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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary — How Does Your (Indoor) Garden Grow?

These super simple steps will lead to success.

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woman repotting cactus plants at her home
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When it comes to gardening, you may believe there are two types of people: Those born with a green thumb who grow luscious plants and gorgeous greenery with great ease; and those with a black thumb who kill even the sturdiest of house plants, no matter how hard they try to take care of them.                      

But it turns out that no one is actually born with a green thumb. Julie Bawden-Davis, founder and publisher of the website Healthy Houseplants, says, “Gardening is like anything else. It takes practice. The more you practice, the greener your thumb will become. You will lose some plants. That’s a natural part of gardening. At the same time, you will have more ‘green’ successes the more you garden.”           

Melinda Myers, horticulturist, author and host of the How to Grow Anything DVD series, calls gardening an adventure. “You will learn how to garden by doing,” she says. “And if you are feeling guilty about killing plants — no need. Just compost the dead plants, so they enter your garden (or a friend’s garden) in a different form.”          

With people spending more time at home, indoor gardening has gained in popularity. It’s both fun and therapeutic. Bawden-Davis says, “When you nurture other living things — in this case, plants — you take the focus off of yourself and any problems you may have and care for the plants. This puts you into a peaceful, meditative state that is as good for you physically and mentally as it is for the plant’s health.”  

“Research has also found that gardening boosts creativity and increases focus,” adds Myers.

If you are thinking about indoor gardening, here are some simple tips.

Start with something simple

“Microgreens are the easiest,” Myers says. “Purchase microgreen or sprouting seeds (so you know they have not been treated with any chemicals). Plant in a shallow container of potting mix or seed starting mix. Place in a bright location, keep the soil moist and you will be harvesting microgreens for snacking, salads and sandwiches in seven to 10 days.” Another great option is to grow herbs. Basil, oregano and thyme are easy to grow and add a real flavor boost to meals, especially in the winter.

When it comes to pots, size matters

Bawden-Davis explains, “If you plant in too big of a pot, the plant’s roots are in too much wet soil and there aren’t sufficient roots to soak up the excess water. This leads to a buildup of fungal pathogens, and ultimately root rot and plant death. You always want a one-third pot to two-thirds plant ratio.”

Give your plants enough light

Myers says, “Light is the biggest limiting factor when gardening indoors, so it is important to make sure plants receive enough light to thrive.”

Water the right amount

Too much water leads to root rot, plant decline and even death.  Conversely, forgetting to water plants can also be a problem, although Myers says more people tend to err by overwatering. To reduce the risk of overwatering, use quality potting mix and containers with drainage holes. 

Plants vs. seeds

Both have their benefits. It is usually less intimidating to start with a plant, and it will yield quicker results. But seeds offer a greater variety — especially true when looking for edible plants in the winter in northern areas where edible gardening tends to stop with the cold. 

You don’t need expensive equipment

“Many of the products (such as an AeroGarden) make it easier or more attractive to get started,” explains Myers. But it is not necessary. She prefers to go simple and reuse what she already has, like planting in old yogurt containers. That said, if you do want to invest, consider buying LED grow lights. “Supplementing with artificial lights definitely helps — especially when growing edible plants,” Myers says.

Don’t overthink it

Rather than worrying I have no idea what I’m doing or I don’t want to kill another plant, lean in. Bawden-Davis advises: “Take a plant home, talk to the plant and encourage the plant, and let the plant know this is an experiment you’ll both be enjoying together. You’ll be surprised at how easy and fulfilling indoor gardening is when you simply give it a go.”

Perhaps the best part of gardening is that it can give you hope and brighten your day. “Seeds come up seemingly overnight, which is exciting to see,” Bawden-Davis says. “Plants may get sick, and then with some nurturing on your part, they get better. Plants are constantly regenerating themselves, and that helps you regenerate.”