For those of us who live in cold climates, winter can become a gray and white burden once the novelty of the first snow is gone. What starts out as a winter wonderland quickly turns into a daily routine of shoveling your driveway, putting snow melt on your walkways, scraping ice off of your windshield, starting the car 15 minutes early in the morning, and bundling up so much that you end up looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

So, in the bleak shadow of January, a little bit of color can be just what the doctor ordered. Growing flowers outside can be somewhat of a limited endeavor, but transferring the flora into your home is an easy and fun way to relieve the winter blues. There are many tips and tricks to learn in order to do this successfully, so here’s everything you need to know about indoor plants for winter weather.

Tools + Methods

There are a number of different ways you can grow flowers indoors, so the equipment you need really depends on which plants you choose. Different equipment is used for different plants, which means you’ll have to choose your flowers ahead of time. Some plants can be grown in terrariums, others in planters, many hydroponically, and a lot just need water and a vase. Here is a breakdown of each method you can use.

There are also a number of different methods that can be used to grow flowers indoors, and the one you choose will have a major impact on the plant’s health. As is the case with equipment, you must choose your method based on what you want to grow. Here’s a list of the different methods that can be used.

Terrarium 

Besides being used to house lizards and pet snakes, terrariums are excellent for growing plants. Typically, there are ones that are completely enclosed and then ones that are open. They come in all different shapes and sizes, but whatever’s inside doesn’t extend beyond the opening, unlike vases. Small leafy plants (like some varieties of violets), succulents (like cacti and jade plants), and plenty of other types of plants thrive in a terrarium environment.

Terrariums may seem pretty simple – put soil and a plant in a glass container and water it every once in awhile – but there’s a lot more to it than that. Planting in a terrarium means you basically have to create a tiny, independent ecosystem. The first thing that you have to figure out is what type of container you’re going to need. If you want to get a tropical plant (or a few of them), then you should get something with a lid. If you want to get something like a cactus or another type of plant that prefers less moisture, then you should go with a container that’s open at the top.

Images courtesy of Brit.coApartment Therapy, and Inspired by Charm

After that, you have to figure out what area in your home is going to have the best light for the plant you choose. Then, you’ll have to put gravel or small pebbles at the bottom of the jar (to allow for drainage), and then cover it in screening. After that, get a growing medium (potting soil, planting mix, etc), moisten it, and then put it in the terrarium. Then all you have to do is put in everything you want, arrange to your liking, and you’ll be all set. Here are a few suggestions of plants you can grow in terrariums.

Succulents: Cacti, Agave, Aloe, Bulbine, Clivia, Orchids, Ivy, and Daisies

Herbs: Parsley, Sage, Thyme, Dill, Basil, Cilantro, Oregano, Savory, and Marjoram

Others: Moss, Button Fern, and Butterwort

Planters

Planters are fairly self-explanatory. You put a growing medium in the base, plant whatever your choose, water it, and the rest takes care of itself (for the most part). However, one often overlooked aspect of potted plants is the size of the container. A planter that’s too small can restrict growth, and one that’s too large can retain water (which can lead to fungus down the line). Besides being the right size, they also have to have good drainage so the roots don’t drown.

There are two ways to utilize a planter: sow new seeds and wait for the plant to grow, or use something that’s already been raised in a nursery. The first thing you should do, after you choose your plant, is pick out a planter. Remember, you must pick something that will be appropriate for the size of the plant, so if you’re starting seeds you’ll have to consider what the adult size will be. Just make sure it isn’t too large or too small.

Images courtesy of Tid Bits and Twine, Decorating Your Small Space, and Bakker Spalding

After that, you have to get a growing medium (just like the terrarium) and allow for drainage. For seeds, just plant them in the middle and water them every day. If you’re transferring a live plant to a planter, then you should put in the growing medium, leave a bit loose, put the plant in, and then pack the soil down around it. Some plants do fine close to windows, but most seeds will need a grow light. As long as you follow those steps, and pay close attention to the plant’s needs, you should be fine. Here is a list of great flowers to grow indoors in the winter time.

