Indoor Gardening

Container Gardens for Indoor and Out

February 24, 2013

We have been covering recently about how to develop indoor gardens for your homes.  In the greenhouse for spring sales, we plant and grow many different mixed containers.   Many times I just create as I go, placing whatever suits my mood at the time.  We sell a lot of ready-made containers, but we also have a lot of gardeners coming in to purchase plants for containers they wish to design themselves.  I am asked all the time which plants work well together, how should the containers be planted or what do I think looks good together? 

 It is easy to be overwhelmed when you visit your local garden center or greenhouse, so it helps to have some idea of what size planter you need, what colors you need and whether you are placing the container in a sunny location or shade.  Take a look at your home or wherever you are placing your container gardens.   In front of a larger home you can probably use a larger planter.  Take note of where the sun is at different times.  These tips can work for you indoors as well.  I mentioned in a recent article about placing groupings of plants together to provide a focal point in a room or to bring symmetry to a design or theme.  

I sometimes try to stick to a color scheme if I am doing containers for a particular holiday.  For instance, on Independence Day I may try to stick to a red, white and blue theme.  Sometimes I will plant variations of one color in a container garden, such as different shades of yellow or red.   It is also fun to create containers with many different colors.  Spring will be here soon, but if you would like some spring flowers now, you could force some bulbs indoors, such as Paperwhites (narcissus), crocus and hyacinth. 

I generally will take a taller plant and use it as a focal point either at the back of the container or in the center.  I will then take medium height plants, either flowering, foliage or a combination of the two, and plant them in front of or around the taller plant.  Lastly, I will take “spiller” plants, (plants that trail or cascade) and plant them around the edges of the container.   It’s OK to mix the bulbs in with other types of plants so long as their moisture requirements are similar, just keep in mind that bulbs generally do not stay in flower for very long. 

Some tips: 
      Before planting, try different arrangements outside of the pot to see which looks best. 
      Outdoors, don’t be afraid to mix annuals with perennials in the same planter.  It will extend the   
           life of your container garden. 
      By mixing in foliage plants, it will break things up a bit and keep the container garden looking
           fresh while the other plants are going in and out of flower.
      Add some slow release fertilizer to your planting medium or use a liquid fertilizer when you  
           water.  Plants need to eat, just like people.   House plants may have different fertilizer
           requirements than annuals and perennials since they are indoors and it is “off” season.    

 Don’t be afraid to experiment and most importantly, have fun!


Cozy Indoor Gardens

February, 2013

Creating a cozy indoor garden for your home is easier than you think. All it takes is a little ambition and creativity. You’ll need to keep in mind the climatic area of the room you are working with. How much light does it have? How much heat is available? These are things that will affect the selection of plants for that particular area.
A southern exposure window gives the best light, without it being too hot. If your room is very hot and dry, then you may want to add a source of humidity, such as a humidifier or simply place shallow pans of water with pebbles under the plants. As the water evaporates, it will add the necessary humidity into the air surrounding the plants. The latter is also very decorative and gives you a chance to play with colors, shapes and groupings of plants. If your room does not have enough light, there are lights made specifically for plants that you can purchase. You should be able to find these at your local garden center.
It’s a new year again….many people take this time to re-group and re-organize. If that’s what you’re thinking, why not paint the room you are using for your plants as well? A fresh coat of paint will always change up a room and make it new again. It will provide you with a new palate to work with. Light, neutral or pastel colors on the wall make a nice contrast to the green leaves and colorful blooms of the plants. Be creative here; maybe paint or nail a small lattice to the wall. This is your chance to bring the outdoors in. And there are so many interesting colors, shapes and sizes of pots. You can even find pots that attach directly to the wall. They can be grouped together, like photographs. This might inspire you to keep similar plants together, or give vine-like plants a place to stretch out.
Don’t forget to place trays under the plants on the floor. You’ll need to protect the flooring from water stains if you have wood or linoleum floors. Add some up-lighting for accents, a reading lamp and a chair or two to curl up in with a good book and maybe a small side table to perch a cup of coffee or hot cocoa on. Placing some type of small water feature in the room adds to the feeling of relaxation as well.
If you have tall plants, such as a Ficus tree, place it in the corner and maybe add some white lights to it for a soothing accent. Add some herbs to the mix for double duty with culinary purposes as well as fragrance and texture in the room.
There are so many ways you can dress up a room to make it cozy and warm for the long winter months. Inspiration comes from many places and in many shapes and forms. Create the room of your dreams and keep dreaming; Spring will be here before we know it!


