How do I grow vegetables indoors over winter?

Photo: notamaiar / Flickr

Growing vegetables and herbs indoors over the winter is a good way to supplement your diet and can also lead to learning opportunities for children.

What vegetables can I grow over winter?

According to Gateway Gardener, a gardening blog, leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach and kale grow pretty well inside. They’re relatively low-maintenance and do well in partial shade.

Other easy plants to grow include many herbs like oregano, parsley and basil.

Related: Herb gardens give many benefits

If you have the space, try growing tomatoes and peppers. Remember, if you’re growing tomatoes and peppers, you may need to supplement sunlight with grow lights. Another thing to keep in mind with growing tomatoes is a stake will be needed to prop the plant when it bears fruit.

Where can I grow my plants?

Ideally you’ll want your plants to get sunlight throughout the day. Some plants like tomatoes and peppers may need more light than the winter sun can offer. In such cases, buying some grow lights may be in order.

Window sills, if properly sealed from drafts, make a great place to set your pots or other containers.

Pots vs. other containers

According to the Virginia Cooperative Extension, the only requirements for a vegetable containers are the following:

  • Must be big enough to support plants when they are fully grown
  • Hold soil without spilling
  • Have adequate drainage
  • Never have held products that would be toxic to plants or people

It’s easy to see how people have become very creative with their planting containers.

Instructables user tokala built an indoor window box out of tin spouting and a couple of pieces of untreated wood.

Related: Adding pallets to your garden

Other people have made growing containers out of old pallets (make sure the pallet wasn’t used for something toxic), or out of recycled soda bottles.

If you have extra canning jars after this year’s harvest, there’s a way to turn those into a cheap and creative wall planter.

Watering and fertilizing

Water your plants as you would outside. Keep in mind that the air inside your home may become dry over winter due to your furnace. Check your plants’ soil for moisture every few hours.

Fertilize according to the maker’s instructions. The West Virginia Extension service says that plants grown inside will grow less quickly, thus requiring less fertilizer. 

Pests?

Because your plants are growing indoors, the risk of pests is somewhat lowered. But, some pests do thrive inside. Pests that can live indoors are include: mites, whiteflies, mealybugs and aphids.

Colorado State University Extension has a great resource page that details how to control each of the indoor pests that you may experience.

Related story: Three ways to extend your gardening season

About the Author

Will Flannigan is Farm and Dairy's online editor. He grew up in Salem, Ohio, and is new to the agricultural scene. Will enjoys hiking, community theater and learning new things. More Stories by Will Flannigan

9 Comments

  1. Great Ideas. I’ve been wanting to do something like this. In a basement/garage, If I used the sun lamps, I wouldn’t need direct sunlight, correct? (I’m a newb)

    • Will Flannigan says:

      Correct. Depending on the kind of vegetables/herbs that you’re growing, you’ll need stronger lamps.

      Things like tomatoes and peppers will need stronger light than things like mint or parsley.

  2. Frank DeFeo says:

    I was going to begin growing vegetables this winter in my 3X6 indoor greenhouse. Just experimenting with spinach and radishes. Any tips? I was going to keep the lighting an inch or two above the plants until established and open the greenhouse up after that as well. I’ve started seeds in the late winter/early spring for transplant outside, but never kept them indoors for good.

    • Will Flannigan says:

      Hi Frank,

      You’re doing a good thing by starting the seeds with your lights only a few inches away from your plants. Pay close attention to the amount of heat coming off of your lights, you don’t want to burn up your seedlings.

      Also be mindful of the humidity of your air indoors during winter. It’s been my experience that the air indoors gets very DRY over the winter months. With that in mind, make sure your plants are staying watered. With a furnace running and drying-out your air, you may need to change your watering habits.

    • Barb says:

      I just got a set of grow lights for Christmas (yep that and power tools LOL) I’m trying to be more self sustaining as I did grow up that way and feel we spend way to much at the grocery. Anyhow….I was thinking about just using them for starter plants this spring but now am thinking I can do a whole lot more….We have a huge laundry room in the basement and I’m thinking I could do tomatoes? I have a set up in my kitchen that I might do greens in. We already have chickens for eggs and a huge outdoor garden – but once winter comes there are less eggs and no outdoor veggies here. Thanks for the website – it got me thinking.

  3. Lex says:

    I agree with Will and the author in two things, The watering patterns in winter, depending where you are are different than those in summer//also the vent cycle is different. You will just have to use trial and error to see how it goes.

    which leads me to my second agreement..this is great learning for children. let them grow some food, prepare it and eat it..from seed to dinner. That is a lesson that will leave a mark!

  4. I have a large room on the back of my home with 8 large windows. We used it for a dining room but it just collected dust. Was going to change to a patio ( sun room) but have decided to grow some veggies this winter. Does anyone have on what kind. I thought of tomatoes, herbs, bell peppers. I saw I may be able to even grow lettuces. I live in southern Mississippi. Any ideals are welcome

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