BY KEN MUELLERS
When the weather turns cold and the plants out in the landscape have called it a season, many gardeners retreat to the warmth of the indoors. But for many a restless green thumb, the gardening doesn’t come to a stop. The gardening just moves indoors.
Although we often talk about extending your home outdoors into the landscape, indoor plants are a great way to extend your landscape inside the home. What I refer to as “indoor” or “house” plants are really outdoor plants from other parts of the world which have climates that are much more moderate than what we have in our area. Although that may seem like an obvious concept, it is important that we realize these plants still need the elements they would require in the great outdoors such as light, air, water and nutrients. Since they come from many different regions of the world, some require more or less of these elements, depending on their native habitat.
As with picking plants for the landscape, it is important to try to match the plant with its intended environment, such as selecting plants that require low light if you don’t have good southern exposure, or plants that don’t require much water if you are not great about consistent watering (or don’t happen to have a leaky roof!). Many plants that we consider indoor plants come from the tropics and need plenty of light and moisture. Because the air found in most homes is so dry, it is actually a very hostile environment for most plants. This is one reason why it is a good practice to mist your plants with water. It is also a good idea to give your plants a “summer vacation” outside on the deck or patio when the temperatures are warm enough. Just make sure you transition them gradually so they can acclimate and do a thorough check for insects when you bring them back into the house.
Since potted plants have a limited amount of soil to draw nutrients from, you need to make sure to feed (fertilize) them periodically to keep them healthy. Some plants can outgrow their pots over time and become “root-bound.” At that point, they may benefit from being re-potted in a larger container.
Having these plants inside will benefit you with better air quality in your home as they filter the air of chemicals such as formaldehyde and trichloroethylene while adding oxygen. Not to mention the psychological effects (oops, too late, I just mentioned them) of having nature around you.
If you are new to indoor gardening, some popular, easy-care foliage plants include spider plant (Clorophytum), corn plant (Dracaena), peacelily (Spathophyllum), mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria), pothos and philodendron. If you are looking for flowers, Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) and Clivia both will flower once a year, while African violets and bromeliads offer color almost anytime. If you can’t keep any of these plants alive, it might be time to consider silk flowers. With them you don’t have to water, but you still need to dust them.