Planning an Indoor Garden: Cultivating Without a High Cost

Since my big move [back] to the city, I’ve been more intentional than ever about the plants in my home. I have a little baby cat who gets into everything, windows facing all different directions, and rooms with different humidity or temperatures or light conditions. I want what’s best for my plants and home, so here are some questions I consider as I plan my planting.

How do you pick what plants to get?

My top considerations when picking out plants are (a) is this plant safe to be around a cat, and (b) what kind of environment does this plant need. When looking for new plants to take home I first make sure they’re nontoxic to a cat – specifically, I check the ASPCA’s list of toxic and nontoxic plants. If it won’t hurt my kitty, then my next concern is: Do I have a place in my home where this plant will grow happily? It’s important to give living things the kind of environment they evolved to thrive in.

For example: When I found this moon orchid at a local plant shop, I stood there and made sure it wouldn’t harm my cat if she ate it (it won’t) and then asked the shop owner what kind of environment it liked. He said southern facing window, and BOY do I have a lot of those!

How do you afford all the necessary supplies?

Ah, money. I’m not going to go too deep here because everyone has different budgets, but

  1. I save money and budget every week.
    • Also important: I wait on things. If something isn’t immediately necessary, such as a new pot, I don’t just buy it when I see it – usually. And, if I won’t be able to afford the proper care for a new plant at a certain time, I don’t buy that plant (yet).
  2. I thrift, like from Goodwill.
  3. I try and share/trade plants with other gardener friends of mine
  4. I shop local (sometimes this saves money, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way I feel better about it than always ordering online.)

How do you stick to a watering schedule?

I don’t. Not really, anyway. I know generally the type of watering “schedule” each type of plant I have likes – cactuses not all that often, orchids very specifically, wheatgrass quite often when in bright sunlight. But instead of watering a plant the same day every week, or two weeks, or twelve days, I check up on my plants regularly. I get to know what they need not only by reading about them or asking other gardeners, but by getting to know them.

For example, the wheatgrass I keep in a bright, sunny spot was looking super dried out after a very hot and sunny week, so it got watered more often than usual until it started to look happy again.

Another trick I use is sticking my finger into the top layer of a plant’s soil. If it’s dry and a plant likes always-damp soil, I know it’s time to water! For plants like cacti, if soil is still damp I know to avoid watering for a while, or maybe even to move the cactus somewhere sunnier.

The old me actually made paper schedules – this did not work for me, by the way!

How do you choose planting vessels?

This is one of the most enjoyable parts of indoor gardening, at least for me! It’s a cross between function and aesthetic – which, as a certified scientist and bonified creative, is what I live for.

On the function side, considerations are size, drainage, and material. To be honest I don’t consider the material of the pots I pick very often, as I’m much more specific about soil and drainage options. And speaking of drainage – it’s important to know what kind of moisture levels a plant likes, how it best takes up water, etc. in order to choose a vessel. There are options with and without drainage holes. And, if you get a pot with a drainage hole, put something underneath it if planting indoors!

As for size, something my dad taught me was that it’s better to get a pot that’s too big than one you’ll just have to take a plant out of again soon. It’s like baby clothes – plants can grow right out of their homes! Plants can be repotted, but they don’t want to be uprooted too many times. You also don’t want your plants to get balled-up roots, which can happen if they outgrow a space that’s too small. Go big and stay home.

My favorite places to get pots are Synthesis and Goodwill (speaking of which, check out this post for my most recent Goodwill haul)! I also sometimes reuse old Oui yogurt containers or cleaned-out cans for little plants.

How do you pick what supplies to get?

There are some basic supplies that every gardener, indoor or outdoor, rural or urban, could probably use. Luckily for me I’ve been gardening with my dad my entire life, so I already knew some of what I’d need. I also read gardening blogs and gardening books; I’d suggest asking at your local gardening store or hardware store that sells plants as well.

For some plants, there are more specific hardware needs; this is something I read up on as well. Orchids, for example, can use humidity trays and perlite, two things none of my other plants ever really needed. Here’s a list of what I currently have handy for my houseplants:

  • Spray bottle (for misting water)
  • Soil moisture and pH meter
  • Organic pet-safe fertilizer powder
  • Watering can (specifically a long-spouted one meant for indoor watering)
  • Grow lights
  • Planting vessels (you know, pots)
  • Plates (to go under pots with drainage holes so I don’t destroy my apartment)
  • Seed trays
  • Perlite
  • Organic expanding soil (I linked to the exact one I use in a previous post)
  • Succulent soil (faster draining)
  • Rocks/gems (to go in the bottom of certain pots, for better drainage)
  • Chopsticks (yes, I swear; to help support weak or leggy plants)
  • Garden markers (these are the things I have ‘cilantro’ or ‘3’ written on; I use them mostly for pots with seeds in them so I don’t forget what’s what)
  • Orchid clips (these are the hairclip-looking things that hold orchid stems onto sticks placed in the planters to help hold the flowers up)

How do you get a “green thumb”?

What even is a “green thumb”? To me, I guess it’s the ability to raise healthy plants thanks to a relationship with the flora living with me. That relationship is what’s made the difference between plants I’m unable to keep alive and a bunch of health, long-lasting plants!

My suggestion is to adopt plants that you really feel for, and to cultivate a relationship with them – that’ll help cultivate them! I know it sounds wishy-washy, but it’s truly worked for me. ✿


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