How to grow fruit and vegetables indoors, for those of us who don’t have a garden

If you think your allotment dreams are over because you don’t have any outdoor space, think again. Here, Stylist’s Kayleigh Dray speaks to gardening experts Andrew and Christopher O’Donoghue, the co-directors of Gardens Revived, for their tips and advice on how to grow fruit and vegetables indoors.

Updated on 9 April 2020: As the coronavirus lockdown continues, more and more of us are trying to regain some sense of control when it comes to sourcing food: all you need to do is look at all the people baking their own bread on Instagram to see that’s true.

Many of us are, likewise, turning to growing our own fruits, herbs and vegetables. This isn’t exactly a new trend, of course: indeed, millennials have long rated it as one of their top five leisure activities, and it’s easy to see why. Countless studies have found that the mental health benefits of gardening are extensive: not only can regular gardening reduce mental health problems like depression and anxiety, but it can also reduce stress and combat high blood pressure, as well as improving overall physical fitness. 

However, while a third of us are now adept at growing our own food, many of us aren’t blessed with gardens or balconies to turn into our own little fruit and vegetable plots – no matter how much we may want to showcase our green fingers. 

Nowadays, though, anything is possible – even growing fruit and vegetables indoors. In fact, some of are even using up bits of leftover vegetables to grow brand-new ones from our windowsills. 

Nifty, huh?

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That’s right: food waste expert and Oddbox co-founder Emilie Vanpoperinghe has shared her genius simple tricks for how to re-grow food from scraps.

All you need to start is some vegetable ends and scraps, a little sunshine and water, and a good dosage of TLC.

Here are just a few examples of the vegetables you can re-grow:

1) Lettuce

How long it takes: 

2 - 3 weeks

How to do it:

  • Place the stem in water making sure it covers no more than two thirds and leave in a spot with plenty of light.
  • Fill up and change the water when it needs (typically if it gets a bit cloudy).
  • If you have the space then transfer the little shrub to soil, which will allow for better growth, but if a window-sill and empty jar is all you’ve got, this’ll do just fine.
  • Ensure you cut from the outer leaves and leave a small inner core. Then just keep eating and regrowing in this beautiful circle of life for as long as your lettuce allows you.

2) Spring onions:

How long it takes:

1 - 2 weeks

How to do it:

  • Leave about an inch from the roots, and pop them in a shallow glass of water so that the tops aren’t submerged.
  • Change the water every few days and watch the green shoots continue to grow.
  • Cut what you need from the tops, and the spring onions will grow for as long as you take care of them!

3) Coriander, basil and other cut herbs

How long it takes:

2 - 3 weeks

How to do it:

  • Ensure that there’s around 2 to 3 inches left of the stem of your herbs, and place them upright in a tall glass of water. The new roots should start to sprout after the first week, after which you can transfer them into a small pot of soil for your windowsill, making sure not to over water it.
  • Once the herbs have begun flourishing, make sure never to pick out more than a third of the plant.
Herb tin garden
Learn how to grow your own vegetables: try pot gardening indoors

4) Celery

How long it takes:

1 - 3 weeks

How to do it:

  • Leave around 1 - 2 inches from the base of celery, and place down in a small bowl/glass of water in a sunny spot.
  • After the first few days, you’ll see new leaves begin growing from the middle, and roots begin to grow.
  • Transfer the celery shrub to a small pot of soil, making sure to keep it in as much direct sunlight as possible each day, watering it generously for it to grow its stalks to full length.

5) Leeks

How long it takes:

1 -2 weeks

How to do it:

  • Leeks regrow much like celery and spring onions, the only difference is the sheer size of the leeks!
  • Leaving 1 - 2 inches of the leek’s root ends, soak them root-first in a shallow glass/container of lukewarm water.
  • Place them on a sunny windowsill, changing the water fairly frequently. You’ll begin to see the leeks regrow from the middle within the first week.

6) Garlic shoots

How long it takes:

1 - 2 weeks

How to do it:

  • Plant your garlic cloves with their roots facing down in a small pot of potting soil. Sit in a spot with lots of direct sunlight, and you’ll begin to see the beginnings of the new shoot in a few days.
  • Alternatively, pop garlic that’s sprouted slightly into a shot glass of water. These tops will continue growing and can be eaten just like spring onions.

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Of course, you don’t just have to re-grow your vegetables from old odds and ends: you can start completely from scratch, too.

As reported in 2019: I sat down with Andrew and Christopher O’Donoghue, the co-directors of Gardens Revived, to get their tips and advice on creating an indoor garden. And, with a combined 18 years of experience under their belts, they had plenty to give me…

Which vegetables are best for growing indoors?

I recommend tomatoes (technically a fruit) , lettuce, arugula, kale, scallions, and ginger – which looks cool too! Chillies are great for spicing food and also the vibrant red really helps to add some colour to a room.

Can I grow fruit indoors, too?

Yes! Lemons and limes are good to grow indoors, and the leaves give off a citrus smell which can be very calming. These are best to buy as shrubs but they can be done from seed, too: it will just take some time! Apricots, peaches and figs are also good options, with figs being relatively easy to grow, too.

