Can you grow Hostas, Heucheras, and other Perennials Indoors?

One of the questions people like to ask is if you can grow Hostas, Heucheras, and other Perennials indoors? The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, no.

The long answer is maybe, but it is very difficult. If you love a challenge, you can give it a try!

Hormonal Reasons

The main reason why it’s not a good idea to grow temperate perennials (perennials that need a seasonal temperature change, or a ‘winter’ period) indoors is that they absolutely require a cold, winter ‘rest’ period.  This primes them for their annual cycle of new growth in spring, summer filling out, fall die-back, and winter rest.  

The cells in plants secrete hormones that control their growth. Hormones also control how they grow, and when they grow. In addition, hormones are responsible for seasonal light and temperature changes that happens naturally outdoors in temperate perennials.

Basically, when you give temperate perennials a fairly unvarying temperature and light levels (like in indoors environments), their internal systems aren’t working quite right!  The symptoms include a lack of vigor or being excessively stretched, pale plant stems, and a slow decline to eventual plant death.

Environmental Reasons

They can also suffer from environmental stresses, due to the fact they’re in an unnatural environment.  We’ve created an ideal indoor environment for human beings – we have vents that blow out heat in winter, keep it chilly in summer, made our buildings air-tight and dry (no wind or humidity!) and have developed low glare, dim lighting in the spectrums that work best for the human eye.  These are, regrettably, very poor and confusing situations for temperate plants!  

Now for the challenge! You can almost certainly grow just about anything indoors, but you have to modify your growing space accordingly in order to do so

Requirements to Grow Temperate Perennials Indoors

Light

The first requirement (and frequently most important for all indoor plants) is light.  Light is sunlitwindow1commonly measured in footcandles. It’s the amount of illumination the inside surface of a one foot radius sphere would be receiving if there were a uniform point source of one candela in the exact center of the sphere. It is defined as the illuminance on a one-square foot surface in which there is a uniformly distributed flux of one lumen.

The average light level outdoors on a sunny day is around 1200 footcandles.  

In the shade, that drops to 350 footcandles.  

Inside a room with a window, about 200-800 footcandles (depending on how close to the window you are, the orientation of the window, direct sunlight, etc).  

Inside an interior office (no windows, overhead lighting) only 30 to 40 footcandles!  

A desk lamp only provides 30 to 80 footcandles, directly underneath!

Maximum-Horticulture-MH-LX-1010B-Digital-Luxmeter-Light-Meter

Example of a light meter

To acquire as much light as possible, place your plant near a sunlit window.  Supplemental light is recommended as well as frequently required (especially for full-sun plants!).  

If you’d like to find out exactly how much light you have in any given area, you can buy a light meter on many hobby websites and Amazon (Professional Light Meter)

Led_grown_lights_useful

LED grow light

Plants need special light spectrums. While humans enjoy the full spectrum or close to it, plants on the other hand can only use certain sections of the spectrum (mostly red and blue) and require more of those.  Plant ‘grow lights’ are sold in many stores as well as online (here’s an example TaoTonics LED) – if you’re serious about growing plants indoors, it’s best to do your research and invest in a grow light if needed for best results!

Seasonal Temperatures

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A selection of hostas in pots

The other most important requirement is seasonal temperature.  If you want to grow temperate perennials (like Hosta, Heuchera, anything grown outdoors in USDA growing zones 1 through 12) they will absolutely need a ‘winter’ cold period.  The cold period can be attained through many different ways, but it depends on the size of your plant and pot.  

For the largest plants and pots, the only options tend to be either leaving them outside (covered or insulated) or in your garage over winter (if you live in the plants’ growing zone).  Similarly, you can also test how cool your basement gets.  By chance it does get cool enough (check the plants’ requirements, and growing zone winter temperatures), place the pots there for a cooling period.  

hosta in round container

Hosta in small pot

If you live in an area where you have no winter cooling (or inadequate winter cooling for your choice of plant) I recommend sticking to smaller pots, or growing temperate plants indoors as annuals, and replacing them every spring.

For smaller plants and pots, you may be able to fit them in a fridge. To prevent drying out or excessive moisture, these plants will have to be carefully covered and checked frequently.  You can always follow the same instructions for large pots, and place small pots in basements, garages, or outdoors for winter as well.

If you are prepared to cater to your temperate perennials’ needs for light and temperature, the third requirement is water and humidity.