How to Build a Terrarium

October 21, 2011
When I was a little girl, my mother kept a terrarium in our home. It always intrigued me; seeing plants growing inside a glass tea kettle was really cool. It was like a miniature rainforest! Terrariums are a great way for those of us who are busy to have lush plants in our homes without having to remember to care for them so often. As the plants in the terrarium transpire, the moisture collects on the sides of the terrarium (condensation) and flows back down to the soil. 

A terrarium is basically any enclosed or partially enclosed clear container which houses its own micro-ecosystem of plants, and sometimes animals too, such as small lizards or turtles. For our purposes here, I will focus on plant terrariums. You can use any clear container of plastic or glass, such as an aquarium or fish bowl, a hurricane jar, bottles or glassware. Be creative and look around your home before you spend money. Chances are you’ll find something. You will also need small pebbles, gravel or coarse sand (NOT beach sand) for drainage, clean, fresh potting soil, a collection of carefully chosen plants, some sphagnum moss and finally, activated charcoal, like you would use in an aquarium filter. Fertilizer is not necessary as we don’t want the plants to outgrow their surroundings. Be sure all items are clean and free of disease or bacteria. Wash your container and drainage medium with hot water and air-dry. If you are using any materials to decorate with, such as larger stones or wood, you should rinse those items with hot water as well. Also be sure your plants are free of disease and insects.
To begin, place about one to three inches of sand or gravel (depending on the size of your terrarium) evenly across the bottom of the container. Next, add an even layer of activated charcoal. This will serve to minimize odors from decomposition as the terrarium establishes itself. Next cover both layers evenly with a thin layer of sphagnum moss. This will keep your potting soil from spreading into the drainage layer and interfering with proper drainage. The last layer is your potting soil. This should be fresh and sterile, as you don’t want to introduce any possible diseases to your new plantings. You can purchase special terrarium soil, or just add one part coarse builder’s sand and one part humus to your usual potting mix. Be sure to add extra sand if you are creating a desert type terrarium.
Whatever plants you choose, you’ll want to be sure they are of compact growth habit and compatible; they should have the same lighting, humidity and water requirements. Having plants of differing heights and textures adds interest to your terrarium. Plant them evenly spaced apart and away from the sides of the container. Do not place your terrarium in direct sunlight as it will overheat. Mist the sides of the container after planting to clean any stray soil and water the planted soil lightly. Cover your terrarium and watch it for signs of dryness. If the soil seems dry, add a little more water. If you are seeing large droplets of water on the walls of the terrarium, then open the lid to avoid excess moisture from accumulating in the soil. If at some time later in your terrarium’s life, the plants look like they are lacking nutrition, provide a weak solution of houseplant fertilizer for them.
Over time, you may need to replace some plants if they become too big or die off, but all in all, your terrarium should provide many years of enjoyment with little care.

