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Indoor Gardening

Container Garden Indoors

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Choose the right plant for your home or garden

For those who have no space for a garden, such as city gardeners, or for those who simply yearn to be surrounded by greenery all year long, even during the long winter months, the indoor garden is just what the doctor ordered.

Indoor gardens can transform a stale room into a vibrant living space. House plants have been proven to clean and clear air in a house or apartment; plants are the other end of the gas exchange between flora and fauna, exhaling oxygen after respirating our CO2 emissions. In the process they do a huge part of filtering the air in your home.

While they do require a firm commitment for watering and feeding, plants can be a front-line against dust and allergens. In exchange, you can enjoy your indoor garden all year long, gaining both greenery and color in your interior design. There are varieties of plants that are suitable for indoor gardening; some require less attention than others, so take your schedule and commitment level into consideration when selecting your indoor plants.

Recommended Plants for Indoor Gardens
Low maintenance is the caveat of the new, fast paced schedule for our modern home dweller, but it's not high on the list for houseplants. Here are a few tried and tested indoor warriors that can survive everything short of total neglect:

Low Maintenance Favorites

  • Pothos, (Epipremnum aureum (syn.Pothos aureus, Raphidophora aureum, or Scindapsus aureus).
    The name has changed even in the scientific community, but the plant remains the same. This plant survives offices, it survives bachelors, it even survives college dorm rooms! Interesting yellow or white variegation on a green, heart shaped leaf on a trailing clumping vine. This is a low light specialist and the toughest one I know; if you kill this one you're not trying! Water it once a month and give it some room.
  • Spider Plant (Chlorophytum bischetii, or more usually C. comosum (syn.C. capense)
    You all know this one as we all have received this as a house warmer or like gift. I once gave these as a Secret Santa for the twelve days of Christmas: one the first day, two the second, four the third... the two plants I had at the time carried me through until the twelfth day (144 plants) when one nice store bought plant yielded the rest of the crop! This is how easy and prolific this plant can be and it's filtering and air quality features have even NASA looking at this plant...it likes medium light levels.
  • Snake Plant (Mother in Laws Tongue) Sansevaria trifasciata (syn. S.zeylandica)
    This is another tough customer that I have seen suffer over-watering far more than the opposite; another nice feature is the many different cultivars that offer a variety of looks and the low light requirements that make it a candidate in any better light than the closet. From 6" to 4' tall depending on which one you like...

Moderate care plants
For those who feel up to more than once a month watering:

  • Dragon Trees (Dracaena draco, D. fragrans, D. marginata or D. sanderiana)
    With just a little care these plants can grow to be old friends. The genus tends to be light and drought tolerant and again there are many cultivars and looks to choose from. A classic at the mall or doctors office...
  • Sword Fern (Nephrolepsis cordifolia, N. exaltata [the cultivar 'Bostoniensis' is the famous Boston Fern], N. obliterata)
    This old standby of the Victorian parlor plant circuit is still a great
    plant today. Tolerant of a variety of light levels and very tolerant of dryer conditions (for a fern). our current pet has been in the household for two decades; I sometimes wonder if it was him or me and there was a fire..? A pet plant to grow old with...
  • Jade Plant (Crassula ovata syn. C.argentea or C. portulaca. Occasionally species C. arborescens or C. falcata are found for sale)
    Grown in fairly strong light, I have seen these plants develop into 9 ft. monsters. A staple at the Chinese restaurant, as it is considered a prime feng shui plant for the many coin shaped leaves. The one problem I have seen to this plant is a susceptibility to mealybug if it is allowed to decline (easily remedied with a Q-tip and alcohol; wipe them away), but a modicum of water and good light will help keep this a striking specimen that grows with you...

Plants that need a little loving
For those who want a pet plant and the care and feeding thereof:

  • Bonsai (Various spp.)
    These miniature trees made famous from the Japanese art of bonsai can be found all over Asia, in China (as penjing)Thailand, Vietnam and other cultures. Although the plants are often thought of as high maintenance (somewhat true), they have also gained the reputation as a esoteric secret that is only known to a select group of old men living in L.A. and giving karate lessons on the side. (O.K., the good ones...) but there is a network of clubs growing and connecting all over the world, and the Internet is making quality bonsai and knowledge available to any one who can access them. A great way to meet people and devote time to an ancient gardening tradition of the highest order...
  • Orchids ( Family Orchidaceae), This is an amazingly diverse family with plants found on every continent but the Antarctic, yet delicate and rare wherever found. (There are probably a few species in your area; check it out with your state DEP or extension service). The entire family needs higher humidities, but there are differences. There are three general types to the family:
  1. Epiphytic: These are tree dwellers that cling high in trees and feed off of rain, sun and what little detritus settles among it's roots; sounds easy but these are often jungle types that require higher humidity and more care...
  2. Psuedobulb: These are nearly epiphytic, with enlarged stems for food and water storage; generally easier...
  3. Terrestrial: Many orchids (most natives) are this type. They grow in the loose moist humus of the forest or occasionally a meadow...

