Apartments are great, in that you don’t have to take care of the maintenance and you can call your landlord with any problems. But most seem to lack one critical, highly enjoyable thing: your own outdoor space. Because of this, many tenants have taken to growing and keeping all kinds of plants inside.
Apartment gardening is easier said than done. But with just a few tips and tricks of this trade, you too can live in your own personal forest or paradise of plants.
There are many reasons to get, nourish and keep plants beyond their obvious aesthetic appeal to most of us. Plants can actually help you breathe better. They release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. This helps to freshen the air and eliminate harmful toxins. NASA researchers once concluded that houseplants can remove up to 87 percent of air toxins within 24 hours.
Houseplants can also improve your concentration and productivity. Reputable studies indicate that plants can improve your concentration by up to 15 percent, and they can also reduce stress levels and boost your mood. Office plants, specifically those with broad leaves placed on your desk, have been found to regulate humidity and increase levels of positivity, thus improving your mood. Studies also have found that seeing greenery and nature helps you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Indoor apartment gardens can even help enhance your mood and help a bit if you are dealing with depression and loneliness. This is because caring for a living thing is not only rewarding, but many of us find that it gives an important sense of purpose.
What Do Plants Need?
Plants need eight basic things in order to survive and grow. Let's start from the top, with water, probably the most obvious item on our list. Water is used to carry moisture and nutrients between the roots of a plant and its leaves. Water is absorbed from the soil by the roots.
Nutrients, specifically nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, are also essential for keeping a plant alive. The nitrogen keeps the leaves green and healthy. The phosphorus is needed to create large flowers and strong roots. The potassium helps the plant fight off disease. Most plants get these nutrients in sufficient amounts from the fertilizer naturally in the soil or added by the gardener. And, speaking of soil, plants need clean and healthy soil in order to thrive. Not only does soil provide an anchor for plant roots and physically support the plant, but it also contains vital nutrients.
Clean, fresh air is also a must. Air filled with smoke, gases or other pollutants will limit a plant's ability to take in carbon dioxide. This prevents plants from being able to complete photosynthesis. Dirty air can also block out the sunlight, which plants need to grow. Adequate sunlight is essential. Light is used as energy during photosynthesis, which is the process plants use to make their food.
Temperature and overall growing climate also matter for apartment gardening. Most plants thrive in cooler nighttime temperatures with warmer temperatures and light during the daytime. If it is too hot, the plants can essentially burn up, and if it is too cold, they will die eventually.
Enough space to grow is another necessity in producing healthy plants. Plants need enough room for their roots and leaves to grow, whether in an apartment gardening setting or a greenhouse. Without space, plants will stay stunted and small. If you overcrowd your plants, they can also contract diseases related to limited airflow around them.
We believe that the last, most important thing plants need to grow big and strong is time. Patience is needed as plants do not grow quickly. Days, weeks and even months are needed in order for a plant to produce flowers or fruit, so apartment gardening is definitely for the patient among us
How to Choose a Spot for Apartment Gardening
As we discussed above, plants need water, sunlight, nutrients, soil, clean air, enough space, favorable temperature, and the time to grow. Because of this, there are select places in your apartment that plants will grow better than others. Our suggestions:
- Balcony or porch. If you are lucky, you will have at least a tiny amount of outdoor space in the form of a balcony or patio. If you are interested in growing vegetables, this is the spot to do it. May we suggest a tomato plant to start?
- Windowsills. If you do not have any outdoor space of your own at all, a windowsill is the next best spot. Your plants will have access to natural light even though they will not be outside.
- Along the side of the building. This is a little tricky, as the side of your apartment building is not your personal area. There is a good chance someone may steal or destroy your plant. But there is also a good chance that no one but you will be utilizing this space.
In order to determine if you are putting your plant in a spot where it can survive, you must check for availability of natural light. Successful apartment gardening will require you to monitor it throughout a typical day. Check in every few hours and take note of how much sun is coming in through the window over the course of a day. Once you have this information, you will use it to determine what plants can be grown there.
Remember that there are four main categories of sunlight exposure applicable to apartment gardening and other plant pursuits:
- Full sun = 6+ hours of direct sunlight.
- Partial sun = 4 to 5 hours of direct sunlight.
- Partial shade = 2 to 4 hours of direct sunlight.
- Shade = Less than 1 hour of direct sunlight.
After deciding where your selected spots land on that list, you can decide what plants you can grow as part of your apartment gardening adventure. In addition to making sure an area gets, it is important to notice if it gets too much sun. If your plants start to get leaf burn, spotting, or the leaves suddenly fall off, that means they need some time out of the sun and a different location overall.
What to Grow
The world is your oyster when deciding what plants to purchase for your apartment gardening project. Before running down to your local nursery, it is helpful to ask yourself the following questions to narrow down your selection:
- What do you use the most? If you are buying cilantro weekly, then this is an herb you should consider growing yourself.
- What do you like to eat? Do you gobble down pints of cherry tomatoes? If so, consider investing in the materials needed to grow these on your balcony.
- What makes financial sense for you?
While it may seem obvious that growing something yourself is cheaper than buying it in the store, this is not always the case. Investing in the pots and soil required to grow only one pumpkin may not be worthwhile. Herbs are typically well worth the investment as starter kits only cost a few dollars.
While plants release oxygen during the day, most release carbon dioxide at night when photosynthesis stops. Plants like orchids, succulents, snake plants and bromeliads do the opposite and release oxygen at night. This makes them perfect for the bedroom as they can help with your sleep. Or: Should you place a plant or two in the bathroom? Air plants and kokedama (Japanese hanging moss balls) thrive in a moist environment.
If you are lucky enough to have a sunroom, which may be too hot for many plants, try ferns, palms, succulents, and cacti. They do best when in a hot and sunny environment. Some of our favorite plant selections of all for apartment gardening in different forms are:
- Monstera deliciosa, which is inexpensive and grows quickly
- Epipremnum aureum, a low-maintenance plant (toxic to cats and dogs, though)
- Hedera (ivy), an extremely resilient plant.
- Chlorophytum comosum, another low-maintenance choice as it only needs one watering weekly
If you are new to apartment gardens, it is important to start with something simple, like a cactus, a succulent or a few herbs. Among the most common plants to add to your apartment garden are basil, rosemary, mint, ginger, cilantro, and parsley. They require very little effort and should do well as long as you place them in an appropriately sunny spot and water them regularly.
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How to Help Your Apartment Garden Thrive
Start with a few plants. It's not advisable to go from having no plants at all to having an apartment full of them overnight. Focusing on a few, especially at first, will let you ease into apartment gardening. Pick plants that you will want to invest your time and energy into for the ultimate return of flavor, such as herbs or tomatoes.
Make the right plant choices. Don’t try to grow something that needs full sun in a dark apartment. also, be sure to get large enough pots. As we mentioned before, plants require space to grow. If you keep a plant in a pot that is too small, it will not survive. It may seem expensive to continue buying pots, but plants are an investment.
Use good soil. Don’t just go outside and dig a hole to fill your pot. A bag of good soil can be purchased from your local hardware store for less than $10. Finally, be sure to maintain a watering schedule. If you are having trouble remembering to water your plants, try working it into your normal routine at the same time each day.
In conclusion, we believe that creating your very own apartment garden is well within your reach. All you have to do start small and follow the directions we've laid out. Happy growing to all!