Water

Indoor plants require much less frequent water than plants grown outdoors.  That’s because indoor plants do not transpire (water evaporation from leaves) as much as outdoor plants. That’s due to the fact they don’t have wind or breezes to ‘pull’ the moisture away.  Therefore, they also tend to grow at a slower rate, so they just don’t need as much water to drive their food production system.  This makes it easy to overwater indoor plants!  

watermeter

Example of a digital soil probe

Make sure to always check the soil moisture levels before watering. This creates an idea of how often the plant truly needs to be watered. There are commercial ‘soil probes’ available to measure soil moisture by either electronic means or physically pulling a soil sample from lower in the pot. Here’s some examples of soil probes of the electronic variety (Dr. Meter)

and the physical variety

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Example of a physical soil probe

(Alien Soil Probe).

Symptoms of overwatering include brown leaf tips, a funky smell to the potting mix, and stem or root rot.  Fungus gnats are hard to get rid of since they love overwatered plants. So if you hear small and irritating black flies buzzing around, that means no more water please!

Humidity

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Example of a plant mister

Some plants require more moisture in the air, rather than at the roots. These would benefit from a light misting daily or frequently.  You can purchase a squirter or sprayer bottles for these plants, and use as recommended for the plant family/variety. An example here (Coolrunner Vintage).

Potting Mix/Soil

 

First of all, ALWAYS plant indoor plants in a soilless media mix. Your local garden store should easily carry soilless media mix.  Garden or outdoor soil or dirt can frequently be problematic indoors, US-Miracle-Gro-Potting-Mix-75637300-Main-Lrgdue to the fact it can be contaminated with insect pests and diseases.  Soilless media is ph-balanced which makes the ph-balance is neutral. It has good large pores to store water or air for growth, as well as allowing easy root growth.  

Garden soil (your own or purchased in bags) can tend to either be clayey (can ‘bind’ nutrients, making them difficult/impossible to access), or ‘sandy’ (refuse to ‘hold on’ to any nutrients, letting them leach out of the pot entirely).  Similarly, it’s prone to compaction. Compaction makes it smaller for no pores for water or air which makes it unnecessarily difficult for roots to grow through.  Make sure you’ve purchased ‘soilless potting mix’ instead of bags labeled ‘garden soil’ or ‘potting soil’!  Indoors is already a hard environment, let’s make it easy on the roots!

 

Indoor Plant Alternatives

If temperate perennials sound like too much work indoors, there are other plants that are much more easily adaptable to indoor environments!  The Tropicals!  Stores often sell tropical plants as ‘indoor’ plants. That’s because their ideal habitat is quite close to our indoor environment!

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One of the many varieties of Draceana

Tropical plants (like Dracaena, Pothos, Ficus, and other plants native to USDA growing zone 13) require constant, fairly warm temperatures, and plenty of moisture. Many plants are able to adapt for being in the shade(understory natives)! These plants have the best chance of surviving and even thriving in an indoor environment without significant modifications.  If you want to build yourself a lush, green indoor paradise, we recommend exploring these great families!

 

Here’s some links to articles with lists of easy-care tropical indoor plants!

http://www.bhg.com/gardening/houseplants/projects/easiest-houseplants-you-can-grow/

http://www.housebeautiful.com/lifestyle/gardening/g2495/indoor-plants/

http://www.midwestliving.com/garden/container/super-easy-house-plants/

http://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/flowers-and-plants/houseplants/forgiving-houseplants-pictures

 

Sources:

(file:///C:/Users/Hostasdirect/Downloads/Lightlevels.pdf) (University of Denver, DU Portfolio – What do light levels really mean)

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot-candle)

http://www.rgbstock.com/bigphoto/n8Fd9xk/Sunlit+window

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/Led_grown_lights_useful.jpg

 

Maintenance Advice for Your Garden Tools

trowel_pic_of_102sFor gardening, one needs a specific set of tools. Almost every task related to the garden such as digging, pruning, and mulching needs specific tools. A trowel is one of the most important and versatile gardening tools.

Trowels are used in masonry and archaeology as well as gardening, though their specifics differ.

For instance, the gardener’s trowel is a little heavier than that used by other disciplines. The trowel basically features a wooden or plastic handle and a sharp metallic blade. The blade can be made up of carbon steel or stainless steel.

Other gardening tools include shovel, pitchfork, spade, rake, and hoe. Proper maintenance of such tools is necessary for any gardener.Garden Tools

Here are some essential measures for maintaining gardening tools.

Clean with a Brush: Cleanliness and hygiene are important concerns in gardening, especially when you are growing species such as hostas. Use of dirty tools can spread infections among plants, thus causing diseases that can kill the plants!

