Starting a Basement Garden

indoor lettuce garden
  • 2-4 hours
  • Beginner
  • $50-$100s

Planning, planting, maintaining, and harvesting from a basement garden can be as simple (or involved) as any DIYer wishes to make it, regardless of your reasons for wanting to do so. But before answering the question how to start a basement garden, you should ask yourself why.

Do you have no access to land or outdoor planting spaces?

Do you wish to live a more self sustaining lifestyle by growing some of your own food?

Are you trying to improve the air quality of your home? (Research on this has mixed results.)

Do you wish to grow whenever you'd like, regardless of the outdoor 'growing season'?

Do you want a productive hobby that doesn't require being outdoors?

There really is no wrong answer to these questions, and your personal answer will help steer you in the right direction in terms of your basement gardening goals and potential limitations.

The space, materials, labor, and time commitment necessary should all be considered before undertaking and maintaining a garden underground. But none of these should prevent you from participating in what is widely regarded as the number one hobby in the United States.

What Type of Space Do I Have for a Basement Garden?

plants in courtyard near basement doors

How you go about planning and constructing a successful basement garden begins with how much and what type of space you have available. Most plants that can viably grow in a basement setting will, likely, require some temperature control depending on the particular type of basement space you have available.

Unfinished Basement or Cellar

Likely allows for the most versatility in terms of basement garden options. Greater planter space, greater space for movement around the planter(s), greater space for storage of gardening tools, fertilizer, lighting, and watering equipment.

Partially Finished Basement

This is a bit of a broad definition of a space, but if you're looking to keep your basement garden separate from a finished/living area, you may want to consider smaller planter and storage choices. Still many options to make it a viable location for basement gardening success.

Finished Basement

A finished basement is a challenging but not impossible space for you to be successful. You likely don't want to be tending to many plants, soil, fertilizer containers, lights, and water sources in your carpeted rec room or home theater.

Perhaps consider singular plants in pots staged around the area. Other possible considerations for a finished space are compact and linear options like a vertical garden or portable greenhouse.

Regardless of your space, you're going to want to pay close attention to the temperature and the moisture in the air. Most plants rely on warm and/or consistent temperatures and humidity in order to be successful. A residential-sized heater and/or fan may be necessary to regulate the space.

What Do I Want to Grow in a Basement Garden?

indoor potted plants

While technically you could grow almost anything in your basement garden with unlimited effort, time, and budget, let's stick to some realistic 'beginner' type plants.

Of course, some varieties will require different levels of moisture, light, and care, but it's difficult to go wrong with most plants that would end up in a salad or those that may be used to season a dish. In other words, some varieties of vegetables and some varieties of herbs are a great place to start.

If you're not sure if your space can accommodate full-sized plants, many come in dwarf varieties.

Plants like tomatoes and peppers (of which there are countless varieties), peas, lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard will all do well in the right conditions without too much effort. The same goes for herbs like dill, parsley, basil, thyme, and rosemary.

Many home and basement gardeners love being able to rip off a sprig of a fresh herb to incorporate in a dish. https://www.doityourself.com/stry/indoorherbgarden

Growing in popularity in recent years (no pun intended)—mushroom kits. Mushrooms come in a multitude of edible, fairly easy-to-grow varieties. Kits are inexpensive with easy-to-follow instructions to maximize success.

If you prefer the challenge of doing it yourself without the help of a kit, you should know that they can be a bit trickier than any of the plants mentioned earlier. If that's not daunting to you, here's a link that will help. https://www.doityourself.com/stry/how-to-grow-mushrooms-indoors.

If you're not necessarily interested in growing anything edible, there are still plenty of options for a basement garden. Vining plants, cacti, aloe vera, and other succulents (plants with thick, fleshy leaves that retain water) can all prosper under the proper controlled conditions.

Regardless of seed/plant variety, be sure and follow the instructions provided by the seed distributor or grower for best results.

What Materials Do I Need to Grow a Successful Basement Garden?

indoor plants near window

Seeds or Plants

Either seeds or seedlings/plants will get you where you want to be as far as establishing a basement garden, but seedlings/plants give you quite a head start.

An advantage of seeds is that through the internet and mail order catalogs you'll likely have a greater variety of plants available for your basement garden than your local nursery can have in their inventory.

But seeds require more time, attention, and nurturing. If utilizing plants, make sure and inspect them carefully before planting them in your basement garden to ensure no pests are along for the ride.

Containers

This is an area in which you can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish to be. Honestly, your plants won't care how aesthetically pleasing your containers/planters are so their attractiveness is up to you.

Gallon milk jugs, larger plastic plant pots, and five gallon buckets are all suitable for many plants to not only survive, but thrive. Keep in mind that any recycled or up-cycled containers may require holes in the bottom for proper drainage or you could 'drown' your plants.

Planter boxes, whether store bought or DIY, will give you a little more room for your garden operation and perhaps be more appealing to the eye.

Another consideration for containers is height, and more specifically, your physical comfort gardening in your basement. There's a multi-billion dollar industry targeted specifically at making gardening more comfortable and enjoyable.

