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Streptocarpus, Greenhouse

5 Flowering Houseplants to Brighten Up Your Winter

It’s cold outside, and in the middle of winter many of us find ourselves spending more time looking out our windows at a garden fast asleep. This season can be a peaceful time, but if you are longing for a vibrant pop of color to break up the drab browns and grays of the season, consider adding any of these blooming houseplants to your space.

African Violet, Greenhouse

African Violet

With long-lasting flowers that appear year-round, the colorful African violet is an easy-to-grow choice for anyone looking to add some color to their home. Flowers come in white, pink, purple or blue, and some may be bi-color or variegated.

  • Light: Bright, indirect light. Also grows well under a fluorescent light when it has enough exposure.
  • Humidity: Place your plants on a tray of moist pebbles or under your humidifier during the dry winter months.
  • Water: Let them dry out a little between watering. Use temperate water to prevent spotting on the leaves (as we like to say, no one likes a cold shower).

Streptocarpus

A member of the same family as the African violet, Streptocarpus is similar in appearance and has many of the same qualities. With blooms coming in a variety of colors in sprays above the foliage, anyone can add this plant to their home for a pop of color in the winter.

  • Light: Morning or soft afternoon light is best for Streptocarpus
  • Humidity: This plant is well suited to normal house conditions.
  • Water: Let the plant dry a bit between waterings, and water with lukewarm or tepid water.

Bromeliad

These bold, tropical plants develop flower spikes in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors that bloom freely throughout the year. Bromeliads have no stem – instead, their leaves form a tight rosette which collects water for the leaves to absorb. Their roots are used primarily for anchoring to surfaces, since nutrients can be absorbed through the leaves.

  • Light: Most prefer either bright indirect light or several hours of direct sun.
  • Humidity: Place your plant on a tray of moist pebbles or under your humidifier during the dry winter months.
  • Water: The rosette needs to remain full of water. Empty the rosette periodically to prevent the water from becoming stale. Roots should be kept moderately moist as we
Begonia, Greenhouse

Begonia

You can find these showy plants in bloom at just about any time of year. With glossy, round leaves and blooms that can be as large as 2 inches across, this is a great flower to introduce vibrant color into any home during the winter season.

  • Light: Prefer bright, indirect light.
  • Humidity: Plants need good air circulation to prevent diseases.
  • Water: Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, when plants are in flower. Allow to dry slightly between waterings.

Orchid

With beautiful blooms that can last for weeks, orchids are a classic favorite among houseplants. Intricate blooms come in a seemingly endless variety of colors, sizes and shapes.

  • Light: Prefer bright, indirect light. If needed, place under a fluorescent grow bulb.
  • Humidity: Orchids need between 50% and 70% humidity. To achieve this, you can either place the plant on a tray of gravel filled partially with water or mist the plants. Just be sure to mist them in the morning so that the leaves are dry by night time.
  • Water: Orchids are very sensitive to overwatering and are often planted in coarse, very well drained bark, moss or potting mix. Water only when the ground media begins to feel slightly dry, and then water thoroughly.
Terrarium in Glass Container

A Beginners Guide to Creating Terrariums

Adding terrariums to your home or office is a wonderful way to brighten your space with a beautiful miniature landscape. By correctly combining soil, base materials, and your plants you can create custom terrariums that thrive.

Steps for Designing Terrariums

Select Your Container

Terrarium containers come in all shapes and sizes. While you can pick one based on your personal aesthetic and design preferences, you will need to take a few other factors into consideration to ensure your container works well:

  • Select a container that is watertight. You do not want water spilling out of your terrarium into your home or office.
  • Your container should not have glass that is so thick that it distorts the image of your terrarium.
  • Make sure that you have enough room to fit your hand into the container. You will be reaching into it to arrange and prune your plants.

Once you’ve selected your container, clean it with glass cleaner and wait a day for the chemicals to dissipate before planting.

Layer Your Base

There are two different styles of terrarium bases: simple and layered. Simple terrariums are comprised of a layer of charcoal and then a layer of bonsai soil and are primarily used in hanging glass globes that have more limited space. Layered terrariums have an added layer under the charcoal and soil comprised of decorative stones or glass with a barrier of landscape fabric. If you are creating a layered terrarium, begin by placing  about an inch of decorative stones or glass in the bottom of your container. Next, cut a piece of landscape fabric to the size of your container and place it on top of the decorative layer. The landscape fabric will serve as a barrier to prevent soil from spilling into your decorative glass or stone layer, while still allowing water through for better drainage. Next put down a thin layer of charcoal, about ¼ – ⅓ cup, to absorb excess moisture and keep your container fresh.

