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Apartment Gardening: The Complete Beginners Guide

Plants are good for the soul and in this guide you'll learn everything you need to know about creating your own apartment garden.

House plants in an apartment

It’s true, plants make people happy. 

Not only are houseplants great for brightening up a room, having a few plants around your apartment can have a range of mental and physical benefits — it’s no wonder people have kept plants in their living spaces for centuries

But making the jump from apartment living to plant parent can seem intimidating, especially if you’re not particularly green thumbed.

Honestly, though, you don’t need to worry.

Owning plants, and keeping them alive isn’t half as daunting as it may first seem. You just need to follow a few simple steps, and pick the right plants to thrive in your environment. (We’ll teach exactly how to do both of those things below… just keep reading.)

Think of this guide as apartment gardening 101. A place to learn everything you need to choose the right plants and to help them to thrive in your home… 

‍The benefits of apartment gardening

There are plenty of reasons to invest in a few houseplants or herbs. But don’t just take my word for it, to get the lowdown on the benefits of houseplants, as well as some expert tips for keeping plants alive and thriving, we spoke with Joyce Mast, Plant Mom, and Director of Plant Programs at Bloomscape

Adding plants to your apartment not only improves the quality of your air, but it also benefits your cognitive function, creativity, and stress reduction.

“Adding plants to your apartment not only improves the quality of your air, but it also benefits your cognitive function, creativity, and stress reduction,” explains Mast. “Plants improve our mental outlook by providing “gezellig” (a Dutch word meaning a feeling of coziness, comfort, and relaxation) and give us a sense of well being.

A Japanese study that explores Shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”) also concluded that spending time around nature lowers stress levels, reduces blood pressure, and has an overall relaxing effect on the body. “Interactions with your houseplants have the same relaxing and stress-reducing effects,” says Mast. In addition, many species of plants carry distinct scents that serve as a form of aromatherapy.” 

Plants can also help to boost productivity — especially important if you work from home. A study from Texas A&M found that plants can help increase a person’s ability to concentrate on the task at hand.

Plants boost happiness and productivity.

Throughout this article, we’ll be hearing more from Bloomscape’s Plant Mom, Mast, as well as other indoor gardening experts to help give you all the information you need to keep your houseplants thriving. 

And whether you’re looking to create a complete indoor garden or simply keep a couple of new plants alive, there are sure to be a few great tips to help you below.

What to consider before you get started: 3 questions to think about

How much sunlight do you get?

Okay, so the first thing to think about when it comes to apartment gardening is the amount of sunlight your apartment gets as this will impact the types of plants you can grow. 

Gardeners tend to breakdown the amount of sunlight a space gets into four categories: 

  • Full sunlight: Full sun is direct sun for six or more hours per day

  • Light shade: Between three and five hours of direct sun in the summer

  • Partial shade: An area that receives roughly two hours of direct sun each day

  • Full shade: Less than an hour of direct sunlight each day

No matter where your apartment falls on this scale, there will be plants that can thrive in your environment. Many apartments don't get great light, but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed with houseplants. In fact, many houseplants — such as aloe vera and the peace lily — thrive in shadier environments.

What do you like?

It’s your space, and it’s important to think about the types of plants you like when you get started with indoor gardening. You want plants that will look great around your home and importantly plants that you enjoy being around. 

It may sound obvious but apartment gardening shouldn’t feel like a chore. When it comes to choosing your plants, go for options you really love, that make your apartment feel more homey, and uniquely yours. 

And if you’re debating growing some fruit, vegetables, or herbs at home, the same rules apply. Try to only grow things you enjoy eating. It can take a while but it’s truly rewarding when you can finally enjoy a homegrown chilli to accompany your dinner or add a homegrown sprig of mint to your mojito. 

How much space do you have?

Another one that sounds obvious but is easily overlooked is the amount of space you have (trust me, I once ordered a kentia palm to sit next to my desk and it was way bigger than expected). 

Space is a precious commodity in most apartments and before you start buying plants, it’s important to think about where you’d like them to live. “Consider the eventual size of the plant too,” recommends Elle Meager, founder of the popular Outdoor Happens blog.

