As gardens become smaller, plant lovers are increasingly creating green havens inside their homes.
What does a gardener do in an age of vanishing gardens? The answer of course is to grow plants indoors, and fortunately, no matter what the style of your interior décor, you will find a plant and a container that complements it to perfection.
In the post modernist style so popular today, interior designers are making use of dramatic indoor plants such as bamboo and palms to enhance the look. For gardeners in cold regions, tropical indoor evergreen plants such as palms, ficus and delicious monster make the bleak winter weather disappear from mind. If you want all-year-round colour to emphasise a retro interior, choose crotons, caladiums or painted-leaf begonia (Begonia rex) with their vividly coloured foliage. African violets, chrysanthemums, azaleas and orchids complement a classic interior, while pots of ferns and impatiens, and hanging baskets planted up with trailing plants, are ideal for a country cottage look.
Image to the right: Impatiens
Success with indoor plants
Like all plants, those grown indoors need a bit of basic care in order to perform their best. Inspecting them about twice a week will keep problems from developing. Another tip is to avoid wetting the leaves of hairy, soft-leafed plants. The basic rules concerning indoor plantings are as follows:
Choose the right place
Different indoor plants have different light requirements:
- Some like bright light with a few hours of sunshine, such as kalanchoe and chrysanthemums.
- Some need bright light, but no direct sunshine, such as cymbidium orchids, cyclamen, azalea, painted-leaf begonia and crotons.
- Some prefer even less light, for example, Zebrina pendula.
Choose the right soil
Potting soil provides the initial nutrients a plant requires and it permits moisture retention while allowing any excess water to drain away. So always choose a ready prepared potting mix that is specifically formulated for house plants and is high in organic matter. Adding water-retaining granules and a mulch will help the soil retain water.
Choose the right container
A too-small pot gives a plant a top-heavy look and cramped growing quarters, whereas a too-large container overpowers a plant, making it appear undernourished and unloved. Whether you plant directly into your chosen container or use it as a decorative sleeve, choose a decorative container no more than 5cm wider than the nursery pot.
Image above: Ficus benjamina
Know your plants’ water preferences
Some plants like to be constantly moist, such as azalea, cyclamen and cymbidium, whereas others like to dry out between waterings, such as African violets, chrysanthemums and cineraria. But no plants like soggy roots, so they must drain well. Place a few pebbles under the container to provide drainage. If the drainage saucer under the container fills with water, stop watering for a few days. If after a time the soil refuses to re-wet, apply a soil wetting agent every six months as per instructions.
Fertilising at least once a month is essential during the growing season. Use regular garden granular or liquid fertiliser, or the powders, sticks or pellets made for indoor plants. Water well after applying fertiliser.
Indoor plants for every room:
Perfect for bathrooms
As these rooms usually receive medium to low light and have high humidity, choose plants that withstand such conditions, such as hen-and-chickens, some ferns, the urn plant (Aechmea fasciata), aglaonema, dumb cane (Dieffenbachia spp.), peace lily, philodendron and Christmas cactuses (Schlumbergera cultivars).
Funky plants for teens
Quirky and different are the key requirements for indoor plants for teenagers. Consider elephant’s ear, aloes, multi-coloured anthurium, the ponytail palm, cacti, bromelliads, ficus with a twisted stem, carnivorous plants, black-leafed fittonia, the spiralling juncus, pedilanthus, climbing philodendron, mother-in-law’s tongue, black-flowered arums and yucca.
Brighten up the home office
An indoor plant in the home office provides a focus to rest computer-fatigued eyes. Plant foliage also keeps the room fresh by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air. And if you choose a brightly coloured plant it provides stimulation for the brain. Examples include the bright red blooms of anthuriums, columnea, gerbera, amaryllis and kalanchoe, and the red-foliaged Begonia rex, Caladium bicolor and croton varieties.
Culinary containers or cheerful colour for kitchens
Herbs grown on a sunny, east-facing windowsill are one option for the kitchen. If this is not viable, consider a cheerful yellow or orange-bloomed plant to add sparkle to an otherwise functional room. Consider chrysanthemums, Barberton daisies, kalanchoe, nertera, begonia tuber hybrids and polyanthus primula. An ornamental chilli will also add bright colour as well as being useful for the chef!
Low maintenance plants for patios
The new trend is towards water wise succulents.They make ideal low maintenace patio plants, especially in hot regions. They also suit the contemporary decor style that is currently popular. Many indigenous succulents are ideal, as well as some exotics such as dramatic cacti – but watch out for their thorns! Examples are agaves, aloes, Euphorbia species, donkey’s ears (Kalanchoe beharensis), pony tail palm, halfmens (Pachypodim spp.), mother-in-law’s togue (Sanseveria spp.) and yucca.