January 5, 2009

Indoor Gardening

When I step outside into a Syracuse January, my mind can’t help but drift to June days when the peonies, roses, and lilies are in full bloom, and we get our few months of tropical weather as a reward for drudging through a very frosty winter. While the bite of a 10-degree wind chill soon jolts me back into reality, the urge to cultivate plants is still there, and I satisfy it by tending to my indoor garden.

“Indoor garden” is just a fancy way of saying houseplants. It’s right around this time of year when many gardeners enjoy growing flowers and plants in the convenient climate-controlled atmosphere of their own home. Fortunately, there are many plants that thrive in the warm, dry atmosphere of a centrally heated house. And even if some don’t, there are always a few tricks to keep houseplants healthy and happy.

At Christmas many people like to start forcing bulbs such as amaryllis and narcissus. Keeping certain plants like poinsettia and wintergreen are also popular. Here’s a tip: right after the holidays many of these plants are drastically reduced in price. One thing I don’t like about the commercialization of these plants however is how they are marketed as being disposable and ‘meant’ to be purchased new every year. Actually, with proper care they can be kept for many, many years. You can even plant some of them outdoors!

This year I’ve started a few indoor gardening projects. I received
an amaryllis ‘Cinderella’ (actually Hippeastrum sp., ‘amaryllis’ is a
misnomer) for Christmas and I planted the bulb a few days ago. Hopefully I’ll be rewarded with large, spectacular red and white blooms in about 5 or 6 weeks. Always the horticultural bargain hunter, I purchased some post-holiday paperwhite bulbs (Narcissus tazetta) for about 3 dollars, which I’ve also started. Yesterday I picked up two Kordana miniature roses for 2 dollars each from a supermarket clearance shelf. These pretty little roses are not fragrant, but how can I complain about 2 dollar roses? They bloom profusely, and they are hardy to zone 5, which means I can plant them in the garden or maybe along the sidewalk out front.

The trick to keeping these kinds of supermarket plants alive is knowing what they actually need to thrive. Often what you see in the store has been living in greenhouse conditions, over-fertilized. In the case of Kordana roses, they are often treated with growth retardant to keep them at a certain size. I’ve learned that what you think is one “rosebush”, is actually several plants jammed into one container. The best thing to do is enjoy them for a bit, then start thinking about separating the plants into their own containers (some for that sidewalk or walkway, some for houseplants). It’s probably a good rule of thumb to remember that however the plant came from the florist or grocery store is definitely not the best way to keep it in the long-run.


MrBrownThumb said...

I think "indoor gardening" is a lot more complicated than just houseplants. The plants you mentioned are traditionally thought of as "houseplants." "Indoor gardening" can and does encompass all of the thing you're bound to encounter when "outdoor gardening" and can be as diverse and rewarding as gardening in the ground.

Anyway cool blog, welcome to garden blogging.

Paul H. said...

Hi, thanks for the comment. Yes you're right; there are terraria, greenhousing, seed-starting, moss gardens, bonsai, aquaria, courtyards, pebble gardens, and many more forms which could all be considered types of indoor gardening. In fact I'm maintaining a small "forest floor" terrarium with some moss, liverwort (love that stuff!), and partridgeberry. I guess a 'houseplant' to me is any plant grown indoors; including the mosses and liverworts, and even the vallisneria in my aquarium. I think of the entire collective as my 'indoor garden'. And yes of course houseplants and indoor gardens go well beyond amaryllis bulbs in what you can grow and the kind of setup, form, or expression you create. In all honesty I wrote this post as somewhat of a response to the mass-disposal of plants that I've been witnessing recently by many people, particularly those plants given as holiday gifts, and as a way to combat the misinformation that these plants are only meant to bloom once and then die.