However, not all of us have roofs or yards to work with, let alone accommodating (and sane) landlords and neighbors. There is still hope, and it comes in the form of tried-and-true indoor and windowsill gardens. And, since keeping things alive in small, dark-ish spaces isn't necessarily intuitive, we turned to the experts at some of Brooklyn's best gardening meccas for tips, and they delivered.
Behold, a semi-comprehensive guide to getting living things to grow within the confines of your apartment. Even if you killed your last five plants.
Before you buy any actual plants, you should probably consider what you'll actually be putting them in, right? It can make a surprisingly big difference, both in your plants' quality of life and in keeping your apartment free of spills and water stains.
Tassy de Give of Williamsburg's Sprout Home explains, "Try to choose a container with a drain hole and saucer. If you find a container you want to use and it does not have a drain hole, you will need to put a layer of rocks on the bottom to create a "false" drainage."
Rose Red & Lavender co-owner Kimberly Sevilla also recommends self-watering pots with a reservoir in the bottom, ideally made from terra cotta, which helps keep moisture levels stable.
Both caution against over-watering, and Sevilla says a larger pot can keep plants from drying out and allow you to water less frequently.
No, cultivating your very indoor garden doesn't mean you're relegated to a life of nothing but cactuses (fine, cacti), though they're great, too. The options are, unexpectedly, pretty endless, starting with local species. "One of the things I love for non-gardening gardeners is the lady slipper orchid," said Emily Thompson (founder of DUMBO's Emily Thompson Flowers). "They are really easy to care for, and they are native to our local forests."
"All city dwellers can use some cleaner air," adds Grace Martinelli, owner and horticulturist at Wililamsburg's Graceful Gardens. Some of the best flowers for this are peace lily, english ivy, and dracaena.
From Sprout we even have a list of their top ten favorite (and lowest maintenance) indoor plants, including Aglaonema, Asparagus Plumosa Fern, Jasmine Fiona Sunrise, Neon Pothos, Olive plant, Oxalis, Passion Flower Vine, Rex Begonia, String of Hearts, and ZZ plant.
If even "neon" and "ZZ plant" don't sound enticing, well, then I really don't know what to tell you.
Apparently we've been wrong all along assuming that you have to actually "go outside" to "grow food to eat." Kale and cabbage can both live in a window box even in cold weather, according to Allison Jonas of Ditmas Park's Sycamore Bar & Flowershop. Violas and pansies also thrive in most weather, and yes, you can eat them. "They are among the most popular edible flower in America," says Jonas, "And are loaded with medicinal benefits—some say they can help treat the common cold and a 1/2 cup serving of leaves can provide as much vitamin C as three oranges."
Vegetables are actually manageable in smaller containers, too, as long as you go with dwarf varieties, according to Sevilla. "it will be challenging to grow a big beef-steak tomato in your kitchen, but small cherry tomatoes will do just fine. Zucchini would be plain silly, but small cucumbers can easily be grown on a window sill." Lettuce, carrots, beets, and peppers, can all work, too.
And, when in doubt, herbs are always a standby. "If you don't have a lot of light and don't want to use a plant light, herbs like mint, oregano and thyme and salad greens would be the best things to grow," says Sevilla.
"The most important thing to indoor gardening would have to be light requirements and how committed to watering you will be," explains Martinelli. Thankfully, there are plants that can work with just about any lighting scheme (or lack thereof).
If your windows face north, it's safest to invest in plants that don't require a ton of lighting, but if they're south-facing, you can spring for a plant that needs full sun, including fruit and vegetables.
You can also bring in a light supplement if none of that does the trick, but Sevilla notes, "Don't forget to turn it off at night, plants need sleep, too."
So, you've managed to keep some plants alive, right? Cool. Now you can afford to think about how they look. The team at Sprout recommends grouping containers by color, and notes, "All terracotta or all white containers will look like they belong together regardless of the different plants in each pot."
De Give continues, "Pay attention to the growth habit of your plants. If you do not want to obscure your window view, then choose plants that have more of a trailing habit to them or that stay small (examples include haworthia, string of hearts, fittonia, philodendron cordatum). If you do want to block your view, then choose plants that will fill out and become a full, lush window screen (examples include herbs, coleus, philodendron monstera, rubber plants)."
The over-grown shut-in look is also an option if you choose to go that route. In which case, rules no longer apply.
Yes, there will be some upkeep. But it won't be hard! According to Martinelli, this time of year is when you should actually scale back on watering and stop fertilizing altogether. "You want to start up again in the spring, which is a good time to re-pot plants," she added.
And, if you're not totally sure about a particular plant's needs, de Give recommends poking around about an inch into the soil. "If you feel moisture, then you do not have to water," she explains. "If the soil is dry or if you know it will dry out during the day because of the sun or hot weather, then you should water thoroughly. Watering deeply and less often is better than watering a little bit every day."
Inspired yet? Feeling smug and superior to those people with access to "roofs" or whatever? Good, now grow something.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.