Building a better indoor garden: Tips and trends

Sansevierias are popular picks right now. These plants are low maintenance and they can live in low light conditions. As a bonus, they will clean the air in your home. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Young.

By Maureen McEwan

Spring is the time of renewal. But aside from “spring cleaning,” what can you do this season to spruce up your space? 

With many Canadians spending more time at home right now, indoor garden may get more attention. 

But why bother — what are the benefits of building your own green space? 

“Plants really do warm up a space esthetically. A space without plants kind of feels a bit cold,” said Elizabeth Young, owner of Westboro business Flowers Talk Tivoli.

If you are looking to develop your home’s atmosphere, plants may be an easy choice. As an added benefit, they can clean the air in your space. Elizabeth explained that by naturally purifying the air, some varieties, like the sansevieria, are even known to help you sleep better at night.

Plant care 101

If you don’t have a green thumb — whether you are new to plant ownership or have a habit of neglecting them — Elizabeth said the best thing to do first is consult an expert. 

“Come in, talk about your space, where you want to put your plants,” she said. “We’re going to ask you about your light conditions — is it getting bright light, is it getting direct sunlight, if it’s not getting any natural sunlight at all — and just kind of your needs and guide you towards a plant that will thrive in your space.”

The most important factors to consider for plant care are light, watering and general maintenance, she added. If you’ve got a busy schedule, or if you are away often, consider a lower maintenance plant for your home. If you spend more time in your abode, you may be able to manage higher-maintenance varieties. 

Humidity and temperature should be accounted for in your space. The two factors can be overlooked but they play an important role in plant health. 

If your home is much cooler at night, or if it is very drafty, Elizabeth said there are certain plants her team would not recommend. 

Avoiding common mistakes

On longer-term maintenance, plants have to be repotted and fertilized as they grow. 

When you buy a plant, it may not need to be repotted immediately. At Flowers Talk Tivoli, Elizabeth said their plants usually don’t need repotting for the first year of purchase. When it is time to repot, look out for a common error. 

“The biggest key with repotting, is to make sure you don’t go up too much in size because it actually causes stress to the plants,” Elizabeth said. 

 “It will spend more time working on its roots than it will on its leaves and everything above the soil,” she added.

Elizabeth said it was best to go with “two-inch increments” when repotting. As an example, if you are repotting an eight-inch plant, it should be repotted into a 10-inch pot. Elizabeth said it is common for owners to put it in a 12 or 14 inch container to save time down the road. 

As another suggestion, Elizabeth said owners should keep plants in a “pot within a pot” to avoid overwatering. Plants can be kept in a base pot — a plastic grower’s pot, a clay pot, or something with good drainage — and then placed within a decorative pot. To water, Elizabeth said to take the plant in its base pot to the sink or bathtub, give it a “really good soak” and then let it dry out completely.

“Plants don’t like little top ups of water here and there. They like a really, really good drink and then let them dry out between watering.” 

For fertilizing, be aware of the “dormant” seasons. The best times for both fertilizing and repotting are the spring and summer.

“They say it’s best to not fertilize between November and April,” Elizabeth said. “Usually, that’s when plants are dormant. So you don’t want to fertilize or repot between those times. We do have less light in our homes at that time, it’s also a lot drier, so the plants are already going through some stress.” 

Get to know your plant and its needs — don’t wait for signs of stress before repotting or fertilizing. 

ZZ plants are popular picks right now. These plants are low maintenance and they can live in low light conditions. As a bonus, they will clean the air in your home. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Young.

Picking plants: Trends and tips

When selecting indoor plants, it is important to consider safety — Certain varieties may be more toxic for children and pets. 

For parents and pet-owners, here are a few houseplants to avoid: Azaleas, crotons, dieffenbachias, philodendrons, yuccas, aloe plants, jade plants and pothos plants. 

Some houseplants that are safe include Boston ferns, burro’s tail, fittonias, Christmas cacti, ponytail palms, phalaenopsis orchids, spider plants, prayer plants and polka dot plants. 

Any plant can be toxic in larger quantities, so Elizabeth advised that buyers consult with an expert if questions arise. 

But what is popular in the plant world? A few years ago, succulents seemed to rule the indoor garden game. Different types of cacti and echeveria plants could be seen all over social media channels.

Recently, Elizabeth said she’s seen other fan favourites emerge. 

“People are really liking the monsteras, monstera philodendron,” she said. “They are still really liking, for a large floor plant, the ficus lyrata. As far as low-maintenance, but still great for cleaning the air, the sansevierias are really big as well as the zz plants.” 

By far, sansevieria and zz plants are some of the easiest to take care of, Elizabeth added. If you work a lot and have a darker condo, those could be the plants for you. 

“They can go up to six-weeks without water, they are very, very drought tolerant, they can go from full bright light to very shady areas as well. And they can go indoors or outdoors for the summer. 

“They are very forgiving,” she added. 

Elizabeth has a favourite this spring but novice gardeners beware. 

“My favourite plant right now is the maiden-hair fern, which is stunning but very, very finicky. It’s like one of those exoctic beauties that you don’t want to look at the wrong way,” she said, laughing. “But it’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Connect with Flowers Talk Tivoli to learn more about building an indoor garden. The local company has plant profiles and tips on its website as well as a team of plant pros.


This story appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of Homes & Condos. 

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