Indoor Container Gardening (How to Get the Best from Your Indoor Plants)

Houseplant brighten any home
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In this article, how to grow plants in indoor container gardening will be discussed. From its positioning, where the best place to buy, care and maintenance, propagation, and common pests and diseases. All topics will be covered here.

Up to now, I have exclusively talked about container gardening outdoors and not mentioned indoor gardening much, which to some people is the only option available. People live in flats and rented accommodation where outdoor gardening is a very small distant possibility. I feel it is now time to start discussing indoor garden, which by nature is always container gardening.

Those with no outside garden must have felt neglected. I apologize if this is the case but as you can imagine container gardening is such a large topic and it can be hard to decide to what to write. You can now say that your indoor gardeners have my attention now.

Houseplant brighten any home
Houseplants brighten any home

Indoor gardening is much different from gardening outside, as you will have more control over the growing conditions. You will never have to worry about frosts, cold winds, excessive rain or scorching hot weather. These are problems for outdoor gardens but indoor container gardening will also have their unique problems.

From getting the watering regime right to balancing the humidity, as central heating can cause considerable damage to plants. You also need to take into consideration what the lack of light can do to indoor plants in winter.

Do not worry as in this article, we will discuss the finer points of getting your indoor container garden started. More importantly, it will help you prevent plants being lost due to improper care.

WHY INDOOR GROWING?

We humans like to be close to nature, to have the beauty and scent within our homes. This will not only promote a level of well-being in us, but can also brighten our homes, to make it a place of tranquillity, Some people grow herbs to cook with in their kitchens, whilst other will like to have greenery in their living spaces.

Putting a plant in a room will not only have a big impact but will make a room more homely, more welcoming. Plants will banish starkness and soften hard surface and dark corners. They say a home with a living plant looks lived in and looked after (very good if you want to sell your home). It is like bringing a piece of the outdoor inside.

CHOOSING WHERE TO POSITION YOUR PLANTS

Most indoor plants do not like to be placed in direct sunlight, which is commonly believed by many. The plants need a well-lit area away from direct sunlight that does not suffer temperature extremes (No hot to cold temperature swings) and is out of droughts. Do not worry as it will take practice to get the plants in the right position.

But the following rules will give you some guidelines:

  • Do not place near draughty doors and windows. The plants will not thank you for it.
  • Avoid bright windows as most plants cope badly with direct sunlight.
  • Do not place near radiators as the fierce heat will kill or damage most plants placed nearby.
  • Do not place in corners where there is deep shade, as most plants will sulk.

PLANTS FOR OFFICES AND THE WORKPLACE

Monstera an ideal houseplant
Monstera an ideal houseplant

In these environments that are artificial in nature, plants can be used to put a personal stamp in an impersonal space. Many plants can be used to clean the air from harmful impurities that are present in an office environment. Aspidistra, Sansevieria, Dracena, Chlorophytum, Monstera, all Cacti and Succulents, and Bromeliads are all good plants for an office environment. Spathiphyllum had an added benefit of being an air cleanser and are often found in offices.

PLANTS FOR BATHROOMS AND KITCHENS

Pilea looks good in an office
Pilea looks good in  bathrooms

Indoor plants love extra humidity found in kitchens and bathrooms, where they will flourish. Ferns, Philodendron, Episcia, Pilea, Maranta, Chlorophytum, and Cissus antarctica, all enjoy humid conditions. They also do well in these relatively low light levels that found in these rooms, especially the bathroom.

WHERE TO BUY HOUSEPLANTS?

Normally garden centres are the best place to buy houseplants, but online shops are a good alternative. The difference between garden centres and online shops is that you can see and touch the plant you wish to buy, whilst online you are so much dependent on what is shipped to you.

Many garden centres have areas dedicated to indoor gardening where an area of constant light and temperature are used to show their wares. In garden centres trained staff maintain the plants and are on hand to give advice to the customers.

If you are really lucky you may have a specialist indoor plant nursery close to the place where you live. This has an advantage in that the growing conditions where the plant has grown van be gauged, and you will be able to talk to staff who grew them.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN BUYING HOUSEHOLD PLANTS?