You should regularly clean your gardening tools, especially your garden trowel, shovel, and spade. Scrub the tools with a brush to remove the dirt, then rinse them with warm water.

Scrub the Wooden Part(s) with Sandpaper: The wooden parts of gardening tools, such as the handle of a trowel, can get rough when exposed to moisture for a long time. It is a good idea to scrub these parts with sandpaper after each use. Use of faulty gardening tools can adversely affect the plants in your garden, particularly species like heucheras.

Remove Rust from the Metallic Part(s): It is not advisable to use gardening tools that have rusty metallic parts. Usage of such tools is not favorable for the plants in your garden. Scrub the metallic parts of your gardening tools with a wire brush to remove the rust.

Sharpen the Tools: The metallic blade(s) of gardening tools need to be sharp. Tools such as steel trowels, shovels, and spades should be sharpened regularly. Most gardeners use a flat file to sharpen their tools.

Useful Advice for Planting Heucheras in Containers

Coral bells are perennial plants known for their dramatically varying color of foliage. Some of the common colors include red, orange, yellow, green, purple, black, silver, and pink! The edges of the leaves of these plants can be ruffled or smooth.Heucheras

Growing coral bells in pots and containers makes them look even more appealing. These plants are shade perennials and have minimal annual maintenance.

Here are some useful points of advice while growing coral bells in pots and containers.

Choose Matching or Contrasting Containers

It is a good design idea to grow heuchera plants in containers that match or contrast with the color of their foliage. You can place these containers at entrances, near gates or doors, or near pathways. Some species of these plants have more than one color in their foliage! In some other species, the color of the foliage slightly changes every season. For such species, you can go for multicolored plant pots.

Combine Contrasting ColorsHeuchera_Georgia_Peach_8b-200x300

A mix of contrasting colors can sometimes make your garden look even more attractive. You can place two containers together, one having a heuchera plant with dark-colored foliage, and the other having the same with a light-colored foliage.

Proper Drainage

The pots or containers in which you are growing your heucheras need to have adequate number of holes for drainage. You can prevent the holes from getting clogged by using a layer of pottery rocks and shards.

Choose the Right Soil Mixture

The soil mixture is one of the most important factors while growing coral bells in a container! For heucheras, you should avoid using mixtures which have too much peat, since peat is designed to hold water and heucheras don’t like to have ‘wet feet’. It is sometimes welcome to mix a slow-release fertilizer in the soil.

Protection from Harsh Weatherheu_berry_timeless

While growing heuchera plants in containers, you also need to shield them from harsh weather conditions.

If you live in a cold region, you should bring them inside a garage or basement and cover these plants to protect their roots from the chill in winter.

If you live in a place with a hot climate, you should avoid exposing them to too much sun and extremely hot weather in summer.

Fall Gardening Tips for Zone 4

Fall Gardening Tips for September Through November:

Below are fall gardening tips for gardeners in zone 4. Your timing may be different depending on your location. These same tips have been featured in a recent newsletter. To sign up for our newsletter please visit our website and enter your email.

Fall is a great time to plant hostas!

Hosta roots continue to grow until the ground is frozen. We have planted Starter TC hostas as late as the second week of November in Minnesota while it was snowing, and they did great.

The one exception might be with fragrant hosta varieties that evolved further south in eastern China from H. plantaginea. However, these fragrant varieties are often hybridized with more cold tolerant hostas so it is difficult to predict. To over winter well, they might need to get more established before planting or make sure you cover them through the winter.

Hostas planted now will come up looking fresh in the spring. A cold winter dormancy triggers plant hormones, called vernalization, that make the plant better.

Do not fertilize after July 31st. Your plants need to slow down so they can go dormant.

We recommend you label your plants before winter with a durable plant identification marker. The styrene labels that come with our plants or from other vendors get brittle, break, or come out of the ground easily.

From our experience and those of our customers, it is very frustrating to not be able to remember your plants’ names. Our IDeal Garden Markers business offers unique stake and nameplate options, custom engraving, and labeling services and products.

fall gardening tips

Water your plants in the fall.  Dry conditions during this period before dormancy leave the hostas subject to crown rot. In addition, oxygen in the root area creates healthier plants. Remember that hostas planted under trees may need extra water as the tree’s foliage may prevent the water from getting to the hostas, and their roots compete with hostas for what moisture there is.

Slugs: You will get “most bang for your buck” by putting down slug killer just before the slugs lay their last batch of eggs. In Minnesota that is often around the second week of October. For more information on slugs and other hosta pests, see our Hosta Pests Info page.