 Winter Container Gardening

............Part 1 

November, 2007
Winter container gardening can be a fun and rewarding experience, extending your enjoyment of plants beyond the summer growing season. There are many types of houseplants to choose from that are very well suited to indoor landscaping and you may also choose to grow some herbs in your home so that you are in supply of fresh seasonings for your culinary needs.
When choosing plants for your home, you must keep in mind several factors which will influence your decision on which types of plants to choose, and ultimately, your plants' growth. These factors are lighting, temperature, air circulation, water and humidity.
Let's begin with lighting. Natural light intensity will vary quite a bit indoors, depending on whether your home's windows face North, South, East or West. Light intensity will also vary based on the number of cloudy days; coastal climates such as the Northeast have a higher number of cloudy days in the winter than, say, the Midwest.
Other factors that cause light intensity to vary are dust or smog, curtains, nearby buildings and outdoor plantings. Plants that did well in one room of the house may need to be moved to a different room accordingly as the seasons change.  A lack of quality lighting causes etiolation, which is the condition of a plant exhibiting long internodes (longer than usual stems between the leaves as a result of the plant stretching in search of light), leaves turning yellow, or pale in color, eventually falling off and a general lack of vigor. You can purchase artificial lighting as well to supplement your plants, which may be necessary for certain plants, especially those that are in bloom.
 The use of special flourescent bulbs made especially for plants is the best choice, as these bulbs emit all of the necessary wavelenghts of light a plant requires for growth and optimal health, while not overheating the plant and causing burning of the leaves. It should also be noted that plants should periodically be turned, so as to avoid phototropism, or the one-sided growth of a plant towards the light source. By turning the plant regularly, the plant's growth will be more symmetrical.
We'll cover temperature and air circulation tomorrow. Please feel free to post any comments to this post or the previous ones. We welcome your interaction and look forward to hearing from you. Make it a great day!  

Winter Container Gardening

...........Part 2

November, 2007
OK. Today we will cover indoor temperatures, air circulation and humidity. It is important to keep in mind that indoor temperatures vary from season to season and that the temperature just inside a window may be quite different from that of the rest of the room. For example, during the winter, when the outside air is freezing, the temperature of the inside air near the window may also drop considerably, causing the plants that are kept there to suffer cold damage. Therefore, leave only hardy plants near the windows and move the others. Conversely, high window temperatures may also be a problem. South facing windows in summer and late afternoon sun in a westerly facing window, even in the winter, may cause excessively high temperatures.

As for air circulation, drafts that occur due to the mixing of cold and warm air temperatures increase what is called transpiration, or the evaporation of water from the surface of the plant. Combined with chilling, this can be very detrimental to many plants. In addition, placing plants near hot, dry air circulating from a heating duct, will also place considerable stress on your plants. Air circulation also affects humidity levels.

Relative humidity, is the ratio of water vapor present to the maximum amount potentially present at a given temperature. Indoor humidity is similar to outdoor humidity, unless you are running the heat in the winter or air conditioner in summer. In those cases, the humidity levels drop and the air becomes dry, so that it may be necessary to run a humidifier, not only for the plants, but for your own comfort as well. Other ideas to raise the humidity levels in your home: mass plants together, mist plant surfaces daily with water, set out pots of water among the plants or set the potted plants on a tray filled with pebbles and water (looks pretty too, ladies!)

It may be necessary to move highy sensitive plants to another location, such as the bathroom. That's all for today....don't worry, it's not as difficult to keep plants indoors as it may sound. Just a little common sense. If you are not comfortable indoors, then your plants probably are not either. We'll cover more tomorrow, including my husband's favorite: don't kill your plants with kindness.....see you then! Remember to write and tell us how you like everything so far!

Winter Container Gardening

...........Part 3

November,  2007
My husband's favorite saying is "Don't kill 'em with kindness!" Sometimes, we are so used to having to water our plants so much during the summer months, that we tend to over-water them indoors, thinking the plants need the same amount of water.

The simplest way to tell if your indoor plants need water is to touch the soil in the pot. If the soil is moist, leave it alone. It is usually OK to allow a plant to wilt slightly as most plants recover quickly and suffer no long term effects. Just don't drown them the next time you water them. Over-watering takes oxygen away from the roots of the plant. Oxygen is required for a healthy root system.

Constantly wet soil also provides prime opportunity for fungi and bacteria to set up housekeeping and attack plant roots and stems. Many times there is no cure for these problems other than to try to take a cutting of a healthy portion of the plant, try to root it, and start over. Plants in very large containers may be more prone to over-watering because even though the top layer of the soil seems dry, it is still wet deep into the pot where the majority of the root system is located. Try checking the base of the plant by tipping the pot over and allowing the plant and root ball to come out of the pot.  If the pot is too big for that, check the saucer under the pot.

 Nowadays, there are many creative containers which help to regulate the amount of water a plant receives and they may well be worth the investment.  Hope that helped.  Let us know.