To give a houseplant the best chance of survival, it is essential that you bring in the healthiest specimen possible. To do this there are some pointers that you have to look for:

  • Choose plants with the most stems. These will be bushier and eventually reach a better shape than those that have a single stem.
  • Choose a plant that has new growth coming from it, as this is signs that the plant is doing well. It should be lighter green in colour than the dark green older growth.
  • Look at the roots. A plant with plenty of roots and a good root ball will survive much longer than those who do not.
  • Do not buy any plant with dead or browning leaves, as this suggests a plant that is struggling.
  • If it has weeds or moss growing on top of the indoor plant compost, avoid as this will suggest neglect.

CARE AND MAINTENANCE

Once you get the plant home, you need to find an ideal location for it, and you will need to care for it. This will ensure that the plant flourishes and does not die.

LIGHT AND TEMPERATURE

Each group of plants has its own requirements for light and heat. This means you need to assess the light levels and warmth in your home. Once you have done this you should be able to site successfully by consulting the guidelines printed on the label of the plant in question.

WATERING

How often you water is so dependent on many factors, as you need to gauge the plant’s needs. As a general rule of thumb the thinner the leaf, the more moisture will be lost and the more water it needs. Succulents have thick, fleshy leaves and will need less water than ferns who have very fine leaves.

The amount of water that will be required is so dependent on the growing conditions found inside your home. So to find out when the plant needs to be watered you need to get your know your plants and then consult the literature to find out when to water. In this way, you will not need to worry if you are over or under watering.

CLEANING THE PLANTS

Cleaning is generally overlooked when caring for indoor plants but this will make a big difference to their health and appearance. On the leaves, dust deposits and limescale can ruin the appearance of the houseplant They also stop light and air from reaching the leaves and starts retarding their growth,

The plants that need cleaning most often are houseplants with plenty of leaves. Many of these have glossy leaves, which the dust will show up on. Wash the leaves carefully with a wet sponge and then wipe dry with a soft cloth. Some leaves will also benefit from a polish with leaf shine or plant wipes, which can be bought from garden centres. Or online suppliers.

Indoor plants leaves look dull as they age, and leaf shine restores back to their natural shininess. This should only be performed on older leaves and not on younger, natural shining leaves. Sharp cacti are better cleaned using a fine decorator’s paintbrush.

SUPPORT

Some indoor plants will grow tall and will need training and supporting as they grow. For clinging plants this is essential for them to display their foliage and beautiful flowers. This can consist of a wire that has been bent into a hoop or circle or a tripod or by using bamboo canes. If you have plants with aerial roots like Monstera, then you can use a moss pole.

DEADHEADING AND PRUNING

In order for the plants to look their best, a little pruning or training is required. There are three main tasks that you will need to carry out.

Deadheading flowers once they start to fade, pinching out to get the houseplant to grow a more bushy habit and pruning. Pruning is the removal of damaged leaves or stems and also carried out to keep the plant in check. This will keep the plant from taking over the house, as you do not need a triffid in your home.

FEEDING

Houseplants spend their whole lives in pots, with such a small volume of compost containing limited amounts of nutrients that are quickly used up. They will need regular feeding in order to remain healthy and looking their best.

You have several options available to feed houseplants. To do this you must distinguish between flowering plants and foliage plants. All fertilizers contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in differing qualities. Nitrogen is to promote strong, leafy growth phosphorus keep the roots healthy and potassium to encourage flowering and fruiting.

For foliage plants choose a balanced fertilizer that has a higher nitrogen content. For plants that produce flowers,  it is better to use a fertilizer that contains high potassium levels. Liquid fertilizer is recommended for a quick pick-me-up for hungry plants, as the nutrients will be available to the plant very quickly.

It is best to add any feed to the manufacturer’s recommended application rate, often written on the package. For forgetful gardeners, you can use drop feeder or slow release fertilizers for indoor plants.

BEST COMPOST FOR INDOOR PLANTS

When choosing compost for potting on indoor plants use a good quality houseplant compost, which is usually loam based. Loam based composts are easier to use than peat-based compost, as peat-based compost are trickier to remoisten and has nutrients leached from it more easily.