For the beginner, may I recommend?...

Cattleya spp.
A native of the tropic Americas, the cattleyas are a psuedobulb type and considered an orchid with training wheels. Kept outside year round in southern Texas, brought indoors in Florida and like climes on those occasional colder nights, they are in for the winter everywhere north. They need 60 degrees at night, 70 degrees during the day, 50-60% humidity and good indirect light.

African Violets (Saintpaulia ionantha)
This is a single species that has hundreds of cultivars; I was always impressed with the booth I judged at the Boston Flower Show that the local society put on. It was never the biggest or showiest, but it was always put together with an obvious love of the plants they were showing. And the varieties and cultivars that have sprung up over the years must number in the hundreds now. Bottom watering is the key to this plant; crown rot and leaf spot are the two biggest enemies and keeping the water away from both is key to keeping this plant healthy. Needs the higher humidities and good indirect light that orchids crave...

Caring for your Indoor Garden
Indoor plants crave consistency: consistent watering and feeding schedule, consistent light, and consistent temperature. The more you can do to give your plants a stable environment, the better off they will be. Your plants will also flourish with a little extra attention. Removing dead leaves and flowers as well as wiping or dusting the leaves of your plants will keep them happy and healthy and keep your indoor garden looking gorgeous. There are leaf shines and sprays from all over but I find that plain water and a clean damp towel or sponge is the best bet.

Watering
Plants can suffer just as much from over-watering as they can from under-watering. So, how much is enough? Every plant differs as to how much water they require depending on everything from the variety of the plant to the type of pot it is in to the level of humidity in your home. Although they are generally not as attractive as other option, plastic pots do help to retain moisture more than ceramic pots, and you can always nest them inside of a basket or a more decorative container.

In colder climates, heating in the winter can make the air very dry. You may need to increase watering or consider purchasing a humidifier. Putting higher need plants like bonsai or orchids on a humidity tray (filled with pebbles and water to almost cover them) will help to keep the atmosphere moist. Over time, you will develop a sense of how much and how frequently you need to water your indoor garden. If you feel unsure when you are just starting out, you may wish to use a moisture meter which is stuck into the soil in order to gauge if the plant needs to be watered.

Feeding
Potted plants have nowhere to go for feed apart from the soil in their pot, so it is crucial that you make a regular habit of fertilizing your indoor garden. There are many fertilizers available for specific plant varieties, but if that seems too complicated, a one-size-fits-all fertilizer will do just fine. Liquid fertilizers are easy to fix when watering your plants, but be sure to pay attention to the proportions as too much fertilizer can harm your plants. Fertilizing sticks are an easy solution, too, as they generally only need to be inserted in the soil once a month.

Repotting
Most container plants will need to be repotted from time to time. You can generally tell if it is time to re-pot is the roots are growing out through the drainage holes or if they are coiling around the container’s inner edges.

  • To begin, select a larger pot than the current container.
  • Layer the bottom of your pot with rocks, shards of pottery, or chipped wood in order to assist with drainage but prevent soil loss through the drainage holes.
  • Fill the container with good soil up to where you want the roots to rest.
  • Gently loosen the rots of the plants and rest it on the soil, filling in around it with the remaining soil to about one inch from the top of the container.
  • Give the soil a good soaking once the plant snug in its new pot. If the plant has gotten so large that it needs to be maintained in the same pot (at the same size), try loosening the top three inches or so of soil around the base of the plant and replacing it with new potting soil and/or humus.
  • Scrape away; the root ball will tell you when you can't go deeper and ripping a few smaller roots is no more than happens in nature. This is known as top dressing, and done on a yearly basis it can keep a plant in the same container for decades or longer; this is part of the basis for the art of bonsai.

Indoor gardening can be the basis of a lifelong love affair with plants that never needs to leave the city. Or it can be an artful adjunct to your interior design. Or it can be an elegant and integral part of the purification system of your home (both physically and spiritually). Any way you see it, there is a place for a houseplant in your home... Enjoy!

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