Elaine Sanders: Spend some time gardening indoors to beat the winter blues

‘Crispy wave’ is not your typical looking fern. Its wavy foliage has a large surface area so is touted to better purify air.

Winter offers an opportunity to dream up garden-related ideas and plans for outdoor landscapes in the upcoming year. But after a good dose of rest and reflection, and months of winter hibernation, gardeners understandably get a little fidgety.

An indoor garden can help banish winter blahs. Caring for plants indoors soothes our senses, offering respite from the noisiness beyond our walls. Plants decorate the home and clean the air of lingering harmful particles such as formaldehyde, according to an infamous NASA study, and caring for them is much less labour intensive than outdoor gardening.

For beginners, houseplants offer a manageable transition into the great outdoors and are the only choice for those without outdoor spaces in which to garden. You don’t need a large space or skylight to grow indoor plants, though it helps; surprisingly many flourish under low light. However, indoor landscapes should furnish plants with enough light for photosynthesis and northern areas of homes typically provide insufficient lighting unless fluorescent grow lights are present.

So match a plant’s needs to your home’s conditions. Microgreens, violets, herbs and small succulents thrive on the cool ledge of my partly shaded kitchen window while ficus, aloe, orchid and surprisingly easy-to-grow- tropical banana prefer the sun-filled warmth of my south-facing living room.

Indoor plant-care tips

Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants. Lucas Schmid, greenhouse sales manager at Planterra, an indoor plants wholesaler in Dorval, agrees. He says that plants that are underwatered are usually salvageable, but once a plant is overwatered and succumbs to root rot, there’s no turning back. So it’s best to ease up on watering, especially over the winter months, and err on the dry side.

Schmid also advises against watering just the soil surface and to give houseplants a thorough soaking until water comes out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Allow the water to completely drain out before replacing plants into their decorative container.

A home’s interior can be especially dry in winter (just like our skin and hair) so to increase humidity, group plants together on a decorative shelf or plant stand or place plants in a glass terrarium. Regular misting can also boost humidity while cleaning foliage and is appreciated by most indoor plants.

Do not fertilize houseplants over winter months. Start feeding once days are longer and growth resumes in March. Rotating plants with each watering will allow light to reach all sides and promote even foliage growth. Here are other hard-to kill houseplant to try:

Zamioculcas Zamifolia

The ZZ plant is attractive and virtually indestructible. It’s shiny, palm-like foliage may burn if placed in direct sunlight so indirect lighting from a south or west-facing window is best. This African native grows from bulbs, a clue that it prefers a dryer soil. Include one quarter cactus soil to traditional potting soil when transplanting, to ensure a free-draining growing medium.

Crispy Wave fern (Japanese Asplenium nidus fern)

This one is easy to grow only if you give it a humid spot in your home or have the discipline to mist it daily over winter. ‘Crispy wave’ is not your typical looking fern. It’s wavy foliage has a large surface area so is touted to better purify air. With proper soil moisture, it should flourish at lower light levels.

Anthurium andraeanum

If you are looking for more colour in a houseplant try anthurium, which is adored for its shiny red or pink flowers (actually bracts). Anthurium tolerates low light, but flowers increase with more (indirect) sunlight. Like Crispy wave, it purifies the air and prefers a humid environment.

Aside from growing houseplants, there is still plenty to do indoors to keep green thumbs busy until the ‘real’ gardening season starts again: there are vegetable and flower seeds to order and sow, gardening seminars to attend and gardening books or magazines to catch up on. It’s easy to forget winter — even just temporarily — when spending some quality time gardening indoors.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com

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