I firmly believe that everyone should surround themselves in Nature as much as possible – turning off the a/c & letting the breeze cool you, walking barefoot in the grass, & growing plants indoors & out. Those of us who are apartment-dwellers like myself are stuck with the indoor-only option, & as much as we’d like to grow vegetables on our windowsills, the windows we’re blessed with aren’t always conducive to that pesky process known as photosynthesis.
Some people, like my mother, have an amazing green thumb. Mine might as well be purple for all the poor plants I’ve killed over the years. But I LOVE plants, & each year I get a bit better. A few years ago I was able to grow an amazing shamrock, but when I moved I had to let it go, & passed it onto my mother. Since then, I’ve let my fear of killing green things get in the way of the simple pleasures of having plants in the house. I’ve let excuses like my lack-of green thumb get in the way, or telling myself that my kitties will just eat them. Maybe the sun is wrong in my apartment? Oh, I’ve come up with dozens of excuses.
No more, I say! This year is my year, & I’m determined to learn the right & proper way to grow plants indoors. Over the years, I’ve made the mistake of trying to do much at once. While it’s true that I once had an orchid who did magnificently in the window in which she was perched, that was mere chance – I honestly had no idea how to actually care for such a finicky plant, & eventually it too met an untimely end. I brought home a bonsai once, after visiting the Philadelphia Flower Show – & had made the same mistake so many beginning bonsai enthusiasts make: I picked the beautiful pink serissa, one of the most difficult to care for. As it rapidly declined & panickedly researched ways to save my new charge, I discovered that even those who are advanced bonsai gardeners often struggle to care for this little tree. It was doomed from the beginning. Someday I’ll try my hand at bonsai again, but not until I thoroughly research an easier variety for a beginner.
Step One: Let go of all your exotic dreams
As I mentioned earlier, I jumped right into orchids & bonsai, two disciplines of gardening that take years of knowledge, skill, & patience to acquire. As with anything else, you should start simple. Once you master fern & vine, you can try your hand at more advanced techniques.
Tomorrow I’ll have a list of great beginner plants to choose from – & never fear, you’ll not be limited to African Violets & basic ferns, although those certainly are great options!
Step Two: Remember the number 635.965, & keep it holy
As a citizen of the planet, you have the ultimate tool at your disposable: your library card. 635.965 is the Dewey number for indoor gardening, & within those shelves you’ll find probably dozens of books oozing with information begging to be read. Do some research & make notes of what looks fantastic (& possible). You might be surprised at the possibilities, & the requirements needed for what you thought was a simple plant! Do you have the sun cover required for a healthy plant? What about room? The shamrock I talked about earlier started in a 4″ pot, but quickly grew into a 24″ pot. I was completely unprepared for that! Make sure none of the plants you purchase are potentially poisonous to any of your critters, & that you yourself are not allergic!
I would also check out the bargain section of your local bookstore – there’s usually at least one indoor gardening book for super cheap, & it’s always a good idea to have something on hand. Just make sure the book you purchase has the plants you intend to grow within its pages!
If you use the World Wide Web (which you should!), make sure the site is legit & not just an ad-driven oddity. Anything you search for these days comes up with at least a dozen sites that look they were created just so people will click on their ads. Places like Martha Stewart, HGTV, & other well-known institutions are probably the best places to look. There’s a reason you learned about information relevancy in school!
Another great place for information, at least in the US, is your local extension service – affiliated with your (land grant) state university’s College of Agriculture, they’ll have tons of expert advice available!
Step Three: Brush up on your networking skills
Besides doing all of the above, look into your local “people” experts. Is your uncle, mom, or cousin an avid gardener? Your co-worker? You might be surprised at the expertise available right in own neighborhood.
At any rate, I encourage you to make friends with a local expert of some sort. If you have a local greenhouse that you’re purchasing your plants from, they’ll probably be more than happy to help a beginner.
The bottom line is this: Enlist someone, anyone, so that when something starts going wrong, you can correct it before your dried-out plants ends up in the trash after two weeks!
Step Four: Purchase your plants!
When you’ve done your research & recruited help, it’s time to make your purchases. Support your local greenhouses if you can, but don’t feel bad if you end up getting your plants from a big warehouse like Lowe’s or Home Depot, or even someplace like K-Mart.
At the time of your purchase, be sure to get all the necessary supplies as well: pots (I suggest getting terra cotta, both for the aesthetic & because plastic is no good!), soil, plant food… anything your research turned up. Don’t shirk on anything – give your plants the best you can!
Step Five: Dig in!
Congratulations! You’ve made the commitment to be the best caretaker you can be to a living thing – no pressure or anything! :) Have a great time, & enjoy your new friends!
Now let’s talk variety: you may think that starting simple = limited variety, but nothing could be further than the truth. Take a look at this looooong list of possibilities!
Consider creating a terrarium!
This article on HGTV.com takes you through all the steps to create this simple & elegant garden. While I was doing research for this article, I stumbled over these little guys, & I think I’m going to have to try this next. They can grow in virtually any glass container – wouldn’t this be just a great thing to keep on your desk at work? Your own little forest to remind you of what’s outside. How fun!
Flowering Plants: Sadly, as beautiful as flowers are, most of them thrive on full sun & are quite finicky – definitely not for the beginner. There are, however, a few great flowering plants you should feel free to try!
» peace lily
» african violet
» dancing ladies (streptocarpella; not to be confused with the ‘dancing ladies’ orchid!
Succulents: Possibly the easiest things to grow! I have one happily growing on my desk right now, & two others at home. Give them a bit of sunshine, & lots of water during the summer, but otherwise, they’ll grow under just about any conditions! Take a look at all the fantastic-looking possibilities in this category:
» christmas cactus
» cacti (the possibilities are endless!)
» aloe vera
» hen & chicks
Foliage: The easiest & most plentiful of the “easy to grow/hard to kill” varieties of plants. There’s something here for everyone, & plenty to create a world of green about you!
» spider plant
» arrowhead plant
» corn plant
» lucky bamboo (actually a variety of corn!)
» rubber tree
» prayer plant
» ponytail palm (don’t water it too often!)
» wandering jew
» janet craig
» snake plant
» screw pine
Herbs: A great, healthy way to season all your cooking &, surprisingly, many are easy to grow in a sunny window. According to HGTV, these are the easiest varieties to try:
» basil (essential to tomato & fresh basil salad!)
» oregano (you’ve never had tomato sauce until you’ve made it fresh with these herbs!)
» chives (fantastic when added to an omelet)
» mint (try it in your hot chocolate!)
» sage (nothing beats the fresh stuff!)
» garlic chives (a great alternative to growing true garlic!)
Check out that article for all the info on growing your own indoor herb garden!
& finally, Vegetables: If you have a south-facing window that gets plenty of sun, this may be an option for you! The Virginia Cooperative Extension has a great, keep-it-simple article on container vegetable gardening. They mention:
» lettuce (many varieties!)
It would be a bountiful summer indeed if you grow these! Enjoy the fruits of your labor, & be sure to have fun!