What are microgreens? And can I grow microgreens indoors?

A good way to imagine microgreens is to think of them as baby plants, although this admittedly sounds kind of horrific when you think about eating them later. Basil, watercress, dill, kale, mint and cabbage are all examples of microgreens. And, yes, you can grow these quickly and easily indoors but they will definitely need to be put in a spot with lots of bright light.

How much space do I need for an indoor garden?

This really depends on what you want to grow. Tomatoes, while not too space-demanding horizontally, require height and a cane for support. And you could have an olive tree but it would require a very deep pot and a lot of space, as the recommendation is that you don’t prune them until they are at least around 50 years old.

What temperature should my indoor garden be?

Somewhere around 15 to 22 degrees celsius is about right for most indoor garden plants, although younger plants may need to be kept a little warmer. It’s best to be careful and monitor your plant babies regularly: if they get too hot, they will dry out. if they get too cold, though, their growth will be stunted and the water in the soil will sit for longer in the pot, potentially causing issues later on.

Bright green plant seedlings growing in a large terracotta pot
How to grow your own fruit and veg indoors: make sure you pop them in a spot with plenty of sunlight.

What is the best time of year to set up my indoor garden?

With enough light and warmth, you can grow fruit and vegetables all year round indoors. However, plants must be watered diligently in the winter because air can get very dry thanks to radiators and indoor heating. Check the soil and, if it feels dry to the touch, add some water.

What equipment do I need for my indoor garden?

A basic starter set would be:

Some other things you could consider:

  • A pair of gardening gloves, if you’re so inclined (you might prefer to get your hands dirty, though, like Chris!)
  • A tray for the pots so when you water them the water drains into the tray.
  • Plant feed (as these plants are in pots they will require additional nutrients).
  • A plastic sheet to protect the floor when using soil.

What kind of soil do my indoor fruit and vegetables need?

Again, it usually depends on what you’re growing: most garden centres provide a variety of soils for different plants.However, Chris recommends John Innes Seed Compost if you are growing from seeds, and John Innes Compost Number 2 for when the plants have sprouted.

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How do I pot my indoor fruit and vegetables?

Make sure the pot isn’t too big or small for the plant as this can affect the health and growth of the plant. Fill the pot up to roughly one third and then place the plant in the centre. Gently introduce soil around the outside of the plant up until there is slight gap at the top so when you water your plant it doesn’t spill out of the pot. Finally, make sure that the soil is gently pressed around the plant so that it helps to hold it in place. Chris also recommends to gently tap the pot on the table to help compact and settle the soil.

If potting up from seedlings, avoid handling the stem and try to lift or manoeuvre the plant from the leaf.

Where should I put my indoor fruit and veg?

It really does depend on what you’re growing, but it will almost certainly need to be near/next to a window or anywhere in direct sunlight.

How much sunshine do fruit and vegetables need to grow indoors?

5 hours a day would be ideal. However, some plants, like tomatoes and chillies, love as much as they can get!

Eggshell used as flower pot with a small plant growing in his interior.
How to grow fruit and veg indoors: feel free to get creative with your plant pots

Ditto water?

Enough so that the soil is slightly damp. Some plants will drink the water faster than others so you may need to take note on how much it will need. Be careful when watering, we would recommend if your not sure it’s better to underwater than overwater: you can always add more but you can’t take away.

Will I need supplemental lighting?

It depends on what you are growing and how much sunlight you have available. If you can guarantee a good five hours of sunlight then you should be okay but it can’t hurt to have it and their are some relatively cheap ones out there.

When should I harvest my indoor garden?

It depends on what you’re growing! Most veg/fruit will have formed into a recognisable shape and colour.

Is it easier to grow my own indoor herb garden?

Yes! Herbs are much easier to grow than fruit and veg and also easier for beginners.

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Why is it a good idea to grow your own fruit and veg?

It gives a great sense of achievement once you finally harvest your well earned fruit and veg! It’s fun to grow different plants depending on the time of year. It can also be cheaper than purchasing from the shops.

What is your advice for someone who says they don’t have green fingers (or, y’know, has so far killed every single plant they’ve brought into their home)?

Don’t give up! Start with something simple such as herbs and with practice you’ll know how to read plants. So long as you plant them correctly and water them carefully, you’ll do great.

And one more tip, for avid amateur gardeners:

How to plant your plant

Well, according to How To Grow’s Hollie Newton, it’s pretty simple.

“Water your seedling with the fine spray of a watering can while it’s still in his multi-celled tray or plastic pot. then ‘pop’ it out by pushing your thumbs up underneath,” she tells Stylist. “If that doesn’t work, a quick sharp tap with a trowel while holding the pot upside down should do the trick. Loosen your seedling’s roots by teasing them out of their soil ball, then dig a hole in the soil, slightly larger than the pot he came in, and tuck your plant in, roots down. Fill the hole back in, firming the soil to ensure he doesn’t wobble. Then it’s one last water for luck.”    

You can find an extensive guide to growing specific fruit and vegetables here.

Please note that this article was originally published in 2019.

Images: Mikołaj Idziak on Unsplash/Getty


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