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Ashley Mann spent three years living full time in a 38-foot, 5th-wheel RV with her husband Josiah and their cat, Kitty. Her favorite thing about RV life is the challenge of finding the perfect way to organize a space, and she loves seeing all the creative and clever ways people come up with to customize their RVs.
Full time RVing doesn't mean you have to give up your love of gardening! Here are some ideas for growing herbs, vegetables, and other plants while living and traveling in a camper or motorhome!
Some states regulate the transportation of plants and require that you declare any plants you bring across their borders to prevent plant pests and diseases from being spread to the state. For example, California's rules are particularly strict. Additionally, if you travel between the U.S. and Canada, you will need to declare any plants you bring into each country and potentially pay to have the soil inspected and declared free of pests.
Although you may still be subject to border control scrutiny, you can avoid the risk of soil contamination altogether by growing plants hydroponically.
AeroGarden hydroponic planters include built-in grow lights and come in a variety of colors and sizes. There are also several alternative brands available that offer a similar concept.
This Environet Hydroponic Kit is specifically for growing herbs.
You could even try making something similar yourself, as shown in this tutorial. To keep jars from falling over while your RV is moving, maybe a shelf with holes like this one for sale on Etsy could be mounted somewhere secure.
If you travel in climates where the temperatures stay above freezing and are not frequently traveling between states with strict plant transportation rules, you can easily grow plants outdoors in containers, like the RV owner who brings this thriving herb garden with her wherever she goes and sets it outside in a sunny spot outdoors at each location. Small pots or planters can be stored in a truck bed or in the shower during transport. Self-watering containers are a good choice for transporting with less mess.
Growing Plants Inside an RV
For RV owners who want or need to keep their plants indoors, a shelf like this one can provide a place to set plants next to a sunny window where they can get plenty of natural light. This shelf was made from a 1″x6″ piece of lumber painted and mounted using drywall anchors and shelf brackets.
A similar garden shelf, with the added great idea of using ribbon to keep mason jars from sliding off during travel:
Adding Plant Shelves to Windows
A suction cup shelf is an option that wouldn't require drilling holes in the wall and would allow plants to be moved to a different window depending on the direction of the sun. If you're skeptical that it will hold, you can even add extra support.
You could also accomplish the same thing with a planter that sticks directly to the window.
Hanging Plants on Walls
The owners of this RV replaced their wall-mounted TV with plants. (Check out their blog to follow their adventures traveling the country with 5 cats, a dog, and a chicken!)
I love how RV owner Caley Crawford incorporated plants into her decor:
Kevin and Mandy of the blog 188sqft had a whole wall of cacti and succulents in their first camper:
Setting Plants on a Motorhome Dash
In a motorhome, the dashboard makes a wonderful sunny place to set plants while the vehicle is parked. You can see more pictures of this dashboard display on the owner's blog.
If you're finding it hard to provide indoor plants with a spot next to a window, you might supplement natural light with a small LED grow light, or stick to growing herbs, vegetables, and houseplants that don't require as much light. You can find a list of vegetables that will grow in partial shade here and here, and this article as well as this one suggests some easy-to-care-for houseplants that are ideal for low light conditions.
Perhaps one of these ideas can help solve the problems of weight and ease of transportation RV owners face when trying to grow larger quantities of plants or vegetables while moving from place to place.
This summer I decided to try one of these as-seen-on-TV “Topsy Turvy” tomato planters. I'll have to update this post later to report on how well it works, but I do already have one green tomato! Update 7/30/2018: Unfortunately, I think it's been too hot for this – or I've not been watering it enough. My tomato plant is looking pretty sad, and the 3 tomatoes I've had so far grew no bigger than golf balls. I think next year I'll try growing something different this planter instead – acorn squash perhaps? Hmmmm….
A few grow bags might be a good idea for someone who plans to stay in the same place for several months, as they can be moved if needed and don't take up much space when not in use. I have also purchased cheap reusable shopping bags to use as planters.
A styrofoam ice chest (preferably up-cycled!) can be converted into a cheap and lightweight self-watering planter using this DIY method. (Wondering if polystyrene is safe to grow food in? Read one perspective here.)
The wheels on this self-watering planter might make it more convenient to transport.
For RV owners who are very serious about growing their own food, a garden tower might be a good option. As an added bonus, it has a built-in system for composting food waste which provides direct nutrients to the plants. There's also a much cheaper version on Amazon, though it doesn't have all of the features of the Garden Tower.
Here's one RV owner's mobile gardening idea:
If the idea seems messy or if you're wondering if you would have to keep the door open all the time, maybe a shoe organizer herb garden could be hung on the outside of the RV and moved to the shower during transportation?
Note: Many cheap shoe organizers are made with backing of that type of non-woven fabric reusable shopping bags are made from, which can break down over a summer of exposure to sunlight and water. Here's one made entirely of PVC plastic that might be more ideal for filling with wet soil if some drainage holes were poked in the bottom of each pocket.
Traveling Herb Gardens
Perhaps the most ambitious of mobile gardeners, one couple grows food in this planter on the back of their RV. Read about their experience here.
Although it doesn't sound like this trailer travels much, the idea of pots set inside shelves mounted on the back of a camper might provide inspiration for other RV gardens: