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You go to a garden center and all the plants seem to thrive in either full sun or the sunny side of partial sun. What are you to do if you want to grow plants indoors? On your porch? In the shade?

Most places in which you’ll want to grow plants will not receive the “ideal” full sun all day, but that doesn’t mean you lack options. We’ve assembled this guide as a handy reference tool as you plan out your garden.

This is a great place to remind you to not let perfect be the enemy of good. Even the most experienced gardener has some plants die off. Each plant is different, and some are just not “meant to be.” Don’t let plant death discourage you from this hobby or lose faith in your skills. That said, you can always learn something knew, so keep reading and discussing with your fellow gardeners.

Basics About Sun Exposure

Indoor Gardening

Patio Gardening

Seniors & Special Needs Gardening

 

 

Basics About Sun Exposure

Scilla mischtschenkoana

Scilla mischtschenkoana

Before we proceed, it’s important to define the different measures of light on plants. Most plants that you buy have labels on them that detail out their sun requirements, though often they are in terms of the following grades:

Full sun – These plants need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. If they bear fruit or vegetables, their needs are closer to 8-10 hours daily. These do not have to be continuous hours, just total daily.

Partial sun – These plants need generally 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day, erring on the side of sunnier. They are usually a bit more heat-tolerant.

Partial shade – These plants need about 2-4 hours of direct sunlight per day, and so they can tolerate erring toward a bit less light per day than their “partial sun” counterparts.

Shade – These plants still need light, but it can be a bit “spottier” or “dappled.” Generally, shade plants can live off of less than 2 hours of direct sunlight per day.

If you’re shopping online, you can often filter based on sun exposure, e.g. full-sun shrubs.

 

Indoor gardening – how do I grow trees and flowers indoors?

Traditionally we think of gardening as an outdoor activity, but growing indoors is easier than you think! You get the added benefit of being around your plants more, and of having some flexibility in terms of where you place them. A good rule of thumb is to look for plants that do best between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, since that’s the range of normal in household temperatures.

Here are some more tips to get you started:

Define the space you’ll be using to grow – a corner of the room, a windowsill, a table, etc. Know the dimensions of the area you’re working with so that you can define how big your pot will be.

Keep away from drafty spots – Don’t place your plants in front of heating vent, an air conditioner, etc. Plants have some measure of adaptation possible, but you undermine that if you consistently subject them to rapid “extreme changes” or constant stress.

Evaluate the lighting – Know how much light you will be able to get reliably and consistently. Does it change through the course of day? Does it change throughout the year? You must factor this all in.

Remember you can move your plants – Much easier to do with indoor potted plants, don’t forget that you can always move your plants around to adjust for light, temperature within the room, etc. Just don’t do it too often; give your plants time – on the scale of weeks – to adapt before you move them.

Rotate your plants – Make sure that they receive even light throughout.

Keep temperature consistent – Preferably, the house temperature should fall somewhere between 55°F and 70°F.

Place full sun plants facing north – To get maximum sun, place these to face the north. Be wary in case they start to burn, the soil dries out, or they wither; if that occurs, move them away and give them a short break.

Don’t fear dappled light – In nature, plants have neighbors, so it’s ok if the entire plant is not wholly bathed in light. Again, feel free to rotate the plants over time to try to even out the light, but don’t hold back from trying to make a plant’s growth work in a narrower spot of sunlight.

Group plants together – Plants with similar dispositions – lovers of humidity, those that favor the sun, etc. – can be kept together to make care easier. If one plant shows issues and not the others, then you know it is likely a problem with that individual plant versus the conditions you are offering your plants.

Ferns and cacti can thrive in the bathroom – They can handle the moisture and light fluctuations.

Feed used tea leaves – Fertilize the soil of your ferns using the leftover leaves and residue from brewed tea.

Give them club soda – When you can’t finish your club soda, go ahead and pour it into your pot. The minerals can help the plants get a little boost!

Use well draining pots with holes on the bottom – Some recommend watering straight into the dish versus the soil, to make sure it reaches the plants roots while also ensuring the soil does not flood.

Pick the right sized pot – The last thing you want to do is stunt your plant’s growth. Pick a pot that’s the same size as what you bought it in; when it’s outgrowing its current pot – usually indicated by a decline in growth – look for one that is 2-4 inches in diameter larger.

Remember there is still a dormant period – Plants will grow more slowly during the fall and winter – no need for alarm.

Sometimes you can bring outdoor plants in – And vice versa! If you take an outdoor plant in, you will likely need to place it in ample sun. If you take an indoor plant out, make sure the change in temperature and humidity is not too drastic; keep an eye on the plant, and if it seems to be struggling,

Dust your plants – Help them breathe better by washing them with a solution of water and extremely mild soap.

Water appropriately – Look at the plants to know if they need more water. If you tend to dry out your plants, repot them with a damp sponge at the bottom of the soil – this will act as a moisture reservoir.

Use ice cubes to water – Don’t touch the plant with the ice, but place them around the soil for a gradual release of water.

Look for self-fruiting plants – If you want to generate fruit with your plants, make sure they don’t rely on pollinators!

What trees can you grow indoors?

Growing a tree indoors can make a bold statement in a room, and yet many people don’t think to grow them inside! Because you control the climate and the trees live a relatively stress-free life, you can get tons of fruit for your labor. Here are some trees we recommend you keep indoors:

Avocado trees – Cope with the high prices of avocados by growing your own! These can handle either full or partial sun, giving you a bit of flexibility with their placement in your home.

Banana trees – You can choose to buy a tree that simply flowers or that bears fruit. These trees have very catchy leaves that will add relaxed tropical vibes – or just an eye-catching look – to your space.

Fig trees – There are many varieties of fig trees that you can buy. Pick the type of fig you’ll grow based on the temperature and lighting in your space.

Lemon or lime trees – The key with growing lemons and limes is to make sure you keep the humidity up (consider a humidifier) and water regularly. Use slow-release fertilizer for maximum results.

Olive trees – These are some of the most adaptable trees out there, capable of withstanding cold temperatures and relative neglect.

For additional resources on indoor gardening, we recommend you visit these pages:

Caring for houseplants (University of Illinois)

Repotting House Plants (Penn State)

Feeding Houseplants

Indoor Gardening 101 – Planet Natural

 

Patio, decks, and balconies – what can I grow?

It can seem daunting to try to figure out what to plant where, especially when you deal with the spatial and light restrictions of spaces like patios or balconies. Don’t let this get to you! Some simple research and planning is all you need to get started.

Use light-colored pots or containers – Make sure the pot – and the tree roots inside – doesn’t overheat.

Consider how many plants you can accommodate – Smaller flowers will require many more pots in order to make an impact on the place. Consider a smaller number of larger plants. Got vertical space? Use a vine or something similar to add in a green patch of character without eating up space – just make sure you keep them trimmed!

Line your stairs with potted plants – If in the sun, it will be easier to place flowering plants there – all of the same color, or try alternating if you’d like a bit of a pop – but consider shrubs or even ferns if there’s spottier lighting. Flank your front door with more dramatic, taller plants for even more effect!

Scan websites for pictures of what inspires you – Then, deconstruct those images and figure out, practically, what works with the space, light, and temperature limitations you face. Really want a particular plant, but know it doesn’t work in your space? That’s fine – why were you set on that plant? Figure out what features are most important to you, and continue your search – either online, or by calling into a garden shop.

Consider bloom time – Do you want all of your plants to be in bloom for most of the time? If you’re set on a particular plant with a shorter bloom time, will there be others in its vicinity to “compensate”? (i.e. make sure you don’t pick flowers that lose their bloom at the same time)

Consider density – Do you want to fill in “empty” pockets, add in color, accentuate height, or highlight some other feature of your space? Use this to further drive your selection process.

Map out the sunlight on your porch or patio – Calculate about how many hours of light each ‘region’ gets, marking each region in terms of the levels of sunlight outlined above. Place plants there accordingly.

Feel free to combine similar plants – If they have similar needs for light and water, they will likely make good companions in your container!

Keep plant tags (if applicable) – These contain valuable instructions and can provide an easy reference for you.

Do these plants need to be hardened off? – Unless you are growing them from seeds, potted plants were originally raised in greenhouses, or even just in other places. You may need to harden them off, although sometimes they will come already having been through the process.

Keep them well-drained – Whether using a pot or other container, make sure there are holes to allow the water to drain out. This will keep the plant from ‘standing’ in water, and help it grow healthily. Skimping on this is one of the most common mistakes made by gardeners.

Be creative with new surfaces – Don’t just stick to the level ground. Use a raised bed, a hanging plant, place boxes on railings, or even recycle small shelves or racks outside to hold plants where you need them!

Use loam or loamy soil – This is made of sand, clay, and silt, and allows for proper drainage; you never want your plants to sit in water. Potting soil is a good choice, particularly if you’re concerned with your container being weighed down.

Consider covering the soil with mulch – Protect it from the elements, and allow the moisture to remain on-hand for the plants.

Add nutrients to the pots regularly – Plants will absorb what’s in there, so maintenance is key. Supplement with compost or mineral fertilizers to keep the plant nutrient flow going, and consider using lime to adjust pH.

Prune consistently – Tend to the plants, not only to remove unsightly problems, but also because this habit will key you into what’s going on with them, and you will be a better judge of how to tend best to your precise garden.

Match the colors and shape to your style of decor – Consider the colors, shapes, and textures of the plants you will be adding, and how they feature with the shapes and accents already present in your home.

What are some good plants to grow on your patio?

Here’s a list of our favorite patio plants. Be sure to check that they line up with the temperature and light conditions that you’re working with.

BougainvilleaIf you have Spanish or Mediterranean style in your home, these will make for the perfect accent! Varieties differ primarily in color. These also exist as vines, if you’ve got a surface for them to climb.

Citronella mosquito plant – This is a great idea if you tend to have many mosquitos but would like to steer clear of harsh chemicals. Just crush the leaves and rub the resin on your skin to find natural defense from those blood-sucking pests!

Clementine tree – This heavy-yielding tree is drought and pest resistant, but makes for easy snacking! The only caveat is if you live in zone 8 or cooler, in which case you must bring the tree indoors for the winter. Dead set on the citrus, but live in a colder area? Try a loquat tree instead.

Coffee plant – With shiny green leaves, fragrant flowers, and yielding raw coffee beans, this tree is another great choice for adding some fruitful green to your space.

Columnar apple tree, or similar – These are powerful, fruit-bearing, and yet don’t occupy very much space. Columnar trees like this one do not require pruning to keep their shape, and so they are relatively low maintenance.

Crape myrtle – If you’d like an impactful explosion of color in your space, this is the patio plant for you.

Croton plant – These have extremely distinctive leaves, and are one of the most versatile plants you can find. Keep them indoors, in containers or on your patio, or even plant them in the ground to fill in outdoor spaces.

● Daylily – Need a pop of sunshine in your space? Daylilies have long-lasting blooms.

Ficus tree – This is a classic indoors, for its distinguished shape yet low-maintenance nature, as it only requires a bit of water here and there to stay alive.

Gardenia tree – Bred to be hardy, deer resistant, and beautiful, this tree features fragrant flowers and long bloom time.

Goji berry plant – Known to be a “superfruit,” goji berries are packed with nutrients and beautiful to look at, with their bright red color. These plants grow tall and lean, so you can even keep several of them together for added depth.

Hibiscus tree – Designed to be cold hardy, anyone can enjoy this tree. Again, different species come in different colors.

Knockout rose tree – With flowers that last for nine months, this tree requires very little maintenance.

Miracle berry – This fun plant yields a berry that makes everything taste sweet! It looks pretty and generates bright red fruit.

Raspberry bush – Bear fruits without having to deal with installing a trellis, and get this bush!

For more information on patio plants, please visit:

Patio Plants – The Perfect Trees and Shrubs

Pleasing Patio Ideas from HGTV

How to Grow Tree-Form Flowering Container Plants

Gardening Without a Garden

 

Senior and Special Needs Friendly Gardening

Aside from the “fruits of your labor,” gardening has long been touted for its health benefits.

Stress reduction – Being outdoors and active – or even just caring for your own potted plant – is known to reduce stress levels and fatigue. This causes a positive domino effect on your health as your cortisol levels go down and you sleep better, are less susceptible to illness, etc.

Grow plants to ease your mental healthThere are plants you can grow to help you battle stress, anxiety, and depression.

Productivity, pride, and mental acuity – Nurturing something that’s alive is extremely gratifying. The rhythm of maintaining it can help you maintain your mental sharpness.

Low maintenance – While plants need regular attention, you have some flexibility with when you can give it (contrast this to, say, a dog, who may need a walk immediately). Many plants can also rebound even if you neglected them.

Reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes– Even the simplest gardening work will keep you engaged and active, which will help you reduce your likelihood for cardiovascular illness or diabetes.

How can we make gardening accessible for seniors and other individuals with special needs? Decide what sort of environment you have for growing plants, and remember that potted plants are always an option! Then combine the tips from above with the following:

Allow adequate spacing between plants – Place planters around the patio to allow space for a wheelchair or walker, or space out the elements of your garden similarly.

Make sure all pathways are level and wide enough – Reduce the risk of falls and other injuries by checking that everything is in good shape. For wheelchairs or scooters, the path must be at least 40 inches wide, and requires a 5-foot turning radius.