Flowers: Poinsettias, Amaryllis, Paperwhites, Hibiscus, Peace Lily, Geraniums, Jasmine, and Begonias

Hydroponics System 

This equipment is used for growing plants in water, rather than soil. Hydroponic systems are optimum for interior growing conditions since they allow constant exposure to water and nutrients, and don’t require the use of soil. A wide variety of plants, fruits, and vegetables can be grown hydroponically.

hydroponics
Image courtesy of Urban Garden Web

There is far too much information on hydroponics for me to list everything here, but I will say that the sky’s the limit. You can grow pretty much any type of fruit, vegetable, flower, bush, or tree indoors with a hydroponics system (space permitting, of course). Hydroponics systems can range in price from $75 to $500 for simple systems, to $5,000 or more for professional equipment. Unless you plan on starting your own winter nursery, you should be able to get one that suits your needs for about $200.

The way a system works is that plants sit in a tray that is filled with water by a pump (sometimes the pump also provides a nutrient solution, sometimes you must do it manually), the pump is usually on a timer that’s plugged into a GFCI outlet, and there is a drain/overflow pipe that runs back to the main unit. As I said, there is too much information for me to list everything, but if you are interested then I recommend going down to your local garden center and talking to the sales associate about what system that will suit your needs.

Plants: fruits, vegetables, trees, and bushes

Forcing

Forcing is the method of cutting off a few small branches of a tree or bush and then bringing them inside so they’ll bloom earlier. Basically, you’re tricking the plant into thinking it’s springtime so it starts to come back to life. To do this, use a pair of pruning shears to cut the branch flush with the branch or cane, bring them inside and cut four to six inches upward at the bottom, and then stick them in water.

Images courtesy of Camille Styles and Mom.me

You should only choose branches with where the buds are plentiful, aren’t too big or small (about the size of a raisin), and only cut them from an area with a lot of other branches so there won’t be a gap. You should then soak the branches in cold water overnight to help prevent the buds from blooming too soon. After that, put them in a vase with warm water and nutrient solution, then just wait a few weeks for them to bloom. This should be done in the first or second week of January for the best results. Here is a list of trees and bushes where the branches can be forced. (Hickory, Rhododendron, and Lilacs shouldn’t be trimmed until later in the season – February or March)

Trees and Bushes: Forsythia, Honeysuckle, Crabapples, Lilacs, Rhododendron, Alder, Hickory, and Magnolia

Other Options

Vase

As I’m sure we’re all well aware, vases are typically cylindrical containers made from glass, ceramic, wood, metal, stone, or plastic, which are meant to hold water and plants. Vases, unlike terrariums, are always open and allow the plant to grow beyond the limitations of the container. They are usually used for long arrangements, and often have a faster turnaround for the plants inside of them (unless soil is used).

vases
Image courtesy of Shan Anabelle Valla

Lights

Many plants just need to be positioned near a window with natural light, others can survive just off of the daily artificial light in your home (lamps, televisions, etc), but a lot of them require more direct attention. Grow lights are fixtures with special bulbs which are used in very close proximity to the actual plant. The bulbs are usually fluorescent, metal halide, or pressurize sodium. The goal of these lights is to essentially recreate the conditions of the sun necessary for the plant’s photosynthesis.

Spray Bottle

The most useful tool to have when growing indoor plants is, by far, the spray bottle. Heating systems used during the winter months can dry out the air, so using a spray bottle can be a great way to keep the whole plant hydrated, rather than just soil and the base of the plant.

The possibilities are nearly endless when it comes to growing indoors during the winter months. As long as you consider what’s realistic for the space in your home, what you have the time and motivation to care for, and you follow all of the necessary rules to keep the plant healthy, you shouldn’t have any problems bringing some refreshing color into an otherwise gray season.

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