Growing herbs, vegetables, or other forms of produce from seed indoors is a great way to have fresh ingredients at your fingertips year-round and save money in the process. But it only works if your plants live long enough to harvest.
Legions of indoor gardeners start enthusiastically, only to give up when their seedlings fail to make it past infancy or produce plants that are less than ideal for consumption. Chances are that their lack of success results from a lack of understanding of what's involved in growing healthy plants indoors.
Here a few of the most common mistakes beginners make when trying to grow plants indoors. By planning ahead to avoid these pitfalls, you can look forward to success in your indoor gardening.
Growing plants in containers takes some assessment of how your lifestyle fits with your ambitions. You need room for the containers and the plants when they reach maturity. You need to provide light, water and nutrients throughout the life cycle of the plants. That may mean automating water and light or enlisting the help of others while you're away on travel. You need to consider those around you, both humans and pets. Some people prefer neat, organized plantings while others are comfortable with less formal arrangements, and some plants can be toxic to pets and curious children. Planning your indoor garden ahead of time can make your experience pleasant and productive.
Give Seeds a Chance
Different seeds have different needs. Some like to be planted well below the soil line and others prefer to sit on top. Some need darkness to germinate while others crave light. Most seed packets give specific instructions for planting, but if yours doesn't, a basic rule of thumb is to plant the seeds about 2-3 times as deep as the seed is wide. If the seeds want to be planted on the surface, tamp down the soil gently and then press the seed lightly onto the soil, making sure there's good contact with the surface.
Seedlings are delicate and very fussy about water. Too little and they wither away; too much and they drown. The challenge lies in finding the right balance. Generally speaking, you want the soil to be damp but not wet. Dampen the soil gently before sowing the seeds and cover the container with clear plastic until they germinate. You can avoid overwatering by watering your plants from the bottom and letting the water wick up through the drain holes in the pot. Check the plants daily to be sure they aren't drying out or staying too wet.
Let There Be Light
Light gives seedlings the energy they need to grow, and just like teenagers, seedlings need a lot of nourishment. Even in south-facing windows, chances are your plants won't get enough light, especially in the winter when days are shorter. The answer is providing grow lights that give the proper spectral distribution throughout the plants' growing cycle. The best lights for serious indoor gardening are LED grow lights that are compact, use much less electricity than other sources, and are less likely to burn your plants than other lighting sources. Mount the lights on chains or adjustable rope ratchets so you can keep them close to the seedling and raise them as the plants grow. Your plants will want 12-16 hours of light each day, and the simplest way to give it is to put your grow lights on a timer.
Be Aware of the Environment
Most seeds need their soil to be at least 65 °F in order to germinate and sprout. Put your starter pots in a consistently warm place or provide heat with a seedling mat or small heater in a safe location. Once the seedlings have established themselves, they are more tolerant to temperature fluctuations, but they generally don't like being cold. Proper temperature, humidity and air circulation are essential to growing healthy plants, so plan your garden for an area where these variables can be controlled. Optimal results are often best achieved in a dedicated space such as a grow tent where these elements can be regulated precisely.
Growing crops indoors can be fun and rewarding, but like any other hobby, indoor gardening takes some skills to meet the challenge of successfully nourishing plants in a foreign environment. Take some time to learn the tips and tricks and you'll be well on your way to earning your green thumb.