Limited social gatherings and events due to the pandemic now coupled with cold weather, have left us with more time than ever spent at home and indoors. You might be dreaming of summer days and time spent in the yard, but you don’t need a garden patch to be able to grow flowers, vegetables or herbs. Here’s how you can start gardening indoors and growing all year long.
‘Fresh herbs at your fingertips’
While one benefit of indoor plants is the brightness they can add to a space, some can yield tasty results, too.
Herbs can be effortless plants to grow indoors during the colder months.
Rosemary, thyme and basil, are all good options to grow indoors, but instead of starting with a seed, you may want to pick up a plant of these herbs to add to your garden. While it is possible to start from a seed, an indoor environment doesn’t provide the best conditions for herb growth, local Master Gardener Sarah Buechel said.
If you’d like to begin your garden with seeds, an herb like chives would grow best, she added.
“If you have the center of your kitchen island or table and it’s got beautiful midday light and you’ve got about six to eight hours of light you can do that, but it will tolerate an east-facing window just fine,” Buechel said.
Window spots provide a good light source, but drafts can affect plant health.
Next pick a planter that works for your space. Try to make sure it’s in a spot that it will not have to be moved often as it can stress the plants, she said.
When choosing your growing medium, Buechel advises gardeners pick potting soil meant for indoor plants to ensure it offers enough drainage.
Buechel keeps her plants in a box planter on her windowsill just above her kitchen sink. It provides the plants with lots of light and her with easy access to her fresh home-grown herbs.
“You want to add pizzazz to your meal? You have fresh herbs at your fingertips and it saves so much money on buying fresh herbs,” she said.
When it comes time to use the herbs you’ve planted, be cautious while cutting.
“A good rule of thumb with any plant is the one-third (rule) where you never take any more than one-third of the plant,” Buechel said.
To grow fresh herbs perfect to add to recipes, you’ll want to trim often, she noted. This keeps the plant healthy and prevents them from becoming woody. If you aren’t ready to use them just yet, herbs can be bagged and thrown in the freezer to be used at a later date.
“That’s why I’ve got so much sage,” she said with a laugh.
The herbs can also be transplanted into an outdoor garden once the weather has warmed.
It’s rewarding to be able to add that fresh touch from your garden to a meal and “it’s good for your soul” amid the cold Minnesota winters.
Buechel’s advice for those looking to start indoor gardening is to keep it simple at first.
“Start small and things die. I mean it will happen. You’ll never know if you don’t and try you might really like it,” she said. “Maybe pick your favorite herb or the herb that you’re buying a lot of.”
Germinating seeds for spring
Winter may pause your time in the garden, but you can get a head start on your spring plants by germinating seeds indoors.
Germinating is the process of developing a seed with the intention of planting it in the spring, explained Emeritus Master Gardener Cliff Johnson.
“Anybody can start seeds, but there are some things that need to be done to make it successful,” he said.
Timing is one of the key factors that come into play when germinating seeds as every plant has a different rate of growth. Some seeds, mostly flowers, may need to be started in January to have the perfect plant ready to go outside come May.
“Some of the flowers would include geraniums, impatiens and petunias,” Johnson said.
Others you wouldn’t want to begin germinating until closer to the planting season.
“Some other pants that don’t take nearly as long to get up to the transplant stage might be green beans and peas and zinnia flowers,” he said.
Again, you’ll want to start off with a source of light, which is crucial for the development of seeds. In Johnson’s case that means the fluorescent bulbs in a series of shop lights hung in his basement, which he runs for around 16 hours each day.
Find a suitable container to begin your seeds. This could be a cast-away container from your kitchen or an inexpensive option available at a big box store or local garden center.
For your soil medium, make sure it has a moisturizing agent that allows the soil to draw up moisture easily, Johnson said.
He has found a container with holes in the bottom set on a tray of water works best for germination.
“You have to keep that moist the whole time or the seed won’t germinate,” he said.
Watering from the top of the container works too, but can displace seeds especially for flower seeds which typically sit on the surface of the soil, he noted.
Place a plastic container over your growing container to lock in moisture and create an environment just right for germination.
Seeds germinate best in temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees, but grow better around 65 degrees once they have sprouted, he said.
Germinating seeds ensures you’ll have plants ready to be planted to reach their full potential and Johnson finds joy in watching how the plants grow over time.
“It’s kind of like running a children’s nursery and you like to go see how they’re doing everyday,” he said.
Acclimating from indoors to outdoors
Whether it’s parsley, peas or petunias you’d like to move from indoors to outdoors both Buechel and Johnson recommend what is known by gardeners as hardening off. This means exposing them to the outdoors before fully transplanting them into an outdoor garden.
To harden off your plants or seedlings, move them outdoors but leave them in their container, allowing them to adjust to the environment.
Monitor the temperature and frost level to make sure it won’t get too cold overnight to harm the plants and simply move them inside for the evening, if so.
Place plants outside between one to two weeks before planting them in the ground.