Monday, December 12, 2011

Low-Maintenance Indoor Plant Ideas

The benefit of waterwise plants can be extended indoors for the winter. Live plants brighten any room, so long as they are happy and well maintained! However, many of us (myself included!) are "houseplant impaired". I'm happy to say that there are plants for folks like us!

Project #1- Hanging Mini-Terrarium

One group of fun plants are called commonly called "Air Plants" and the botanical name for them is Tillandsia. These little plants do not require soil. They receive their nutrients through water.
Air Plants aka Tillandsia

You can purchase Tillandsia online or locally at Cactus & Tropicals Nurseries in Holladay and Draper. They run $4.00- $10.00 per plant depending on size and come in a variety of foliage colors and textures. You can also purchase a special 'glue' that will allow you to stick these plants to everything from driftwood to dry tree branches to suction cups so you can afix them to your shower walls where they'll happily grow along (provided you don't get soap etc. on them).

Glass Bulb with vent holes.

For our project, I purchased a pear-shaped glass bulb from Tai Pan Trading. Cactus and Tropicals also offers these containers in both a pear and a globe shape. Expect to pay between $8-$10 for the terrarium. These containers will best house a small to medium size Air Plant or two.

To create the project, you can simply put the Air Plant in the terrarium, hang it, and be done. You may also dress it up a little with gravel, moss, or other small objects. I used some gravel we had on hand for a 'natural' look but tumbled glass would also be a cool option.

Add gravel, tumbled glass or moss to serve as a base for the Air Plant.

My son collects rocks on every family vacation. To make my terrarium more meaningful, I also included a piece of "Amethest" in my version since this is a gift for him (based on what we paid for it in a rock shop, I'm pretty sure it's just dyed quartz but don't tell my boy)!

Fit the Air plant inside using your hand or a chopstick as needed.

I also tried adding some moss to my terrarium and played with a few different possible objects but ultimately I settled on just the gravel, amethyst and plants. There's no wrong way to arrange the elements inside the terrarium except to try and cram too much in there- keeping it simple is best. Attach a jute rope or ribbon to the hook on top of the terrarium and you're read to gift!

Finshed project- so easy it's embarrassing!

Watering: Air Plants will need to be misted with water every 3 days or so. Alternatively, you can soak them in distilled water for an hour once per week.

Fertilizer: Once per month they will need to be misted with a mild, dilluted liquid fertilizer.

Light: They prefer a bright room but do not appreciate direct sunlight.

Flowering: Air Plants will flower once but the flower will last a long time. When the flower spike dies, so will the parent plant. Don't dispair! New offsets will grow from the base of the Mother plant.

Project #2- Dish Garden

Succulents also make great houseplants as they require little in the way of care and maintenance. They can survive neglect but they cannot tolerate too much affection aka: overwatering.

For this project, I bought a shallow dish container from Tai Pan Trading. You can use just about any container so long as it has drainage. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the container to ensure that excess water could drain.

Ideally, you would lay down a base of gravel in the container and put your soil on top of that. Succulents are poorly suited to soils with lots of peat moss in them. This is unfortunate because most growers use a peat moss-based soil to produce succulents for sale. As a result, whenever I purchase succulent plants, I will soak the soil they came in off the root ball. This isn't absolutely essential but it will make caring for the plants long-term easier.

Horticulturalist, Kathryn, selects some succulents for the arrangement out of her sweet plant stash!

Create a pile of soil in your low dish container then arrange your plants as suits your taste. I have probably overplanted the dish below- it only needs to have a couple of plants.

To keep the soil from sloughing off, pack some dried moss around the plants. You could also choose to add decorative rocks or kitschy objects like a mini-gnome or this little turtle!

When you're done, do NOT water the container in as you normally would. Succulent roots are brittle and break easily. While you're moving them around and planting them, you've likely broken some of their roots. This is only a problem because it makes the plant more suseptible to rot and diseases. Wait a couple of days for the roots to callous over and THEN water the container!

Finished Dish Garden

Succulents: Big box hardware stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot offer succulents in their house plant sections and have a good selection. However, I've gotten better prices and variety at J&J Nursery in Layton or Cactus and Tropicals. Just select a variety of colors and textures. Some succulents can get quite large so you may want to ask the staff for some assistance selecting the right plants. Expect to pay $2- $5 for each of the little plants. This is a time when buying small is better as they'll fit in the dish garden longer. If your plants do start to outgrow the dish garden, just move them to another container. I recommend succulents like rosette-shaped Echevarias and textural Crassulas.

Soil: Soil mixes for succulents can be purchased anyplace you acquire the plants. I custom blend my own mix because I'm trying to keep the peat moss away from the base of the plant. My preferred blend is 30% succulent soil mix, 40% fine gravel, 30% fine bark or coconut fiber.

Watering: Indoors, stick with watering every 3-4 weeks. The dish garden can be moved to an ourdoor table when all danger of frost has passed. Outdoors expect to water the plants once per week.

Light: Indoors they will be perfectly happy in a bright room near a window. Outdoors, they'll want part shade as our intense summer sun can sunburn their juicy leaves.

Fertilizer: Apply a dilluted fertilizer in spring. Do not fertilize in the winter while plants are not in their active growth phase.

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