Although outdoor gardens have always been an appealing feature to homeowners, it is a luxury not everyone can dream of in the limited and cramped spaces our cities and apartments offer. If you are an urban homeowner, with no or little access to an outdoor space, you can create an indoor garden and give your house an instant makeover. You can even grow your own fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers all year round, from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Easy-to-maintain indoor plants such as snake plants, spider plants and money plants are an interior designer’s go-to feature to upgrade and beautify a space. You can choose the type of indoor oasis you want depending on the aesthetic you are going for, your experience with gardening and the weather conditions you live in.
Not sure where to start? Refer to our handy beginner’s guide on indoor gardening and build the green haven of your dreams.
What is indoor gardening?
Indoor gardening is essentially cultivating and nurturing plants that you would typically grow outside, inside your home. Incorporating nature into urban environments not only enhances visual appeal but also offers a slew of other benefits.
Indoor gardens can improve air quality, boost your productivity and help you stay connected with nature. Plants also regulate humidity by releasing water vapour into the air, which can improve respiratory and skin health of people living in colder, dryer regions. The act of caring for your plants can also help reduce stress and anxiety.
Whether you have a few potted plants in your doorway, at your office desk or a full-fledged produce garden, indoor gardening can be as low-key or as elaborate as you want it to be.
Additionally, it is easier to control and regulate the temperature indoors and create favourable conditions for your plants to thrive in. You just need to choose plants suited to your indoor environment and available space. Depending on the design aesthetic you are aiming for, you can choose from the many types of indoor gardens, including hydroponic gardens, terrariums, living walls or fresh herb gardens.
Outdoor gardens are more likely to be dependent on seasons and the outside temperatures, limiting the number of plants you can grow year-round. If you get the air, sunlight and soil conditions right, your indoor garden can bear delicious fruits, vegetables and flowers irrespective of the temperature outside.
Popular ways of growing plants indoors
There are no limitations on how you can grow plants indoors. You can use ingenious ways to incorporate their greens even into cramped spaces. From tropical mini-forests and edible gardens perfect for home chefs to hydroponic gardens and terrariums for on-the-go plant parents, there is no dearth of ways to grow your own little green space at home.
Common indoor gardens
If you do not have access to an adequate horizontal garden space, why not get creative and erect a vertical garden on one of your bare walls?
Green walls (also known as living walls, plant walls or vertical gardens) are vertical planting systems, comprising an integrated substrate like soil or coconut fibres, different species of live plants and automated irrigation systems in some cases. This system includes wall-mounted and pre-vegetated panels that can be made of plastic, expanded polystyrene or synthetic fabric. Pots and containers can be used as well.
Plants like humidity-resistant ferns, shallow-rooted bromeliads, low-maintenance succulents and vines and edible herbs can be easily grown in living wall gardens.
The science of gardening without a traditional soil medium is called hydroponics. If the quality of outdoor soil is an issue, you can go for a hydroponic setup to grow the sustainable garden of your dreams.
Hydroponic gardens are cultivated in a mineral-rich water solution instead of soil and can thrive in little to no sunlight. They require less water than traditional gardening, which is ideal if you want to be environment-friendly and avoid dealing with pests and unwanted weeds. These gardens are a hassle-free way to produce high-quality herbs or vegetables throughout the year.
With over 500 tropical species to choose from, air plants are epiphytes, which means they do not require potting soil to grow.
Belonging to the Tillandsia genus, which is part of the Bromeliad family, these flowering perennial plants absorb moisture and nutrients directly from the air through tiny scales on their leaves called trichomes. This feature also shields the plants from the scorching sun. Unlike earthbound plants, air plants use their roots only for physical support or cling to pots or other plants.
A terrarium is like an aquarium for plants. It is a self-contained mini plant ecosystem grown in a glass container. This easy-to-care and slow-growing miniature forest can include cacti, succulents or tropical plants and can thrive for years.
If you are an inexperienced gardener or a plant enthusiast with little time to spare, terrariums are the ultimate shortcut to adding greenery to your home.
Moisture-loving bathroom plants
Bathrooms serve as the perfect backdrops for some beautiful humidity-loving houseplants. They can amp up the decor of the space and even work as a stress reliever, perfect for those long and relaxing post-work baths.
Three factors to consider while selecting plants for a bathroom nook are low light, high humidity and temperature swings. Indoor plants, including asparagus fern, elegant peace lilies, bamboo plants, pothos, begonias, snake plants and spider plants work best for bathrooms and their dim environment.
