FROM THE GROUND UP: Bringing the outdoors in

For just a little effort, Pothos gives a lot of results.
For just a little effort, Pothos gives a lot of results. PHOTO BY PAMELA BAXTER

It took just that one night last week when the temperature dropped to somewhere around twenty degrees. Bam! That was it. The active growing season is over. Mother Nature has closed up her summer shop and moved it farther south. What to do now? Of course, you can take a break from tending green, growing things out of doors. Or, you can take this opportunity to turn to houseplants.

Years ago I lived in Center City Philadelphia in a third-floor walk-up apartment. I missed having even a small yard or garden, or any view of greenery from the windows, so I made up for it by filling every sunny spot with plants.

I love houseplants. They bring some of the outdoors in and provide color and a certain softness and texture to the interior “landscape.” There’s also something I feel at an almost unconscious level of knowing that there is something living and growing indoors; something living and growing to care for.

It also doesn’t hurt to know that houseplants provide health benefits as well. For instance the common and easy-to-grow Pothos (Epipremnum aureum) is excellent at removing toxins from the air, while Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens) and Mother-In-Law’s Tongue (Sanseveria trifasciata) produce a lot of oxygen to freshen a closed-up house.

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Growing houseplants is relatively simple. All you need are the same basics required outside: a growing medium, water, sunlight. If you grow hydroponically, water and the growing medium are one and the same thing. However, the same pitfalls outside apply inside as well: too much or too little sunlight, too much or too little water, insect pests, or being too hot or too cold. The good news is, you’re in control of the climate. The bad news is, you’re in control of the climate!

Just as with growing plants outside, it’s important to be honest about how much time you have to spend on plant care. For instance, if you want some greenery indoors but are either insanely busy, travel a lot, or just tend to forget, you’ll do better with cacti, succulents, and “iron” plants such as Pothos and Sanseveria that thrive on dry soil. Some of the more tender plants that need constant moisture can die in just a day or two if left unwatered at a hot sunny window. (Nowhere near as bad as leaving a pet in a closed car on a sunny day, but you get the idea.)

It helps to know if you have an intuitive sense of what plants need or if you need some guidance along the way. Or maybe there’s a middle ground you feel comfortable in. For guidance, I suggest “The Complete Guide to Growing Windowsill Plants.” This is a wonderfully comprehensive book that manages to be easy to use; plenty of information without being overwhelming.

Author Angela Willims Duea covers everything from evaluating (and potentially amending) your indoor environment, finding and selecting suitable plants in basic categories (foliage plants, plants that add color, fragrant plants, herbs), which exposure is best, propagating your own plants, and protecting plants from pests and diseases.

I particularly appreciate Chapter 6: “Creating the Optimal Growing Environment.” Here there are easy-to-access lists that detail how to read the signals that your plants might be sending you; for instance, signs of too much light/too little light, too much water/too little water. Since leaves can yellow and drop because they’re getting too much light or too much water, it’s important to be able to tell the fine differences in the symptoms.

We are approaching the season where exotic plants find their way to us: poinsettias, cyclamen, Christmas cactus, and even phalaenopsis — the easy to care for orchid. Now is a good time to figure out where these plants will live and thrive in the house.

Note: For NASA’s list of indoor plants for healthy air, go to http://www.healthyandnaturalworld.com/best-air-filtering-house-plants/

Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to pamelacbaxter@gmail.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook at “Chester County Roots.” And check out Pam’s new book for children and families: Big Life Lessons from Nature’s Little Secrets. Available at amazon.com.