With the sun in the sky and bank holiday on our doorstep, there’s no better time to get your fingers green and tuck into some gardening.
Creating a bond with Mother Nature and embracing all things that grow can be hugely satisfying in so many ways. And, if you’re thinking of trying your hand at gardening, but don’t have an outdoor garden space – fear not, for we have you covered.
As you will soon find out, there are tonnes of ways to grow and plants to keep all within the walls of your home.
An expert garden requires expert knowledge, so we’ve enlisted the help of some of the very best in the business.
I’ll be handing over to Sarah also known as The Plant Rescuer, Sarah and Fay from PlantSwap, and Alexandra from Flat With Plants, for their pro advice on keeping houseplants, growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs, and more from inside your own home.
As there was so much fantastic advice from our experts, here is a quick list of headings you can jump to if you're looking for tips on something in particular:The houseplant essentials Health benefits of houseplants Which houseplant is right for me? Your indoor allotment
The houseplant essentials
Here we have the most important factors to consider if you're thinking about looking after houseplants. Without knowledge of these core fundamentals, you'll find it pretty tricky getting anything to grow as it should. So, let's get into it.
“Firstly think about the space you are buying plants (or any greenery) for. Does it have enough light for a plant to survive and thrive?” (Alexandra, Flat With Plants)
“People often think they can’t keep houseplants alive but usually it comes down to having a plant that doesn’t like the conditions it is in.
Matching the right plant to the conditions is probably the biggest skill we have learnt for keeping houseplants alive.” (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap)
“The number one on my list of things you must do is find out about the plant you’ve bought or want to buy.
Find out as much as you can about the plant, where it grows in the wild - does it come from a shady, humid environment or a hot, dry desert? This will give you the basics of where it might like to live in your home.” (Sarah, The Plant Rescuer)
“And if you don’t know what your plant is, here are some tips on how to identify your mystery plant).” (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap)
“More plants are killed due to overwatering than any other cause — 90% of all houseplant fatalities are caused by overwatering.
Essentially, watering too much or too frequently is slowly killing plants with kindness. Too much water rots the roots, and without a functioning root system, the plant will eventually die.
It's easy to confuse the symptoms of overwatering with underwatering, because we often associate drooping leaves with drought. But in the case of an overwatered plant, yellowing, droopy leaves are a sign that your plant is drowning.
The amount we should water our houseplants varies from species to species.
Succulents and cacti generally don't require as much water as tropical, humidity-loving plants. There are a few exceptions to this rule, so always do your research!
Also, always reduce the amount and frequency that you water your plants in winter.
In colder months, our houseplants aren't actively growing, so they require far less water than they do in summer.
A good indication of when to water your houseplant is to put the length of your thumb into the soil and see if it feels dry or moist. If the soil is at all moist one to two inches down from the surface, don't water. If it's totally dry, you can add some water.
- Very few plants like constantly wet soil
- Make sure your plant is in a pot with drainage holes so excess water can escape
“Underwatering your plant can be just as life-threatening as overwatering, but it's easier to bring a thirsty plant back from the brink than a waterlogged one.
Some plants will give you warning signs before they reach the point of no return. If you spot wilting leaves or dry, brown leaf tips, it's just about possible to reverse the damage by giving the plant a drink.” (Sarah, The Plant Rescuer)
“As a good rule of thumb, using pots with drainage holes can help solve 90% of issues and almost all plants need time for their roots to dry out between waterings. Exactly how much they like to dry out though is what you need to research.” (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap)
“All plants need light to live. Very few plants can thrive in darkness, so making sure your plant is receiving the correct amount of light is paramount to its health and longevity.
A lack of light means the plant cannot produce enough food for itself and is starving.
Symptoms of a plant not receiving enough light are small, pale leaves and slow growth. We can also cause our houseplants problems by exposing them to too much light. Symptoms of this are scorched leaves and wilting.
- Do your research and find out the light conditions your plant prefers.
“If you notice your plant leaning towards a window, producing small leaves or elongated stems, then move it to a lighter, brighter spot.