Winter Container Gardening

...........Part 4

November, 2007
Last but not least is the type of soil mix to use and the fertilizer. Many commercially manufactured soil mixes are balanced in texture and nutrients and are satisfactory for most household plants. We manufacture our own soil mix here on the farm for spring planting in the greenhouse with a combination of peat moss, perlite, various essential nutrients and some other ingredients (a secret family recipe my father-in-law made and has tweaked over time). It's also great for use in the flower beds and we make it available for sale here at the farm. There are some specific mixtures for African Violets and the like and also for cacti. A good potting soil is a mixture of textures, or particle sizes and provides good drainage, holding the necessary amount of water in the soil and also providing anchorage for the plants' roots.

Soil pH for most indoor plants should be close to neutral, about 6.7 - 7.5, although there are some plant species that prefer more acidic soil types. You can check the pH of the soil with litmus test paper from a pharmacy or you can purchase a fancy pH meter with probes specifically for soil testing. Typically, many manufactured potting mixes are of a balanced pH and will tell you on the bag what types of plants they are suitable for. You can get special types of mixes based on the type of plants you are working with as well. Check your local garden center for a good selection and knowlegeable sales people.

As for fertilizers, it all depends on the types of plants you have. There are many fertilizers suitable for a broad range of everyday plants. There are also specific fertilizers for vegetable plants, certain houseplants, roses, hydrangeas, etc. Check the label carefully and be sure what you are purchasing is the proper fertilizer for your plants. There are also organic fertilizers and they encompass many different needs as well. There again, we mix our own fertilizers based upon the crop schedule and growth needs of plants from start to finish. Typically, you will see N-P-K, the three main elements in a fertilizer. They stand for Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, respectively. Nitrogen affects the rate of vegetative growth of the plant, Phosphorous increases the amount of flowering and root growth, and Potassium is needed for fruit quality and the resistance to disease. If you'd like more in-depth information, here is a great article from the Agriculture Department of the State of North Carolina.

Indoor Sprouts

February 25, 2011
There are many seeds that you can start indoors and then transplant outside when the air and soil temperatures are warmer and there is no longer the threat of frost.
Start by gathering some seed catalogs or look online to get some ideas for your area. Germination rates, seedling growth, transplant dates and time to maturity or flower vary by the plant. Check the descriptions in the catalogs or on the seed packets to see how soon you’ll need to start the seeds indoors before they are of sufficient size to plant outdoors in warmer weather.

You’ll need the proper growing materials as well. Seedlings are very delicate; you should purchase sterile planting medium, such as a seed starter mix or compressed pellets that expand when watered. If using last year’s containers, they should be sterilized and rinsed well. You can purchase seed starter kits in the store, which make it easy to get started as they generally come with everything you need such as containers, a shallow tray to set the containers on and a see-through lid to hold in the humidity.

Warmth is necessary for germination and growth. Germination is when the embryo emerges from the seed. Soil temperature for germination generally ranges from 50°-72° depending on the crop. You can purchase special heating mats specifically for germinating seeds, though this may not always be necessary. Some seeds need to be covered with perlite or vermiculite to germinate; others need light and should not be covered. Once the seedlings have sprouted and are about half an inch tall, they should tolerate room temperatures of about 60°-75°.

Water is important during both the germination and growth stages. Sow the seeds in adequately moistened mix and keep the see through cover on to keep humidity in. Once the seedlings emerge, carefully remove the covering and provide adequate water from the bottom, being careful not to overwater the seedlings. Too much moisture will cause them to “damp off” (a fungal disease) or may possibly dislodge them from the planting mix. Be sure air circulates freely around the plants to keep disease at bay.

Seedlings need adequate light or they will be become spindly and weak. If you don’t have enough light from your windows, purchase grow lights to ensure vigorous growth. It’s important to use special grow lamps and not regular incandescent light bulbs, which may be too hot and not give the seedlings the proper lumens and wavelengths necessary for growth. Depending on the light source used, you may choose to set up the lighting so that it can be raised as the plants grow, keeping the lighting about 3 or 4 inches from the plants depending on the light used.

If all this is too much for you, then wait until planting season and purchase transplants from your local greenhouse or garden center, which we’ll cover next time.



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