Northern climates have a short gardening season, which is limiting for those who love growing and harvesting their own crops. It also isn’t cheap to buy your favorite fresh fruits and veggies; making daily salads a costly addition to your meals.
Luckily, starting an indoor salad garden offers year-round leafy veggies, no matter the outdoor temperature. Growing your own greens is cheap and easy, even for novice gardeners, and gives you various options to match your taste. The following guide can help you get started. In it we’ll cover everything you need to get started, as well as provide resources to help improve your skills over time. By the end, you’ll be prepared to start your own indoor salad garden and enjoy delicious, home-grown greens year-round regardless of where you live!
Quick Start Guide
Here’s a quick overview of what to expect. We’ll expound on each of these below.
- Choose your plants, lettuce, kale, and spinach are popular choices. Our advice it to start with 2-3 plants and expand from there.
- Find a good location that gets 8+ hours of sun per day or set up grow lights.
- Starting planting, directions differ whether you’re starting from seeds or seedlings.
- Keep up with general care like watering/feeding and watch for any issues.
- Harvest once your plants reach maturity. Never harvest more than ⅓ to ensure continued growth.
- Start a fresh batch of plants every few weeks to keep a continuous supply that’s always ready to harvest.
Starting a salad garden inside isn’t difficult, but it does require some thought before putting it into action. Indoor greens need plenty of light, so choose your space carefully or invest in some grow lights. You also need to place your plants away from vents or other areas producing warm or cold drafts to avoid hindering plant growth. Locating them high enough to keep children and pets from nibbling or knocking them over is also essential, so choose their location carefully.
How Much Space
The space required depends on how many plants you plan to grow. If you’re only seeding a few options, you’ll only need a small area for your indoor salad garden. More plants require more space, especially if you want enough greens to feed you several times a week.
Our advice is to start with a handful of plants, maybe 2-3 different varieties and grow from there. This gives you a good range of plants without being too overwhelming. It also requires minimal space, a corner of a room is usually enough. As you grow, if you want to, you can plan a large space, but that’s often a bit too much for someone just getting started.
What To Grow
With so many greens available, choosing a few for an indoor salad garden can be overwhelming. The following are healthy, tasty options that are easy to care for. Any of these are perfect for any level of gardener and add their own unique flavors to your salads.
Lettuce – With so many varieties of leaf lettuce, it’s easy to create a salad garden with these alone. You can sow the seeds every two weeks for consistent growth, plucking the leaves as needed. A well-taken-care of lettuce plant will generally provide multiple harvests over a growing season.
Kale – Kale requires deep pots and more space, plus it has a longer growing time than other greens, but the high vitamin and nutrient content and delicious flavor are well worth the trouble. It has a bit of a bitter taste, but when added sparingly can add a lot of flavor to a dish.
Arugula – With a slight peppery flavor and feathery appearance, arugula is a fantastic addition to any salad garden. It’s also easy to grow, though they need more space than regular lettuce.
Spinach – Rich in vitamins, folate, and iron, spinach is one of the healthiest greens. It has a mild, earthy taste and is incredibly versatile, adding a unique flavor to salads, pasta, and soups. Depending on the variety, it can also take on a more sweet taste giving it a unique flavor compared to other greens.
Asian greens – These include bok choy, lotus root, mung bean sprouts, and Chinese mustard green. They vary in size and flavor, so you can choose your favorites for your indoor garden.
To set up an indoor salad garden, a few supplies are required to give your plants the healthiest start. These include:
- Grow trays or small 4 – 6 inch pots (both require drainage holes)
- Saucers or trays (to catch water released from the drainage holes)
- Plastic wrap or bags
- Seed starting mix (most potting soils will work too)
- Seeds for your chosen plants, or seedlings
- If the lighting in your home isn’t adequate to give your greens at least 8 hours of sunlight, grow lights may also be required.
Setting Up Your Garden
Once you’ve gathered your supplies, you’re ready to set up your indoor salad garden. Make sure you’re working on a flat surface that’s easy to wipe down when you’re done.
