How to Plan an Apartment Garden
You’ve seen images of lush apartment gardens covered with floor-to-ceiling plants. Now, you’re itching to nurture a few houseplants of your own. Or maybe you just want to save money by growing your own vegetables.
Whatever the reason, it sure would be great to have a home garden! But you live in an apartment. How can you build a thriving urban garden in such a small space?
The good news is that you live in an era where anything is possible. That includes apartment gardens — although the limited space can make it a challenge.
To help you get started, we’ve provided the key steps for growing plants at home.
1. Step One: Understand the Basics of Plant Life
All plants need sunshine, nutrients, and water, but some are easier to care for than others.
Take a look at your schedule and what your home has to offer, as well as your gardening knowledge (or lack thereof). Do you already have a green thumb, or will you jump in and hope for the best?
Recognizing the Resources You’ll Need
This is the part where you need to be honest with yourself.
How much time are you willing to allot to your garden — and how patient are you really? Do you have the budget for plants that demand specific (expensive) nutrients and detailed care?
The good news is that even if you have more of a brown thumb than green, there are plants that are right for you. The best path to success is to start simple and work your way up.
Let’s take a look at the basics so you can decide which options work best for your apartment.
Location, Location, Location
Take a look at your apartment’s layout before you do anything. No matter how small your space, there are countless ways to bring greenery indoors.
Some common options include:
- Apartment balconies
- Countertops near windows
- Planters that hang from the ceiling
Each location should have sufficient access to sunlight throughout the day. The amount of available light plays a decisive role in which plants can grow well there.
(Pro tip: Not all vegetation is happy in direct sunlight. Watch how much sunshine your particular plant requires. You might think they’re happy in the sun, but some plants wither under too much light.)
The location should also offer enough space for the plant to grow and, in some cases, reproduce. If you’re using a planter, pay attention to the size of the root system. Ensure your holder is deep enough to handle the adult roots.
Water and Nutrients
How routine-oriented are you? Will it be simple to add “water plants” to your regular daily schedule? Or would you rather have a weekly (or less frequent) watering chore that Alexa can remind you to do?
That knowledge will help you narrow down the plants that fit your lifestyle. In the next step, we’ll go into which plants are finicky — and which are super simple.
Technically, plants only need water and sunlight to stay alive. But if you want them to grow and thrive, you’ll need to provide them with some nutrients, too.
Most plants get their nutrients from soil. The type of soil you use should have a healthy balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
High-maintenance plants like roses and hydrangeas require special fertilizer. Keep in mind that you’ll need to replenish the soil’s nutrients once the plant has absorbed them. Yellow foliage, slower growth, and droopy stems may be signs of plant malnutrition.
On the other hand, succulents and cacti ask hardly anything of you. They’re happy as long as you give them sun and sandy soil, and avoid watering them too much. It’s what makes them hard to kill (but don’t take that as a challenge).
2. Step Two: Know the Obstacles
Gardens can take root (pun intended) in tiny areas. Think of the weeds that grow under concrete and from the cracks in hard cement. Plants are hardy little creatures, and they want to survive.
Common Mistakes and Challenges
While it’s possible to grow a garden in an apartment, it is also challenging. Your garden will be more successful if you know the obstacles and have a plan. Luckily, there are plenty of gardeners who came before you and made mistakes that you get to learn from here!
Jumping in Headfirst With the Wrong Plants
As we mentioned earlier, if you want your home garden to flourish, it’s crucial to know what you can — and cannot — handle.
Many people head to the store and buy the first flower they fall in love with. They may not bother to learn the best way to tend the plant. It’s either too complicated for their experience level or they don’t have enough sunlight for it to thrive.
A good way to prevent this is to speak with the experts. Instead of buying plants at a home improvement store, head to your local plant nursery. Nurseries specialize in plants and are better equipped to answer your questions.
Tell the staff what you’re trying to grow and the conditions you’re working with (time, location, sunlight, budget). They’ll point you in the right direction for plants that best suit your needs.
Growing Toxic Plants
Some plants look harmless but are highly toxic if ingested. If you have children or pets, be cautious about the plants you bring into your home.
For instance, lilies are extremely deadly to cats. This only applies to cats; dogs may get sick if they consume a lily, but the flower isn’t deadly to them.
Research the toxicity of any plants before you buy them. Verify that they’re safe for any other living beings with whom you share your home!
Starting Small (With Pots, That Is)
A plant grown from seed may look tiny at first, but its root system can quickly outgrow a small container. Bigger pots give the plants space to spread their roots and grow to their natural size. This is especially true for fruits and bushes.
