Tag: houseplants

Winter Windowsill Herb Garden

Thyme in a wire basket with a bord handleStay warm indoors this winter while tending a windowsill herb garden. Growing herbs is a great way to exercise your green thumb, without freezing it off in the garden. There are so many herbs that you can cultivate indoors, and also use in hearty winter recipes. Add a splash of fresh oregano to your spaghetti, or sprinkle a few sprigs of fresh thyme atop a slow-cooked pot roast with herbs harvested right from your windowsill.

When I’m planning my windowsill garden, first I think about which herbs I use the most in my cooking. Growing your own herbs is not only a great way to add some fresh flavor to your food, but you can also save a lot on your grocery bill.

Some of the easiest herbs to grow include rosemary, scented geraniums, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, mint and chives. These herbs like well-drained soil and lots of indirect sunlight. Indoor air can become very dry in the winter, so think of a nice, humid place for your herbs like the kitchen or bathroom window. Prune and harvest often to keep these herbs producing, and don’t be afraid to get creative with your planters, like this Double Tin Pot from the P. Allen Smith shop. Herbs are functional and decorative, so utilize their aesthetic qualities to add life to your home during the cold, dreary months of winter.

How to Care for Cyclamen

The Cyclamen that I got for my birthday from my granddaughter is showing signs of not liking me, what can I do to help it?


In the world of symbolism, few flowers have been more inaccurately labeled than the cyclamen. Traditionally this petite bloom symbolizes timidity, but I have never found it to be faint-hearted. Enduring and prolific, it is one of my favorite flowering plants to use in my home during winter.

In nature cyclamen is a plant that goes dormant in summer and emerges during the cool, damp weather of fall, which is why you begin seeing them at florists and nurseries this time of year. Cyclamen come in a wide range of color, from white through the various shades of pink into the deep maroon. And if that is not enough, the foliage is a masterpiece into itself. I like this plant because it blooms for such a long time. Last year, I had one that continued blooming for four months, so you can really get your money’s worth with cyclamen.

Here are some tips for keeping your plant healthy and happy.

Cyclamen like lots of light so place your plant in a bright, sunny location.

This is one of those plants that is finicky about water. Too much and the tubers will rot, not enough and the foliage wilts beyond repair. Water when the soil surface feels dry, but before the plant begins to wilt. After watering, empty the saucer so that the plant is not sitting in water. The roots resent “wet feet.”

Just as they do in nature, cyclamen prefer cool temperatures when grown indoors. Hot, dry temperatures will cause the foliage to yellow and shorten bloom time. Keep them in a room that has daytime temperatures of about 68 degrees F and between 40 and 50 degrees F at night.

During the active growing season, fall through early spring, feed your cyclamen with an all-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half strength. Do this about once a month.

After Care
Once your cyclamen stops blooming the foliage with begin to yellow and wither. This is natural; the plant is just going into dormancy. At this point you can either toss the plant out or let it die back completely and try for more blooms next year. If you want to save it, stop watering the plant as soon as the leaves start to yellow. Store the pot in a cool location where it will not get water. The following autumn when leaves begin to emerge give the plant a good soaking and move to a bright, sunny location.

Creating Stellar Houseplant Arrangements

When it comes to selecting and arranging houseplants for rooms indoors, I use many of the same guidelines that I follow when I design flower borders and container gardens for outdoors.

Consider the Growing Requirements

In general, most houseplants do well in bright, indirect light, so be aware of the room’s light conditions when selecting where to display your plants. If the room is dimly lit, such as a bathroom or an area with north-facing windows, choose plants that do well in low light, such as a fern, dracaena, ivy or peace lily. Check the plant tag when purchasing your houseplants so you’ll know what light conditions are best for each plant.

Using Houseplants Together

If you are grouping several houseplants together, select those with contrasting foliage and textures, such as broad and waxy leaves next to fine and feathery foliage to create more interesting compositions. Place larger plants in the background of smaller plant groupings. When combining several plants in a container or basket, use a trailing houseplant, such as ivy (Hedera helix), to conceal the line of the container and give the arrangement a more finished look.

