How Do I Grow a Fancy Indoor Lawn?
November 2, 2007 7:26 AM   Subscribe

I would like to grow an indoor lawn that will thrive, using organic methods if possible. I can't seem to find helpful information on the topic, although I bought 'Gardening on Pavement, Tables, and Hard Surfaces' (thanks Cabinet of Wonders...) for some inspiration. Any ideas or experienced indoor lawn growers out there?

The setting is an old converted garage that I move into next week. There are 2 big skylights in the middle of the space which I can open and close, and 2 windows with a fair amount of light, plus 2 glass doors that get light when I am home (otherwise they are covered up by steel grating). Also, the floors are cement. The ventilation will not be fantastic, especially during the winter. The heat source is a big gas blower. All of this is taking place on a semi-industial block in Brooklyn.

I should mention that I am not particularly knowledgable about gardening and I kill most of my house plants, but whenever I have worked on a farm with plants actually rooted in the ground, things have gone well.

Any suggestions, things to keep in mind, good places to get supplies in NY, etc. would all be appreciated!
posted by thegreatfleecircus to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to start with clean soil and seeds, a friend did this with sod and it came with a fair number of bugs built in.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:46 AM on November 2, 2007

Despite the skylight and all the windows, I suspect you won't be getting much direct sun, especially in the winter, so you will probably want a shade-tolerant or "deep shade" grass.
posted by exogenous at 7:52 AM on November 2, 2007

I'm really curious about this indoor lawn; I've never heard of such a thing!

I wonder if you couldn't use a grow light to supplement the sunlight. But the police might come knocking.
posted by DMan at 8:15 AM on November 2, 2007

Are we talking wall-to-wall, or just a small-ish section to serve as a garden/park of sorts?

Regardless, you will want to address the drainage. Putting down a raised (-> Outdoor Decking) perforated layer could assist in keeping the soil in place, while sweeping away excess water. Perhaps a screen on top of that to filter more.

Another thing you may need to address is supplemental lighting. Most plants need a set cycle of light to grow properly. 4ft fluorescent light fixtures should be adequate for your needs. Put them on a timer to mimic actual daylight.

Good luck with it, I would love to see some pictures!
posted by enobeet at 9:06 AM on November 2, 2007

Drainage is my question too- where is the water going to go when you water it?

Assuming you have very good drainage that will not clog or overflow, you will need to build a frame with at least a 3" depth. Line this frame with two layers of landscape fabric to prevent silty bits going down the drain. The best growing medium is going to be something custom and definitely more expensive than cheap crap in a bag from Home Depot- something like 1/3 expanded clay or shale (expensive) , 1/3 coco coir and and 1/3 landscape sand might be OK. Alternatively, you could dispense with soil and grow your lawn on 1" thick industrial felt instead, which you then have to find a way to properly dispose of afterward. Buy shade tolerant grass seed, like red fescue, follow directions for planting, water every day until seed germinates, do not walk on it for several weeks, and see if the lawn will actually thrive.

None of this is cheap, easy, or guaranteed in any way. If you have an environmental conscience, you will not do this because of all the new materials, petroleum based products, and high embodied energy materials required- most of which will ultimately end up in a landfill. It will take immense amounts of potable water, which will go down the drain. Instead, I suggest a jungle like assortment of houseplants, which will ultimately be far less care and maintenance. There are even houseplants that you can train to grow up or down walls, for cool vertical wall garden effects, and trees that require minimal light and humidity.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:29 AM on November 2, 2007

Response by poster: I love the idea of growing this on felt. I have tons of raw wool at home, so I could even make my own felt surface. My plan was only to make a small patch of lawn (a 6' diameter semicircle), so I don't think the resources I use would really be that excessive--especially if I go the felt route! Thanks for all the advice...
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:56 AM on November 3, 2007

I suspect that drainage issues could be minimized with some sort of built-in soaking tubes. Since your plot is quite small, you can afford to be elaborate in ways most wouldn't do for a regular lawn.

Indoor lawn as carpet was a gimmick used in Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land".
posted by Goofyy at 8:07 AM on November 5, 2007

You'll need natural light, drainage, and growing media. Wool will not retain any nutrients, don't use...peat moss cut with sand would be better. You will likely have a mess on your hands when you go to clip/mow it. Why not try something you don't have to mow like Dichondra, or Irish moss? Same effect, but easier to deal with.
posted by greenskpr at 6:45 PM on November 8, 2007

It's true you'll have to fertilize on felt, but you will with any other substrate, although not as often. Patrick Blanc's vertical gardens are all grown on felt. I'm not sure about the raw wool though- lanolin could be an issue.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:16 PM on November 8, 2007

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