Add Soil

Regardless of your base type, add about one inch of soil, just enough to plant in. This saves space and prevents the soil from retaining too much water. I recommend using bonsai soil as it’s more porous and has better drainage. It is also more decorative than regular potting soil. Hoffman’s and Meehan’s bonsai soils both work very well in terrariums.

Arrange Your Plants

Before you start planting, arrange your plants outside of the container. This will allow you to make sure you’re satisfied with your composition without smearing dirt on the sides of your container. I recommend using 1 to 3 plants for a small container (less than 6 inches in diameter), and 4-5 for a large container (over 6 inches in diameter). Before placing your plants in the terrarium, squeeze or open up your roots so they can take better hold of the soil. A few of my favorites to include in containers are:

  • Miniature Violets: These require good air circulation and low humidity, but do very well in open terrariums.
  • Tillandsia (Air Plants): These make an excellent choice for their flexibility – they can be endlessly rearranged because they don’t need to be planted in the soil.
  • Ferns: These green foliaged plants make an excellent accent to the colorful blooms of the miniature violets.
  • Orchids: Their nice flowers and long bloom time make orchids a great addition to any terrarium.
  • Peperomia – Comes in different styles, such as trailing, upright, and mounding, with a wide variation of colors including green, purple, red, and light blue.
  • Bromeliad: These tropical looking plants hold their color for a long time, making them a good choice for larger terrariums.
Terrarium in Tear Drop Container

Embellish Your Terrarium

After completing your planting fill up space between and around your plants as you see fit. Use decorative objects, moss, or more gravel and rocks.

Watering

The key with terrariums is to avoid over-watering. Because they have no drainage hole at the bottom of the container, terrariums hold water longer than traditional container plants. To water effectively, water around the edge of the container instead of into the middle to avoid over-saturating your plants. This allows the plants to pull water from the edges as needed, instead of sitting in wet soil. You don’t want to saturate the soil, just water until the soil is visibly moist. For a simple terrarium, you can see when your soil is dry (lighter in color than wet soil) and for a layered terrarium, the water should not go down past the landscape fabric.

Light

Keep your terrarium in a place that has medium or indirect light. Putting the terrarium in a spot with too much light or direct light will bake it because the glass acts as a magnifying glass. If you can read in the room without a light on, then your terrarium will receive enough light.

Succulent Varieties, greenhouse

Creating an Indoor Succulent Container

Julia Reed, Merrifield Plant Specialist

I love houseplants. So much so that my entire dining room doubles as a greenhouse. One of my favorite houseplants is the succulent. They’re easy to care for, beautiful to look at, and bring instant life to your home or office. You can easily add a succulent display to your space by following these easy steps.

Select your supplies

To begin, determine the colors and textures you’d like to see in your space. I recommend choosing an assortment of varieties to pull your eye through to the different areas of the container. You can’t go wrong in picking those your eye is naturally drawn to. Here are some of my favorites.

Next, select your container and potting medium. You’ll want to choose a shallow, open air pot as succulents don’t have a deep root system and like to be open to the air. A closed terrarium structure will not make for happy succulents! The pot should also have a hole at the bottom to assist with drainage.

Succulents do best in fast draining soil. When potting succulents, I like to use a small layer of gravel with Cactus Mix or Pro-mix soil. If you’re using Pro-Mix, you’ll also want to pull aside some sand to help with drainage. Finally, you can also increase the drainage by using decorative sand or gravel on the surface.

Assemble your container

Step 1: Place a piece of typar or grower’s cloth on the bottom of your pot, over the drainage hole.

Step 2: Lay down a layer of gravel, between a half inch and an inch. This will help with your container’s drainage.

Step 3: Fill your pot with Cactus Mix or Pro-mix. We started by filling our pot half-way with soil (you can always add more, if needed). If you are using Pro-mix, I recommend mixing one part sand to two parts Pro-mix to help with drainage.

Step 4: Arrange the plants the way you want depending on your style. You don’t need to break up the roots. If the roots are covering the edges of their pot then you can lightly tease them.

Step 5: Fill in and around the plants with more soil to cover the roots.

Step 6: If you want, add gravel or sand as a decorative finish.

Finish off your container with fresh water. Move your container over to your sink and water directly into the soil until the water runs out the bottom.

Caring for your succulents

Succulents will take as much light as they can get. They prefer at least four hours of bright, direct light. You can find direct light in sunny areas of your home within one to two feet of an unobstructed south or west facing window. In these spaces, the sun should directly touch the plant. If they are not in good light, they will start reaching for the light, which will make them stringy. A compact succulent is a pretty succulent. Generally, you won’t have to worry about your succulents getting sunburned when they’re indoors.

