Flowers are almost in full bloom and it’s becoming the perfect weather to visit a spring farmer’s market. It’s also a perfect chance to start a garden. It’s fine if you don’t have any space outside your home or dorm, BTW. Indoor plants provide health benefits like better air quality and can help relieve stress while making a living space look more comfortable. You can also grow your food indoors which will help cross some food off your shopping list. Starting an indoor garden seems overwhelming, but with the right help and guidance, you’ll have a strong foundation to start your gardening journey.

Chantell Eichhorn, also known as @gardeningindoors on TikTok, started her gardening journey in 2017 and then shared her passion on TikTok. She bought strawberries, mint, cilantro, lavender, and mint and started her first garden in her bedroom, including some vegetables after a while.

“Because I was trying to keep my newfound hobby out of everyone's sight, I started them in my bedroom using peat pellets and a cheap clamp grow light on top of my dresser,” Eichhorn said. “It must have still been cold outside because I underestimated how big these plants would get while still indoors. Needless to say, things quickly got out of hand and my dresser was covered with plants that I didn’t have the space or a plan for.”

After moving into a studio apartment, Eichhorn rearranged and upgraded her garden, including hanging a panel grow light from a garment rack and creating DIY setups. It’s a trial-and-error hobby. If you’re also in your gardening era, here’s a guide on how to start and maintain your indoor garden. 

Here's where to start planting your indoor garden.

Before deciding on a plant, the first step is to look around your living space. You’d want your garden in a sunny area in your house, apartment, or dorm room; ideally, near a window to get the most light. Take time to measure the room and research, research, research.

“When planning an indoor garden, I research how big something is expected to get to determine if I have the space for it,” Eichhorn said. “Average indoor temperatures are fine for most plants, so once you have the lighting figured out, it all comes down to what you have the space for.”

After you’ve planned where you’d like to start your indoor garden, here comes the fun part: which plants to buy. 

Here's what to plant in your indoor garden.

The selection of seeds, seedlings, and plants is vast and can be overwhelming. Eichhorn suggested choosing herbs, greens, and food you like to eat as your first options. That way, you’ll be more inclined to eat what you grow, and it’ll be faster to eat before they rot in the back of your fridge. Plus, the accomplishment will make it twice as exciting to plant more.

“After making my first official indoor setup, I started with herbs and Red Robin cherry tomatoes,” Eichhorn said. “I would also keep the number of plants low when getting started and research the estimated height and width when deciding how many plants to grow in the space you’re working with.”

The three types of plants and food items you can grow under your roof are herb gardens, fruit trees, and potted produce.

Herb Garden: Microgreens are the number one choice to grow. Examples include cilantro, basil, chives, parsley, mint, oregano, rosemary, and sage.

How much water depends on the plants. Oregano, thyme, and rosemary are drier herbs that prefer to be watered once a week. Mint, basil, and parsley are water-loving herbs that enjoy moist soil, so water them every other day.

The amount of light also depends on the type of plants, but six hours of direct sunlight is ideal for most. Herbs like basil, thyme, and oregano prefer sunny spots while herbs like mint, parsley, and chives prefer to stay in the shade.

Fruit Trees: Finding dwarf varieties of fruit trees can save you from fighting through a forest in your living room. Dwarf citrus trees are perfect for amateur beginners, but there are dwarf trees for growing apples, bananas, peaches, passionfruit, and figs. 

Be careful about what you pick because a fifth of a full tree can still be too tall for indoors. According to Yarden, dwarf citrus trees dwarf citrus trees can grow up to 10 to 11 feet max. However, the height and width vary depending on growing conditions, planting, and type of fruit. For instance, dwarf Meyers and Lisbon lemon trees can grow up to seven to eight feet respectively but produce the same size fruit as their full-size counterparts.

Dwarf trees need well-drained soil so the roots don’t retain too much water, causing them to rot. When deciding when to water, dig a few inches in the soil. If it’s dry, water them. When watering the trees, don’t let the soil be too wet for too long, and only water when the tree needs it. Also, don’t water them on a day when it's expected to rain. How much light depends on the type. As long as the trees are in a warm environment with direct sunlight available, then it’ll be fine.

Potted Produce: Growing plants out of pots and containers is more straightforward than people think. You can even grow non-herb vegetables like potatoes, garlic, lettuce, carrots, and hot peppers inside your quarters! The amount of light depends on the vegetable and its seeding packet.

Vegetables need a lot more water than herbs. Water them early in the morning and once a week. The amount of water depends on where you reside geographically. Ideally, vegetable gardens need one inch of water per week, but if you live in an area with little to no rainfall, only two inches of water is needed. In hotter weather, they’ll need a half inch extra for every 10 degrees the average temperature is above 60°F. 

Here’s a formula that can help you calculate: The average temperature equals the highest temperature in the day plus the lowest temperature at night divided by two. Subtract the average temperature from 60 degrees to get the difference. Every 10 degrees that the difference makes up equals a half inch of water to add to your vegetable garden.

