Time to Go Indoors With Your Gardening

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As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “And all at once, summer collapsed into the fall.” It is time to put away our garden spades and watering cans, another outdoor gardening season behind us. And time to move our plants and our gardening work indoors.

It is a well- established fact that indoor plants don’t just look good, they improve our physical and mental health. Plants help clean indoor air by absorbing toxins, increasing humidity and producing oxygen.

Capitol Hill residents are lucky to have three garden centers: Gingko Gardens (911 11th Street SE), Frager’s Garden Center, (1115 Pennsylvania Ave SE) and Cultivate the City on the roof of Jenks Hardware store (910 Bladensburg Rd NE). If you are a first-time indoor gardener, there could not be better teachers to introduce you to the joys of house plants.

Niraj Ray, owner of Cultivate the City on the roof of Jenks Hardware, hangs out with his dog and says his classes fill up quickly with locals to folks traveling as far away as Pennsylvania. Classes listed on the website.

Bringing The Outdoors In

Many gardeners take their indoor plants outside during the summer months. Plants like gardenias, fig trees, bay leaf, begonias, geraniums, hot peppers and hibiscus all can be transitioned from patio to parlor.  Matthew Roberts, store manager of Gingko Gardens and a certified horticulturist, reminds gardeners to check their plants and treat the undersides of the leafs for aphids and bugs that may have taken up residence over the summer. “It is really important to clean and spray the plants with a product like “Mite-X’ which is made from botanicals, cottonseed, clove and garlic extracts before bringing the plants inside.” says Matthew. “ If you are using organics, make sure you spray once, wait seven to ten days and spray again, to make sure you get any eggs that may have matured.”

Airplants don’t need soil, and are nearly fool proof. These lanterns filled with airplants at Cultivate the City make perfect gifts. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

The founder and CEO of Cultivate the City, Niraj Ray, recommends trying hydroponic systems to keep many of your herbs and plants growing year round. Jenks sells a tabletop system that doesn’t require a water pump, and could tuck into any home space. Niraj cultivates many of the plants sold there, and his innovations to make gardening easy for all is worth the trip to the top of store.

And here’s one big tip for your transition: Frager’s Garden Center offers a variety of plant movers on wheels, both in wood and colorful shades that can help save your back.

Going Green For The First Time

Kristin Sampson, Frager’s Garden Center manager, Matthew and Niraj all agree that digging into the world of plants by starting indoors is really a great way to begin. There are even plants that live on air, and you don’t have to get your hands dirty. The airplant, epiphytes, likes medium to bright filtered light, and needs to be misted or dunked in water for 30 minutes two or three times a month. The airplants can be displayed in almost any area. Cultivate the City has a beautiful collection of silver lanterns filled with airplants, making a striking piece. Frager’s has also collected a wide variety of airplants that range from tiny to very large. Airplants are practically fool proof.

Kristin Sampson, garden center manager at Frager’s Hardware, with the great variety of orchids at the store. Orchids are great plant to bring color and green into your home. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

“Over-loving your houseplants,” says Kristin, “is probably the most common error for indoor gardeners.” It is important to begin with the right tools. Using pots with a hole in the bottom so water can migrate to the saucer and not stay trapped in the bottom of your pot is important. Matthew says a new trend is to buy pretty pots with no holes, known as caches, and just put the plant in its store container sitting in the pot. You then take it out to water it. Fragers’ calls these pots “pots to go or happy pots.” You can start your gardening with one of these for under $10.

The right soil is also critical, and Cultivate the City actually mixes its own soil combinations starting with coconut shells and other organic substances. The shop will even help you repot old plants. Classes are also available from learning basic bonsai to how to make hot pepper sauce. Check the website for future classes, http://www.cultivatethecity.com/events

Grab and Go pots can make it easy to get started gardening indoors, as seen in these orchids at Fragers. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Light is the central key to getting indoor plants to thrive. Many plants thrive on low or indirect light. In fact, plants like the common violet cannot take direct sun. “Even English basement apartments can grow a variety of plants,” notes Niraj.

The Experts Picks

The garden trio all agreed that the snake plant, sometimes known as mother-in-law’s tongue, is one of the best plants to start with. It now comes in a lot of varieties and grows vertical and stately. Succulents are also a good bet. These plants require little water, often are smaller and can be clustered into nice arrangements for window sills. The plants tend to have a long life.

Gingko Gardens has two floors of indoor plants and pots. The second floor has a number of larger plants like ficus trees. Unlike the ficus trees that we all had post college years, the trendy new ficus tree has large beautiful leaves that would fill a corner of your house.

Matthew Roberts, store manager at Gingko Gardens, suggest plants like the philodendron or ZZ plant to get started. Gingko Gardens has two floors of indoor plants to choose from. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Matthew suggests the Pothos, ZZ Plant or the “cubicle plant” the philodendron for the beginner. Niraj has two edible plants he highly recommends, the India Mint or Vicks Plant.

Both have leaves to be made into tea and can help with winter ailments. Kristin likes the Pothos and orchids, although she says with the orchids it may be a little trial and error to find the right place for them.

Before you get wrapped up in the holidays, take time to green your living spaces. Bring your plants back in and get out to the garden centers to find new green plants that will improve your mood, warm your home, and help the planet.

Rindy O’Brien is a long time garden enthusiast on the Hill. Getting Green should be a goal of all of us. Contact her at rindyobrien@gmail.com