Choose Houseplants that Complement Your Home

Look for plants with leaves and flowers that complement the colors in your home. Another consideration is coordinating the type of plant with the style of your home. Ferns and fan palms are beautiful with Victorian-style décor, whereas houseplants with striking foliage such as a snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), croton and ti plant are great accents with contemporary furnishings. Plants with simple, gently curving lines work in art nouveau settings. The flamingo flower (Anthurium) and peace lily (Spathphyllum) are good examples. Furniture made of bamboo and rattan and Oriental-style shapes work well with exotic hanging plants such as string of pearls (Senecio royleyanus) or wax plant (Hoya). Traditional English or French styles seem to go with bushy, vigorously flowering plants like the cyclamen, gloxinias and begonias. Some plants, such as orchids, work well with any décor. Once considered exotic and hard to grow, varieties such as Just Add Ice moth orchids take the guesswork out of caring for these beautiful plants.

Choose Plants that Match the Scale of the Room

When I am working with a large garden area, I use several tall plants as anchors and then fill in with smaller groupings. The same idea is true indoors–the larger the room, the bigger and more numerous the plants. A small, single plant on a side table tends to be overlooked in a large space. Consider using tree-like plants and those with large leaves such as dracaena, philodendron or a rubber tree. They can quickly fill a room or entrance hall. Then add other plants, either grouped in containers or arranged together on a table. In a smaller room, such as a bathroom, bedroom or home office, large plants can be out of scale and take up too much space. To get the best effect in those areas, choose mid-size plants with finer foliage or flowering plants to brighten up an area.

As in the garden, there is really no hard and fast rule as to which plants to use. The best thing to do is choose the plants that appeal to you and see which ones enhance your style. The greenery and flowers will give your room a lift and help bridge the gap until spring returns.

Learn more about houseplants by watching the video below!

How to Make a Terrarium

As temperatures cool, I turn my attention to the many ways I can enjoy the garden indoors. Houseplants are a popular option, but if you are like me, my woeful neglect of the plants often leads to their quick demise. I suppose that is why I am so excited about terrariums. These houseplant arrangements are simple to assemble and the best news is that they will pretty much take care of themselves.

I have a terrarium on my desk that has thrived for months with low light and no additional water. It’s not so much a miracle as it is the science of nature. The plants inside the terrarium create their own mini-climate, transpiring water vapor that condenses on the glass and then flows back into the soil.

Science aside, I find a terrarium fascinating to look at, like a miniature landscape in a jar.

Don’t be intimidated by the process of building a terrarium. With all the supplies in hand, you can put one together in a few hours.

Materials for Making a Terrarium:

wide mouth glass container
something to cover the jar top such as clear plastic wrap, a pane of glass, or Plexiglas
potting soil
small plants
pea gravel
watering can or spray bottle

Three terrariums on a coffee table

Directions for Making a Terrarium:

Select a container for the terrarium. For easy access, choose one that has a wide mouth. A fishbowl or aquarium is a good choice. I used an apothecary jar with a glass top. If your container does not have a lid, you can cover it with clear plastic wrap, a piece of clear Plexiglas or a sheet of glass.

To avoid insect and disease problems wash the gravel with hot water and use top quality, sterile potting soil.

Fill the bottom of the container with about 1 inch of gravel. If you container is especially deep, you may want to use 2 or 3 inches.

Top the gravel with 3 inches of soil.

Now comes the fun part, planting the landscape. When you choose plants, select varieties that all have the same growing requirements ? light, water, and humidity. Slow growers with small leaves are best suited for the confines of a terrarium.

Remove the plants from their pots and plant them in the terrarium just like you would in the garden. Place the taller plants in the back, mid-sized plants in the middle and low growing things like moss toward the front. If possible, keep the foliage away from the sides of the container.

Once you have the plants in place, moisten the soil lightly and put the lid in place.

How often you will need to water your terrarium depends on how tightly the lid fits. A loose fitting lid lets moisture escape. A good indication of when to water is the condensation on the glass. If there is no condensation, water the soil very lightly. If there is heavy condensation, remove the lid to allow the terrarium to air out.

The neat thing about terrariums is that you are only limited by your imagination. Add large rocks to represent craggy mountains or small mirrors for ponds. You can even create a desert landscape with succulents and cacti.

