In the dead of winter, when outdoor gardens have faded, vibrant indoor gardens can still be enjoyed. Sun-loving houseplants benefit from basking in a window, and you’ll benefit from having them there. Besides screening you from strong floods of light and conferring extra privacy, plants create leafy, live window trims of branches and foliage—and sometimes bright flowers.
You can savor the presence of plants in small quarters and enjoy a year-round growing season, whether space is limited or expansive, when you plant for success by choosing the right species. This article focuses on creating room to grow flowers, herbs, plants, vegetables, trees, and shrubs by maximizing use of available space both inside and outdoors.
If you have a south-facing kitchen window, nothing is prettier than adding an easy-to-install greenhouse window to put a small and colorful garden just over the kitchen sink. You can display herbs and flowers, mixing a variety of easy-to-grow herbs such as basil, rosemary, and chives with colorful flowers such as flowering cactus, African violets, or begonias. If you would rather display different textures and colors, you can place flowing ivy, table fern, and hydrangea on the next shelf; bicolor caladium, cyclamen, and a prayer plant on another shelf; and yellow kalanchoe, lady’s slipper, and maidenhair fern on the lower shelf.
Decorating with plants brings significant value to indoor spaces. Into any room that’s missing greenery, introduce a fabulous potted fern, a twining ivy, a graceful fig, or a stately palm. Lots of bare walls or missing furniture? Why not introduce several of these varieties? What’s the least that can happen? The whole room suddenly comes alive, feels fresher and more inviting. The chairs and rugs seem warmer than before the addition of plants, inviting you to relax. Windows and tables seem to soften their angles, and walls look “finished.”
Living houseplants clear the air and clean the air quality. If you prefer water gardens, you can engage in hydroponics, a technique for growing plants without using soil. (Most hydroponic gardens are in indoor settings.) All plants—even hydroponically grown plants—need a regular supply of fresh air, and indoor gardeners use carbon plant filters to circulate air around plants grown in alternative media like rock wool, water, and coir (coconut fiber).
Help Your Indoor Plants Thrive
Potted plants have different needs from their ground-dwelling relatives. In designing your indoor paradise, remember that potted plants may require specific watering and fertilization schedules, container sizes, light preferences, and soil content. Find out which plants thrive in indirect lighting and which prefer to bask in a generous amount of sunlight.
Many people buy houseplants solely for their wonder-working effects rather than considering their botanical properties. To keep any plant healthy, it really helps to know more about the biological nature of the species. Living plants need loving care. After you make your selection and have safely installed your plants in their new habitat, purchase a good plant care book that covers total maintenance requirements. Nurseries, master gardeners, horticulturalists, and other plant-growing aficionados have favorite manuals. Ask for a recommendation. Many of these books offer comparisons among the species and give both Latin and English names for identifying the plants as well as a description of their physical characteristics and expected growing dimensions.
The more stable the environment you provide for your leafy “friends,” the healthier they will be. Extreme air temperatures and sudden drafts can throw a plant into shock. Since potted plants have limited soil resources, it is crucial to get into the habit of fertilizing your indoor charges. Use liquid fertilizer, a special soil mix, or fertilizing sticks to keep them healthy.
Plants thrive on good grooming. When you leave dead flowers on a live plant the plant tends to wither away and develop seedpods, which shorten its ornamental life. The best way to keep plants blooming is to “deadhead,” or remove spent flowers. Some plants grow in wild spirals or may have an unusual growth spurt on one side. These plants may be routinely clipped according to plant care recommendations to keep an attractive shape.
Right Amount of Watering
No two plants use water at exactly the same rate. For maximum results, make sure your plant has a properly draining container and potting soil. Feel the soil to a depth of one inch below the surface and, if it’s dry to the touch, add tepid water to the soil surface—never shock the plant with hot or icy water. Overwatering plants can kill them just as much as forgetting to give them at least a weekly sprinkling. If you have a variety of plants that require diverse care techniques, keep a notebook recording the treatment and watering schedule for each item and helpful notes so that you don’t confuse requirements. For example, palms and palm-like plants aren’t too fussy about soil requirements and grow well in indoor potting soil. During spring and summer, most palms actively grow and need regular watering to keep soil consistently moist (not soggy.) During winter months, allow the top inch or so of soil to dry out between waterings so that palm roots do not rot. While adaptable to varying light conditions, palms prefer filtered light that screens out direct rays of sunshine. Palms thrive on higher humidity and benefit from misting or showering lightly.