Bonnie Plants explains it better with an example. Overall, water and lighting depend on the plant and its growing method. 

Here's the equipment to get for your indoor garden.

You can find all the listed items in the nearest Home Depot and gardening sections at Walmart, Target, and Amazon. While most are a bit pricey for the average college student’s budget, there are some DIY versions listed to try.

Lighting (natural and artificial): If you learned about photosynthesis from middle school science, you’d remember light is crucial in plants’ growth and cycle. Placing plants near a window is ideally the best option.

“I used to have south-facing windows, which provide the most natural light,” Eichhorn said. “But the light coming through my window didn’t seem to be good enough when it came to seed starting. It worked great for plants that were already established though.”

However, very few living spaces have good windows or sunlight. Investing in some artificial lights would help. That doesn’t mean putting a plant under a desk lamp. Look for fluorescent, full spectrum, and LED lights specifically built for plant growing, and keep them at least one foot away from the plants.

Another thing to note is different colors help with plants’ growth. Blue and violet light ranging between 400 and 530 nanometers (nm) encourages plant growth in the early stages of photosynthesis. Red light between 600 to 700 nm encourages flowering or vegetation in the later stages.

Eichhorn recommended looking at photos, reading reviews, and the specs to determine how large the light is supposed to cover and the distance from plants. Using natural and artificial lights is all trial and error. What works for some plants might not work for others, so be ready to experiment.

Cost varies on size, watts, and settings but typically lands on double and triple digits. The cheapest one is Walmart’s FAV Grow Lights for Indoor Plants with three light modes, which costs $14

Indoor growing system (DIY): They come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s best to look for one that can sit on a kitchen counter or doesn’t take up too much space. Most indoor growing systems cost more than $100. This 9x4 growing system from Home Depot costs $329.

At first glance, DIY alternatives come in all forms. A simple one is a shelf with growing lights installed on top. All you need is a shelving unit, growing lights, seeds, potting soil, a fan, a seedling starter tray, and planting pots. But it could also be shaped as a wall garden.

“I personally prefer DIY setups and out of the ones currently featured on my platform, I’d say the wall garden and wire rack are good options for a dorm room,” Eichhorn said. “The great thing about DIY setups is you can customize it to suit your needs and living situation. Wall gardens are an excellent small space solution and can be achieved by simply hanging small pots from a wall hook rack or utilizing a grid wall panel.”

Water can or watering/hydroponic system (DIY): Next to light, water is a crucial ingredient in growing a garden. If you don’t have time to water your plants, a watering system will do it.

“Another thing to keep in mind about hydroponic systems is they have a water pump that runs on an on/off schedule throughout the day and night,” Eichhorn said. “Depending on the system, the pump may be a little noisy.”

Self-watering spikes and DIY alternatives like the “bottle drip irrigation” are budget-friendly, costing under $30. Pricier watering systems like this electronic watering kit from Home Depot costs over $40. Just remember not to overwater or you’ll end up flooding/drowning your plants.

Magnifying glass or microscope: Chantell mentioned pests are a big challenge to tackle when gardening indoors because they are everywhere and can get in easily.

“They can enter through an open door/window, on your shoes and clothing, pets, store-bought produce, or even packages,” she said. “Once inside, all they need is a plant to start laying eggs on and things can quickly get out of control.”

Using a magnifying glass regularly can help identify and catch them before they spread in a plant’s roots. A magnifying glass costs under $50 or a quick trip to your Biology lab (ask your professor to borrow one).

Small clay pots: For seedlings, start with an empty egg carton before transferring to a bigger space. A clay pot’s cost depends on the size; the bigger the pot, the more expensive. Home Depot has 2-inch pots for 87 cents!

“Pot size can also impact watering,” Eichhorn said. “If the pot is too big, it will take longer for the soil to dry out. If the pot is too small, the plant roots will absorb water pretty fast.”

Fertilizer: Plants need nutrients. Look for fertilizer for indoor plants, fruit trees, and vegetables. Fertilizers typically cost around $10 to $20 depending on where you buy them. However, you can always make fertilizer from coffee grounds instead of throwing them away. 

Pruners or plant clippers: Regularly pruning plants is important because it keeps them healthy and promotes further growth. Pruners are inexpensive, ranging from $10 to $30. PSA: Do not DIY these with office scissors or hair shears.

Soil: Duh! Where else are you going to bury your seeds? Look for the soil specifically for indoor plants and vegetables. Fruit trees need sandy loam or clay loam soil. The cost ranges from $20 to $30, but it’s okay to start with one bag.

A lot more goes into an indoor garden than people realize, but sticking to the routine is very rewarding. Growing an indoor garden is a great way to bring a little nature into your home and with the right plan and research, you can create a garden that provides health benefits and even food for you to enjoy. Whether you start with a small herb garden or venture into growing dwarf fruit trees, the possibilities are endless. You can learn how to grow a garden inside and take your first steps toward a beautiful and sustainable indoor oasis.