”A smaller plant like the African Violet will fit nearly anywhere. It only needs a small spot on a shelf or a bench. Other plants, like the Peace Lily, need more space and can grow much bigger. Although they make a bigger statement, they also require more space.”

Small plants, like African violets, are perfect for apartment gardening and add a pop of color to any space.

Spaces like windowsills, desks, and worktops can be great places to keep plants if floor space is limited. You could also think about using wall planters or shelves to create some extra space for your new, green friends. Many plant retailers will also allow you to filter plants by size too, which is a great help for planning out your garden. 

In most cases, apartment gardening will take place indoors. But if you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor space, you could experiment with a wider range of plants or even try your hand at growing some more varieties of fruits and vegetables. Some indoor plants can even be moved outside for summer

5 Tips for successful apartment gardening

1. Start with a low maintenance plant

When I moved into my first apartment, I wanted to add some houseplants but my first few attempts at keeping a Boston Fern alive were hard fails. 

After two failed attempts, though I began to read a little more about keeping plants alive and my third Boston Fern is still with me today. Plus, I now have many other plants scattered around the place. In apartment gardening, the biggest hurdle is often having your first success. 

When getting started, it's important to choose a hardy plant that will rebound and survive any mistakes that you make as a beginner.

“When getting started, it's important to choose a hardy plant that will rebound and survive any mistakes that you make as a beginner,” says Eran Zarhi, designer of Terraplanter. “This simple step will keep your confidence up as you learn more about proper watering techniques, correct amounts of sunlight, and how to nourish and care for your plants.” 

So start simply. Buy one, low maintenance plant that you like the look of. And once you have that first thriving plant enjoying life in your apartment, start to experiment a little more with different plants and expand your indoor garden.

Read More: 5 Best Indoor Plants for Beginners

ZZ plants are easy to grow and their slow growth rate makes them ideal for small spaces.

2. Use pots with drainage holes

Overwatering a big problem for houseplants but the pots you use can go a long way to solving this problem. “My number one tip is to make sure your indoor plant is in a pot with a drainage hole,” says Mast, Bloomscape's in-house plant expert. “Most people tend to overwater their plants, but drainage holes can drain the excess away. Without it, water can build up in the bottom of the pot and the roots will drown.”

This is something Mindy McIntosh-Shetter, author of The Unofficial Book of Herbs agrees with: “While pots that many plants come in are not decorative, do not plant a plant directly into a container that does not have a drainage hole,” explains McIntosh-Shetter. “If you want a more decorative look, place the plant in its container inside the decorative pot.”

3. Make plant care a daily habit

“When you look at your plant daily, you'll catch any early warning signs that something is wrong,” says Shelby DeVore, founder of Farminence. “Healthy plants generally have deeply colored leaves and stems. Leaves and stems should be held up and are firm.”

“If you notice wilting, curling leaves, yellowing or other discoloration, then you'll want to look into possible nutrition problems. There also shouldn't be any signs of pests on your plants. If you notice pests, you'll want to treat those right away.”

4. Choose plants that fit in your environment and routine

“When you first get started with indoor plants, you should pick one that speaks to your home’s personality and consider how it will thrive in the environment you provide,” says Mast. “Are you someone that will remember to water? Does your home get a lot of natural sunlight? Where in the home could you place your plant for it to best grow and thrive?” 

It's also important to be realistic about the amount of time you spend at how and how often you’ll be able to care for them. “If you're frequently gone for business trips, then you'll want a low-maintenance plant like succulents or cacti. If you're home most of the time, you can take on a plant that needs a little more care, like a palm or peace lily,” adds DeVore.

5. Use the right tools 

“I’d also suggest a few tools like a mister, a watering can, and garden scissors,” says Mast. When you’re caring for plants indoors, you might sometimes need to provide a little extra humidity to create the perfect environment for them, the best to do this is by using a mister. “Misting is a real treat for your plant and you don’t have to worry about overdoing it.” 