Edible gardens (herbs, fruits and veggies)
Perfect for adorning the sunny spots in your home, you can grow fresh herbs and veggies indoors, irrespective of the season. Some herbs you can grow at home are basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano.
Fresh herbs are the best indoor plants because they give you an endless supply of aromas throughout the year and are easy to propagate. Simply take cuttings of their stems and leave them in a glass of water by a sunny windowsill, and you are good to go.
Conditions required to grow indoor plants
The conditions required for your indoor garden to thrive will depend on the type of garden and the plant species you want to include. In general, your plants will need sunlight, soil, water and fertilisers in varying degrees.
Soil and other substrates
Indoor plants, apart from hydroponic gardens and air plants, will need an airy, good quality and fast-draining potting mix. A good all-purpose potting mix for houseplants may include compost or worm castings, coco coir or peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and some coarse sand or store-bought potting soil.
This type of potting mixture absorbs moisture swiftly and works wonders for drought-tolerant plants like aloe vera, agaves, bougainvillaea, sage, rosemary, lavender and jade plants. Moisture-loving plants like ferns may need a differently formulated soil with water-retention properties.
All plants have different light requirements and react to their surroundings accordingly. Looking for the perfect spot in your home for your houseplants can be a fun exercise that all plant parents love. While apartment owners might need plants that can survive in low-light spaces, a few sun-loving plants can be squeezed in to soak the sunlight shining through a south-facing window.
You can choose sun-loving species such as the snake plant, geranium, fiddle-leaf fig and sweet basil if you live in a house with ample sunlight streaming in. Conversely, if you have plants that need shade, keep them away from direct light. As a rule of thumb, avoid harsh, direct sunlight for all indoor plants, as it can scorch their leaves.
Temperature and humidity
Humidity ranging from 40 to 60 percent is well-suited for most indoor plants. Since we can adjust and optimise the temperature and moisture inside our homes, a wide variety of plants can be grown year-round.
If you choose tropical plants that grow best in a humid environment, you could use a humidifier or build a mini-garden in your bathroom. Indoor greenhouses or terrariums are also great options that enable temperature and humidity control.
Water and repotting
The most common mistake that new plant parents make is overwatering their houseplants, causing root rot and other issues. Make sure you conduct proper research on plant care and note down specific requirements to ensure its health. Always water your plants with distilled room temperature water to get the best results.
It is advisable to migrate your plants to larger pots once a year or when the roots are left with no wiggle room. The pots or planters should have proper drainage holes at the base to avoid root rot. This is important for the plants’ health and prolonged growth.
Unlike earth-bound plants, houseplants do not have access to a constant stream of nutrients supplied by the soil, since they are confined to pots or planters. The existing nutrients in the potting soil get depleted over time, putting your plants’ health in danger. Slow-release fertilisers are a great way to combat this problem and last many months before a reapplication is necessary. When you use high-quality fertilisers for your plants, you’ll notice a shine on the leaves and healthy growth patterns.
If you are looking to set up an indoor garden, here are our best picks for houseplants
(Main and featured image credit: Huy Phan/Pexels)
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Ideal for homes and offices, zz plants thrive in bright to low indirect sunlight. These easy-to-maintain plants have waxy, smooth leaves that reflect sunlight and brighten a small room. They also absorb toxins in the air and improve its quality.
Use a fast-draining, succulent/sandy potting mix and water zz plants whenever the soil dries up completely. Water them every 2-3 weeks.
You will need to water it more frequently if kept in brighter light as opposed to the plant placed in low light. Water your zz plant if you observe wilting, wrinkled, dull leaves and dry soil. Overly wet soil, mushy, rotten leaves and yellowing are signs of overwatering. Additionally, it is advisable to keep the zz plant away from pets and children, since it is not safe for consumption.
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A Victorian-era favourite, the spider plant has light green, spidery long leaves and requires bright to moderate indirect sunlight with normal room temperature. Avoid direct sunlight, as it can scorch the leaves. You must water this easy-to-grow plant once a week during the spring and summer months and keep the soil slightly moist at all times. However, in winter, allow the soil to dry a bit between two watering sessions. Spider plants are safe to keep around fur and human babies alike.
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Believed to bring good luck and prosperity, the money plant is a perfect gift for special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, new jobs and housewarmings. The plant has uniquely twisted trunks and a lean, robust structure. It needs moderate to bright indirect sunlight and a lot of water every one to two weeks, depending on the amount of light it’s receiving. Due to its partly drought-tolerant nature, it requires thorough watering, but not all the time. This is a pet- and child-friendly plant.
