Indoor gardening or keeping houseplants is a hobby that many outdoor gardeners bewilderingly often do not pursue. Conversely, there are many green thumbs out there who fill their homes and workplaces with plants, yet never touch an outdoor one. With the current trend of blurring of outdoor and indoor living, I’m hoping this strange separation of growing worlds begins to fade away.

Why Bother with Indoor Gardening?

I turn to indoor plants for solace during our (admittedly reasonably mild) DC-area winters. Their greenery reminds me that spring is just around the corner. For that same reason, I love forcing bulbs as well to make the seasons “hurry up.”

Then there is the frugal gardening practice of over-wintering your outdoor plants indoors — ergo making them indoor plants for at least five months of the year. I know there must be many of you out there that, like me, have some blooming zonal geraniums, herbs, succulents, and coleus in your kitchen windows right now. They are just biding their time until they can once again grace our outdoor spaces.

Then there is the intangible “feeling” part of the houseplant equation. When I visit homes and offices without living things in them — both plants and pets — I can’t stand the sterility and usually don’t stay long. My favorite stores are those with a few cats roaming around and some cacti crowding up their counter space. And don’t get me started on hotel rooms with nary a green leaf! The first thing I do on any trip is run out for a small plant or flower bouquet to breath some life into it.

I think this process is instinctual. My body knows that it needs oxygen that houseplants provide in spades. Did you know that many plants remove the toxins in our indoor air, as well? Try a Peace Lily, Spider plant, or any of the ivy cultivars in your bedroom for ridding those airborne pollutants given off by carpeting, fabric dyes, detergents, etc.

But I Have a Black Thumb!

That is what I used to think after going through five African violets in one year of college. What I’ve learned since starting indoor gardening is the same lesson we outdoor gardeners get drummed into our heads: right plant, right place.

If you have a cool, dry home, you are not going to have luck with moisture-loving plants. Unless that is, you adjust the environment to address this growing requirement.

Examine where you would like to have some greenery in your home or at work, then seek a plant that fits that space. Just as it never works in your backyard, you can’t force a plant to adapt to conditions in which it will not thrive.

An excellent resource for selecting houseplants for specific environments is the popular The House Plant Expert by D.G. Hessayon, which lists over 1,000 plants. You can find copies online here.

Plant Choices For Beginners

Bromeliad, Croton, or Dracaena are all smart picks for beginner indoor gardeners — especially if you are placing then in low light situations such as an office.

Other good choices for those looking for easy-care houseplants are Jade, Begonia, and Aloe. All of these can withstand a bit of occasional neglect.

Mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria) is sought after because it will tolerate just about any growing condition. If you want a plant that is truly hard to kill, this is it.

Pothos is a terrific choice for many neophytes as it can thrive in conditions from bright sun to indirect light. You can grow Pothos as a hanging plant or wind it around a stake or leave it to trail along window ledges and shelves.