Foliar Nematodes:  These microscopic worms that leave brown streaks in your hosta’s leaves start to appear as early as late June in the south and the third week of August to the third week of September in the north. HostasDirect, Inc. has never had a foliar nematode reported in the plants we have sold in 9 years. More information on Foliar Nematodes here!

With our Starter TC and Advanced Starter, you are assured of a clean plant as they are grown in sterile clean room environments and virus tested.

Our Mature Divisions were all started from Starter TC – and we have never had one complaint.

Removing blooms or seeds: To help the bees and other pollinators, we recommend you please leave your blooms on your plants until the blooms expire. Then, you can cut off the blooms before they go to seed. Removing spent flowers before seed production will allow more energy to go into the plant.

Should you cut off your hosta’s foliage before winter? Doing so saves a lot of work in the spring. In addition, some gardeners think cutting off and removing foliage creates less of a haven for foliar nematodes, fungal diseases and slugs, and your yard looks clean in the spring.

Fall Gardening Tips for November or December:

Do NOT use wood chips for winter cover! Wood chips may cause your plants and their roots to rot.

For HostasDirect’s recommended winter mulch method, see our Overwintering Perennials Page.

Cover some perennials just after the ground freezes!  Covering is cheap insurance to protect your investment of time, money, work and emotion. We recommend covering all first year perennials you purchase from us. In particular mini and smaller hostas (as they have more shallow roots), hostas and coral bells planted later in the season, and fragrant varieties of hostas. Beware of voles and mice.

How and what to use for covering plants: In the first year, after the ground is frozen, protect your hostas and coral bells with 6” to 1’ of straw or leaves (in a bag or secured by other means so they don’t blow away). This helps stabilize soil temperature and moisture ranges, reduces freeze / thaw, and prevents hostas from growing too early in the spring only to be damaged by frost or snow.  See an illustration of this method here.

The benefit of snow: Snow acts as insulation and keeps the soil temperature warmer and more even. We worry when there is little or no snow and the temperatures are very cold and prolonged!

If you follow the above fall gardening tips, your plants should come up looking fresh in the spring. Please note that these tips are for Zone 4. Your timing could differ based on where you are located.

Rest, Renew, Regrow | Hosta Growth Stages After Planting

Author: Peter Kelly, Content Manager

Rest, Renew, Regrow

Those are are three “R”s of horticulture.  They apply to hostas just as they do to any other plant. The three “R”s help us understand the hosta growth stages.  With those words I will answer one of our consumer’s questions: Why are my hostas NOT growing?

Before getting to those three “R”s, the gardener needs to understand that EVERY TIME they move a Hosta it goes into what is known as; “transplant shock”. Then it will go through different hosta growth stages as it adapts to its new surroundings.  

It is a thousand times better to find that right place for the hosta, plant it, and care for it as you wait for it to grow vigorously!

OK, so you have your new hosta or heuchera planted and you’re excited for it to mature; but the plant just sits there.  We assure you that only in film can a plant go ‘sproing’ and suddenly become full sized.   The thing with gardening is that you have to be patient.  How patient?  Rest, Renew, Regrow!

Hosta Growth Stages Using the 3 “R”s

The first stage after you plant something it will … Rest.  Resting means acclimating itself to where it is planted, getting used to the new spot of sun; trying to figure out what nutrients are below it.  If you plant it late in the season it might rest through the second year as well.

The second stage will … Renew.  Renewing means the plant might grow even a little smaller or to the size of what you first planted it.  Fear not brave gardener for the plant is not being lazy on you!  Be it known your plant is growing UNDER the ground and sending out rhizomes and gathering those important nutrients.  Again, depending on the variety, it might carry its renewing into a second year. This is all just part of the hosta growth stages.

We get to the third stage … when the plant Regrows.  This is that hosta growth stage where we may see leaps and bounds of growth.  This is also the time where you might see your first scape and blossom on your plant.  With each year after, the plant will keep moving toward maturity.  Some hostas mature in three (3) years and others take 6 to 8 years primarily due to size and general rate of growth.

Even after that, the plant will continue to look good for years to come if cared for properly.  Over these years, if the gardener is nice they may put in some extra fertilizer to help and encourage the plants to grow.  Remember over-fertilizing can have hazards as well, so fertilize responsibility.

Now lets all take a deep breath and reflectively say, “Rest, Renew, Regrow.”;  and remember to fully exhale.…