Spring is here – time to get out your gardening gear and... ooops.
If you are among the millions confined to home due to coronavirus, you may not have a spacious outdoor garden to putter around in while you wait for the danger to pass.
Maybe you have a small deck or a patio or a rooftop plot, but regardless you can bring in the green by cultivating an indoor garden, sometimes called a container garden.
Container gardens look fabulous and are perfect for those limited to a balcony or a small yard. Depending on the size of the container, you can plant armfuls of colorful flowers or grow veggies and herbs in these pots.
There are known health benefits to gardening, even indoor gardening. Alas, plants won't cure coronavirus but they can improve your mental health and that's something if you're going nuts cooped up with the kids, the dogs and a sniffling spouse.
"Gardening is... good for the soul," says Kevin Warhurst, vice president of the Merrifield Garden Center in Fairfax County, Virginia, one of the leading garden centers in the Washington metro area. Scientists say it's also good for body and mind.
"According to the Journal of Health Psychology, gardening is a great stress reliever, which most of us can use now more than ever," Warhurst says. "Just 30 minutes of gardening lowers cortisol hormones, the fight-or-flight response."
Plants can remove allergens and produce oxygen in a room. And take it from NASA: Some indoor plants can clean the air inside, says Randy Schultz, gardening expert and content editor for HomeGardenandHomestead.com.
"A NASA study in 1989 proved that plants can remove (cancer-causing) toxins such as benzene and formaldehyde from indoor air," Schultz says. "Common houseplants such as pothos, gerbera daisy and peace lily are great air filters."
Aloe vera plants are not only pleasing to look at, they're easy to grow and easy to transplant, and it's probably the most widely used medicinal plant in the world:Desert-dwellers have known for millennia it's a soothing treatment for minor burns. In the coronavirus crisis, it's a main ingredient of homemade hand sanitizer.
Depending on where you live, you can probably visit your local garden center (and certainly its website) because it is considered an "essential" business still open during government-ordered shutdowns. As in the case of Merrifield, most gardening centers' products are outdoors on sprawling properties, so social distancing is possible.
Here are some tips for indoor or urban gardeners provided by these experts:
Tender plants, including tomatoes, basil and peppers, or flowers such as marigolds, moon vine and salvia, can be started indoors and planted outdoors in pots or window boxes later in the spring, says Warhurst. "You can use a seed starting mix, plant the seeds in trays or small pots, and place them in the sunniest area possible and keep them moist."
Tzvi Rauch, founder of Tier II Landscape Designin Brooklyn, New York, says he likes the Burpee Seed Starter Tray he bought on Amazon(about $40), which features a greenhouse-like transparent plastic cover over trays of 72 little pockets filled with "super-growing soil pellets" to grow such veggies and greens as lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and squash.
"You buy the seeds on Amazon, add water on the soil, it blows up and you put in the seeds, and then mark each section and close the lid," Rauch says. "Put it in a sunny window. Within days they start growing. It's fascinating and really easy for urban people."
Schultz says some indoor plants need almost no care at all.
A snake plant, also known as the "Mother-in-Law's Tongue,"has air-cleaning properties according to recent studies, needs little light and "it's just plain hard to kill."
A kalanchoe is a beautiful succulent that doesn’t need much water to thrive, he says, and a jade plant might be the best plant for “brown thumbs” because it’s beautiful and tough enough to thrive on neglect.
Kids might like this one: Many leafy vegetables such as romaine lettuce and bok choy will regrow from the parts you don't eat. Just cut off 1-2 inches at the base, put it aside (cut side up) in a bowl or shallow saucer filled with about a ½ inch of water. Place it in a sunny spot and watch the roots start to grow, then transplant it into soil in a pot.
If you're feeling a yen for tomatoes and you've got a sunny patio or balcony, self-watering growing containers, such as City Jungle from Bio Green,make it easy to grow two full-sized tomato plants or whatever vegetables and herbs you choose. The built-in water reservoir automatically keeps plants watered.
Many flowering plants are easy to grow, says Schultz. African violets thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. Abutilon "Little Sunshine" plants from Logees.com is a good choice for a sunny windowsill and they're pretty, he says: Sunshine-yellow flowers with a blush of morning-orange on the inner petals bloom year-round.
Greening up one's home is increasingly popular among new and experienced gardeners, says Warhurst, but you need to analyze the environmental conditions of your abode. Do you have enough sunlight?
"We can easily manage (air, water and nutrients) but sun often becomes the limiting factor," Warhurst says. "Accurately defining the lighting conditions in your home and the sun requirements of the plants you choose can be the key to success."
Grow lights, which offer the full spectrum of light plants need, can help if your home has low-light conditions. LED lights are very efficient, long-lasting and do not use hazardous glass or chemicals, Warhurst says. "Place the grow lights close to the plants and leave them on for 12 to 16 hours per day."
Research what kind of light your houseplants need: For instance, he says, cacti, succulents and Ficus require three to four hours of direct sun each day, "bright enough to cast a shadow and to read a newspaper," Warhurst says. Low, indirect light is best for plants such as pothos and Chinese evergreens.
"These areas may be further away from a window or where sunlight is blocked by trees or buildings."
If you've already got a lot of house plants, this is a time to tend: Snip dead heads and trim foliage. Judicious trimming of a pothos, for instance, produces new plants in new pots and promotes fullness in the original.
"If they've been in the same container for more than three years and they are not growing as fast as usual, it's probably time to move them into slightly larger containers," says Warhurst.
Make sure the new pots have holes in the bottom for drainage, with a saucer underneath to catch draining water. (You may want to get decorative plant stands,tall or short, to protect your floors and carpets from dribbles.)
When repotting, add some indoor potting mix to the bigger pot. Plant roots need oxygen, but if water doesn't drain the roots can drown and the plant will die. Thus, the need for indoor potting mix to prevent this.
Before you transfer, "cut into and loosen the outer, circling roots and gently pull them away from the root ball to ensure they are ready to tap into the new potting mix," Warhurst says.
Also, use your pots to add color and design touches to your home, whether it's the old standby terracotta pots, or the splashy color of Mexican Talavera and Italian Deruta.
Don't forget fertilizer, Warhurst says. You can add fertilizer to water or use fertilizer encased in a resin coating and placed in the soil where it will be slowly released to the plant over several months.
"Wipe the dust off the leaves of foliage plants make them look better and shinier...(because) the dust may actually be blocking sunlight that plants need to grow," Warhurst says.