Succulents store water in their leaves. You can always tell when it’s time to water by feeling the lower leaves of your succulents. If they feel flat and deflated, then they are thirsty. When it comes to watering, it’s safer to let them run dry than moist. We recommend checking them for water every few days. Keep note of the day you planted them and the day they feel dry to establish a general number of days between waterings. At my house, I’ve found that my succulents tend to need water about every two weeks. When watering in a regular container, water directly into the soil until you see water coming out the bottom.

To keep your succulents well-fed and long lasting, you can fertilize from March to September. We recommend Schultz Cactus Plus Liquid Plant Food. Keep in mind that feeding them will cause them to grow faster!

Even though it might be tempting, try not to baby your succulents. As long as they’re in a sunny spot with regular waterings, they’ll be happy!

Our Top 10 Picks for Low-Maintenance Houseplants

Paul Knight, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Many people think that growing plants indoors requires a lot of time and attention. After all, most houseplants in our area are tropical plants that naturally thrive outdoors in warmer climates. How in the world are you supposed to take care of them inside your home?

Well, it’s easier than you think! Low-maintenance options can provide all the beauty and benefits of indoor plants without the fuss. Here are our top picks for low-maintenance houseplants, by light requirements (see our blog on understanding indoor plant light levels to get started).

Bright, Indirect Light

(Three to five hours of early morning or late afternoon sun)

Hoya

Also known as Wax Plant, this is an easy to grow vine with waxy leaves and fragrant clusters of blooms. The foliage comes in a few different colors: solid green, variegated green and white, and a tricolor of red, green and white. There is another foliage form, Hindu Rope Plant, which is green and white and very crinkly. Regardless of which variety you choose, Hoya is great for hanging baskets inside the home.

Tillandsia

This exotic “air plant” is one that you can enjoy individually or in colorful combination displays. Air plants come in many shapes and sizes with blooms that are pink, yellow or purple. They are so low maintenance, they don’t even grow in soil! They just need to be sprayed with water 2 to 3 times a week.

Moderate to Low Light Levels

(Three to five hours of indirect sun to light that is not bright enough to cast a shadow or read)

Aglaonema

Also known as Chinese evergreen, this lovely plant has varied leaf patterns and shapes. Aglaonema has an upright growth habit with bushy leaves and can produce creamy white flowers that nestle within the leaf clusters. It’s very drought tolerant and doesn’t require frequent watering, making it exceptionally low maintenance.

Dracaena

This popular plant has rosettes of leaves on graceful upright stems. You can choose from plants with all green leaves or stripes with green, pink or burgundy. It’s great for the office or any areas that need a vertical element. There is also a variety called corn mass cane, which is said to bring good luck.

Neanthe Bella

This is an excellent dwarf palm with full, graceful green foliage that can reach 4 to 5 feet tall. And unlike some houseplants, this one is cat friendly for those nibblers you might have in the house. Also called Parlor Palm, this plant is one of the best at purifying the air in your home.

Philodendron

With rich green, red, neon green, yellow or even orange leaves that grow on vigorous vining, upright, or trailing plants, philodendron is very versatile with a wide range of uses in the home or office. Depending on your needs, it can be grown as a tabletop, hanging basket or floor plant.

Pothos

These graceful vines come in green, white, gold or neon green with leaves are a pointed heart shape. Pothos grows happily without pampering, and is beautiful in hanging baskets or cascading over a tabletop pot.

Sansevieria

Also known as snake plant and mother-in-law’s tongue, this enduring plant comes in shades of light to dark green. Sometimes you can find ones that are variegated with white or yellow, depending on the variety. Sansevieria thrives on neglect, making it the perfect low maintenance indoor plant. It comes with upright foliage as a floor plant, to rosette shapes for tabletops.

Spathiphyllum

This plant has dark green foliage with graceful, curving white flowers. It tolerates low light levels and will bloom just with fluorescent light, making it great for your home. It is also known as Peace Lily.

Zamioculcus zamiifolia

Since it’s botanical name, Zamiouculcus zamiifolia, is quite a mouthful, it’s easier to refer to this plant by its common name, the “ZZ” plant. It has a curiously dramatic shape, with glossy, waxy coating, dark green leaves and bulging tuberous roots. It’s very drought tolerant, making it super easy to care for.

We hope you’ll try some of these easy to grow houseplants in your home or office, and see how fun growing indoor plants can be.