If you notice crispy leaves or burn marks (these can look like bleached circles), move your plant slightly back from the light source.
Just like surfaces, plants also collect dust.
Give them a regular clean to make sure they are able to absorb the maximum amount of light. Use a damp cloth to wipe the leaves or give them a shower. Cacti can be cleaned using an old toothbrush.” (Sarah, The Plant Rescuer)
“It may seem obvious to mention that plants need air to survive but providing your plant with the right type of air is important.
Houseplants from warm, humid environments will struggle to thrive in a very dry environment so be mindful of heat sources and place them far away from radiators; a bathroom (with a window) is a great place for humidity loving plants like ferns.
You can also help increase humidity by grouping lots of plants together or by placing each plant on a saucer filled with pebbles and water. Misting them regularly will also help them feel more at home, but only increases humidity temporarily.
Houseplants will tolerate a broad range of temperatures but what they don’t cope well with is large fluctuations of temperature. Draughty areas should be avoided.” (Sarah, The Plant Rescuer)
“Plants, like our pets and children, rely upon us to provide them with food – we wouldn’t starve them so don’t starve your plants.
Soil only contains nutrients for a few months, beyond this time they will need extra help from you.
The active growing period for plants is usually spring through to summer so this is a good time to start giving them some food.
- Always follow the dosage information as you can damage plants by over fertilising.
Most houseplants will be happy with a general houseplant feed but certain specialist plants, cacti and succulents have different nutritional requirements so buying a few different types of food may be necessary depending on the types of plants you own.” (Sarah, The Plant Rescuer)
"And lastly, don’t be scared to lose plants! If your plant dies it’s just a perfect excuse to treat yourself to a new one (or two)!" (Alexandra, Flat With Plants).
Health benefits of houseplants
“Aside from the obvious: they look good and really improve your living space, they’re also known to bring health benefits.
Studies have shown that owning and caring for plants has definite mental health benefits.
You might not immediately think of plant ownership as sociable, but joining houseplant focused social media groups for tips and hints, or attending local swaps or sales is a great way to make friends and learn at the same time.” (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap)
Check out PlantSwap.uk to find out when a local swap group is coming to your area.
Which houseplant is right for me?
As we’ve already discussed, there are loads of houseplants to buy that are suitable for different living environments.
It’s up to you to assess your environment and decide which plant you think would suit you best. Here are a few things to think about.
The ‘easy-care’ plants
“Sansevieria (also amusingly named mother-in-laws tongue or snake plant) is one of my favourites - they look very dramatic and architectural and come in lots of interesting varieties but they are also extraordinarily tolerant of a range of conditions.
They don’t mind being underwatered and forgotten about, they are (unusually for succulents) happy to live in gloomy rooms and they are the opposite of drama queens!
If they are happy they will also sprout little pup plants that you will be able to separate off and give to friends to spread the plant happiness!
Great varieties include:
- Sansevieria Trifasciata ‘Cylindrica’
- Sansevieria Trifasciata ‘Black Gold’
Another plant that’s relatively easy to keep alive is a Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii) - they also are pretty resilient and can cope with a bit of neglect.
They look fantastic, and will tell you when they want water as they wilt - but a quick drink will perk them up! Warning though, they’re poisonous so keep away from children and pets.
Of course, the other good starter plant, and possibly the easiest, has to be the Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) - super easy to look after and like the mother in-laws tongue, throws out lots of babies to share with friends or increase your urban jungle.” (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap UK)
Which plants for which light?
Here is a full list of plants that suit different types of light from Sarah, The Plant Rescuer.
Bright light/Full Sun
- Jade Plant
- Euphorbia Trigona
- String of Pearls
- Aeonium – the darker variety
- Desert cacti
- Madagascar Palm
Medium light/Semi Shade
- Spider Plant
- Snake Plant
- Zamioculcas Zamifolia or ‘ZZ’
- Ponytail Palm
- Monstera Deliciosa
- Burmese Fishtail Palm
- Aspidistra – Cast Iron Plant
- Chinese Evergreen
- Arrowhead Vine
- Maranta – Prayer Plant
- Corn Plant
- Ficus Pumila
- Peace Lily
- Parlor Palm
Your indoor allotment
One of the most innate human satisfactions is being able to live off your own land; growing your own fruits and vegetables and eating them.