Pests and diseases are the bane of houseplants. Insects can be so small you hardly notice their presence while diseases show more noticeable symptoms such as dark spots, discoloration, mildew, and shrinkage. Crown rot occurs when the plant has poor drainage or has been overwatered; this disease turns plants brown or makes them wilt suddenly. Pests like aphids, green, reddish or black creatures with soft, round, or pear-shaped bodies tend to cluster on buds or new plant growth where they suck plant juices. An attack leads to stunted growth or curled leaves or flowers. Aphids secrete a substance that forms a growth of sooty mold. Some of the preferred treatments include use of insecticidal soaps, scraping, wiping off residue with a soft cloth, or repotting in containers that have better drainage.
Room to Grow
The bottom line is that your baby blossoms and herbs outgrow their initial pots. When they do, it is time to transplant them into larger containers to keep their roots from growing out through the pot’s drainage holes and coiling up around the container’s edges. Repotting shifts an uncomfortably crowded plant from a pot-bound environment to a new and roomier space. When using decorative and often expensive cachepots (the word means “conceal”) for your plants, put a layer of pebbles or stones in the bottom to facilitate drainage and then put the actual planter inside. Never plant directly in a fancy pot—your plant will die within weeks if you don’t allow for air and water circulation. A cachepot should measure at least an inch more in diameter than the plant’s container.
Specimens that you arrange in clusters on garden window shelves, and in massive groupings in a common bed, need careful maintenance. If they grow into one another, the aesthetics change and the likelihood of insect and disease damage increases even if only one of the plants is the actual carrier.
Houseplants provide life and vitality to your indoor environment; they are an integral component of the feng shui energy balance in your home. Plants connect you to the natural world and increase the flow of chi (positive energy) throughout your home. All objects, including plants, have energy that is either yin (feminine) or yang (masculine). Too much of either tilts the balance of a room and can actually make you feel uncomfortable. Take full advantage of feng shui philosophy by following these guidelines:
- Create a positive impression in the entry of your home by placing a plant or floral arrangement near your front door.
- Use plants for their oxygen-creating properties to help neutralize toxic materials found in plastics, fibers, and paints.
- Choose plants that have round or soft edges instead of spiky, pointed, or aggressive-looking species, especially if you are placing them near groups of chairs or in a dining area.
- Stagger plants strategically along a straight corridor to relax and soften the space.
- Place bushy plants near windows or doors to slow down the flow of chi.
- Avoid negative energy by getting rid of sick or dead plants. No plants are better than ones that are sick.
- Keep in mind the angles and corners prominent in Western architecture that are dumping grounds for negative energy and “poison arrows” known as shars. Note how many people put wastebaskets in corners—they block the flow of positive energy and clog prosperity. Let the energy flow freely by placing plants or indoor trees in the corners of rooms.
- Plants with pointy leaves, such as palms, snake plants, and cacti radiate more yang energy. Species with narrow, droopy leaves, such as spider plants, generate yin energy. A bushy, leafy ficus plant slows down fast-moving chi. But adding a draping or trailing plant (such as grape or Swedish ivy, strawberry begonia, or wandering Jew) nearby will create more water chi energy. They look best in hanging baskets or placed on a pedestal to create a statement and add flow.
Fresh flowers radiate living chi energy and bring the chi energy associated with their color into a room. Existing energy transforms to a higher plane the moment you bring flowers into the space. Yellow flowers create sociability; blue flowers help you communicate better and encourage travel and connections; red flowers like roses foster romance while red tulips generate wealth; green ferns represent vitality and freshness.
Improving Outdoor Spaces
A little greenery goes a long way toward improving the image your home projects. Whether you have a large plot of ground with diverse landscaping possibilities or a front stoop with hanging basket options, you make a statement with artistic plantings that welcome visitors to your home.
The simplest way to create color and a high-impact first impression is to grow flowers. Don’t let appearances fool you; hard work is not necessary for a beautiful flower garden. All you really need are the right plants, a few minutes each day to maintain them, and lots of time to enjoy them. With a few green accents or, with time and money, a complete makeover. The American Nursery & Landscape Association reports that landscaping can add up to fifteen percent to a home’s value. That’s incentive to give visitors an eye-opening first impression with the natural environment you create in and around your home.
Invigorate Your Green Spaces
First, figure out where you could use the most improvement from Mother Nature by answering these questions:
- What do you want to achieve?
- Are you preparing your home for sale or is your aim to beautify your home for personal satisfaction?
- Do you want to work on making a particular outdoor feature, such as your deck, more attractive? If so, do you have room to landscape around the deck with a variety of herbs, plants, flowers, and shrubs?
- Does your exterior need a complete makeover or do you need specific cosmetic upgrades? Take note of any areas with dead plants or trees.
- Do you live in quarters that do not have outdoor planting space but may have a patio, balcony, small deck, or courtyard?
- Do you like home-grown vegetables and can you accommodate them?