Good Terrarium Plants:

African Violets
Creeping Fig
Maidenhair Spleenwort
Needlepoint Ivy
Prayer Plant
Peacock Moss (Selaginella uncinata)

Bird of Paradise

I have a bird of paradise in my house that is about three years old and is up to the ceiling. It’s by a window that gets the morning sun, and I feed it every week with a liquid feed. I have three new plants starting to shoot out. I read somewhere that they should be root bound to flower, and mine is very root bound, but I have never gotten a flower off of it. Can you please tell me why?

Sue, it sounds like you’re doing just about everything right! But just to be sure, lets look at a few basic points about Strelitzia reginea or the bird of paradise.

I too have heard that root bound bird of paradise bloom better, maybe that is because it takes between four to six years for the plant to mature. Expect blooms in the spring and sometime late summer.

While this plant is a splendid houseplant, these tropical beauties can be found growing outdoors where temperatures don’t regularly drop below 28 degrees. So if freezing isn’t a threat these plants can grow into massive clumps reaching 30 feet in height or more. Of course they won’t grow that large in a container.

Like so many houseplants the Bird of Paradise doesn’t like to be over watered so keep soil slightly on the dry side. It will always respond best when placed in full direct light.

Feeding it is important too and I recommend a well-balanced solution of liquid fertilizer a couple of times a month during the growing season. Just hold back on feeding during the fall and winter.

Most of us are familiar with the orange flower but I happen to like the white Bird of Paradise. There’s nothing like this to give any flower arrangement a tropical if not exotic flare.

Now just think, if you give your houseplant all the tender love and care it needs and have plenty of patience you can produce beautiful flowers like these.

Grow Lights

We watch you all the time on the Weather Channel and get your updates on a regular basis. We are in need of a grow light for my wife’s plants. Can we use a regular fluorescent light? Thanks for your time and consideration.

If some of your houseplants are looking a little weak and anemic, they may be starved for light. This is a common problem in winter when daylight is in short supply. This problem is easy enough to remedy. You can give them an extra boost by using artificial light.

Plants will respond to just about any kind of light, even a sixty-watt light bulb in a table lamp. But if you want to get a little more elaborate, you can do it without much expense or time. Fluorescent tubes are ideal as a supplement for areas of your home or office that get no natural light at all.

Now I must admit, you probably wouldn’t want to put one over your dining room table, but what I like to do is set one up in an isolated area of my house, then I can move plants in and out as needed.

If you decide to use florescent lights, you want to make sure your plants are within a three foot range of the tubes and if it’s your only source of light, keep it on at least twelve hours, but no more than sixteen. An automatic timer can help with this. Not only will this help your plants when the days are short, you can also use it to start seedlings for the garden later in the spring.

Lucky Bamboo Care

I bought a lucky bamboo plant and I need to know how to care for it. It is in a vase with stones and water. Thank you.

Lucky bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana) is a popular houseplant because of its ease of care, interesting form and it is believed to bring good fortune, especially if given as a gift. I cannot vouch for the more mystical qualities, but I do know that it is a very low maintenance plant.

Lucky bamboo is not a bamboo, but a dracaena native to the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia and Africa. If you have ever grown any of this plant’s cousins then you know that dracaenas are practically foolproof. I think what stumps most people about lucky bamboo is that it is often presented growing in water; no soil. These plants will continue to thrive in just water if you follow a few simple tips.

Change the water once a week. The water level should be just high enough to cover the roots. Lucky bamboo is sensitive to chlorine and fluoride in tap water so use filtered water, spring water or rain water. You can use tap water if you allow it to sit, uncovered, for 24 hours to disperse the chemicals.

Place your lucky bamboo in a location where it will receive bright, but indirect light. If the room has no natural light, move the plant into indirect light every few weeks and leave it there for four to five days. You can then move it back to its original location.

Room temperature between 65 to 70 degrees F is best.

Lucky bamboo does not need fertilizer on a regular basis. However, if it begins to look weak you can feed it with an organic liquid fertilizer diluted to 1/10 strength.

Yellowing Leaves
One common problem with lucky bamboo is that the leaves sometimes turn yellow. This can be caused by lack of light, chemicals in the water or too much fertilizer. Change out the water to remedy the latter two problems.