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The trendy fiddle-leaf fig plant has recently been a go-to decor item for interior designers. Featuring perfectly symmetrical big, bright leaves, the plant requires a warm and humid environment and bright to medium indirect sunlight or shaded, direct light. It thrives in a potting mix made of loose, rich and well-drained soil. The soil must remain consistently and evenly moist when watered. The fiddle-leaf fig plant is not safe for consumption.
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Spanish moss air plants are one of the easiest indoor plants, which grow without soil. They need minimal attention and care and do not need to be watered regularly. This is a plant that will easily survive your forgetful nature and neglect. Water these plants only when their leaves are considerably curled inwards. The air plant will look best hung outside your house with its long, free-flowing and wispy green strands adorning the entrance. Spanish moss air plants are pet and child friendly.
Areca palms make great living-room or bedroom plants due to their air-purifying qualities and elegant, long leaves that emulate palm trees. They need bright to moderate indirect light or shaded and direct light for optimum growth. The preferred medium to grow them is a well-drained, peat-based or rich potting mix. To avoid overwatering, wait for the soil to dry out before you water the areca palm. Use distilled or collected rainwater to avoid clogging the potting soil. These plants are pet and child friendly.
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Commonly known as the money plant, the golden pothos can easily thrive in an apartment with moderate to dim light. This attractive, ornamental plant is a climber and can grow and twine along any surface you direct it towards. It filters toxins and requires minimal watering — weekly in summer and fortnightly in winter. Keep these plants away from pets and kids, since they are toxic when consumed.
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These robust plants can withstand any type of low-light and drought-like conditions, making them one of the easiest indoor plants to care for. Snake plants brighten a dimly lit, confined space and rid the air of toxins. They grow well in a loose, well-drained, succulent/sandy potting mix. Make sure you water them only when the soil is dry or its leaves are wrinkling or yellowing. They are not safe for consumption.
Peace lilies are dubbed the drama queens of interior plants, because of how intensely they react to neglect. They will demand attention by demonstrating drooping, flopping leaves and the most dramatic wilt if you forget to water them. These expressive houseplants require medium to low light to thrive and need to be watered only when the (well-drained, rich) soil is close to drying out.
If kept outdoors, they are naturally found under large trees, growing under their shade. Peace lilies also give off water vapour, keeping the surrounding air moist and easier to breathe. It is advisable to keep them at a safe distance from kids and pets since they are mildly toxic when consumed.
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The lucky bamboo plant is one of the most popular Feng Shui remedies believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the place where it is grown. It is said to enhance the flow of positive energy in the home or office. They grow best in bright, indirect sunlight and take up very little space. They grow in moist soil or just water as well.
With glossy, oval dark green leaves and low-maintenance growth, rubber fig plants are often found on office desks and study tables. They grow well in both bright and low light and prefer a well-draining, aerated potting mix. Since their leaves retain moisture, they do not need to be watered too frequently. Water them only when you notice the soil drying out.
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Deriving their name from the silvery-white, red or pink veins set against dark green leaves, nerve plants thrive in ultra-humid environments and require a bit more attention than regular houseplants. These plants are sensitive to direct sunlight and do well in moderate to low indirect light. They are perfect for terrariums and need to be watered only when the soil appears dry or the leaves begin to droop. These affordable and easily available indoor plants are pet and child friendly and very pleasing to look at, owing to their unique colour and pattern.
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Native to Southern Mexico and Panama, the gorgeous Monstera is distinguished by its large, vibrant leaves and its eye-catching Swiss cheese-like design. An interior designer’s dream living room accessory, it is an easy-to-grow, drought-tolerant plant that requires moderate to low indirect sunlight.
Monsteras prefer soil that is slightly moist but should be allowed to dry out between waterings. They appreciate warm and humid environments. Since these plants are epiphytes with aerial roots, you must avoid overwatering at all costs. Monsteras are not safe for consumption, hence need to be kept at a distance from pets and children.
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These sturdy air plants grow without soil and are found mounted on trees in their natural habitat outdoors. The plants bear flowers after a few years and adopt a bright cherry-red colour. They thrive in moderate to low indirect light and need to be watered when the leaves start curling inwards. They may require regular misting of water for optimum growth. These colourful air plants are child and pet friendly.
Jade plants are one of the common and beginner-friendly succulents that can withstand any condition. Their resilience gives them a long life span. Jade plants require good quality, fast-draining potting mix and a healthy dose of direct sunlight or bright indirect light for at least 4 hours a day. Too much moisture can cause rotting. The plants have tiny, circular and glossy leaves that liven up any space instantly. Jade plants are not fit to be consumed by pets.
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