We’ve been doing it as a species for thousands of years and thanks to Sarah and Fay’s handy hints, you can do it for yourself from inside your own home!
Which vegetables and herbs can I grow indoors?
“If you have no outdoor space then herbs are a great choice to have on your kitchen windowsill so you have fresh herbs whilst you are cooking. Good choices would be parsley, coriander, mint and basil.
Sweet peppers and chillies love a warm sunny windowsill and will do better inside than outside. You can also buy a far wider variety of chillies as seeds than you can buy in the shops so go wild and experiment!
Ginger and garlic are great because you can grow them easily from supplies you have bought from the supermarket.
With ginger take a section of ginger root, bury it and let it do its thing. It develops into quite a tall plant so make sure you have space! But it's worth it because at the end you will have some fantastic fresh new bulbs to cook with.
With garlic, take the fattest individual clove that you can find and plant that. You can cut the green sprouts that appear and use them as garlicky spring onions or leave it to mature.
Garlic needs six weeks of cold weather to develop into separate cloves which is hard to achieve indoors. But what’s wrong with a large single clove — if you love garlic.
Mushrooms are an unexpected but actually very easy choice! Not strictly a vegetable but certainly delicious! You can buy pre-seeded mushroom boxes that you just need to spritz daily with water.
If you have a little more space or maybe access to small patio or balcony then there are several dwarf plants you could try growing.
Tumbling Tom tomatoes work great in hanging baskets and a strawberry planter with several plants takes up very little space.
Courgettes grow happily in pots too - just watch out for slugs!” (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap)
Potting and keeping your veggies and herbs
“You can improvise your pots out of the recycling bin! Just make sure you put drainage holes in them and then sit them on a waterproof tray." (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap)"
For some fab potting ideas, check out this video from Fay and Sarah:
"For soil, we’d really recommend buying a potting compost rather than getting soil from outside; bought compost will be sterile and will usually have materials added to improve drainage — giving your plants a good start.
One of the main things we tell new plant parents is to just jump in and have a go.
There are so many places to go for tips and advice; and it’s really important not to beat yourself up if a plant doesn’t get on under your care — pass it on to someone else, or move it to another location in the house — and try something different!
Also, you don’t need fancy equipment. Allotment gardeners have been leading the way in improvising and bodging gardening and that is definitely the most sustainable way to do it.
Get online and find local gardening, houseplant or grow-your-own groups online as these are invaluable sources of support.” (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap)
Fantastic food to grow if you have a little outdoor space
“If you have some space outdoors there are loads of great, tasty veg, fruit and herbs you can grow. If you only have a paved yard then use the biggest tubs you can find (50-60 litres is perfect).
Potatoes are incredibly easy and incredibly satisfying. You might not see the point as they are so cheap in the shops but, they are very easy, very satisfying and do taste better when fresh out of the ground.
Raspberries are great for several reasons. Firstly, the fruit is super expensive in the shop so this will save you a packet.
Secondly, the more you pick, the more fruit they will produce, and they will keep on giving you more raspberries all the way throughout summer.
And finally they are perennials, meaning that they come back year after year with very little effort or input on your part.
Runner beans are another personal favourite because they hit that sweet spot of being incredibly tasty when picked fresh, very prolific and easy going, yet also surprisingly pricey to buy in the shops.
Watch out though, you need space for these as they are rampant climbers so you will definitely need to provide a bamboo cane structure for them to scramble up.
They are another one like raspberries that the more you pick, the more they will produce. Just remember to pick them young - if your beans are stringy you’ve left them on the plant for too long!” (Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap).
Check out our experts:
Sarah, The Plant Rescuer
Sarah and Fay, PlantSwap
Alexandra, Flat With PlantsThe houseplant essentials Health benefits of houseplants Which houseplant is right for me? Your indoor allotment