Make sure surfaces are textured, cool, and anti-glare – Make the space safer by removing glare – avoid concrete (due to glare) but also avoid very dark materials (e.g. asphalt) which absorb heat and can easily become dangerously hot.

Elevate beds or planters – 24”-36” is the ideal height so your loved one can work from a seated position.

Keep it ergonomic – Bend the knees and hips. Use a pad under the knees if extensive kneeling is required. Bring a small stool to rest on. Wear comfortable, supportive footwear.

Use automatic irrigation for watering – This reduces the stressful burden of gardening and allows your loved one to focus on tending to the plants: pruning them, fertilizing, etc.

Make sure planted areas are well lit – For both the plants (ensure they receive enough sunlight) and for your loved one (ensure they can see the plants well).

Wear sunscreen and bug repellent (for outdoor gardening) – Seniors are more vulnerable to infection, and so it’s very important to take preventative measures.

Wear gloves – Prevent cuts and scrapes that could get infected and become dangerous. Some plants might be resinous or have other chemicals that can cause irritations in your loved ones, so better err on the side of caution.

Work in the early AM or late PM (for outdoor gardening) – Temperatures will be cooler and the air will be drier, which can help make this physical activity comfortable and not too taxing.

Carry a water bottle – It’s important to stay hydrated, especially for balance and mental sharpness, and it’s easy to lose track of this while wrapped up in a such an engaging hobby!

Reduce lawn maintenance as much as possible – Mulched beds are a great way to do this.

Raise plants – In the case of a garden, this will improve their drainage and also make pruning easier. For potted plants, make sure they are placed at a height that is comfortable. Use slightly varied heights where possible to avoid straining any single set of muscles.

Use soil-less resins or other mixtures – As possible, use these to house potted plants so that there is less mess.

Consider a vertical garden – Again, this keeps the plants at a comfortable height for your loved one, and reduces the need to bend over.

Keep tools nearby and highly visible – Make sure all tools are readily accessible, at the right height, and stored safely. If need be, label them with brightly colored tape or paint in order to make them easier to spot.

Make water easy to carry – Reduce the risk of injury by making water easy for your loved one to carry over.

Keep beds and pots narrow – Prevent the need for too much reach, which could cause your loved one to lose balance and fall.

Consider a hardy fruit – Something like the Meyer lemon tree cited above (or other edible plants) will bear fruit that could enhance your loved one’s life in ways beyond just their gardening hobby, and can also resist a wide range of environmental conditions.

Build a fence For outdoor gardens, a fence can keep out deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other critters that will come and try to eat what’s growing.

Join a gardening club or community garden – Socializing is important for everyone’s mental health, and this is definitely a hobby that can lend itself to making friends! Swap tips with others or get new, creative ideas.

Shop for plants and gardening materials online – The easiest way to check the specifications, research reviews, and plan out your plants is at home on your computer, particularly if you have special needs. Feel free to call or quickly stop by the store if you have questions and feel up to it.

While we do not officially endorse any of the following products specifically, nor are we affiliated with them, below are some products we have encountered that might help your senior or special needs loved one deal with their limitations but still enjoy their hobbies. We recommend you take these as starting points for your research; search for these types of items, and consult product reviews for the most up-to-date information.

Modular outdoor raised beds and trellises can keep plants and the right height while still benefiting from the outdoor space.

Elevated planters, similarly, eliminate the need for kneeling and bending.

Gardening gloves with extra grip can help make the job easier on joints and less damaging to the skin, while also providing barrier protection.

Ergonomic digging tools can be used to maximize your grip or ease the pressure on your wrists. Look for things like curved handles (to reduce wrist pressure) or longer handles (to reduce the need to bend). Combine long handles with good grips to ensure maximum comfort.

Cushioned knee pads provide support for your joints (and can be used around the house). Look for a waterproof version so you have it longer!

Kneeler seats add in an additional layer of assistance to prevent loss of stability during the physical ups-and-downs of gardening. Rocker seats give you a full range of motion.

Lightweight hoses make it easier for your loved one to water their plants.

Drip irrigation is a great option for those very limited mobility, frequent hospital visits, and/or memory dysfunction, because you can always attach a timer to ensure regularity.

For further tips on special needs and senior gardening, consult the following resources:

(U of Missouri) – Tips & Techniques for the Senior Gardener

Background on Horticultural Therapy

By Hook or By Crook: Gardening with Disabilities

 

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