Garden scissors can also be handy to remove any dead or dying leaves and trim away brown edges to keep your plant looking its best and watering can with a long spout to direct where the water is actually flowing.

5 Starter plants for your indoor garden 

We’ve covered a lot of theory so far. But the most important thing to consider when it comes to apartment gardening is which plants are right for you. Here are six that Bloomscape’s Plant Mom, Joyce Mast, recommends: 

1. Philodendron

The Philodendron is incredibly adaptable and easy to care for. Its heart-shaped leaves have gorgeous variegation, and it’s a fast grower with impressive trailing vines. This plant is a great option for any situation and will adapt to nearly all light conditions.

2. Tradescantia Zebrina

The Tradescantia Zebrina is an eye-catching, fast-growing plant that is loved for its boldly colored purple leaves and vining growth.

3. Sansevieria

Sansevieria (aka Snake Plant, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue) is perfect for new plant ownership or for anyone looking for an easy-care houseplant. It doesn't require much water, especially in the winter since it is native to the arid deserts of West Africa (and only needs watering once a month during the winter). This plant is also a great roommate, removing toxins (formaldehyde and benzenes) and creates oxygen mainly at night.

4. Ponytail Palm

The Ponytail Palm is ideal for people who have little time or travel frequently. It requires very little care as it is drought-tolerant and slow-growing! It only needs watering every couple of weeks (its bulb-like trunk stores water), sparingly in the winter months, and can be left alone to soak up the sunlight. 

5. Parlor Palm

The graceful and easy Parlor Palm is a compact palm that thrives in a variety of light situations and tight spaces. It’s dark green fronds create a bushy, lush plant perfect for tabletops, desks, and shelves. The Parlor Palm will do best in bright, filtered light,  but will readily adapt to low light as well.  

Bonus: Low-maintenance plant collections

Bloomscape tough stuff indoor plants
Bloomscape's Tough Stuff bundle incluses three easy-to-care for plants.

The Tough Stuff and Easy Peasy are both collections containing low-maintenance plants, as part of our series of expertly chosen plants that come in small 4-inch pots, perfect for your desktop, window sill, or bookshelf. The Tough Stuff collection features a hand-selected trio of the Sansevieria, ZZ Plant, and Green Hoya, ideal for plant parents that need resilient plants. The Easy Peasy Collection includes the unique Sansevieria Samurai, Sansevieria Hahnii, and a Ponytail Plant. 

Note: If you have pets, it’s worth checking to make sure plants are pet-safe before buying them. Some plants can be toxic for pets like cats and dogs. Before buying, always check to make sure a plant is non-toxic for animals. 

On-going plant care 

Maintaining an apartment garden won’t be a huge drain on your time, and it can be quite relaxing and enjoyable to check-in on your plants. Here are a few tips to help keep your garden thriving:

  • Watering: The most important aspect of plant care is watering. Soil can dry out fast indoors, especially when plants are young and growing. If the soil feels dry, it likely needs to be watered.

  • Light: You need to have the right levels of light for the particular plants you choose. As we’ve mentioned, some plants flourish in lots of direct sunlight whereas others do better in shade. Over the course of the year light levels around your apartment can change so it’s important to keep an eye on the location of your plants to see if they might need to move. 

  • Pests: You can never guarantee your plants will be safe from pests and diseases. The best way to guard against these issues is to keep an eye on your plants on a regular basis. Keep look out for any discouloring and unwanted insects creeping around. If something looks off, you can usually find the solution by Googling your plant's symptoms.

Make plant care a part of your regular routine for a thriving indoor garden.

Ready to start your indoor gardening journey?

Getting your first house plant can feel daunting, and because of worries like “which plant do I buy?” and “what if it dies?” a lot of people don’t bother. 

But regardless of your experience with plants and how much space you have you can be successful with apartment gardening. And a few plants dotted around is the perfect way to get some nature into your living space and create a happy, relaxing environment at home. 

Remember to start small, with one or two simple-to-care for plants and expand from there. In no time your apartment will become a green oasis, filled with plants that bring you joy.

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