. Creating mixed planters with these plant buddies is a useful way to maximize space. It works for flowers, herbs, and especially veggies.
When planting up a larger container, choose a “focus” plant for the middle, a “filler plant” to cover the remaining soil, and a “cascader” that will trail over the sides.
An edible example of this is to grow a tomato in the middle, some basil to cover the remaining soil (to keep tomato-hungry insects at bay), and a couple of nasturtiums to spill over the edge (to dress it up and to discourage furrier garden raiders like deer and rabbits).
3. Nourish your plants often
The single best way to help your plants thrive is by adding compost. Making your own gets rid of your kitchen scraps and other compostable items and keeps your plants growing healthy.
If you aren’t able to compost, you can still use some food scraps to feed your plants directly. Nitrogen-rich coffee grounds and potassium-rich banana peels can be added directly to the soil.
It’s a good idea to invest in a soil pH meter and do some reading on what plants prefer what type of soil. For example, tomatoes will love regular feedings with your acidic coffee grounds, while alkaline-loving peas and beans will not.
4. Maintain proper light levels
Window or balcony orientation for initial planting is super important, but also monitor the light levels throughout the season as they do change. You may need to shift your plants around every once in a while.
5. Keep pesky pests away from your plants
Many people fall back on chemicals to get rid of insects and pests. Not only are pesticides harmful to beneficial insects too, but they’re harmful to broader wildlife and our own health.
Instead, keep plants healthy, and they’ll be more robust and resistant to pests and diseases. The same natural insecticide solutions mentioned for your indoor garden are suitable for outdoor use, too.
Keep larger pests (like birds and rodents) away using simple, reusable nets. Have a look in your local thrift store for some old curtain netting.
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Final Thoughts On Apartment Gardening
Can you plant a garden in your apartment?
Absolutely! Don’t let limited space put out your passion for planting.
Gardening in an apartment is a rewarding and therapeutic way to spend time. It starts small—maybe a few pots on a windowsill—but it’s addictive. Before you know it, your apartment will blossom into a veritable vegetative wonderland.
You also don’t need to spend much money. You can upcycle all manner of items to use as planters and, if you make your own compost, you’ll have free plant food, too.
Buying pre-sprouted plants from greenhouses gets expensive, but starting from seed is cheap—not to mention you can opt for heirloom varieties and will get to control all inputs your plants are exposed to, ensuring a fully organic life.
We hope this article has inspired you to give it a go. Whether your goal is fresh herbs and chilies to throw in your stir-fry or a jungle-esque room full of air-purifying tropical houseplants, you’ll find plenty of additional apartment gardening ideas online.
Know some fellow plant lovers?
Share this article and help set the trend for greening up urban spaces. Green apartments lead to green cities and, hopefully, a greener planet.