It’s that time of year when outdoor plants go back to being indoor plants. Large palms, ferns and topiaries are making their way back indoors after a summer romp outside. Chairs, couches and tables are being moved to make way for the plants that graced the patio all summer, giving a little more wiggle room inside during those warm, carefree months.
Sound familiar? Are your indoor plants merely outside plants in pots waiting for the next summer? They needn’t be. Houseplants can have a permanent place on your tabletop or plant stand, without having to move them in and out of doors. Houseplants are just that, houseplants. With a few simple tools, those plants can stay put indoors next summer.
The key to keeping indoor plants healthy lies in their maintenance. Potted plants brighten up a corner, adding greenery to an otherwise dull room, but they shouldn’t necessarily outgrow the pot or the corner they belong in. Keeping a houseplant pruned and compact can be the direct oppose of what most gardeners try to achieve out-of-doors — growing plants huge and lush. If indoor plants are constantly growing, they soon become outdoor plants by necessity.
Indoor plants serve several other functions beyond the aesthetic. They increase a rooms’ relative humidity. They absorb toxins, reduce noise and brighten our moods. Plants are just as essential to the state of our mindsets. Studies indicate that plants instill calmness, balance and even serenity in us. Put simply, we’re happier people with plants in the house.
So, don’t buy a plant thinking you’ll try to keep it alive each winter until it can go outside again, buy a house plant with the idea that it will stay a houseplant. Start by determining the type of plant you need by evaluting your house. If your windows all face north and your interior lighting is low, get a plant whose needs match that. If your house is south facing, be sure to purchase plants that can handle the intensity of constant exposure to sunlight. How much space do you have? Don’t lug home that huge Scheffelera if the only place it will actually fit is on the patio. You’ll spend the winter walking around it.
Get a plant for the desktop or dresser top. Plant stands are great for lifting small plants up (without taking up all the space) and making them eye level or window level. Find a spot for your houseplant in your home that will be its home. Don’t make do with a spot until you can get that plant back outside. Determine what corner needs brightening and get the appropriate plant.
Once you’ve bought the plant, remember your goal is to maintain it, not grow it. Fertilize yes, but cut back the amount of fertilizer and increase the frequency — you’ll avoid the feast and famine most indoor plants suffer from. Don’t overwater it — overwatering is the number one reason indoor plants die. Most plants need to dry out a little before you water. Just stick your finger in and see how dry it is. In winter you’ll probably water more than you do in summer.
Remember: you want to maintain healthy, vibrant plants with sunlight and fertilizer, but not so much that you’re forever re-potting and re-arranging the furniture to make more room for them — that’s what greenhouses are for. And when next summer rolls around, if you want to be nice to your plant and take it outside, be sure to acclimate it slowly before you take it out and before you bring it back in. Plants, like people, need time to adjust to the light.
— Cinthia Milner gardens in Leicester.