General houseplants compost will suit most houseplants found in garden centres, nurseries or online shops. This is not always the case as groups of plants will need more specialized compost. These include orchids, cacti, azaleas, and citrus plants. Avoid using garden soil at all, as it often drains badly and may contain weed seeds, as well as pests and diseases.

POTS AND POTTING ON

Once a plant has become root-bound it is time to move on to the next available pot size up. There is a great range of pots available from shops that can be used for indoor, made out of terracotta or plastic. Make sure that the pot you buy has enough drainage holes in them and if none are present you will need to create your own by drilling holes at the bottom of the container.

Pots make indoor plants look attractive
Pots make indoor plants look attractive

The rehousing of houseplants should be done annually, to give the plant fresh compost to grow in. This will prevent the roots from getting congested.

The usual method that is applied is

  1. Carefully tip the plant out of its existing pot.
  2. Tease the roots out gently if the roots look congested.
  3. Fill the bottom 2.4 cm or so of the new container with the right type of compost and then place the plant on top of it,
  4. Add more compost until it reaches the level of the old compost.
  5. Water and allow the plant to settle.

PROPAGATION

There are many ways in which you can produce new stock of houseplants for free. What follows in this section are the various propagation methods that can be used:

SEEDS

Many indoor plants can be propagated from seeds, as all indoor plants are not hardy, then they will need warm temperatures in order to germinate. A warm windowsill is ideal. First, take a seed tray or pot and fill it with seed compost, firming it down lightly. Thinly sprinkle the seeds over the compost and cover lightly or more thickly depending on the size of the seed that is sown, with more compost or vermiculite. Water well and then place on a heated propagator or cover with a clear layer of Clingfilm.

Once seedlings have appeared they will need to be pricked out into individual pots, so they will have room to grow on.

BULBS

Spring flowering bulb that is available from late summer onwards can be planted as seen as they become available.

The usual procedure is to plant bulb at a depth of two to three times their own length in a pot with good drainage. Otherwise, the bulbs will rot if they are exposed to too much moisture for a long period of time. This is why it is best to place broken crocks at the bottom of the pots to prevent the drainage holes from becoming blocked by the growing media.

Cover the compost to within 2.5cm of the top of the pot and then water thoroughly. This will ensure that the bulb has the longest of times to establish. Once flowering has finished the bulbs can be planted outside in containers for flowering the next growing season.

DIVISION

Some houseplants can be split into two or more divisions to produce two or more plants. To divide a plant, first water it very well and leave it for an hour to allow the water to be absorbed. Remove the plant from its container and gradually pull the root ball apart with your hands. Replant these new plants into small pots of fresh compost and then water in.

CUTTINGS

This is one of the most popular ways of increasing stocks of houseplants. There are several techniques that can be used, which is dependent on the plant that is growing in the pot. Whole leaf-cutting and part-leaf cuttings are used to propagate a wide range of differing plants, but the most popular method is that for stem cutting. This technique is the most frequent used cutting method for propagating houseplants.

Whole leaf cutting or part-leaf cutting is when a whole or part leaf is cut from the plant, and then placed into a seed and cutting compost straight away, so that no moisture is lost. Once the leaf-cutting is placed in the compost, it must be sealed in a plastic bag and moistened with water.

Stem cuttings are usually taken by trimming a side-shoot to just below a leaf node. Any lower leavers will need removing and this will promote moisture loss, and is not required for the cutting to take.

It is best to push several cuttings directly into a pot full of seed and cutting compost, where a few weeks later they should have taken and form new shoots. Not all cuttings will do and you must expect some losses.

To take cuttings it is better to use a sharp knife or a pair of secateurs. Clean cuts are less likely to get infected or rot than those taken with blunt knives or those with jagged edges. Keep all cutting tools clean whilst doing this task in order to minimize the chance of spreading infections.

LAYERING/AIR LAYERING

Climbers and trailer such as Hederas, Jasminums, and Philodendrons can be propagated by layering.

