A photo of indoor plants sitting on a shelf.

How to liven up your tiny Toronto space with plants

Property in the GTA is rare and comes with a hefty price tag, but lacking outdoor space doesn’t mean you can’t live surrounded by green. You can cultivate an indoor botanical garden with the right plants and know-how. We spoke to a few horticulture experts to determine the best plants for indoor life in Toronto, how to grow them successfully, and what you need to know before you grow.

Pick plants that have a high chance of surviving indoors

You can grow most plants indoors with the right conditions. Some plants crave lots of natural light, while others will do okay in shadier spots.

“Generally, any variety of pothos plants – also known as devil’s ivy – are very easy going. Snake plants also are super easy to grow inside and are notoriously difficult to kill, and they tolerate low light really well,” says HGTV’s ‘Plant Mama’ Amanda Roberts.

If you want to eat the benefit of your hard work, you can also grow edibles indoors, according to Diane Kuthy, hobby gardener and founder of the site How to Grow Everything.

Some edible plants that grow best indoors include microgreens, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and herbs, says Kuthy. “Microgreens can grow under an indoor grow light and be ready to harvest in seven days. Lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and herbs just need a nice sunny window and consistent watering in order to flourish,” she says.

If you have a sunny spot in your home or a large windowsill, you may be able to grow a complete indoor garden all summer long. But be careful which plants you place indoors if you have pets or small children.

Look out for plants that are safest to grow around pets and kids 

Few flower shop owners will give you a complete list of safe plants around kids and pets because there’s always some risk of illness if plants are ingested. Even the plants that are “safe” can cause nausea and vomiting if eaten. The best tip to avoid any upset is to ensure that plants are placed in high places that little mouths can’t access.

“African violets are non-toxic to pets and kids, and when they bloom they add beautiful colour to a home. The same goes for orchids. Polka dot plants are also non-toxic, and with more light they’ll develop more pink splashes. Nerve plants or fittonias are another option, and they’re great because they tell you when to water them. They wilt dramatically when they need water, and perk right up after a drink,” Roberts says.

A plant that tells you when it needs water seems ideal for beginners (or those with less than green thumbs).

Roberts cautions, “It’s important to keep in mind that even non-toxic plants can cause some digestive upset if pets or children ingest them in large quantities, so it’s always best to keep an eye out for that.”

Follow the basics and play to your strengths

You can’t put a plant in a dark corner with no water and expect it to survive.

Like pets, plants need the right environment to thrive, and that includes light, water, air, and nutrients. “Keeping a plant happy is a matter of balancing these factors. If a plant is in a dark corner and not doing well, move it to the windowsill and see how it does there. If the leaves start yellowing and the soil is very old, it may need a shot of fertilizer. It’s a constant process of learning what plants need and adjusting these three factors,” says Roberts.

Kathy suggests coming up with a system that addresses a particular plant growing problem, “If you are a novice indoor gardener and have never had success with houseplants before, here’s my advice: automate your weaknesses. For example, do you always forget to water your houseplants? Then, purchase a set of inexpensive automatic watering stakes that will gradually keep the soil moist for days,” she says.

You don’t have to struggle to grow plants and you can make the process easier by purchasing items that will aid in building a successful indoor garden. With so many plant accessory options on the market, it’s easy enough to turn a brown thumb green.

Some last tips

You can successfully grow both edible and inedible plants indoors. These air-clearing stress reducers can turn any size space into a tropical haven if you’re willing to be patient.

It might take time to cultivate your indoor garden, but few skills are learned overnight. “Don’t give up! Even if you struggle to keep plants alive, if you love them and they bring you joy, keep trying and learning. Growing plants inside is all about trial and error,” Roberts says.

She emphasizes a key point that novice plant lovers might not know: plants lose leaves.

“It’s normal for plants to lose leaves! As they put out new growth their oldest leaves will eventually die because they’ve done their job, so don’t panic,” she says.

Growing plants indoors may also require some additional nutrients that ground soil usually provides. Still, Kuthy says you can make this happen by “replenishing lost nutrients with compost or fertilizers periodically to really help your indoor container plants (both edible or houseplants) thrive.”

Taking all of this expert advice into account, the ‘trick’ for growing indoor plants isn’t a trick at all. Instead, it’s time, patience, and trial and error– a great life lesson.