11 ways to bring life into your home with indoor gardening
As we enter the homestretch before what's likely the most anticipated seasonal transition, here are 11 ways you can liven up your home with the fresh look of flowers and plants – and how to keep them thriving.
1 Choose hardy plants that will survive winter conditions
"Few plants really thrive on the low light and dry air conditions in our homes," says horticultural expert and Canadian Gardening contributor Anne Marie Van Nest, who recommends tougher plants like the peace lily, Chinese evergreen, dracaena, philodendron, mother-in-law's tongue, Pothos and cast-iron plant.
2 Force flowers to bloom before spring
Cut a few branches from a dormant tree, such as a forsythia or cherry tree, four to six weeks before it would normally bloom and bring them indoors to entice a few buds to open. Choose branches with immature buds and place them in a container half filled with water and floral preservative.
3 Choose double-duty plants
An attractive plant stand full of potted gems can also serve as air purifiers. Studies done several years ago by NASA concluded that houseplants can remove chemical pollutants in your home and purify the air. NASA's list of clean-air plants includes heartleaf and elephant ear philodendrons, English ivy, spider plant, weeping fig, bamboo or reed palm, and snake plant.
4 Skip the spice rack
Choose a windowsill that gets more than six hours of sun a day and plant some of your favourite herbs, such as basil, chives and thyme. You'll add some leafy colour to your room and be able to reap the benefits by incorporating them into your favourite dishes while cooking.
5 Grow a garden under glass
Add interest to a room with a terrarium. Any glass container with a lid will do. Create a drainage layer of charcoal and potting soil, add a layer of pebbles and choose small or slow-growing plants that will thrive in a moist environment in a variety of textures and heights. Try dwarf ferns, such as maidenhair, flame violets, fittonia and pilea. Finish the look with natural elements, such as mosses, lichens and rocks, close the lid and voila: your own mini garden.
6 Create an optical illusion
Put your floral arranging skills to work and create a display from silk flowers. If you're worried about the tacky fabric blooms from the 80s, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the selection you can find in craft stores, like Michael's, that includes lifelike-looking stems and brilliant artificial flowers. Place them on a buffet out of arm’s reach and no one will be the wiser.
7 Plant a tree
If you're up for the challenge, consider growing a bonsai tree. According to Wikipedia, bonsai is "the art of aesthetic miniaturization of trees." Grown from seeds or cuttings, these mini specimens can be manipulated into certain shapes with patience, technique and a few specific tools. If you need something more low-maintenance and you have the space, choose a large, decorative pot and add a palm, African pine or coffee plant to a room.
8 Start seedlings
Once spring is almost within reach, get a head start on your spring garden by growing plants from seed. Purchase a propagating kit from a garden store, follow the package directions for growing conditions and sow accordingly. Light sources can come from bright windows or grow lights and cool fluorescent tubes. Those first shoots of green will add colour and optimism to a room.
9 Go for the blooms
If you have the proper growing environment in your home, Van Nest recommends these flowers for their lovely blooms that can complement the colour scheme of a plant-less room:
• Anthurium Clivia
• Christmas cactus
• African violet
• Reiger begonia
• Streptocarpus (Cape primrose)
• Gloxinia & other gesneriads
• Flowering maple (Abutilon)
10 Create a cut and dried arrangement
Cheer up a neutral room with everlastings, flowers that retain their colour and vibrancy after they've been dried. If you haven't dried your own, ask around at your local flower shops to see what’s available. To make a centrepiece, add some Sahara dry foam to the bottom of a vase with florist tape, then starting with the big blooms, add your flowers, filling in the gaps with smaller stems.
11 Choose a bouquet of cheerful, fresh-cut flowers
Spring inspiration can be found at your local florist where fresh-cut blooms hint at the promise of things to come. Grab a wild, multi-coloured bouquet to place in a sleek, neutral vase, such as these woodland white ceramic vases from West Elm or this obsidian vase from Crate & Barrel.
Caring for your plants
Here are some TLC tips for your new houseplants:
• Regularly dust the leaves to keep them shiny and to allow your plant to breathe better.
• Invest in a good humidifier. "The cool-mist types are good for plants," says Van Nest.
• Keep your plants well-watered. "The best way to gauge when to water is to get a soil probe and test the wetness of the soil," says Van Nest, who recommends checking the soil at the bottom half of the pot for wetness as that’s where most of the roots are. In a pinch, your finger can do the trick, too.
• According to Van Nest, the best watering philosophy is to water plants well so that the water drains out the bottom, then letting the soil dry out (but not to the point of wilting) before watering well again.
• Be careful not to over water your plants. Over-watering can occur if there are plugged drainage holes in the pot or the growing pot is sitting inside a non-draining decorative pot, says Van Nest. "Over-watering will not allow the soil to 'breathe' and exchange gases, and a lack of oxygen in the soil from all the water is seriously damaging to the plant roots," she says.
• Special plant lights can help low-light situations.
• To keep plants healthy and fertilized, use Van Nest’s three-part approach:
First, slow release fertilizer is excellent when added to the soil when a plant is potted or repotted. This provides frequent small does of fertilizer based on a temperature or water trigger.
In addition, the use of natural and organic soil amendments is a great way to feed plants. Add some sterilized compost or blood and bone meal to the soil when potting or repotting.
Lastly, a regular, water soluble fertilizer will provide valuable nutrients during the active growing season. Use 1/4 strength each week during the growing season and 1/4 strength every two weeks during the winter (if not actively growing).
Tara Nolan is the editor of CanadianGardening.com.