Greening up the Indoors

By Cathy Gladwin 

Each year at this time, I redirect my horticultural interests indoors to my houseplants. They become the focus of my nurturing instinct until next spring. Right now they need to be dusted to improve their cell function, they need to have their dead and unhealthy leaves removed, and some plants need a different light situation to compensate for the shorter days and changing angle of the sun during the winter months. But my favorite part of this annual attention to my indoor greenery is adding a few new plants.

Perhaps this year I’ll add some refreshing fragrance to my home with a jasmine vine or a species of indoor citrus. Or I might soften my décor with a graceful fern. I have such a range of choices in the nursery’s greenhouse that it’s hard to decide, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to a few.

The sweetly aromatic flowers of indoor citrus (Citrus sp.) are definitely worth the effort. Perhaps I’ll try a lemon or a kumquat tree. The glossy green leaves will enhance my indoor forest, even when not in bloom. Either needs the sunniest exposure possible in a spot away from any drafts. Well-drained soil which is allowed to dry out between waterings is essential. Towards spring I’ll feed it with a high nitrogen houseplant fertilizer. In the summer it will enjoy a location outdoors with bright indirect sunlight.

A gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) would provide very fragrant creamy white blooms set off by dark shiny leaves. This plant requires frequent watering to keep the soil evenly moist. If it dries out just once, the leaves and developing buds will drop. A humidity tray (a plastic saucer filled with gravel and shallow water not touching the pot bottom) helps prevent bud drop. Bright indirect light is best – an east window is ideal as long as the plant is checked for water daily. Cool night temperatures (60-65°F) and weekly feedings with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants will promote blossoming.

Jasmine, a relative of the gardenia, might also freshen my home with its fragrant delicate blossoms. Pink Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) is a wonderful option currently in stock at Fort Collins Nursery. It needs support for the dark green vines that yield delicate sweet smelling white flowers and requires bright light with some direct sun, similar to the gardenia. (Aha – this would look great in my east kitchen window!) Also, like the gardenia, the jasmines need constantly moist soil, the benefit of a humidity tray, and weekly feedings with fertilizer for acid-loving plants.

Some new lush green foliage plants would make my house feel cozier. An old-time favorite, Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) has always appealed to me. Its graceful arching habit makes it the perfect plant for hanging baskets or an elegant stand. Light from the north window in a cool room suits this plant (the perfect addition to my bedroom). It needs a well-drained fibrous soil, watering when the soil surface is dry to the touch, and extra humidity. Ferns are shy feeders, only needing monthly feedings at half the recommended rate of a balanced houseplant fertilizer. In the summer a protected shady location outdoors will spur lush new growth.

I’m looking forward to a few newcomers to enrich my home during the long winter months ahead. They will satisfy my need to putter with plants until the outdoor growing season arrives in spring.

This article was originally published in the Winter 1994 edition of Fort Collins Nursery’s Tree Talk newsletter and has been modified and updated.

Originally published on February 3rd, 2015. Updated on February 4th, 2021.