Winter gardening might seem like an oxymoron to some folks, akin to jumbo shrimp or being busy doing nothing. But the winter months can be a wonderful time to explore growing plants in a quieter, more controlled setting than you will find in your summer garden. Unless you live in a very warm climate, most winter gardens will be indoor gardens by necessity. But the lack of garden pests and slow-growing cycles due to low light can be the perfect setting to explore new flowers, shrubs, herbs, evergreens, and succulents. You don’t have to give up your passion for growing things in the cold winter months. Plan out an indoor garden for fun and beauty all winter long! Just remember that some popular plants, like poinsettias and some lilies, are poisonous to pets, so carefully research what’s toxic and what’s not before choosing a plant for your indoor garden space.
Creating a Space for Your Indoor Garden
Gardening indoors gives you a great deal of control over some variables that can sabotage an outdoor garden, including the amount of water plants, get and exposure to pests. But with the advantages of indoor winter gardening comes some disadvantages, like weaker sunlight, shorter days, colder temperatures, and lower humidity. In planning your indoor winter garden, pay special attention to the amount of sun that your plants will get. In the United States, the winter sun rises just south of east and sets south of west, so try to pick a room with plenty of windows that can capture as much light as possible. Make a point of noting the temperature in that room at different times of the day. While you don’t want the room to get too cold, you also need to be careful not to use a room that carries a lot of heat, as many winter-flowering plants flourish better in cooler weather. But also keep in mind that your winter garden does not have to be confined to one room. You can put the dry-loving plants in your living room, and use your bathrooms for the plants that enjoy a higher humidity.
To leverage the most of the sun you have, consider setting up your plants on shelving or terraces, making use of different heights for different plants so that one group isn’t shading another. And have a strategy for convenient watering – again, the winter’s dry air and use of container gardening will create the need for more water than a traditional in-ground flower garden. Once you have your place in mind, it’s time to plan what you will want to add to your winter garden. Here are some popular choices over the years:
Aloe vera is an easy, popular indoor plant. It requires bright, indirect light, so it’s best to put it in a south-facing window. The plant also requires good drainage but doesn’t need to be watered that often. Important note: aloe vera leaves can be toxic to pets, and humans should never eat it, either. But the leaves contain a sap that has been used topically since the days of ancient Egypt for its perceived skin-healing qualities.
Snake plants are perfect for the person new to winter gardening… you would have trouble finding a plant that is any easier to take care of. They rarely need watering, and they can tolerate varying light levels. They rot easily if their roots get too wet, so make sure to use a soil with good drainage. There’s a couple of varieties of snake plant, all with different types of colorful leaves.
A relative of the pineapple, bromeliads require fairly little water, like the shade, and are a nice, brightly colored addition to any home. Only water when the soil is dry, and make sure your bromeliad has good drainage. Keep them near but not in a window on the south side of the home. Cats are known for chewing on bromeliad leaves, but fortunately the plant is non-toxic.
Spider plants are tropical, so they grow well year round, but they do like the heat. Avoid letting it get under 50°F where your plant is, and don’t put the plant in direct sunlight. Spider plants like humidity, so they will also need to be watered fairly often in the winter months. The bathroom’s a classic place for your winter-growing spider plant so they can enjoy the humidity in the air.
Peace lilies are an easy-to-grow plant that likes it shady. They are a tropical plant that typically grows to be sixteen inches tall with dark green, glossy leaves and beautiful large white flowers. Be careful to avoid overwatering – only water when the soil’s dry. While Peace Lilies typically do fine in low light conditions, they tend to flower more with better exposure to the sun or artificial lights.
Cymbidium orchids have large, colorful flowers that bloom in winter and spring. The flowers grow in lovely sprays, coming in most possible colors other than blue. The leaves will be a yellow-green if the plant’s getting the right amount of light – too little leads to dark green leaves, while too much leads to yellow leaves. If your orchid isn’t getting enough sun even in a south-facing window, you can supplement with fluorescent light.
Primulas, also called primroses, are a fragrant flower that blooms in late winter. Blossoms come in a wide variety of bright colors. Keep their soil moist but not wet, so they don’t get root rot or dry out entirely. They generally need high humidity and bright light.
Amaryllis is a flowering plant that’s easy to coax into blooming. Their flowers are large and colorful, generally blooming somewhere between late December and late June, depending on the variety and when they were planted. Amaryllis needs to be planted somewhere warm, in direct light – they’re not a good plant if your house gets chilly.
African violets are an easy plant for container gardens, producing beautiful flowers year-round as long as they get enough light. If you live far north and your violets aren’t blooming, you can supplement the sunlight the plants get with fluorescent light bulbs. In the winter, African violets should be in a south-facing window.
Herbs like chives, oregano, rosemary, parsley, and thyme grow great indoors and can keep producing tasty leaves all through the winter given the right conditions. Beginning with established plants works better than growing from seed for winter gardening. Plant in a south-facing window or under sufficient artificial light. Most herbs need at least six hours of sunlight, but some, like chives, need less, so make sure to check the specific plant you’re buying.
The most famous succulents are the many varieties of cactus. Succulents are desert plants, and as such require very little water. Most succulents will grow well indoors next to a window, but make sure to check the specific plant to see if it’s suited for your home. A very popular succulent for indoor winter gardens is the Christmas Cactus, or Schlumbergera bridgessii, which bursts forth with a cascade of pretty flowers from November to April, depending on the variety and local climate. Like other winter plants, they will do well in low light conditions, but tend to flower more in brighter lights. Not too much though, as long exposure to direct sunlight can actually cause burning on the leaves. These plants enjoy a range of 60 to 70 degrees with average to high humidity, so it’s another good option for a bathroom or sunroom.