Column, Kristen Hamilton
Muskoka winters can be long and cold, and a great way to break away from those long snowy days is to create a garden indoors. Indoor plants can provide fresh air to your home, add a sense of design, and allow you to garden all year long. They’re also fairly easy to maintain. If you follow a few simple steps, indoor gardening with houseplants will be truly rewarding.
Even though you’re gardening indoors, you still need to have some tools. A small fork, a mister, scissors, fertilizer, pots, trays, and good-quality potting soil are key. A small fork or spoon will come in handy to loosen any potting soil that has gotten hard and dried up over time. A mister comes in handy to help clean dusty leaves and give them a shine again. Scissors are great for cutting plants back and removing dead leaves or branches.
Pots and trays are a must for any indoor plant, and a good pot should have a drainage hole. It is best to place a tray under every pot to account for any water that will flow through to the bottom.
If your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole there are two things you can do. First, you could place rocks in the bottom of the pot, so the water has a place to sit and not be in constant contact with the roots. This isn’t the best method because it makes it easy to over-water your plants. A better option would be to transfer your plant into a pot that does have drainage and then sit it inside a bigger, more decorative pot. The good thing about this is you can monitor how much water is sitting in the pot and you can easily dump out any excess.
Some pots are specially designed for certain plants. For example, violets don’t like to have their leaves wet. There are special pots where the top lifts off and you can pour water in the bottom, which is much easier than trying not to spill any water on the leaves.
When it comes to good-quality potting soil, there are lots of choices. Soil designed for outdoor plants will be too heavy and won’t hold enough water. Indoor plants tend to dry out quickly, which means it’s important to select a soil that will hold moisture. Potting soils that contain vermiculite or perlite are ideal for indoor potting because they hold water and act like a sponge, releasing water as the soil starts to dry out. Fertilizing your plants every so often with water-soluble fertilizer will provide plants with valuable nutrients that are typically not found in potting soil.
Sometimes you’ll notice a white substance that stains the top of the soil, or the sides of the pot. This is a build up of salts and can easily be removed by thoroughly watering your plant and letting it leach out. The best way to do this is place your plants in the bathtub.
Another common problem when it comes to houseplants is when to water and how much. The simplest method is the finger test. Stick your finger in the soil if it feels dry, it’s time to water. It’s best to go around your house once a week with a small watering can and check to see if your plants need water. One little drop of water is not enough. Give all your plants a good drink and then go back around to all the plants again and add a little more water. You typically don’t want water running through and sitting in the tray because this is what can lead to that salt build up. A little trick for plants that have been left for a very long time without a watering and are struggling to survive is to give them a good soak. Fill a bucket with water and submerge the plant. When it stops bubbling, that’s an indication the plant has enough water.
Cleaning houseplants is important because it’s hard for them to soak up sunlight under a layer of dust. Depending on the type of plant you can either mist the leaves, or just wipe them down with a cloth. Leaves that have a heavy covering of dust will benefit from a mixture or dish soap and water. You can spray it on the leaves and then use a cloth to wipe each leaf. It’s time consuming, but your plants will love it. When cleaning your houseplants, take the time to check for pests. If one houseplant gets infected with aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, etc. it’s usually not too long before other plants in the house are infected, too.
A good blast of water from the mister will often take care of them, but insecticidal soap will also rid the pest. Sometimes pest problems arise after you bring your plants in from being outside in the summer, so be watchful.
Plants to choose
Spider plant is a plant that just keeps on giving by sprouting babies that can be easily clipped and re-potted. This is a plant that needs to be re-potted every few years because its roots tend to fill the pot. Pothos is a trailing plant that is tolerant of all light conditions. Clip the stems when they’ve gotten too long and re-pot them into another pot. The stems can grow up to 10 feet long and keeping them clipped keeps the plant fuller at the base. Christmas cactus is such a beautiful plant when it blooms in early winter. The blooms are usually pink or red. The Christmas cactus is very hardy – it can basically be neglected and will still survive. The Christmas cactus will get more blooms the more sunlight it has. Pruning after the plant has finished blooming will keep it bushier. Aloe, Violets and Jade plants are also very common houseplants that are fairly easy to care for.
A great project to do on a cold, snowy day is to re-pot some of your existing houseplants. If you notice that your healthy houseplants seem to be drying out quickly, it’s usually a sign that the plant is root-bound. That means the roots have filled the pot and there is not enough soil to hold water anymore. What you need to do is purchase new potting soil. Remove your existing plant out of its pot and place it into one that is a couple inches bigger in diameter. It might be a good idea to loosen up the roots before placing them into the new pot, and then fill the pot up with fresh new soil. You can even divide some of your large plants in two and re-pot the other half to give to a friend.
Kristen Hamilton has more than just a green thumb; she’s also a certified Landscape Technician. Hamilton has a BA in Applied Science as well, with a major in Landscape.