So you want to start a garden—a windowsill garden! You've started to think about what you're going to plant (herbs galore!), and located the sunniest windowsill at your disposal. But you're going to need a little more than a sunny windowsill: Luckily, the good folks over at The Sill, an N.Y.C.-based company specializing in indoor plant care, are here to share what they consider the essential tools for gardening indoors. Here's what you'll need to get your windowsill garden off the ground, so to speak, from The Sill's Plant Specialist, Christopher Satch:
The kind of container—draining or non-draining—you use depends on what you'll plant in it. Plants that need dry roots (like most herbs) should have a self-draining container with holes in the base and a dish underneath to catch any excess water; plants that prefer wet roots (like ferns) will be happy in non-draining containers. Just remove the plant from the plastic pot it came in before setting it up in the container!
"General potting soil or potting mix is perfect" for any houseplants or herbs, says Christopher. You can often find organic versions, too.
Organic or otherwise, a little fertilizer can help give indoor gardens a boost. The Sill uses a gentle organic fertilizer called FoxFarm, but any all-purpose general fertilizer in a diluted strength will be just fine. (The fertilizer's packaging will instruct you how to dilute it and how much and how often to use.)
Look for one with a spout that has a shower head-type attachment. This is very important for delicate plants like herbs! A direct spout—one strong, single stream—could do more harm than good, whereas a spout that diverts the water is more gentle, and keeps the water from flooding some parts of the bed and missing other parts completely.
A pair of sharp scissors will help you trim the plant of any droopy sprigs (or sprigs you want to cook with).
"Herbs really need a lot of light—or a supplemental light," says Christopher. Make sure you have a windowsill that receives direct light for at least 8 hours of the day; if you don't, think about setting up a lamp to help the little plants get the light they need.
You can use a grow light from the hardware or gardening store, but any lamp is fine as long as they have a good lightbulb in them—"good" meaning good for the plant, meaning as many lumens (that's the total quantity of visible light emitted) as possible. Most compact fluorescent bulbs and warm-hued LED bulbs work well, says Christopher; those are what he uses on his own plants. But different plants respond to different bulbs, so you may need to experiment to find what works best for your garden.
That is, if you're going to invest in one part of your garden, it should be your plants.
You should think of it the same way you'd think of buying any other important wear-or-use-it-every-day item, like a pair of shoes or a mattress, Christopher explains: If you buy an inexpensive plant, there's a good chance it won't last too long. Be willing to spend a little more on something that looks really good and strong and healthy, and buy from a place that really seems to know what they're doing and is investing all their resources in the plants—that is, a specialty plant or garden store (not a home improvement or grocery store).
"You should have a sense of what the plant should look like," says Christopher—Google pictures of it! Know which plants are a little yellowish by nature—or super green, or a little blue. "Dill, for example, should be sort of blue when it's really healthy, but gets greener when it's not doing so well." Knowing what the plant looks like when it's healthy will help you pick a happy plant.
Check to make sure the roots aren't coming out of the bottom of the container, which indicates that the plant is overgrown and has been in its container too long. It should also have a strong, well-developed stalk or stem, and shouldn't be flopping over from its own weight.
"Gardeners are some of the friendliest people I've ever met," Christopher says. Find other gardeners and ask them questions! If you're not sure where to start looking, head to a local garden center, or seek out a master gardener (every state has one!). They're knowledgable about everything from houseplants and herbs to larger outdoor plants.
You can also tweet questions right to The Sill! Pretty cool, no?
What tools have been most helpful in your indoor garden? Tell us about it—and share any tips for beginners—in the comments.