Location – Sun
First, choose the location for your greens. Most varieties need at least 8 hours of light a day, though 10 – 12 hours is best. A south-facing window receives sunlight all day, so it’s the optimal choice for a salad garden. East- or west-facing windows offer plenty of sun in the summer, though the shorter winter days limit their lighting potential. If you can’t provide your plants with enough natural light, add some grow lights to keep them happy.
One thing to keep in mind here is the reduced intensity of sunlight during the winter. This is location-dependent, but here in the Midwest, for example, days are much shorter and gloomier. Make sure that you’re providing enough sunlight during these months, and supplement with the aforementioned grow lights if needed.
Planting a salad garden doesn’t take long and requires only a few easy steps for thriving plants.
- Add water to the seed-starting soil until it’s damp
- Place the starting trays or pots on saucers or catch trays and fill them with moist soil.
- Sprinkle the seeds onto the soil, pressing them in gently. Then cover them with a light layer of soil.
- Place the plastic wrap or bags over the trays or pots, leaving some areas loose for ventilation.
- Arrange the trays in the well-lit location you chose for their permanent home.
You also have the option to start with seedlings, although it can be tricky to find these out of season. In these cases, start with a normal-sized container, usually around 6-8” in diameter, and plant them directly into the soil. Give the freshly planted seedlings a healthy dose of water that moistens the soil. Care
Newly planted greens should be misted every day to maintain damp soil. Don’t overwater them, or the conditions will be too soggy for them to survive. When new sprouts appear, remove the plastic covers.
Once the seedlings are established, thin them until they are about an inch apart to give them room to spread out. Don’t discard the clipped seedlings, though. These are tasty microgreens, which we’ll discuss more below.
Tips For Harvesting
To harvest most greens, the best method is to pinch off or trim the leaves you need, leaving the rest of the plant alone. Doing so encourages new growth on the plant for future meals. Don’t pluck more than you need, or you risk running out of greens before new leaves are ready to harvest.
Harvesting this way is the best way to sustain your plant for longer and ultimately receive a higher yield. In some plants you can harvest the entire thing, but this often means you’ll have to start over. Keep in mind that most leafy greens can be harvested about 4-5 times in this manner, so plan accordingly if you want to have a continuous supply.
Microgreens are the seedlings of greens and other vegetables harvested 3 or 4 weeks after planting. Lettuces and other leafy greens are often plucked and eaten as immature plants. A few other veggies are also options for early harvesting, including cabbage, mustard, chai, pea shoots, beets, and edible flowers.
Using microgreens adds unique flavors and textures to your salads and other dishes. They also maintain the nutrients accumulated during early growth for healthy additions to any meal. Start microgreens using the same method as other greens, but don’t thin them once they’ve sprouted.
When they are 2 inches tall, cut them above the soil line and eat them immediately. The trimmed plants will regrow, and you can add new seeds every 4 weeks for continual growth. This is a great way to add some volume and nutrients to your salads without needing to wait for plants to fully mature.
Quick Tips For Your Indoor Salad Garden
Grow lights can be set up anywhere in your home, giving you plenty of location options for a salad garden. Turn them on in the morning and off again at night to give the plants the day/night cycle they require.
Spray bottles allow you to mist the soil without overwatering, so use these when possible to prevent soggy soil and rotting roots.
Plant new seeds every 2 – 3 weeks for plentiful growth of fresh greens and continuous harvesting.
Watch for plant distress, such as leggy stems, odd leaf coloring, or limp greenery. These can be signs of inadequate lighting, too much or too little moisture, or other plant issues.
Though fancy pots add aesthetic appeal, greens grow just as well in plastic as other container types. You can use recycled food containers or anything else on hand for a thriving salad garden.
Don’t allow moisture to accumulate in the drip trays or saucers, or you risk soggy soil, rotting roots, or poor plant growth.
Keep a log of when each item is planted and what’s in each tray for a more organized garden.
If your plants need a boost, add all-purpose 20-20-20 fertilizer to the soil to promote growth. Follow the directions on the package to prevent damaging the greens, diluting it if needed for weaker plant food.
Starting an Indoor Salad Garden
Starting an indoor salad garden is an easy way to provide your household with continuous fresh greenery throughout the year. These little gardens are easy to create and maintain, even for beginners. With so many leafy options to choose from, your meal possibilities are endless, plus it’s easy to swap out plants if you favor some over others.