How to Ensure Your Indoor Tower Garden Is a Success
You can grow your own fresh food year-round. I know. I’ve done it.
Having never grown an indoor garden before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I moved my Tower Garden inside a year ago. Luckily, things went pretty well—so well, in fact, that I’m still growing indoors (and harvesting greens for meals daily). I never moved my Tower Garden back outside!
In this post, I’m going to share what I’ve learned after one year of growing indoors. Tower Garden really simplifies the whole indoor garden thing. So I have only five tips for you.
A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening Inside
Before we get rolling, if you haven’t started your indoor Tower Garden yet, you may want to check out the indoor growing guide I wrote. It covers the basics—everything from which lights to use to which plants to grow—so you can be sure you’re doing things right from the get-go.
If you consistently struggle with pH, try filling your Tower Garden using an inexpensive RV water filter.
1. Check pH, water level and plant health regularly.
My first tip for you is relatively straightforward: just monitor your garden. Specifically, keep an eye on the three following variables.
Nutrient solution pH
As with growing outside, you want your pH to hover around the 5.5–6.5 range.
If you find your pH is high, add a teaspoon (about a cap-full) of pH-, mix and remeasure. Or, if your pH is too low, add the same amount of pH+, mix and remeasure. Repeat these steps until your pH falls within the recommended range.
Tower Tip: High pH may cause your plants’ leaves to yellow.
Water and nutrient levels
You’ll likely find that your indoor Tower Garden needs refilling every 10–20 days (depending on what you’re growing and what stage the plants are in). Larger, more mature plants are thirstier, so to speak, and will drain the reservoir more quickly than seedlings.
Keep in mind; if you’re planting a Tower Garden full of small seedlings, you should use a half-strength nutrient solution (i.e., 10 mL of Tower Tonic A and 10 mL of Tower Tonic B per gallon of water). After 3–4 weeks, you can increase the solution to full-strength.
When checking plant health, look for signs of:
- Light deficiency. If your plants are pale and leggy (i.e., tall, thin and generally weak looking), they’re probably not getting enough light. For what it’s worth, I run my T5 fluorescent grow lights for 14 hours daily, and I haven’t noticed any light deficiency problems.
- Poor air circulation. Plants need room to “breathe” to efficiently absorb nutrients and grow. And poor air circulation puts your plants at greater risk for powdery mildew and other plant diseases. Consider running a small fan to keep the air moving around your plants. Pruning or thinning plants (up next) will also help improve air circulation.
- Pests and disease. Regularly examine your plants for holes in leaves, bugs, fungi… basically anything that shouldn’t be there. And if you find a problem, handle it as soon as possible, especially when it comes to pests. Once established, bad bugs thrive and are hard to eradicate since they have no natural predators indoors. (By the way, a best practice of indoor growing is starting plants from seeds—this significantly decreases the odds of an eventual indoor pest infestation.)
Humidity and temperature are also important factors when gardening indoors. But if you’re growing in your home, classroom or office, you’re probably already keeping these at suitable levels.
Cutting back your plants will actually benefit them.
2. Thin plants and trim roots as necessary.
There are many perks to pruning and thinning. For indoor gardening specifically, thinning plants has the following benefits:
- Reduces risk of plant diseases by improving air circulation
- Improves light distribution (i.e., prevents larger plants from overshadowing smaller ones)
- Discourages bolting and encourages continued growth
Thinning is pretty simple. Just pinch or snip off a little bit of the plant, starting with the older, less healthy leaves. Get step-by-step pruning instructions here.
You should also trim plant roots as they grow down into the reservoir. If left alone, they may eventually clog your pump. I’ve made a habit of cutting (or simply breaking off) the longest of the roots each time I refill my reservoir—which I usually do every two weeks.
You can compost the roots (if you compost). Waste not, want not!
Pollinators can’t visit your indoor garden, so you’ll need to do their job instead.
3. Hand pollinate if you’re growing fruiting crops.
As indicated, this step is only necessary if you’re growing fruiting crops, such as strawberries, peppers and tomatoes. But I should include a disclaimer here: I don’t recommend growing fruiting crops indoors if you’re using the Tower Garden fluorescent grow lights kit (and nothing else). I’ve tried, and it just doesn’t really work.
Here’s why: Tower Garden grow lights emit cool-colored light, which is ideal for compact, bushy vegetative growth. But fruiting crops need warm-colored light to produce flowers. (You can learn more about light color and picking grow lights here.) This basically means your fruiting crops will grow big, beautiful leaves, but they won’t ever flower—which plants must do to produce fruit.
If you want to try growing fruiting crops indoors, here are a couple solutions:
- If you already have the Tower Garden grow lights kit, try lighting only the fruiting crops with a smaller spotlight-type bulb. For best results, use a bulb that emits light in the 2500–3000K range.
- If you don’t have any grow lights yet, consider purchasing either an LED or HID light kit. Both LEDs and HIDs emit the light color necessary for flower and fruit production.
OK, so we’ve covered lighting. Now let’s talk pollination: Because there aren’t any insects indoors, each flower of a fruiting crop must be hand pollinated to produce fruit. Though this can get a bit tedious, the process is pretty simple.
Watch this video to learn how to hand pollinate your plants:
Or if you prefer reading to watching, I shared the steps of hand pollination in a previous post.
Frequent harvests help keep your plants healthy.
4. Harvest often.
This step is actually more critical than it sounds. You’ll likely find, as I did, that your indoor garden grows like a Starbucks® line on a Monday morning. That is to say, it grows quickly. And if you’re not harvesting often, your plants may grow to the point that they touch the bulbs, resulting in charred chard (get it?) and other produce.
To avoid this, simply enjoy the fruits of your (not so much) labor—harvest! Frequent harvesting also offers benefits similar to those of pruning, such as reduced risk of plant diseases, improved light distribution, encouraged plant growth and so on.
This is an example of a lettuce plant that has reached the end of its life cycle.
5. Replace plants when they bolt.
In my experience, plants have longer life cycles indoors compared to out. (I actually harvested from the same kale and basil plants for a solid six months.) But occasionally, your greens and herbs will flower and produce seeds. And that usually means they’re finished growing.
So pull ‘em out and start over (unless you’re planning to save seeds).
Recap and Resources
To summarize, the top five indoor Tower Garden maintenance tasks are:
- Check pH, water levels and plant health regularly.
- Thin plants and trim roots as necessary.
- Hand pollinate if you’re growing fruiting plants.
- Harvest often.
- Replace plants when they bolt.
Not so hard, huh?
Here are a few additional resources you may find helpful:
- T5 fluorescent grow lights kit
- Tower Garden cleaning guide (Be sure to clean your Tower Garden before bringing it inside!)
- Comprehensive indoor growing guide
- Tower Garden planning tips
- Sources for organic, non-GMO seeds
Are you growing a Tower Garden in a classroom? If so, definitely also check out these tips for teachers.
Over to You
Questions? Interesting indoor Tower Garden tales? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below.
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