Keeping Your Potted Plants Lush and Vibrant

With effortlessly lush centerfolds in home and garden magazines, tending to potted plants can seem like a simple, breezy accessory. So why is it that some of us just can’t seem to hit the nail on the head?

If the cat grass is always greener in someone else’s home, never fear: chances are, it’s not your fault. Plant upkeep of any kind is a science, and, much like cooking or any home science, a learnable one if only you’re given the right information.

Choosing Plants That Thrive In Container Gardening

If you feel like you kill every plant you touch, never fear! It may not be your un-green thumb at all, but rather an unfortunate history of plants that were never designed to thrive in containers, or plants meant to thrive outside brought indoors.

Why does it matter? Plants that need room to spread their roots deep, that build a special interaction with the surrounding ecosystem, or that otherwise need room to grow may suffer when contained to a pot, though there are naturally large plants (even small trees!) that thrive in large pots. Some gardeners recommend a few solid, easy-to-keep-alive starter plants: aloe, snake plants, and ficus, for example, all require little attention and easy-to-learn care.

A plant doesn’t need to be complicated, challenging, or tamed into an environment in which it can never thrive in order to be beautiful. Instead, working indoors only with plants that truly thrive in container gardening shows a respect to nature and to each plant, as well as respect for the time and effort you put in for their care. For all your work, you deserve to choose plants that won’t set your houseplants or container garden up for failure.

Does Climate Matter Indoors?

Yes, but not exactly in the way you might think!

Growing full sun plants anywhere with under 6 sunny hours on its average day will be a challenge. If it’s one you want to take on, bear in mind that the average indoor lightbulb won’t be enough: You’ll want to consider investing in a sun-mimicking lamp to fill your potted plant’s needs. The more sensible route may be to choose a plant which likes the shade or partial sun.

But even if heavy downpours and cold snaps don’t quite make their way inside a well-insulated home, indoor potted plants will continue to have some climate preferences. The bathroom, for example, makes a great location for potted plants that prefer moisture.

Giving Your Plants The Right Soil From The Start

Though it’s easy to pick up “potting soil” and call it a day, the name on the bag is deceptive: there is no one-size-fits-all soil type for every plant you can grow inside a pot. Herbs require rocky soil, and may even benefit from a layer of pebbles laid out in the bottom of their container before adding a mixture of potting soil and pebbles. Some plant types, like orchids, require special pH measures or levels of clay soil content best found, for beginners, in specialized commercial soil mixes. Others can benefit from some DIY adjustments to your average potting soil, like adding pebbles for drainage or peat moss for moisture retention.

Placement, Placement, Placement

Every plant sold at a reputable nursery will come with an information card stuck into the soil around, or sometimes tied around the stem of, the plant. This is for more than reminding you of the plant’s casual and scientific name: most cards contain information on optimal sun exposure, space requirements, and watering.

Take some time to observe various spots in your home and yard through the day, and see how much sun each gets. “Full sun” is generally considered to be 6+ hours, but most potted plants that thrive indoors will prefer “partial sun,” or 3-6 hours. No matter how much sun a plant requires, never place a delicate plant up against a window: the glass acts like a greenhouse wall or a lens and intensifies sunlight, which means that placement too close to a window can leave plants burnt or withering.

A Note on Pet Safe and Child Safe Indoor Gardening

Adding a plant to your home is, always, introducing a new living thing into a small human ecosystem. Always check online, at the library, or with the experts at your local nursery before bringing a plant into the home to make sure it’s non-toxic to any young children or animals. Even common plants can pose a risk, so be thorough!

So what’s the verdict? Green thumb, schmeen thumb. If your potted plant efforts have been foiled no matter what you do, there is always some cause—and no, it isn’t that your hands are cursed to leave healthy plants wilting. Do your research, ask questions, and know that most plant experts at nurseries, hardware and gardening stores, or even just in your neighborhood are delighted to offer advice to an up-and-coming container gardener.

Beginner’s Guide to Growing Beautiful Lilacs

A favorite of many gardeners, the lovely, sweet-smelling lilac is often planted by the back door, so the family can enjoy its scent just as they step out to the backyard. While not a particularly fickle plant, the lilac does need the right kind of care for it to flourish.

About Lilacs

The lilac is related to the olive and can grow between 12 and 20 feet tall, with a spread of 8 to 14 feet. Its branches are thick with flowers in the spring, and the flowers can be white, purple, yellow or deep red can grow in 10 inch long clusters. Even the big, heart-shaped leaves are attractive when the flowers fade. Old shrubs are tough enough to serve as supports for flowering vines such as clematis. The lilac attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and can tolerate rabbits and deer.

The Soil

Lilacs can grow in nearly any type of soil as long as it is not waterlogged. However, it prefers rich, fertile, well-drained soil that is either neutral or more on the alkaline side. This means a pH of 7.0 or a little higher. If the soil is a bit too acidic, it can be amended by adding lime. A gardener can find out the composition of their soil by sending a sample to their nearest cooperative extension. A report not only lets the gardener know the soil’s pH but the levels of nutrients such as calcium, nitrogen and phosphorus.

Exposure

A lilac bush needs at least six hours of sun a day for glorious bloom, though some can flourish in dappled shade. They do best in hardiness zones 3 to 7.

Planting

Lilacs can be grown from seeds that are sown in early spring right after the date of the last frost. They are best grown from cuttings from green wood, old wood or the roots. Some lilacs are grown by budding or grafting. The easiest way to grow a lilac is to buy one from a nursery. These plants can come in containers or in burlap.

Dig a hole about 18 inches deep and wide. Some gardeners add a handful of fertilizer, but make sure this is covered with soil before adding the plant so not to burn the roots. Mound some soil in the center, and spread the roots of a container grown plant over it. If the roots are in burlap, gently cut away the burlap. Make sure that there are no roots encircling the ball, and cut away roots that look dried up or dead. It’s best to place the plant about 3 inches deeper than it was in the pot. Fill the hole in, water, tamp down the soil with hands to fill in air pockets then water thoroughly again.

Place the plants at least five feet apart. One good idea is to plant lilacs with different bloom times so that the garden has a display of lilac blossoms for most of the growing season.

Add mulch to keep the soil hydrated, keep the roots cool and discourage weeds. The mulch shouldn’t touch the crown of the plant, which is where the stem connects to the root. Water the plant about twice a week until it is established.

Care

Once it’s established, the lilac doesn’t need special care, but it should be pruned immediately after flowering. Older, larger plants can tolerate hard pruning.