Accessibly Green: Gardening Tips and Tricks (Indoor) 

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Indoor gardening offers a unique and rewarding opportunity to bring the beauty of nature into our home, regardless of the outdoor space available or the climate conditions outside. You can grow all sorts of plants, from small ones to big ones, even if you don’t have a backyard. It’s a fun way to bring nature inside, and you don’t need to be a gardening expert to do it. So, read on to not only learn how AT can help make gardening a more accessible experience for anyone through tools to help with memory, physical access or frequency of active care but also how gardening can support your well being and your disability.

A person potting an indoor plant. Below the Where it's AT logo, text reads: "Accessibly Green: Gardening Tips and Tricks (Indoors) - AbilityTools.org"
Inae Mendoza, Program Coordinator I, and Kathrine Crowley, Deputy Director, Ability Tools Program.

Indoor Planting Tools 

A moisture reader is inserted in the soil to measure the amount of moisture within the soil. This is a great tool to know exactly when it is time to water rather than guessing. Repotting mats are great waterproof placemats that keep soil messes in a designated area. If natural sun is a problem for where indoor plants are located, LED grow lights are a great option to mimic sunlight. Grow lights are also used to grow plants from seeds. There are a variety of different sizes and LED lights out on the market so it could be hard to settle on one type. It is imperative to do research on what will work best in your desired space and plant stand. Check out this article on The Best LED Grow Lights of 2023.  

Potted Plant Watering Tools 

Plant self-watering terracotta stakes can be used to slowly water plants over a long period of time. Wine bottles can be inserted into the top of the terracotta spikes and then the spikes are inserted into the plant’s soil.  Self Watering Pots, look like any other pot, except that there is a reservoir at the base of the pot that holds water that is then wicked up into the soil. These come in clear varieties or have indicators that will visually tell you if the water is running low in the pot.  

Watering globes are beautiful blown glass bulbs that release water into the soil as your plant needs it. You simply fill them with water and then spike them into the soil of your pot. These are great because they typically have a see-through component, providing a visual cue that your plants need some attention before your plants provide visual cues of their own by wilted leaves. 

Watering globes

Water bottles are another option for water plants, creating a self-watering system slowly. @JoesGarden on TikTok shows us a DIY drip irrigation system using water bottles at home. He pokes two holes in the bottle: one at the bottom and one in the lid. He then sticks half of a cotton swab in each hole and drips the water into the plant’s soil. 

https://www.tiktok.com/@joesgarden/video/7237530866497457435?_r=1&_t=8lEU3JuVkAV

Hydroponics is a fascinating and innovative way of growing plants without soil. Instead, plants are grown in a nutrient-rich water solution, providing them with everything they need to thrive. You can grow a wide variety of plants, from herbs and vegetables to flowers and regular plants, all without the need for traditional soil. These plants are in a controlled indoor environment, so environmental weather is not a factor to consider. Indoor plants can be made hydroponic by ridding the roots of any soil and placing it in a container with water. Plants that are traditionally grown outside like herbs, vegetables, and fruits can also be grown using hydroponics. There are different systems and setups to create your hydroponic garden at home. Hydroponics growing garden kits are a great place to start dipping your feet into the hydroponic world. Leca is another form of hydroponics. Leca is a bunch of clay balls that expand when exposed to water and can water your plants for you. Please keep in mind though that Leca does not contain any nutrients, it is just a medium to provide water, so you must add the necessary nutrients to the water to feed your plant. 

A bag of Leca

A simple yet effective tool is to set a reminder on your phone or on your smart home hub to remind you to water your plants. Use calendar reminders for weekly tasks to help relieve some of the mental load of trying to remember all the tasks that must be done throughout the week. And finally, try habit stacking. If you have something that you already have a habit developed for, like taking out the garbage or going to religious services, water your plants when you do those things. Habit stacking takes advantage of those well-established behaviors and associates a new desired behavior to coincide with them. Give it a shot! 

Plant Options 

Low-maintenance plants may be useful if plants are in a hard-to-reach place or if weekly watering is not an option. Succulents and cacti are great options because these types of plants are used to desert conditions and retain water within their leaves. There are also other plants that like their soil to dry out between waterings and do not need much sunlight. Some of these plants are the snake plant, the ZZ plant, and pothos (find more here). 

Speaking of selecting what items your little piece of earth will contain, if you are on the spectrum, have sensory processing disabilities, or are blind or deaf, a sensory garden might be a great option. A sensory garden doesn’t just focus on how visually pretty a plant is, it considers all the senses you can use when interacting with your garden. Options you might consider vary widely, both indoors and outdoors.  

  • If you want to enhance your auditory experience, you might consider ornamental grass which will rustle in the wind. You can incorporate wind chimes, rain chains, or a water feature.
  • If you want to focus on your visual stimulation, consider what you are trying to accomplish. If you want to awaken yourself, you might consider using a variety of heights, textures, and colors, planting plants using spacing that allows them to grow into their natural shape without a need for pruning and avoiding overcrowding, that way you are getting a diversity of size and shape and the environment feels natural and varied. However, if you want to calm yourself, consider choosing soft or pastel colors or using plants without colorful blooms, sticking to a calm sea of textured green.
  • Suppose you are interested in stimulating your sense of smell. In that case, you can go down the traditional floral scent path and plant roses, sweet peas, lilac, or gardenias, paying attention to when they bloom and choosing plants that bloom at different times. If you want a calming experience, you can plant lavender, chamomile, or lemon verbena to turn your garden into a space of relaxation and recentering.
  • If you prefer to stimulate your sense of smell and taste, along with the herbs, you can plant vegetables, berries, and fruit trees, in place of flowers and flowering trees. You can plant a variety of thyme along a garden walkway so that as you walk through your garden the aroma is released with every step or even create an accessible nook or place a bench in your garden, as a touch spot to plant varieties like rosemary, mint or geraniums which release their scent when you physically interact with them and will always be available to enhance your dishes.  
  • Now talking about your sense of touch, you can choose plants with leaves that are velvety or furry like purple passion or white velvet. But remember to choose plants that will tolerate a lot of handling like smooth succulents that are very satisfying to run your fingers over and will not be damaged by a bit of petting.  
A succulent with furry leaves

Be sure to keep an eye out for part two of this blog where we will talk about tips and tricks for outdoor gardening. Also check out our other blogs on gardening: Gardening Access & Assistive Technology and Spring Gardening With California AgrAbility

Happy gardening, and may you and your plants thrive!