Everything You Need to Know About Indoor Gardening

So you want to grow your own fresh, healthy food. But something is stopping you. Maybe your growing season isn’t long enough. Or maybe your outdoor space doesn’t get enough sunlight. Or maybe you don’t even have outdoor space.

Sound familiar?

Indoor gardening could be your solution. It certainly has been for me. For the past four months, I’ve been growing Tower Garden kale, chard, spinach, basil, cilantro and more in the corner of my dining room (Tower-to-Table, anyone?)—and saving big at the grocery store in the process. Want to do the same?

This guide covers what equipment you’ll need, which plants you should grow, and what ideal growing conditions look like.

Essential Equipment for Indoor Gardening

1. Grow Lights

For indoor gardening, lighting is paramount. Without adequate light, plants become leggy (i.e., tall, thin and weak)—if they grow at all. I’ve found that even when grown next to a sunny south-facing window, most plants tend to struggle. For best results, you should supplement natural light with grow lights. If you don’t, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

There are several types of grow lights to choose from, ranging in both cost and effectiveness. As you read about the pros and cons of each below, keep in mind that there is more to a grow light than just the bulb. Unless you purchase a complete kit, you’ll need to also find compatible reflectors, cords, ballasts and other parts.

A quick note about light color: The whiteness of a light’s output is measured in Kelvin units (K). The higher the degree of Kelvin, the “cooler” (bluer) it appears, and the lower, the “warmer” (redder) it appears. Blue light encourages compact, bushy vegetative growth. Red light initiates the flowering stage. Lights between 4,000 and 6,000K are known as “full-spectrum” lights because they produce both cool and warm light colors, much like natural sunlight.

Photo by Dineshraj Goomany

Incandescent

Not much about the incandescent light bulb has changed since Thomas Edison invented it in 1879. While inexpensive and readily available, incandescent lights are the least efficient option for indoor gardening. They’ll increase your utility bill, produce more heat than light, and burn out more quickly than other options. I wouldn’t recommend using these to grow plants.

Fluorescent

A common—and perhaps the most popular—choice for home gardeners, fluorescent lights use ¼ the energy, last about 10x longer, and produce more light compared to incandescent lights (energy.gov). They’re great for starting seeds and growing greens, herbs and other plants with low to medium light requirements.

The primary drawback with fluorescent lights is they don’t produce enough light to effectively grow fruit-bearing plants, such as squash and tomatoes.

There are a few different kinds of fluorescent lights commonly used for indoor gardening:

  • T5, T8 and T12 bulbs are long and tube-shaped. T5 is the narrowest and most efficient of these. Because of its smaller surface area, a T5 bulb produces the most intense light with the least energy. Plus, it doesn’t produce much heat, so it can be positioned very close to plants to maximize its effect.
  • Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are the same size as a typical incandescent light—but much more efficient. CFLs are useful for lighting individual plants or seedlings, but not necessarily an entire Tower Garden.

The Tower Garden Grow Lights Kit uses high output T5 fluorescent lights. And in my own experience, they have worked amazingly well.

High-intensity Discharge (HID)

HID lights are typically used for larger growing spaces, such as commercial greenhouses. Producing a greater intensity of light, they’re more efficient than fluorescent lights. But they’re also large and expensive, which makes them less popular among home gardeners.

There are 2 kinds of HID lights commonly used for indoor gardening:

  • Metal halide (MH) lights produce cool colored light (which, remember, is best for compact, leafy growth).
  • High-pressure sodium (HPS) lights emit warm colored light. But using HPS lights alone often causes plants to become leggy.

If you decide to use HID grow lights, pair MH with HPS to encourage balanced growth for all types of plants.

Light-emitting Diode (LED)

Relatively new in the world of indoor gardening, LED grow lights are incredibly light, compact and efficient. LEDs can be configured to emit only red and blue light (the only colors of light plants can absorb), so they don’t waste any energy. But, like HID lights, these will cost a pretty penny up front compared to fluorescent lights.

2. Support Cage

Once you get grow lights, you’ll need a way to attach them to your Tower Garden. A standard Tower Garden Tomato Cage provides adequate support for LED and T5 grow lights.

3. Timer

A timer isn’t required, but it will make your life easier. For healthy development, plants need sleep (i.e., darkness), just like we do. Using a timer to automatically turn your grow lights on and off will save you the trouble of remembering to do it. The Tower Garden Grow Lights Kit includes a timer.

4. Fan

It’s important to facilitate air circulation around your plants, and running a small fan is an easy way to do this. Keeping the air moving will help prevent problems, such as leaf fungi and garden pests.

5. Rubber-backed Rug

Credit goes to Tower Gardener Nancy Kroupa for suggesting this one on the Tower Garden Facebook page. Place your indoor Tower Garden on a rubber-backed rug or mat to protect your floor from any accidental spills that may occur when refilling the water reservoir or performing other maintenance tasks. Like the timer, this is not necessarily required, but useful.

Best Plants to Grow Inside

When gardening indoors, I highly recommend starting your own plants from seed—don’t use outdoor transplants. Why? Because when you bring a plant inside, there’s a good chance you’ll bring something (i.e., a pest or plant disease) with it. Even plants that appear healthy aren’t worth the risk. Once garden pests take root (no pun intended) in your home, they can be difficult to eradicate, as there are no natural predators indoors.

Tower Tip: Grow pest-repelling plants, such as marigolds, indoors to help keep your Tower Garden problem-free!

So what seeds should you start with? For most indoor gardening setups, greens, herbs and other leafy plants grow best. Here’s a list of edible plants commonly grown indoors:

Vegetables:

  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Broccoli Raab
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Chinese Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Chard
  • Collards
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Mesclun Varieties
  • Mustard Greens
  • Pak Choi
  • Radicchio
  • Sorrel
  • Spinach

Herbs:

  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Cumin
  • Dill
  • Garlic Chives
  • Lavender
  • Lemongrass
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Stevia
  • Thyme

You’re most likely to find success growing these plants, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try growing things like peppers or peas. Experimenting is part of what makes gardening so fun!

But keep in mind, fruit-bearing plants aren’t going to perform as well indoors as they would out. And they’ll require additional attention—particularly when it comes to pollination. Without exposure to bees, wind and other natural methods of pollination, your plants won’t produce fruit without your help. To learn more about manual pollination, read these tips.

Ideal Conditions for Indoor Gardening

Creating the right conditions for a successful indoor Tower Garden is easy. In addition to typical maintenance tasks, there are just a few important variables to manage:

1. Light

Running your lights for at least 14 hours a day should yield good results. But you can experiment with longer durations, as long as your plants still get 6+ hours of darkness.

2. Pump Timer Setting

When growing outside, you should set your pump timer to 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off. But in a cooler, climate-controlled environment, plant roots don't dry out as quickly as they do outside. Changing your timer to 15 minutes on and 45 minutes off when growing indoors is a way of both saving a little energy and preventing over-watering.

3. Temperature

Most plants will grow best between 65-75°F.

Now Get Growing.

Congratulations—with this knowledge, you’re ready to grow your own food indoors all year long! Season, light and space hindrances are a thing of the past.

The easiest way to get started? Order a Tower Garden Grow Lights Kit. It comes with everything you need, so you can quickly assemble it, plug it in, and grow! Just be sure you’re ready for all the fresh produce. I have had to get creative with my abundance of kale!

Order Your Grow Lights »

Still Have Questions?

Leave a comment to let me know what other indoor gardening questions you have. Also be sure to check out the Tower Garden Grow Lights Kits PDF manual and assembly video.

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