Garden & Landscape Tips

Winter is a great time to snap up bargains on indoor plants at the garden center. Many of these plants are not only great for brightening dark, dreary and decidedly non-gardeny indoor atmospheres, but most of them are happy to do double duty in your spring containers.

Think about it… most houseplants are native to warm, sunny and humid conditions much like summer. None of them are in a plastic pot next to a living-room window. The best houseplant species will tolerate that, but all would rather head outside when the weather suits. That can work to your advantage – especially when choosing decorative plants to adorn your deck, patio and pool.

Several varieties of dracaena

Tropicals such as crotons, palms and dracaena make superb outdoor pot centerpieces that you can use as indoor potted plants from late fall through mid-spring. Keep that in mind as you shop now. The flip side is also true – many plants sold in garden centers as pot specimens in May can go inside during the cold months.

Be sure to gradually acclimate your houseplants to the outside when frost-free weather arrives. Houseplants adapt to the lower light indoors, so give them increasing light over a 7 to 10-day period outside to help them to brighter conditions. The leaves will bleach if they get too much sun too soon. Because they’re adapted to low light already, houseplant “double agents” make good choices for pots in your shadier outdoor spots.

Most houseplants also do well transplanted into in-ground gardens, where they can be paired with annual flowers for a tropical look. When overnight temperatures begin dipping below 50 degrees at season’s end, move the houseplants back inside. Gently hose them down or spray with insecticidal soap to head off bringing bugs inside. This is also the time to trim back plants that have outgrown the space you can give them inside or that have become too tall, too rangy or too top-heavy for the pot.

Be thinking double-agency at season’s end with any pot plants you bought for summer, too. Many of these are tropicals that can come inside to serve as next winter’s “houseplants.” Spike-like foliage centerpieces such as New Zealand flax and the ti plant are two common “pot plants” that move inside well. Ditto for other colorful-leafed foliage pot plants such as alternanthera, taro, ‘Blazin’ Rose’ and ‘Blazin’ Lime’ iresine, graptophyllum and Persian shield.

Vines such as plectranthus, ivy and wandering Jew usually move in and out seamlessly, and so do many specimen annuals such as the babys-breath-like ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia, flowering maple, perilla and coleus. Many a Northerner gardener has been known to salvage the Christmas poinsettia as an outdoor plant. It won’t turn red in summer, but it makes a nice tropical-looking green mini-bush. Don’t worry if these “annuals” stop flowering or get a bit leggy later in winter. You can always cut them back before sending them back outside in spring. Remember, just because plants are sold for one use doesn’t mean they can’t be used somewhere else.

Here are some of the possibilities:

Plants usually sold as houseplants in cooler zones that can double as outdoor basket and container plants:

  • Aloe
  • Asparagus fern
  • Cast iron plant
  • Chenille plant
  • Chinese evergreen
  • Copper plant
  • Croton
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Dracaena
  • Gardenia
  • Hoya
  • Jade plant
  • Jasmine
  • Norfolk Island pine
  • Oleander
  • Orchids
  • Peace lily
  • Philodendron
  • Pothos
  • Palms
  • Rex begonia
  • Schefflera
  • Snake plant
  • Spider plant
  • Weeping fig

Plants usually sold as outdoor container plants in cooler zones that can overwinter as houseplants:

  • Agapanthus
  • Alternanthera
  • Begonia ‘Dragon Wing’
  • Bougainvillea
  • Coleus
  • Elephant ears
  • Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’
  • Flowering maple
  • Iresine
  • Licorice plant
  • New Zealand flax
  • Perilla
  • Persian shield
  • Princess flower
  • Swedish ivy
  • Ti plant
  • Tropical hibiscus
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