Back to Basics: Houseplants

Paul Knight, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Growing houseplants is a fun and rewarding hobby that can truly enhance your interior spaces. Houseplants naturally soften the straight lines and hard edges of furniture, cabinetry and other architectural elements, and make your home healthier by absorbing carbon dioxide and providing clean oxygen in exchange.

For many, the idea of growing plants inside the home may seem like an intimidating endeavor. But once you understand a plant’s ideal growing conditions, you will be able to easily enjoy plants that otherwise wouldn’t be able to survive in our area.

There are two important factors to consider when selecting a tropical houseplant: light requirements and moisture preferences. Understanding the light requirements will ensure you choose a plant that will thrive in your location. Understanding the moisture preferences will help you select a plant you can monitor and water regularly.

Light

Just like outdoor plants, light is the most important factor to consider when choosing where indoor plants can grow. Different areas of your home will have different levels of light intensity, depending on the number of windows and the directional exposure of those windows (north, south, east or west). Indoor plants typically require one of the following light levels.

Direct Light: Two to five hours of direct sun, daily

You can find direct light in sunny areas of your home within one to two feet of an unobstructed south or west facing window. In these spaces, the sun should directly touch the plant. Indoor plants that thrive in direct light locations include:

  • Cacti
  • Ficus
  • Gardenia
  • Jasmine
  • Bougainvillea
  • Citrus
  • Hibiscus
  • Succulents

Bright, Indirect Light: Three to four hours of early morning or late afternoon sun

Bright, indirect light is an all-purpose light level in which foliage plants thrive and flowering plants are maintained. You can find bright, indirect light in an unobstructed east facing window or a few feet back from a south or west facing window. In these areas, you will be able to cast a shadow in the room. Indoor plants that enjoy bright, indirect light include:

  • African violets
  • Anthurium
  • Cyclamen
  • Violets
  • Orchids
  • Bromeliads
  • Palms (Areca, Bamboo, Majesty)
  • Aralias

Moderate to Low Light: Two to three hours of indirect sun to light that is not bright enough to cast a shadow

You can find moderate light several feet back from a west or south facing window, or right next to an obstructed north facing window. In moderate light areas, there is enough light to read in the room. You can find low light areas a foot or more away from a north facing window or back from an east or west facing window that receives moderate light. Indoor plants that enjoy bright, indirect light include:

  • Peace lily
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Dracaena
  • Sanseveria
  • Cast iron plant
  • Pothos
  • Snake plant
  • Philodendron

Water

All plants require water to survive. While some houseplants prefer to remain moderately moist, others prefer to be on the dry side. For example, ferns, carnivorous plants, spathiphyllum and citrus (when they’re in bloom) all prefer to be on the moist end. Dracaena, cast iron plant, sanseverias and succulents all prefer to be on the slightly dry side.

There are two basic rules to follow to ensure proper watering:

  1. Before you water your plant, always check the soil first to see if it needs water.
  2. When your plant does need water, always water thoroughly.

You can use a moisture meter, the sharp end of a pencil, a popsicle stick or your finger to check if your plant needs water. Insert your tool of choice into the soil at least 1/3rd deep into the soil. Some plants that prefer to be on the drier side will require that you check the soil at a deeper level. Our greenhouse team will be able to tell you the specific depth at which you should check for any plant you select.

When you insert the tool into the soil, turn it in place and then lift it out of the pot. If the plant is sufficiently moist, you will see light moisture marks and specs of soil. If the plant is dry and in need of water, the pencil will have very little, if any, moisture marks or soil specs on it.

How to Water

When it’s time to water your houseplants, you can either take it to the sink or water it in place with a saucer underneath. If you water in the sink, run lukewarm water over the soil until water runs all the way through and out of the holes at the bottom of the pot. If you plant is on the smaller side or covers most of the pot, try filling up a small watering can or cup with a spot and pour water into the pot to reduce mess.Turn the water off and let the plant sit for a few minutes. Then repeat this method one or two more times. Be sure to allow all of the water to drain out of the bottom of the pot before putting it back in place.

If you water in place, pour lukewarm water over the soil until the water runs all the way through and out of the bottom of the pot into the saucer. Let the plant sit for five to ten minutes. If there is no water in the saucer, pour water over the plant again until it runs out into the saucer at the bottom and let it sit. Repeat this process until the water level in the saucer stops dropping. When done, empty the saucer or wick away any excess moisture.

We invite you to come explore the many different houseplans at our three greenhouse locations. Our greenhouse plant specialists look forward to helping you select a plant that will fit your personality and thrive in your light conditions!