Before starting, water the plant and leave to stand for half an hour, to make sure that all stems are healthy and are not wilting. To layer choose a long vigorous stem, bend it near a leaf joint and then by using a small piece of U-shaped wire, gently pin it down into a separate pot full of seed and cutting compost. Make sure the stem is firmed in at the point the wire touches the compost and then water the plant in.

The air layering technique
The air layering technique

Once new shoots start to appear from that point where the plant is pinned down, the plant will then have taken and it can be safely cut from its mother plant. To do this use a sharp knife or a pair of scissors. Carefully detach it from the mother plant.

Air layering is a variation of this technique and is mainly used for plants such as Ficus elastic who lose their lower leaves. It creates a new root system higher up the plant where there are still plenty of leaves. This can be rooted by placing a plastic bag of compost over the root stem, where it will eventually take. Make sure that the bag is sealed, other moisture will be lost.

PESTS AND DISEASES

In order to grow plants indoors, it is important to know what pests and disease will affect them. It is also important to know how to deal with them, so you do not need to throw your plants away.

APHIDS

Aphids are small insects that feed on sap, where they stunt growing from growing points. This could lead to a distortion of leaves and the growing tip. The excretion the aphids’ makes can cause sooty mould to form. Aphids can also transmit viruses from plant to plant. The best way to control aphids is to deal with them early, as they reproduce at an incredible rate, so squishing them early in the season will have a huge effect.

Aphids can be a problem indoors
Aphids can be a problem indoors

Examine plants every few days, and kill all aphids see. If you get a large infestation, spray with special household sprays for indoor insect will suffice, or you can use a mild solution of soapy water (a small amount of washing up liquid in a spray bottle full of water). This spray works very well at targeting aphids.

MEALYBUGS

These are small soft body insects that have a waxy, white coating. They suck sap from plants and are hard to remove, partly because they attach to the plant and also because they are difficult to reach. They are also difficult to kill as the coating will repel any sprays that are used.

Mealbugs not nice on houseplants
Mealybugs not nice on houseplants

The best method in removing them us to use cotton buds dipped in methylated spirit. This works as the methylated spirit removes their protective coating, making them easier to kill with sprays or to physically remove.

VINE WEEVILS
black Vine weevil
Black Vine Weevil

Adult vine weevils will eat leaves, whilst their larvae eat roots. Adult females lay eggs in the compost, where they will hatch and start eating roots, causing irreversible damage. If you see the beetle squish them before they start laying eggs.

DISEASES

Grey mould is a major problem for flowering plants, as it starts on their flowering buds. It is a fungal disease that makes plants look unsightly. The best way to prevent the disease from occurring by improving air circulation and to practice better plant hygiene.

POWDERY MILDEW
Powdery Mildew not good on houseplants
Powdery Mildew not good on houseplants

This can be a serious problem in an indoor plant, which is often caused by hot and dry environments, which causes this fungal infection to develop. The best way to avoid this is to make sure the plant never totally dries out and is away from direct sun or heat sources.

RUST
Rust on houseplants are not a welcome sight.
Rust on houseplants are not a welcome sight.

This is when brown blisters appear on the surfaces or undersides of leaves. This fungal infection can be a serious problem in houseplants, which is normally treated by fungicides.

BROWN TIPS

Many old plants will gradually get brown tips. Fresh young leaves emerge a healthy green colour, and over time leaf edges and tips appear to dry out and turn brown. The main cause is due to under watering and low humidity or physical damage. If this occurs remove the plant to a more protected area and increase the humidity and watering rates.

ROOT ROT

This is a problem when the houseplant has been overwatered. It is normally noticed when the plant starts to die. This is usually caused by overwatering in winter as the first sign of overwatering can look similar to under watering (as both plants will wilt).

Root rot is deadly to houseplants.
Root rot is deadly to houseplants.

Many people will compound the problem by adding more water, and this prevents air from reaching the roots causing them to rot.

At first sign of overwatering in winter and the plant is wilting pull the plant out of the pot and inspect the roots. If the roots are too wet allow them to dry out as necessary, before rehousing the plant in its original container.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article on indoor container gardening the best practice to get the most from growing houseplants. What has been discussed in this article has been the positioning of pots in the home, buying the pest plants, care and maintenance, compost types, propagation, and preventing pest and diseases.

