If you’re one of the apartment gardeners who does not have enough light outside to grow sun-loving plants, you may want to try growing plants indoors. You can also start seeds indoors and move their containers outside once they are established.
First try one or two annual container plants, such as cherry tomatoes or peppers, rather than many longer-lived plants. This way, if your indoor growing setup doesn’t work or just isn’t your thing, you can discontinue it after one growing season. If you try light-loving, long-lived container plants, you will have to find a home for them if your balcony is too shady and you don’t want to continue growing plants inside.
Of course, the most important (and most expensive) part of an indoor garden is the lighting. Overhead fluorescent tube lighting is best. Purchase lights specifically made for container plant growth, such as lights made for planted aquariums or for use in indoor greenhouses. If you have nowhere to hang a fluorescent light and don’t want to install anything on your ceiling (this may be against your apartment lease rules), you may also use compact fluorescents (CFLs) that are made to have a more natural “Daylight” color (this will be specified on the packaging). Compact fluorescent light bulbs are not as effective for growing container plants as tube fluorescents, because their intensity fades quite quickly. Fluorescent tubes on average will produce useable light for plant photosynthesis for about a year. CFLs will last for a growing season, but they should be replaced more frequently. Remember that even if a CFL or a fluorescent tube light is putting out visible light, it may not be delivering enough intensity to the container plants. Reuse your CFLs or tube lights in the rest of your home lighting so you don’t waste bulbs.
You may want to place your indoor plants next to a window, even if it faces north or is shaded by trees, other plants or buildings outside. Any extra amount of light will be beneficial to the plants. Whenever it is sunny outside, put the container plants outside in the sun for a while and turn off your indoor lights. This will save energy, as well as give your plants some exposure to the outdoor elements, thus making them stronger.
As your container plants grow, you will need to move the lighting up higher. When you install the light, make sure it can easily be moved upward. Also check often, as some plants grow quickly, to make sure that no plant leaves are too close to the lamp. Leaves can get burned and damaged by the lamps. One way to move CFL lights upwards is to buy cheap shop lights ($5 to $6 each) that have clamps. Clamp the lights onto a stake stuck into the plant container’s potting soil. Move the clamp lamps higher as the plants grow.
Lighting tip: Keep your lights on an automatic timer so you don’t have to remember to turn them on and off every day. Container plants will do well with 10 to 12 hours of light each day.
Air Circulation, Watering and Heat
Air Circulation. Because there will be no breeze in your apartment, keep a small fan on your container plants at all times. This will promote healthy growth and cut down on fungus or garden pests.
Watering. Watch your watering indoors. Too much water will quickly result in garden pests. If you have any sort of fungus in your soil that fungus gnats will live off of, you will have an infestation of tiny flies in the rest of your apartment. Keep watering to a minimum, while not letting your plants dry out. If you do have a flying insect infestation, purchase sticky strips used to attract flies. The flies will stick to the strips and be unable to breed further. Also cut down on watering the plants and learn to live with a few bugs here and there.
Heat. The heat from the lamps will create slightly warmer conditions in your apartment. If you want to grow a lot of container plants indoors, think about the heat the plants will give off. If the lamps will be close to your favorite resting spot, think ahead about how warm you will be in that spot before you decide to go through with the indoor garden.
Now that you know about some indoor garden considerations, you may want to try growing a few container plants. If you use fluorescent lights, you shouldn't see a drastic change in your electric bill. With fluorescent lights, not much extra energy will be used, and you will be able to have high-light plants that you couldn’t otherwise grow in your balcony garden. So if you decide to move some of your garden indoors, good luck! And make sure to take pictures of your indoor garden and upload a photo to BalconyContainerGardening.com’s Facebook Wall.