It might sound strange, but moving a plant into a bigger pot — after it has already started to grow — can traumatize it. Rather than transplant it later, find out how large your new addition is likely to grow. Then, grow it in a container that’s appropriate for the plant’s size.
3. Step Three: Choose Your Plants
Now that you’ve learned what your apartment has to offer a garden, here’s the fun part: choosing the indoor plants!
First, narrow down your options by deciding what kind of garden you want to focus on. Do you want to grow your own produce, starting with vegetables or herbs? Or are you more interested in the aesthetics of tending a magnificently blooming bud?
No matter the type of garden you prefer, start with plants that grow well indoors and in limited sun and space. Here are the top recommended plants for vegetable, herb, flower, and succulent gardens.
Ready to skip the grocery store and grow your favorite veggies at home? You’re probably out of luck with things like corn and other plants that need a lot of space and a deep root system. But you can try these popular apartment vegetable options with a good chance of success!
- Green onions (scallions)
- Leafy salad greens
- Hot peppers
Anything with a small root system is a good bet. Just leave lots of space between each seed or bulb because if the plant is healthy, it will reproduce.
Fresh herbs are popular in apartment gardens because they’re easy to tend and don’t require a lot of depth. A few of the easiest and most common varieties include:
If you have a cat, consider adding catnip to your herb library. But keep it out of reach or else your feline friend will get to it before you can harvest the plant!
When you start flower shopping, it’s so easy to get hooked on the ones that attract you from across the room. To help you narrow down your choices and save you from the non-apartment-friendly varieties (like climbing roses and hibiscus), we’ve made a list here of the best indoor flower options.
- Peace lilies (unless, of course, you have cats)
- Christmas cactus
- African violets
- Pothos or snake plants (they don’t flower, but they’re still beautiful)
African violets and hydrangeas are low-maintenance flowers that bloom year-round. Christmas cacti, amaryllis, and orchids are fussy and only bloom on occasion. They make good hanging plant choices, though.
If you’d like to enjoy a flowering plant without all the time and attention, consider a succulent garden. These are often touted as the easiest types of plants to grow next to cacti.
There are two main types of succulents – soft and hard. Soft or “tender” succulents are more temperature-sensitive than their hardy counterparts. They look gorgeous but need a little extra TLC.
Popular succulent varieties include:
- Crassulas (Jade Plant)
- Haworthias (Zebra Cactus)
Another reason to look into succulents in an apartment is that you can plant them in a vertical garden. Make use of the empty wall space near a window and fill it with lush succulents.
4. Step Four: Gather Your Supplies
Next on the agenda is shopping! The right supplies can either make or break your apartment container gardening experience.
Make sure you get the essentials. Look for gardening supplies that you can store under a sofa, or in a small closet, with relative ease. Think about how you can coordinate your houseplants and containers with your decor.
Consider an all-in-one kit for easy storage and organization. Or, take a look at the indoor garden shopping list we’ve provided below:
- Potting soil and fertilizer (or a potting mix combination)
- The right-sized container, window boxes, or hanging baskets for your plant
- A small watering can
- Hand rake
- Spray bottle
- Seedling pots
- A beginner’s guide to growing your preferred plant (optional)
If your apartment doesn’t get much natural light, you might want to add grow lights to your list. Aside from these necessities, you don’t need a lot to get started!
5. Step Five: Plant and Tend
You’ve gathered your supplies, seeds, and fledgling garden plants and are ready to get started.
Don’t “dig in” quite yet. We have a few more gardening tips before you begin.
- Pay attention to your plant’s sunlight and watering requirements
- Allow plenty of room and airflow for neighboring plants
- Group together plants that have similar watering requirements
- Use your calendar, Siri, or Alexa to help you water and feed your plants on a schedule
- Or, use apps designed for plant care, like Planta and PictureThis
- Talk to your plants or play music for them (seriously — it’s research-proven and may help plants thrive)
One final tip before you go: Be patient! The plant you choose to start with might take a while to get from a seed to a seedling and then to an adult. Each stage is essential to its health. As long as you keep watering and feeding it as directed, chances are, it’s growing under the surface.
Unless the soil dries out or the plant turns brown, don’t worry! Just keep giving it some TLC, or play a different type of music. Your plant might not like your taste in tunes.
Maybe you’ve always worried that your apartment would limit your ability to grow a home garden.
Now that our tips and tricks have shown you it’s possible, you’re ready to try.
Apartment gardening is all about research and planning. Start small so that you don’t become overwhelmed. With a little patience, you can transform your apartment into a plant-abundant paradise.