Apartment Potting 101


My collection of succulents.

I love plants. But I also live in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment. There are a million and one cute Instagram pics of apartments bursting with plants, and I definitely aspire to have as many plants as these Instagrammers. But the reality of living in a tiny apartment and having lots of plants is a little tougher. Apartments are, well, tiny. Some of them are carpeted. Some of them are on the upper floors (and don’t have an elevator). Some of them don’t have great sunlight. There are certainly barriers to apartment living and having a superfluous amount of plants, but none greater than the actual act of potting them into a permanent home.

Gardening and plant potting is messy work. In a perfect world, I wish I could find a garden center that allowed people without their own outdoor space to use their potting benches. Most garden centers have potting benches strewn about their store; if they sell plants, they need to have a space to repot them if necessary. If apartment renters and condo owners were allowed to use this space to pot their plants after purchasing them, it would make life a little easier. I would love to not have to buy a bag of dirt, drag that and all my plants into my apartment, get my floor dirty, and then deep clean all my surfaces when the process is over. If I could use a garden center’s space (after giving them my money), the process would become much simpler, less stressful, and owning plants would become more accessible—not only for apartment renters and condo owners, but also potentially for those who cannot perform the arduous task of potting their plants on their own.

It’s a wishful thought, that public-use potting benches could become a reality, but given that the majority of millennials are stuck renting apartments because they can’t afford to actually buy a home, it’s a thought garden centers should consider. Perhaps there are some millennials that rent houses and therefore have a yard to do this messy task, but more likely is that young people are renting tiny apartments and don’t have access to their own outdoor space, or a hose, or a potting bench.

Personally, I do not have a yard or outdoor space that is my own. This makes planting my plants a true, gosh darn chore. But I’ll do it, because I love gardening and see the benefits of having a plant-filled home. However the physical task of potting my new plants in my apartment is not something I ever look forward to doing.

Over the few years I’ve been living in apartments, I’ve accrued a fair amount of plants (and continually aspire for more). Most of them are small, because these are easier to plant in a tiny apartment than anything too large. It’s been a process of trial and error, but there are certain things that have helped me pot plants in an efficient and less messy way. If you live in a tiny apartment and don’t have an outdoor space to call your own (like me), read on!


Feat. my pilea and majesty palm

1. Find yourself a hard floor, preferably in the kitchen or bathroom.

Apartment potting is not the cleanest work, unfortunately. Avoid, if you can, potting your new plants on a carpeted surface. Use your kitchen or your bathroom instead. Potting in these rooms also has the added benefit of being close to a sink. You’ll need access to water for when it comes time to mix the soil. If you don’t do your potting near a sink, you’ll need to walk back and forth from potting area to sink with potentially dirty hands and/or feet, dirtying up your space more than might be necessary.

2. Wait to pot your new plants until a day you plan to do some cleaning.

If you read point #1, this one is hopefully obvious. You’re likely going to be getting some dirt on the floor and it’ll probably float up into the air too. It’s just the nature of plant potting. Because you’re inside, loose dirt has nowhere to escape, so it’ll land on your surfaces, creating a thin layer of dust and dirt. So, wait to do any potting until a day you already plan on doing some cleaning. And don’t pot after you’ve just cleaned. Otherwise you’ll be cleaning double the amount of time, which is just plain silly. (You could also look at this experience as a good excuse to clean, if that’s something that’s lacking in your life . . . no judgment, we’ve all been there.)

3. Set the right expectations.

Your mindset, I mean. Piggybacking off of point #1 and #2, you are going to get the inside of your apartment a little dirty. Or a lot, just depending (and especially if this is your first apartment-potting experience). Expect it. Plan for it. And have fun with it! Turn on some good music and plant your new little babies with love and care. If you go in to the experience thinking you’re going to have a mess to clean up when you’re finished, you will be happier and enjoy the final, potted products all the more.

4. Be prepared.

Isn’t this just good, general life advice? (The answer is yes.) In apartment potting, being prepared is key. The last thing you want is to start the whole process, dirtying the floor and your hands and half potting your new plants, only to discover you didn’t purchase enough soil and have to go back to the store. Essential apartment potting gear:


Plenty of soil, sunlight, and a nice protective measure for my floor—a tarp!

Enough soil, erring on the side of caution and buying more rather than less. Soil typically comes dry in a bag, so once water is added it compacts quite a bit. You will probably need more than you think.

An extra bucket or pot for mixing your dry soil with water. It’s easier to do this in a dedicated container, especially if you plan on potting multiple things.

Lots of water (and a watering can).

A tarp. This will be a lifesaver, otherwise excess soil and water will get all over your floor, creating an even bigger mess. A tarp is especially useful if you are potting larger plants. When finished, just take it outside and shake it off, or even rinse it off in your shower, if you so desire.

Potting gloves. You can use your bare hands, but if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, these help, of course. Gloves are useful if you anticipate having to walk around your apartment throughout the potting process as well—just slip them off before venturing outside of your potting perimeter, and you’ll avoid dragging dirt throughout your space.

Cleaning supplies. Inevitably, things will get dirty (have I stressed this enough yet?), and you’ll want to have cleaning supplies on hand to address the mess right away.


5. Keep a bucket of soil on hand.

After you’ve done your initial potting, you may have some excess mixed soil. Keep it! If you have an extra bucket or pot, put the soil in it and move it somewhere out of the way. My extra bucket lives in the corner of my living room, and I find keeping it on hand helpful for if I buy a new plant. I can dip into it without the hassle of opening up a bag of dirt, laying out the tarp, etc. etc. Overall, it’s a cleaner process. In addition, as your plants age, they may need more soil added to their pots; so having a pot of extra soil handy makes that process a bit simpler as well.

6. Call your local garden center.

There’s no harm in simply asking your local garden center whether or not you’d be allowed to buy your supplies and use their space to pot your new plants. Perhaps they would be empathetic to your situation, or maybe they even already allow this for customers by request. You never know! (Until you ask, that is.)

7. Have fun!

Duh! Plants are fun, even if it does take some work to get them situated in your space. Months from now when they are full and blooming and healthy, you will be glad to did it.

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