There are standing height planters available for assembly, some companies offer caster options to make planters more portable. But if you're looking for something less expensive, a simple folding table can give you the height you're looking for, and provide storage underneath for gardening supplies.

Soil

Most plants will do well in potting soil (mushrooms will require some amendments like sawdust or coffee grounds). But before you start loading up some bags from your local nursery or big box store check the ingredients list and make sure they include the following: peat moss or compost, vermiculite or perlite, and coconut fiber.

Peat moss or compost hold on to nutrients well and hold far more than their weight in water, releasing it slowly. Vermiculite and perlite also do this, but also provide aeration in the soil, as does coconut fiber.

It's imperative your soil mix drains well and retains nutrition since the roots of your plants are in a confined space and are limited in how much they can grow.

Some potting soils are specific for vegetable gardens/containers and would be ideal, but aren't necessary for success. There are also potting soils that contain fertilizers. While convenient, that's also not necessary for success.

Should you decide to go full DIY and make your own potting mix for your basement garden containers, a good simple mix is one part each of garden soil, peat moss, and vermiculite, perlite, or coarse sand.

https://www.doityourself.com/stry/making-potting-soil-mix-three-tips

Fertilizer

Plants and seeds bedded in well drained, nutrient rich soil may not need much if any fertilizer amending. However, should you think you want to have some at the ready there are many well established varieties in liquid, granular, and pellet form specifically designed for indoor plants and vegetable plants.

The foremost rule in fertilizing indoor plants is don't overdo it. When it comes to nurturing and growing plants in a basement or any garden, more is not better when it comes to applying fertilizer. Follow the manufacturer's instructions closely.

Water

The two most common ways to harm or kill indoor plants are underwatering or overwatering. Fortunately, there's no overthinking when it comes to maintaining proper hydration levels in basement garden containers. Just keep the soil moist at all times.

There are indoor water irrigation systems, but these can be expensive, elaborate, cumbersome, and require a nearby water source. They're also likely unnecessary for what you're looking to achieve in establishing a starter basement garden.

While a nearby water source like a bathroom or utility sink is quite convenient, it's not necessary for success. A high-quality watering can, with a longish narrow neck can be all you need to put water in your containers when you want, how you want, and exactly where you want.

Should you be concerned about forgetfulness or perhaps maintaining your garden while away, water globes (sometimes called water spikes) are small glass globes with long thin necks that are filled with water, inverted, and inserted into the soil in the plant's container.

This is a very legitimate means by which to water plants while on vacation (or again if forgetful), but retailing for a little more than a dollar a piece, they may be cost prohibitive if you have a large number of plants/containers.

Light

indoor citrus tree near window

Lighting can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, and it can also be the most expensive and challenging aspect of basement gardening. Sunlight is obviously the best source for plants to live and thrive, but there is not enough in any type of basement space.

Seeds/plants require from 12 to 16 hours of light a day. So regardless if you have some windows or even egress windows (windows large enough and low enough for escape in an emergency), you will need to supplement the lighting to successfully grow and harvest from a basement garden.

For a beginner basement garden, those 48" fluorescent shop lights available at hardware store can likely handle your light needs. Costing about 20 dollars apiece and designed to hang overhead, they're convenient, and inexpensive. Fluorescent bulbs are also longer lasting, cooler (temperature-wise), and more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs.

More elaborate light systems are available but likely unnecessary for a beginner. LED, full spectrum lighting can mimic different types of sunlight. Red intensive lighting bolsters seed germination, flowering, and fruit production.

Blue intensive lighting promotes stem and leaf growth. All are more expensive (some significantly so) than a fluorescent fixture with a broad-spectrum bulb. But if you think grow lights are in your future basement gardening plans and worth the invest, check out our guide.

Tools

It's been said whether in the kitchen or in the garden, there are no better tools than one's hands. This applies to basement gardening, too but you may want to supplement your digits with a few low-cost helpers.

Hand Trowel: The ideal tool for digging small holes for planting. One etched with measurements on the blade is also useful in getting the proper planting depth for seeds, seedlings, and larger plants.

Hand Rake: Works wonders for breaking up soil between plants in larger containers as well as 'combing out' root balls when plants have become root bound.

Watering Can: Whether just utilitarian or pretty enough to leave out, a quality watering can is essential for keeping seeds/plants properly watered.

Garden Gloves: Available in a range of sizes and adorable patterns, they aren't a necessity but certainly help in keeping hands, fingers, and fingernails cleaner.

Light Timer: Inexpensively and automatically turns on/off lights to give your basement garden the optimum hours necessary for success.

Moisture Meter: Inexpensively indicates the moisture level in the soil of your containers

Pruning Shears: Always great to have at your disposal for trimming and clipping, but a solid pair of scissors can do the job just as well.

Plant Labels: Easily identify what you've planted by writing the name on an ice cream stick, plastic spoon or lid, or even a wine cork.

The Bottom Line

For as little as fifty dollars and a few hours work, you can be enjoying a pastime enjoyed by many millions of people around the world without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Many garden experts would advise starting small, perhaps with a single planter or a few 5-gallon buckets. It's always easier to expand your basement garden once your experience grows about what you want and can grow.