By using all the techniques described in this article, you will not only have the best-looking plants in the right location, but you will also have learned how to feed them, when to water and when to rehouse. You can also increase your stock for free, which every gardener appreciates.

Indoor gardening will give you as much pleasure as outdoor gardening

If you have a comment that you wish to make or a plant you want to ask questions about, please do so in the comment box below.

Happy Indoor gardening.


11 thoughts on “Indoor Container Gardening (How to Get the Best from Your Indoor Plants)”

  1. I certainly do not have green fingers, so thank you vey much for this article on indoor container gardening. I must confess that the vision of an indoor plant calms me down. By the way, fyi, my father uses a deodorant he is allergic to to kill the little insects that destroy his plants. I know, I know.

    I will forward him your article. That should put some sense in his head.

    Cheers!

    1. Hi Anne-Sophie

      Thanks very much for your kind words, and know that your father will enjoy it too. Just be careful with deodorants as this can damage the plant, better spray with cold water to try to drown the insects. 

      Thanks for the visit.

      Antonio  

  2. I really do enjoy gardening.  I have not been able to do it as much as I would like this year because I have moved to an apartment.  I have a rooftop garden which is pretty cool but my girlfriend and I want to put more plants in our house.  I have bookmarked your website.  I will deffinitely show my girl friend your page and make some indoor selections. 

    1. Hi Chris

      Thank you for your kind words, I hope you and your girlfriend gets as much joy as I do.

      If you are interested in rooftop gardening you should read my article on it here. It is full of information concerning which plants can grow in such a site.

      Kind Regards

       Antonio

  3. Wow, this post is full of information.

    I have never distinguished outdoor and indoor compost, is that bad? I think I may have been using any and I never pay attention to read the label. I will pay more attention now for sure.

    I like the advice you gave about the division, my aloe plants have babies now(LOL), I was wondering how to remove some. Actually, I tried and destroyed 2. I did not water the plant it was still dry when I did that trial. So, I know that I need to use water and be gentle.`

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Adyns

      Thank you for your kind words, very much appreciated. Yes, as said in the article outdoor dolls could be full of pests and diseases that can be brought into the house. It is better to use sterile houseplant compost with no pests or diseases are present. Make sure you look after your baby aloe plants.

      Thanks

      Antonio  

  4. Well, I’ve tried my hand at regular gardening, and have had extremely mixed results (most negative) – the indoor growing route does seem a little more controlled and straightforward to me after reading your article. 

    The most room we have in our home tends to be in the bedroom areas – it’s a old house with very generous space in these rooms. Do you see any problems in using/growing plants in the same areas where people sleep?

    1. Hi Chris 

      Indoor gardening you are more in control and rain does not come into play Houseplants in the bedroom should be encouraged, as some of them are air purifiers and will most certainly help those to breathe more easily. This is provide you do not use plants with high pollen, as this could be cause allergic reaction and more breathing difficulties.

      Thanks

      Antonio  

  5. Very informative post on indoor plants! I live in a small flat without a balcony so indoor plants are my only option. I’ve always wanted a cute cactus but never really went out of my way to actually get one. After reading your post, it made me want to try getting one. Thanks for the tips on picking a plant too I’m sure they’ll come in handy when I finally decide to get an indoor plant.

  6. Hi Antonio, my mom used to love working on her plants and now that she is no longer with us, I find myself taking interest in plants but, up to now, I didn’t know where to begin. I always wondered how to choose plants for indoors, and how to maintain them. This article not only gives me some names of plants, but it provides what I need to know about watering, protecting from disease, how to recognize problems, and most importantly how to determine the state of the plant before I purchase. Thank you for very useful information. I will be bookmarking this page.

    1. Hi JJ

      Thank you for taking interest in my article and I hope you get a lot out of it. It is very important that you look after your houseplants, otherwise they will not flourish and die. ALL this information is very important for your plants to do well.

      Antonio 

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