Indoor gardening essentials top image

New to gardening, or looking to experiment with growing fruits and vegetables but don’t have a ton of space? You may already have tried your green thumb at growing some house plants, but there’s a lot more you can raise indoors. Indoor gardening methods often require less time and investment than an outdoor food garden, and give you the option to expand your gardening and grow your own herbs and vegetables whether or not you have a backyard.

Even if you have really limited space, you can get all-in-one growing kits that let you grow fresh mushrooms or fragrant basil on your counter or a bookshelf. And even if you’ve got bigger plans, you can start plants indoors for your outdoor garden, giving your new crop an edge on growth while it’s still chilly outside.

However you choose to pursue it, gardening can be simple and enjoyable for beginners and can get you great results. We talked to a pair of gardening experts to learn more about how to get started.

Before you begin your plant journey, Alessia Resta, apartment botanist and author of “Plants Are My Favorite People,” suggests thinking about where your plants are going to live. “Learn your space. Understand the light and what your space can provide naturally,” says Resta, who has more than 200 plants by her latest count. “If there’s not a lot of natural light, you may need to supplement with a grow light.”

New to growing vegetables or fruits? Kevin Espiritu, founder of Epic Gardening, recommends opting for leafy greens or kitchen herbs “as a great way to get a win under your belt.” A blend of microgreens like sunflowers and peas or arugula and kale, planted in dense rows of seeds on a growing mat, can be harvested in as little as two or three weeks. “People come in really gung-ho and always want to grow some complicated, esoteric plant,” says Espiritu. “But you want to pick something you like to eat and that’s easy to grow.”

Once you’ve got space and light handled, you need to think about watering. “Most people tend to overwater because they think it’s something they have to do daily,” says Espiritu. “But you have to relax and let a plant grow.” His rule of thumb is to use your thumb and feel the soil. If the soil is dry at a depth of three inches, go ahead and water. Resta encourages people to take into account how hot or cool your space tends to be and whether or not a planter or container has drainage.

When it comes time to move your plants outdoors, Espiritu recommends a gradual approach. Move your plants outside for a few hours, slowly increasing the amount of time over a week, before you rehome them in your outdoor garden.

“Any new plant parent should have patience with themselves,” says Resta. “Be understanding and forgiving because you’re trying to understand what the plant is trying to communicate to you. If you’re patient, they’ll reward you with healthy growth and look beautiful.”

What you need to start an indoor garden

A complete system that makes it easy to start your seeds

An easy-to-follow system for starting seeds, with two stacking trays of 36 cells each. You plant your seeds in the supplied coconut fiber pellets, then fill the included reservoir tray with water so the seeds get the proper amount of water through a self-watering mat. A plastic dome retains heat and moisture, and an included set of markers lets you remember what you’ve planted.. 

A maneuverable, easy-to-fill watering can perfect for indoors

With a long spout and measurement marks on the side, this 34-ounce watering can is a handy tool to have on hand. Resta prefers a smaller watering can because “there’s less mess,” and it’s easy to fill and maneuver in tight spaces or at different heights. This lightweight watering can is available in five colors. 

A full-spectrum bulb that lets you use the fixtures you have to give plants the light they need

Augment the light in your apartment to enable or encourage growth in seedlings with the GE Grow Light LED Bulb. A medium base means it fits most standard light fixtures and it produces light on both the red and blue ends of the spectrum to stimulate growth. There’s no timer, so you will have to switch your light fixture on and off (or add a mechanical timer).

An affordable, versatile set of six indoor or outdoor planters

Once you've gotten your seedlings started, they'll need more space. “Terra-cotta planters can look cool without breaking the bank,” says Espiritu. “You can get lots of sizes and shapes too.” Available in a set of six, these terra-cotta planters have pre-drilled holes for drainage and saucers to make sure you don't get water on your bookshelves. The pots can be used inside or outside and are easy to stain or paint, if you’re looking to add a bit more color. 

Related: Plants that are actually easy to keep alive, according to experts

An organic soil mix perfect for seedlings

When you're looking for soil to move your seedlings into planters, “Get something very fine,” says Espiritu. ”When seeds are starting out, they don’t want to have to make their way through chips and particles.” Organic gardeners can snag a bag of Back to The Roots 3-in-1 Seed Starting Mix, a blend of coconut fiber, yucca extract and mycorrhizae designed to help the soil hold on to moisture. 

Know when to water and keep in touch with your plants' nutritional needs

Take the guesswork out of watering with a hydrometer. This slick device has a built-in light sensor and a pair of probes to test the moisture and PH levels in the soil, as well as the ambient light around your plant. It can help you know when your plant needs a drink, soil adjustment or a new spot to thrive.

A great cutting tool for indoor and outdoor gardening

The heavy-duty Fiskars pruning shears are useful if you ever want to split plants or trim a plant to encourage flowering or fruiting. The steel blades are sharp enough to cut through stems and leaves, but small enough to let you gently trim smaller plants, making them suitable for both your indoor and outdoor garden. 

A versatile, easy-care pair of shears for the garden and the kitchen

These Henckels kitchen shears are a versatile addition to your kitchen that can pull double duty as a gardening tool. Use them to snip herbs cleanly, cut pizza into slices or even open packages of meat. The stainless steel blades are dishwasher-safe and snap apart to make the shears easier to clean. 

Keeps moisture under control so your plants (and you) stay comfortable

A dehumidifier can help you regulate the moisture in the air and help protect your plants against rot or mold. This Frigidaire dehumidifier earned top marks in our testing of the best dehumidifiers with a straightforward control panel, effective performance pulling excess moisture from rooms with high humidity and a design that makes it easy to empty and clean.

All-in-one indoor gardening kits

An easy-to-use, all-in-one hydroponic herb garden perfect for beginners

If you’re short on square footage and storage space, the AeroGarden Sprout is a compact all-in-one answer for growing an herb garden indoors. It comes with an herb seed pot kit (you can also buy cherry tomato, greens or petunia seed pods for an extra fee) and a built-in grow light. There’s no soil needed in the hydroponic system, which lets you see the water level and automatically reminds you when to add the included plant food. 

A self-contained indoor greenhouse that lets you grow anywhere

The SunBlaster LED Mini Greenhouse is a compact kit (a little under 2 feet long and 1 foot wide) that provides everything but the seeds and soil for you to start an indoor garden. There’s an LED grow light strip that fits atop a domed plastic greenhouse with built-in vents. The plastic dome slots into the included seed tray, where you can grow herbs, greens or flowers.  

A simple kit that'll get you delicious mushrooms with minimal effort

New gardeners need easy wins and the Back to The Roots Organic Mushroom Grow Kit delivers out of the box. The packaging is the planter, with soil and mushroom spawns inside. You need only provide indirect light and a misting every other day. Each kit should produce two crops of organic mushrooms.