Growing Together: Checklist for an indoor green thumb

We live in a gardener's paradise, which might sound strange as we start an unknown northern winter. But I've never once seen a crocodile in our cucumbers. There are no pythons curled around the pepper plants. No scorpions in the squash. Things gr...

Indoor plants such as orchids reward their owners with wintertime bloom. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

We live in a gardener's paradise, which might sound strange as we start an unknown northern winter. But I've never once seen a crocodile in our cucumbers. There are no pythons curled around the pepper plants. No scorpions in the squash. Things grow well here, without a lot of dangerous vermin, other than rabbits, squirrels and deer, but they don't make most of us cringe.

Yes, our growing season is just about right. When the outdoor season is complete, we move our gardening indoors with fervor. But there are several rules and regulations, such as the basic politeness of not displacing your spouse from the sunny kitchen table in favor of a coleus, no matter how nicely it's growing.

Here's a checklist of indoor plant care tips as we head full-force into inside growing.

1. The sun may be low on the horizon, but notice how its low angle enters beautifully through a south window. Most plants appreciate some winter window sun, just like most of us humans do during the short days of December and January.

2. Besides regular houseplants, many of us have brought outdoor plants inside for the winter such as geraniums, coleus, begonias and other tender annual-type plants used in pots and planters. Their needs are a little different than other houseplants.


3. Foliage-type houseplants are well-adapted to indoor light levels. But outdoor container plants being wintered indoors need direct window sunshine, even plants that prefer outdoor shade like coleus, begonias and impatiens need winter's muted sunshine. They grow spindly otherwise.

4. There are two good times to repot plants. One is now, as the indoor growing season has begun, and the second is in spring, as longer days and increased light levels trigger increased plant growth.

5. If the entire plant doesn't need repotting but the soil has sunk, top-dressing with fresh potting mix helps. Plants grow better if there's only about ½ inch of "headspace" between the soil surface and the rim of the pot. The surface will be exposed to increased air movement, which lessens over-watering and rot problems.

6. Strangely, rocks and stones placed in the inside bottom of the pot have been shown to create problems with water drainage. Instead, fill the pot with good mix top to bottom. I've even stopped placing a piece of broken pot over the drainage hole. Good quality mix doesn't wash out the bottom. This makes sense, because even greenhouse growers don't add rocks or pebbles inside the potted plants they produce.

7. Rotate plants a quarter turn when watering to produce well-balanced growth by exposing all sides to the direction of light.

8. Treat for insects by applying long-lasting systemic granules to the soil, or by spraying with neem oil or insecticidal soap. Spider mites, aphids and other hard-to-see pests often go unnoticed until populations explode, making damage control difficult. Problems can often be expected on types like English ivy, Norfolk Island pine, palms, impatiens and mandevilla.

9. Plants and humans love increased humidity indoors to counteract dry, furnace-heated air. Misting and water-filled saucers help. Plants can be located in the saucer, if a layer of stones always keeps the pot's bottom above water level.

10. Winter window temperatures can be chilly, especially at night. If plants are located very close, some types can be injured, like chill-sensitive impatiens and coleus. At night, move plants or insert protective cardboard next to the window glass.


11. Plant fertilizer is like human food: if you're not active, you don't need as much. A water-soluble type once a month is plenty. Increase frequency during spring and summer growth spurts. Flowering plants appreciate fertilizer every two weeks, or apply a diluted solution with each watering.

12. Enjoying plants indoors is like enjoying pets indoors. With daily attention, they are healthier and happier than if we give them only a bare minimum of our time. Plants might not give you a face-lick, but their appreciation is equally genuine and rewarding.

Gift idea supports botanical garden

The Northern Plains Botanical Garden Society is a large group of local residents working diligently to create a magnificent botanical garden in our Fargo-Moorhead community as seen in cities like Denver and St. Louis. The society is selling raffle calendars for $20 with 182 daily drawings with chances to win more than $2,610 in cash prizes.

To purchase a calendar, contact Jackie Williams at (701) 212-5704. It's a great gift for the gardener who has everything except a raffle calendar.

New gardening blog

I haven't been this excited since the garden produced a 40-pound watermelon! Thanks to Forum Communications' AreaVoices blog site, we can chat about gardening besides our weekly Saturday visits. I'll reveal what I'm working on plant-wise around our house, and we can share tips and timely tasks.

You can view the site directly at , or find me on Facebook, and I'll share each new post with you.


Let's visit twice each week around Tuesday and Thursday. I hope you'll stop by.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at .

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