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4 tips for starting an amazing basement garden

A basement garden, though not thought of often, can be a wonderful addition to your home — especially during the winter. A basement greenhouse is a great way to overwinter your plants, to make sure all your work won’t go to waste just because the weather’s cooling down.

Whether you have a furnished or unfurnished basement, it’s possible to set aside an area where you can set plants up and grow your own food indoors. It can be a bit costly, depending on what you need versus what you already have but can be a good alternative if you aren’t ready to commit to (or don’t have the space for) a regular outdoor greenhouse.

You don’t need much to get started. All you need are some grow lights, some pots, some seeds, potting soil, and water.

A small home use space heater

Counter your basement’s natural environment

Many vegetables and other types of plants often require warmer temperatures. You’re probably wondering, then, how basements are viable growing areas. Gardeners who choose to set up basement gardens will use heaters — a home use heating unit or two will suffice if you don’t plan to set up a huge garden — to keep the space warm. If you have a damp basement, you’ll also want to invest in a few fans to keep the air moving, which will help prevent your plants from rotting (and keep the garden from getting moldy).

If you decide to set up a large basement greenhouse, it will be worth your money in the long run to invest in industrial size heaters and fans. You’ll get more for your buck, and they’ll heat and cool the space more efficiently. However, because there won’t be a lot of sunlight in your basement, you’ll want to be sure you’re using proper soil and pots. As with any indoor plant, choose pots that have good drainage holes to allow excess water to seep out. Your soil should be one that also drains well to avoid retaining too much water. Ideally, the potting soil should be a mix of compost, vermiculite, and peat.

Recreate outdoor lighting

Basements, since they’re underground, naturally don’t have any windows — or if they do, they’re very small and don’t offer much light. That means it’s crucial that you recreate outdoor lighting as best you can in your basement greenhouse. It will be the most challenging aspect and will likely require some trial and error to figure out what works best for your plants.

Depending on what type of plants you’ll be growing, you’ll want to research the best artificial grow lights for their needs. Different colors, like red and blue, are designed to achieve different results (red for flowering and fruit production, blue for leaves and vegetables). The other challenging aspect is that a plant’s needs for light may be different from seed to maturity, so you may end up buying multiple kinds of lighting for different plant stages.

This will likely be the most costly aspect of your basement garden, as the amount of lights you need will also depend on the size of your space. But with proper research, you should be able to get the most out of your investment.

Four pots of fresh herbs

Choose your ideal plants once everything is set up

It can be tempting to buy your plants right away out of excitement. We’re all familiar with that feeling —wanting to do one of the easiest parts first because it makes it more real. But in order to be the most cost effective, you’ll want to hold off on buying plants until you’ve acclimated your basement to the greenhouse environment. This will ensure that 1) your plants don’t die while you’re in the process of setting everything up, and 2) you adjusted your basement as much as possible before introducing them.

When you feel your setup is warm and ventilated, you can begin purchasing the plants you’ve planned for and pot them in containers and soil that have good drainage. Ideally, you’ll have planned your lighting around the plants you want to grow, so it should be easy to pick them out and get them ready to put in your basement garden.

What plants are best for beginners?

If you’re new to basement gardening (or indoor gardening, in general), you may want to start with easier vegetables like leafy greens, lettuces, herbs, and radishes. Be sure to get the dwarf varieties, as you won’t have too much space and may not be able to accommodate fully-grown standard varieties. These plants can endure cooler temperatures and limited light, so they’re especially nice if you aren’t sure your basement greenhouse is warm enough to grow plants like tomatoes or peppers yet.

Once your basement garden is establish and has the ideal temperature, these are some of the best plants to grow:

  • Swiss chard
  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • bush beans
  • peas

Ensure your basement is a viable environment

Even if you do everything above flawlessly, things could still go wrong. Basements can be finicky environments, so you’ll want to make adjustments as needed. Warmer outdoor temperatures may mean your basement needs less heating to meet the needs of your plants and vice versa.

One season’s basement garden may not necessarily be another season’s basement garden. It’s important to monitor the environment and adjust as needed, but be careful not to make drastic changes to avoid shocking your plants. Basement gardens can be viable greenhouse environments as long as you do everything you can to meet the needs of your plants. Keep in mind that there will be a fair amount of upkeep involved throughout the season. You’ll want to regularly check for pests, sweep up any fallen leaves, and repot as necessary. 

As your basement garden grows, you may also consider integrating more advanced elements, such as automatic watering systems, timers for the light and water, oscillating fans to help with airflow, metal shelves to keep your plants organized.

However, if you are interested in other types of gardens, check out this article on English Garden to help you decide whether you should start setting up this kind of garden.

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