When daylight wanes and temperatures drop, gardeners mourn the loss of summer’s lush greenery — especially during this difficult year when spending time outdoors has brought such comfort. Dismal weather needn’t get in the way of your green thumb, however. Enjoy horticultural therapy all year long by cultivating an indoor garden.
“It’s just the beauty of nature in your house,” said Linda Flatt, buyer for Yard ‘n Garden Land, 1501 N.E. 102nd St. in Hazel Dell. “When it’s hard to get outside, it’s wonderful to have it there next to you, at your fingertips.”
Before you begin this photosynthetic endeavor, consider where you’ll be placing your plants. All plants needs some light, but some need less than others.
Flatt’s favorite low-light plant is the ZZ plant or zamioculcas, also called Zanzibar gem.
“It’s just a very easy plant. It doesn’t need a lot of light,” Flatt said. “I have it in my bathroom, where it gets zero light, and I’ve had it for five years. It would be great for fall and winter, when we get the shorter days.”
Other plants that are content with less light are jade plants, fiddle-leaf fig, split-leaf philodendron or monstera, said Keri Wosepka, owner of Cascade Greenhouse, 6005 N.E. 139th St. in the Barberton area of Vancouver. She also praised the versatile, hardy snake plant, aka mother-in-law’s tongue.
“My go-to plants when people come into the nursery are snake plants,” said Karlene Kitchel, houseplant manager for Tsugawa Nursery, 410 E. Scott Ave., Woodland. “Their Latin name is sansevieria. They are such a great plant to start with because they thrive in bright light, low light and fluorescent light. In fact, if you put them in a closet, I think they’d still grow.”
Snake plants can tolerate a bit of neglect because they grow from water-storing rhizomes, said Kitchel. Most varieties need water only once a month or every six weeks, depending on the size of the pot (smaller pots need more frequent watering).
Another good low-water plant is a cactus, said Kitchel, which won’t burn in direct sunlight as some houseplants are prone to do. Put smaller potted cactuses on south- or east-facing windowsills, give them a good soaking every couple of months, and Kitchel said you’ll be rewarded with “absolutely beautiful flowers.”
Wosepka said she’s been enjoying succulents, which also don’t need much watering, like the poetically named string of pearls or string of dolphins (like a chain of tiny green dolphins, leaping out from the stem). She said they do best in bright but indirect light.
For a more tropical aesthetic, said Kitchel, try a peace plant, also called a peace lily or spathiphyllum.
“It’s an easy one,” she said. “It likes bright, ambient light, so no direct sun, but placed near a window that gives bright light. Water once a week. When they need water, they will tell you because they will wilt down. The minute you give it a good soak, those stems will come back erect and you will not have damaged it at all. The other thing is that it has beautiful white blooms on it. They add so much to decor, with those green leaves and beautiful white blooms.”
Kitchel also loves the Chinese evergreen, or aglaonema, which she calls “a bit of a rock star” that’s hardy if not overwatered. She’s fond of the hot pink Valentine variety.
For all indoor plants, Kitchel recommends liquid fertilizer containing kelp or seaweed with minerals that synthetic fertilizers lack and won’t “burn” the plants — that is, damage the roots and turn the leaves brown or yellow.
Wosepka and Flatt both touted an additional benefit of indoor plants: their ability to “clean” the air or filter out certain toxins while producing oxygen. While all plants clean the air, Flatt said, some are better than others. She said top air-cleaners include the aforementioned snake plant, peace plant, philodendron and ferns.
“A great air cleaning or air purification plant is your asparagus fern or Boston fern,” Wosepka said. She recommended giving ferns good light near a window but out of the sun and misting regularly.
Misting is important, said Wosepka, because wintertime’s furnace-heated air tends to be hot and dry. Keep an eye on all your botanical buddies, especially plants in smaller pots. Check the soil at least once a week by putting your finger into the soil up to the first knuckle, Wosepka said. If it’s dry, water until it drains all the way through. If it’s wet, leave it be because overwatering can lead to mold, especially in stagnant indoor air.
If you’re looking for hanging plants, Flatt recommended pothos or devil’s ivy, and listed many color varieties: golden, jade, marble queen (variegated white-and-green), neon (lime green) and satin (Flatt’s favorite, with a blue tone).
“They get really long, so it’s great to hang them from a ceiling or put them on a bookshelf where they can cascade over,” she said.
Flatt also likes tradescantia, the shade-loving plant also known as spiderwort or inch plant. Its green and purple leaves are pretty, but Flatt was enthusiastic about the many other colors now available in nurseries.
“There’s a burgundy one, and then a really beautiful tricolored one,” Flatt said. “The nanouk variety is pink. It’s just gorgeous.”
Could this “collect them all” attitude offer insight into Flatt’s ever-expanding houseplant collection?
“When you’re a houseplant buyer and you come across different species, you’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t have one of those,'” said Flatt. “All of a sudden I had 60!”