Lucky bamboo is not so lucky for curious pets. It is poisonous if ingested.

Hot House Flowers

The grocery store makes for an unexpected ally in beating winter’s blues. Spruce up your home with a few potted plants that you can find at the grocery store. To personalize these blooms to suit my style I slip the plants (pot and all) into decorative containers.

Hot House Flowers are a Breath of Spring

Forced Daffodils, Tulips and Hyacinths – The daffodils and hyacinths you buy at the grocery store can be planted in the garden after the flowers fade. Wait until the foliage dies back. I’ve not had much luck with replanting tulips because they aren’t perennial in southern gardens where springs are short. However, daffodils and hyacinths will bloom again for me the next year.


Cape Primroses€“ Maintain temperature around 60 degrees. Place pot on a tray of wet pebbles to provide humidity without overwatering.

photo credit: Eva Gruendemann

Hydrangeas – These big, colorful flowers are everyone’s favorite. While the plant is indoors keep the soil consistently moist and out of direct sunlight. After the last frost date in your area plant it outside in a partially shaded spot.


Orchids – Watering orchids can be tricky and varies depending on the type or orchid and time of year. (Water more in the summer and less in the winter.) Generally a good rule is to water every five to 12 days. Avoid wetting the leaves when watering. Dab excess water off leaves.


Cleaning Houseplants

One downside to living on a farm is I track in a lot of dirt. Everything in my house collects dust; I mean everything including my houseplants. Aside from looking grungy, a dirty plant can’t breathe because the pores in the leaves clog up. The solution is simple; give them a bath.

For small to medium plants you can just wash the leaves by wiping with a sponge or cloth soaked in lukewarm water. Add a little soap if the dust is really encrusted, but make sure you rinse it off. You can also wash houseplants at the sink. Hold your hands over the top of the pot to keep the soil in, and gently wash the foliage.

Or how about a shower? You can put large plants in the shower, but be easy with the water pressure. You don’t want to damage the leaves.

Now these techniques don’t apply to all plants. Plants with fuzzy leaves like African violets resent having water on their foliage. Use a dry brush to remove the dust.

Now remember whenever you are using these techniques involving soap, be sure you get it all rinsed off.

The next time you’re giving your plants a little TLC; don’t forget to give them a bath.

Learn more about houseplants by watching the video below!


Five Great Houseplants

If your home looks a little sparse after the holiday decorations are packed away, a statement making houseplant is an easy solution.  Houseplants offer bold foliage, long lasting flowers, and/or space filling height.

So what are your choices for bold plants that are easy to care for and can thrive in environments typical of our homes?  Here are five that fit the bill.

Dracaena is an excellent houseplant because it requires relatively little care and can take the low light conditions typical of our homes.  Dracaena prefers daytime temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees F and 65 to 70 degrees F during the night. The soil should be kept consistently moist, but not soggy and they only need fertilizer every 6 months. Although dracaena can take low light conditions, they do best when placed in bright but indirect light. Try to avoid placing them in full sun as it will burn the leaves.

White Bird of ParadiseStrelitzia Nicolai (White Bird of Paradise)
This species of Strelitzia has large glossy green foliage and the same bird-like flowers as its cousin S. reginea but in white.  The tall, upright form makes it perfect for filling blank spots where space is limited. Plants don’t bloom until they are 4 to 6 years old.  Give your Strelitzia full sunlight and soil should be kept on the dry side. 

The croton’s multi-colored leaves make it a standout.  For a real statement put several pots in a large decorative container.  To maintain their richly hued foliage, give the plant plenty of bright light.  Soil should be moist but not soggy.  Prune in spring if the plants become leggy.

Stromanth TriocolorStromanthe sanguinea ‘Triocolor’
Stromanthe has strappy foliage with green, white and pink variegation.  It’s a great plant for brightening up a room with low light.  In spring the plant produces dark pink flowers.  Place in filtered light and keep the soil moist, but not saturated. 

Peace LilySpathiphyllum (Peace Lily)
Full and leafy, the Peace Lily makes short work of filling spots that need a little lift.  Place in bright, but indirect light; allow the soil to dry between watering but don’t wait so long the leaves wilt and fertilize every 2 months during the growing season.