Creating an Indoor Winter Garden
Cozy up indoors this January with a colorful collection of houseplants. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your indoor winter garden.
article by P. Allen Smith
As the frigid temperatures of January continue to drop, cozy up indoors with your own collection of colorful houseplants. Tending to these plants is a great way to keep your home lively after the excitement of the holiday dies down, and enjoy some of the blooms and color of spring a little early. There are many plants and bulbs you can pick up at your local garden center or grocery store, and caring for them is a cinch. Some of my favorite indoor plants include kalanchoe, paperwhites, cyclamen and primrose. I like to think about ways to get creative with these plants, whether it’s designing a centerpiece for your dining table, or just thinking outside the box when choosing a container to grow in. Here are a few tips and ideas on how to grow these plants and get the most out of your indoor winter garden.
This plant has more than 100 varieties, and is most widely known for its interesting leaf-shape and vibrant flowers. It is native to arid areas, so they prefer drier soil — be careful not to over-water. Flowering kalanchoes are available in shades of red, pink, yellow or white. Succulents like these are fairly easy to grow — they prefer warm, sunny locations and moderate watering. You’ll want to reduce their water even more in the winter so the soil dries out completely between waterings. Also be careful not to let the temperature fall below 55 degrees. Plant them in a nutrient-rich potting soil and feed them bi-weekly in the summer with a liquid fertilizer. These plants will bloom for a long time and their glossy leaves keep them looking great year-round. Just pinch back the spent flowers to encourage reblooming. If you want to propagate your kalanchoes, it couldn’t be easier! Just take one of those lush, glossy leaves and lay it on moist soil. In about three weeks you’ll start to see new life emerging. This plant is gorgeous, but poisonous to animals, so please keep it out of reach.
This tropical tuber produces large, beautiful blooms that — with the proper care — can last and last. Cyclamen are a bit particular about their growing conditions so pay close attention and you could fill your home with their beautiful, yet delicate, blooms. Cyclamen come in a wide range of color, from white through various shades of pink into the deep red, and their variegated heart-shaped foliage is its own work of art.
To get the most out of your cyclamen, be sure you grow them in the correct conditions. They prefer cool, humid environments. Keep them in a room that gets no warmer than 68 degrees (anything below 40 degrees is also undesirable), and position in indirect sunlight. Cyclamen are sensitive to both under and over watering, so be sure your pot has good drainage. Water only when the soil becomes dry, but be careful not to let plant remain dry for too long. If cyclamen completely dry out — they will show signs with drooping leaves and flowers — they may not be able to recover. Only fertilize once every couple of months with a liquid fertilizer mixed at half the strength.
Once these lovelies are blooming, try them as a cut flower. Three or five in a small vase really makes a bold statement.
This heavily flowering houseplant comes in a rainbow of color, and with the proper care, can produce long lasting blooms. Primrose thrives in moist, well-drained soil so keep the soil moist, but not too moist. As soon as the top of the soil feels dry, it’s time to water again. The plant will begin to wilt and die quickly once it completely dries out. Primrose grows best at between 50 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but be sure the temperature never gets above 80 or below 40 degrees or they will begin to die quickly. Position them in the home in indirect sunlight and only fertilize monthly when not in bloom. Once temperatures warm up outside, it’s a good idea to set your primrose outdoors. Bring it in again once the temperatures begin to drop below 50 degrees.
Nothing captures the crisp serenity of winter quite like the paperwhite narcissus. These lovely white flowers grow from bulbs, and their sweet scent and bright green foliage make them a necessity around my home. Usually bulbs are purchased in the late fall; however you may still be able to find them in garden centers. It’s important to look for firm bulbs with no mold, or make it a step easier and buy a budding bulb that has been pre-forced. Be sure to get enough to plant new pots every two weeks or so for a steady emergence of flowers through the winter. Store the bulbs you are holding back in a brown paper sack in a cool, dry location. Bulbs may begin to emerge on their own, so plant the ones with the longest sprouts first.
Paperwhites are great, because they will grow in almost anything — soil, gravel or just plain water. I prefer to plant them in soil or sand to help keep them anchored and less likely to tip over. Keep your potted paperwhites in a sunny spot and water them often. As the shoots elongate, turn the pot to prevent leaning, which can weaken the stems.
Feel free to get creative when designing your indoor plant arrangements. I especially love to incorporate elements of the winter landscape when working with paperwhites. Their snowy white petals lend themselves perfectly to blend with pinecones and other winter botanicals. To create this whimsical arrangement, just follow these easy steps:
1. Find a medium-sized galvanized bucket and drill holes for drainage.
2. Fill the bucket about two-thirds full with moistened potting soil, and gently push the bulbs in.
3. Add about an inch more potting soil over the bulbs, only leaving about one inch of the top of the bulb exposed.
4. Set bulbs in a warm, sunny spot in your home and watch them grow.
5. Once the shoots begin to show flowers, cover the top of the soil with moss and pepper with small pinecones for a delightful, wintery effect.