Scrappy Little Plants to Grow Indoors for Food or Fun

Re-grow kitchen scraps to cut your grocery bills or make new houseplants.

Lettuce, SimplySalad Global Gourmet Mix

Lettuce, SimplySalad Global Gourmet Mix

Lettuces that grow from a head or cone will regrow. Leafy types must be started from seeds, or, like this Simply Salad mix, from multi-seed pellets.

Photo by: Ball Horticultural Co.

Ball Horticultural Co.

Lettuces that grow from a head or cone will regrow. Leafy types must be started from seeds, or, like this Simply Salad mix, from multi-seed pellets.

It’s smart to toss your food scraps into a compost bin, where they can decompose and provide nutrients for your next garden. But some leftovers—stems of fragrant lemongrass, lettuce stumps and other plant parts---can be re-grown on a sunny windowsill. Use them to help reduce your grocery bill, or just enjoy them as green houseplants. 

Leafy Veggies

Start your scrap-growing adventure with something easy, like lettuce or celery. After you strip away the leaves or stalks, save about an inch of the veggie’s base. Put the base in a shallow saucer with the cut side up, add a little water, and keep it near a sunny window. Freshen the water as needed.

Pak Choi

Pak Choi

Pak choi, or bok choy, is a kind of Chinese lettuce. Once your scrap puts out new growth, plant it in a container or your garden. This variety is 'Pak Choi Bopak F1'.

Photo by: National Garden Bureau

National Garden Bureau

Pak choi, or bok choy, is a kind of Chinese lettuce. Once your scrap puts out new growth, plant it in a container or your garden. This variety is 'Pak Choi Bopak F1'.

After new leaves appear, harvest them for salads, soups or sandwiches. If you prefer, wait until the base has good roots and plant it in potting soil. This method also works with other leafy, head-type vegetables, such as bok choy, romaine lettuce and cabbage. (For best results, start the cabbage in a shallow container of soil, rather than water, and keep it moist.) 

Root Veggies

The green tops of beets, turnips and parsnips will also re-grow. Save about 1/2 inch of the root after you remove the greens. Put the root with the cut side up in a shallow saucer and give it a sunny spot. Not sure how to use carrot greens, which can be bitter? In her book Roots: The Definitive Compendium With More Than 225 Recipes, cookbook author Diane Morgan Cook shares a recipe for making pesto from carrot greens. They can also be added to chimichurri or finely chopped and used as seasoning.

Carrot 'Thumbelina'

Carrot 'Thumbelina'

Carrot greens are edible, although they taste better when sauteed, blanched, or cooked into other dishes. They contain potassium, calcium and more vitamin C than their roots.

Photo by: National Garden Bureau

National Garden Bureau

Carrot greens are edible, although they taste better when sauteed, blanched, or cooked into other dishes. They contain potassium, calcium and more vitamin C than their roots.

Potatoes are fun to grow with kids because they sprout quickly. Just scrub away any dirt, cut the potato in half, and insert a few toothpicks around it. Fill a jar with water, and add the potato, resting the toothpicks on the rim. At least one eye should be submerged. Keep the jar in a sunny spot and change the water when it gets cloudy. After roots appear, transplant the potato into the garden or a large container of potting soil, or just admire the green vines indoors.

Sweet potatoes are also candidates for re-growing. Cut a couple of inches off the bottom of each potato, and insert some toothpicks. Again, put the potato, cut side down, in a jar of water, resting the toothpicks on the rim. Keep it in a bright spot and plant it in soil after roots form. 

Seeds

There’s one important thing to know about seeds saved from kitchen scraps: not all of them are viable. The seeds of a lovely tomato from the grocery store may not sprout at all, or if they do, the tomatoes they produce may not look or taste like the parent fruits.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Some fruits and veggies are harvested before they’re ripe, so their seeds haven’t matured enough to grow. Others come from hybridized plants. You’ll need to collect seeds from non-hybrids, also called open-pollinated or heirloom plants, if you want them to sprout. 

Celery 'Peppermint Stick'

Celery 'Peppermint Stick'

Re-grow a leafy vegetable like 'Peppermint Stick' celery and snip new leaves for seasonings.

Photo by: Seeds by Design/National Garden Bureau

Seeds by Design/National Garden Bureau

Re-grow a leafy vegetable like 'Peppermint Stick' celery and snip new leaves for seasonings.

Avocado

It’s easy to sprout an avocado indoors; simply clean the seed, stick some toothpicks into it, and put it in a  glass of water. Let the toothpicks hold the seed so only the bottom half touches the water. Keep the seed in a sunny spot, replenish the water when it evaporates and watch for roots and a stem to appear. Once the roots are a couple of inches long, remove the toothpicks and plant the avocado in a container for a pretty houseplant.

If you’re serious about growing avocados for their fruits, you'll need to plant them outside. They're hardy only in USDA zones 9-11, so choose a variety recommended for your region. Don’t count on making guacamole soon; your tree could take 5 to  20 years to bear. 

Lemongrass

This fragrant herb is actually a tropical grass. Simply drop some lemongrass roots into a glass of water and keep them in a bright spot. Refill the water as needed. When you see new growth, the tops are ready to snip and use.

Basil

Start by cutting fresh stems of this herb to about 4 inches long. Remove most of the leaves and put the stems in a jar of water in a sunny spot. New roots should soon form. Pot up the new plants when the roots grow to 2 inches, and give them at least 6 hours of sun each day. Don’t harvest all the leaves at once, so the plant can keep growing. 

Scallions, Leeks and Green Onions

Instead of tossing the white roots of green onions, leeks or scallions, slip them into a glass of water in a sunny spot. Keep the cut ends above the water and harvest when new growth appears. 

Keep Reading

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Many gardeners love hand-harvesting small, immature potato tubers early in the season from beneath still-growing plants. They tend to be extra sweet and tender.

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Easy-to-grow yellow flesh potatoes are a bit sweeter and have more antioxidants than America’s more popular white fleshed potatoes.

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Growing New Potatoes

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Potato Plant Basics

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