- What’s going on inside your home? Have you allocated space for house plants or an herb garden? Which rooms could use a boost?
- Will you need the assistance of a professional landscaper, horticulturalist, or expert gardener?
Next, make a plan, starting with the basics. You can always expand your vision at a later date. To help you understand the scope of your project, make a sketch. A visual aid will help you select a variety of greenery that pops. To keep exterior maintenance low, choose mostly shrubs that stay green or colorful all year long rather than plants or trees that shed leaves or wither. Maybe your preference is to make use of deck space with a variety of hanging plants, deck planters, or deck boxes strategically placed along the rails.
If you are one of the millions of residents who rents an apartment, owns a condo, or simply doesn’t have a plot of ground, there are plenty of opportunities for showing off your green thumb in windows, balconies, zero-lot-line courtyards, or any corner of your home that could use aesthetic appeal. Perhaps your dwelling has windows that can accommodate exterior planter boxes to show off brilliant spring flowers or a variety of seasonal plants. It’s a good idea to assess your available land, the features of your home, and the available indoor space. Be sure to take into consideration the amount of sun that hits those areas—it will determine what you can plant and where. Houseplants thrive in the outdoor climate approximately six months of the year in most regions and longer in warmer climates. When you pot them, place them in a decorative planter for indoor use and remove it for their outdoor exposure. Remember that many perennial garden, herbs, and deck plants may be transplanted for use in your home when the weather turns cooler.
Working within a Budget
Plantscaping requires money. It is important to determine right up front how much money you have in your annual budget for this project. If you follow the lead of experts, who consider an exterior landscape plan a multi-year project, you can spread the cost of your dream over a number of years instead of bearing a heavy cash outlay in a single year. For example, with a landscape plan you can plant your trees and some flowers in year one; shrubs around front windows and bulbs in year two; design and plant garden beds in year three; add larger border shrubs for privacy in year four and, by the fifth year, you’ll be ready to finish landscaping the deck area. You should have nicely maturing plants all around your lot that readily compliment your deck, patio, or gazebo. Add a water feature or an arbor in year six and you’ll be in competition for the trendy Home and Garden shows. During any of these years, you can bring the outdoors into your home through strategic decorating with plants.
Research the cost of all supplies and plants before you buy. Make a list of everything you will need to determine the price associated with obtaining and installing each item. If you balance these costs against your budget, you will be able to see when you can actually fund each phase. Most gardeners are in a big hurry, eager to see the fruits of their labor. The “rush” is a big mistake and can be very costly in the long run, because you tend to purchase fast-growing but not particularly hardy species and will have to replace them in a few years. Be realistic about what you can actually tackle in a given year. Do the job right and you won’t regret your investment of time and money.
The payoff can be bountiful if you are building an edible landscape. Outdoor soil often needs amendments, such as fertilizer and clay cutter, and it may take a few years to produce plants and vegetables that are truly lush. A 100- to 200-square-foot bed is a reasonable starter size for producing a variety of herbs and vegetables. Choose plant varieties that are highly productive to get your best yield. Berries, pumpkins, melons, and cucumbers need space to spread out; if your plot is small, you won’t be able to diversify the crops as much as you can with tall-growing or more compact species. Indoor soil needs a boost as well, so remember to add fertilizer to your houseplants according to plant care recommendations.
Seek referrals from friends and neighbors as you design and plan your landscape. Don’t hesitate to pay for a consultation with a professional. It is the least costly investment for a big project. Nurseries often set a minimum fee, typically $2,500 for specific area plantings, stock purchases, and installation. This amount won’t buy much. Be wary of firms that push certain species unless you have done your homework and know these trees or plants work well in your climate. Don’t be talked into planting anything that does not visually appeal to you. When nurseries are low on stock they sometimes discount less desirable trees and shrubs. These items are a bargain only if you really like them; just as often these plants or trees have a limited shelf life, are less disease-resistant, and have less attractive shapes or sparse leaves if they are deciduous trees. The shortfalls or deficiencies affect the shape and symmetry of your plan and you won’t have the desired visual effects.
If an indoor/balcony planting project is your top priority, call a houseplant professional to give you guidance and help you make selections for blooming plants, indoor trees, patio shrubs, and herb gardens. Be sure to ask about care of your
Explore the rich, diverse world of plants. Whether you place them indoors or out, the best way to enhance your home’s balance is to decorate with plants. They perk up rooms and inspire the occupants. Their gentle, natural beauty invites you to wander in, sit down, and relax for a while. Plants work wonders. These ethereal blooms impart a mood of contentment and draw your thoughts away from the busy world outside. With a little imagination, you too can enjoy the magnificent artistry from nature.
From Llewellyn's 2010 Herbal Almanac. Click here for current-year almanacs and calendars.