There’s no denying that a cut flower arrangement can bring a pop of color to the room on a dreary winter’s day. But Kelly Maillet, a greenhouse associate at House by the Side of the Road in Wilton, noted that terrariums and other planted flower arrangements somehow offer a “more fulfilling presence.” It’s energizing to watch them grow, and for families with children, growing indoor plants can create a nice routine.
“Kids enjoy the responsibility of checking for dampness and watering when needed,” said Vicki Smerekanicz, a master gardener with The Cornucopia Project in Peterborough. A well-loved non-profit in the Monadnock Region, Cornucopia’s mission is to positively affect the health and well-being of the community through experiential learning that happens in classrooms, kitchens and right in the garden.
For Smerekanicz, plant growing is as much a part of her work as it is her home life. Her daughter, Berkeley, loves to get involved. One of her favorites is her very own ZZ Plant, a species Smerekanicz recommends as a simple, starter option. Aloes, jades, spider plants, pothos, and snake plants are also on the list. None have pest or disease issues, and they have only basic lighting requirements.
“They are also very forgiving when it comes to accidentally not watering them weekly,” Smerekanicz said.
Air plants can be a fun one to start with, too, and they can hang and grow just about anywhere. Because of their fun appearance and easy care, you’re likely to find air planters at many local shops around the holidays. According to Smerekanicz, “They only need a quick spritz of water weekly and to live where it's warm and sunny indoors.”
A similarly low-maintenance option is a terrarium bowl, an indoor gardening project Maillet assists with often at House by the Side of the Road. There, curious, young gardeners can choose appropriate plants from ferns to succulents, as well as all sorts of whimsical décor for their mini gardens.
People have fun with creative containers, too. “We have people coming in here sometimes with old bottles or cookie jars,” Maillet said, noting they combine plants and items from the store with findings from their own backyards, such as moss and acorns.
Though there’s lots of room to have fun, Maillet recommends thoughtfully choosing plant combinations from the start for terrariums and other plant bowls.
“You want to choose things that have similar light requirements or watering requirements,” she said.
Adding stone at the bottom helps with drainage, and she also recommended charcoal, which she explained, “is mainly to help pull impurities out of the soil or water.” This can be particularly beneficial in a household with hard water (we are in New England after all).
Terrariums require consistent watering, though the types of plants used determine how often. The plant types also determine how long you’ll be able to keep a garden in the same container. For instance, a small cactus is likely to grow more slowly.
“There are also certain plants that you can use, like philodendrons, that you can just keep clipping back,” Maillet said. But in general, a terrarium needs to be refreshed about once a year, and plants that have grown too large may need to be moved to larger pots.
The question is: Where will those pots go? As families begin to envision a plant-filled home, it’s important to think about long-term living arrangements.
“Be sure you have a room with enough light and space to grow the plants you want,” Smerekanicz said.
For instance, if you’re incorporating a full sun-plant, ensure there are enough south-facing windows to provide the light and heat it needs to thrive. Likewise, look for cooler spaces that aren’t too bright for low-light plants.
And what about pets? Will yours be interested enough in the plants to disturb or even eat them? If the answer is yes, double checking each plant to make sure it’s not poisonous is important. You can also designate spaces that are up and out of reach. However, for animals like cats, you can expect they’ll find a way.
“Some cats might find the soil a choice for a litter box,” Smerekanicz said, “so plan ahead and put deterrents around the plants.”
Though a little preparation may be required, the benefits of having plants in the house, especially through the cold winter months, are immeasurable. There are practical advantages, as well, such as air quality.
“If they are growing in children's rooms, they help to filter and clean the air. This is especially true of spider plants,” Smerekanicz said.
And emotionally, plants can help keep the winter blues away.
“You get to care for and nurture something,” Maillet said. From an emotional standpoint, the life, energy and inspiration they bring to a home are all great incentives for winter growing.