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

 

Methods to Boost Sluggish Hostas

H. 'Empress Wu'

H. ‘Empress Wu’, the largest hosta ever!

Certain adverse factors can slow down the growth of hosta plants.

Following are some methods to deal with sluggish growth in hosta plants:

Water Your Plants Sufficiently

To ensure proper growth of your hostas and to keep them healthy, you need to provide them with ample moisture by watering them regularly.

Lack of water will restrict the plant from utilizing energy for foliage growth. A water level of 1 inch per week needs to be maintained during summer, so if it doesn’t rain that often, you’ll need to take care of them yourself. Level of water can be reduced during late winter, but the plants’ water intake should not be cut off suddenly, and should be tapered.

Optimal Fertilization

As far as healthy growth of hosta plants is concerned, excessive quantities of fertilizer is not a major requirement. However,a certain amount of nitrogen is needed by these plants during their initial growth phase so that more foliage can be produced.

At the start of spring, add a cup of 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer to the soil in which you are growing hostas. Make sure that roots of the plant do not get disturbed while you are fertilizing the soil. After adding fertilizer, add water to the soil so that it can absorb the fertilizer. Soil fertilization is an essential step while growing heuchera as well.

Pest Control and Disease Prevention

Growth conditions can become unfavorable for your hostas due to the presence of pests. Snails and slugs are common pests that can damage hostas. Place copper strips around your hosta plants to control these pests, or diatomaceous earth. You can also lure them into a saucer filled with beer. Attracted to beer, these pests will enter the saucer and drown as they are unable to get out of it.

Disease prevention is also necessary for your hostas to grow steadily. Avoid over- watering your plants; hosta plants with wet and soggy roots are vulnerable to fungal infection such as anthracnose. Cut off any infected or damaged parts of the plant to prevent infections from spreading among other plants.

Growth Pattern of Hostas During Spring

hosta in sunlightWith a warm climate and extra hours of sunlight, hosta varieties tend to grow vigorously during the onset of spring. Following are some facts about growth of hostas during spring:

Leaf Growth During Spring Season

On being exposed to a temperature of above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, hostas begin a new stage of growth. This stage is often known as the bullet stage.

The warm weather causes the swelling buds to respond, resulting in the growth of about three leaves at first. In warmer areas, leaves will grow even more vigorously. If the soil is moist and well-drained, new leaves continue to grow from the crown until a a little mound of foliage is formed.

The crown is vulnerable to rot, however, which makes it necessary to remove any piled soil or mulch near the crown. Proper air circulation is necessary for the crown to stay safe from any bacterial or fungal infections. Such infections can hamper leaf growth in hostas.

Growth of Roots in Hostas During Spring

Roots of hostas can retain moisture and nutrients for a long time, so sometimes they do not grow immediately after leaves emerge. It might take about a month for the growth of roots to commence. Roots may respond faster when exposed to warmer climates and high soil temperatures.

Old root tips need a fertile soil with plenty of organic matter. These tips grow along with the new structures to supply nutrients to the leaves above. A large area for transpiration can help the roots to grow up to several feet. However, roots need to stay moist during this stage. Lack of moisture can cause drought stress in hostas, causing them to die back/go dormant.

When and How to Fertilize Hosta Plants

Hostas Plant

Hosta plants

Popular for their colorful foliage, hostas add appeal to the look of a garden. Apart from the minimal basic needs, hostas also require regular fertilization of the soil to stay healthy.

Without fertilization, hostas sometimes grow more slowly than you may prefer. At the same time, excessive use of fertilizer can result in abnormal growth of hostas, and also make them vulnerable to infections.

Here are some essential points regarding the fertilization of hostas.

Right Time to Fertilize the Hostas

Spring is the best time to fertilize the soil for hosta plants. You should wait for the new shoots to emerge from the soil, both to better place the fertilizer where it will do the most good and to  prevent burning the sensitive, growing tips.

For encouraging proper development of foliage, it is a good idea to use a balanced, granular fertilizer. Add the fertilizer to the soil once every six weeks. This way, the hostas will get all the essential nourishment they need during their rapid growth phase. Fertilization can be continued till midsummer.

During the fall season, hostas enter dormancy, so there is no need to fertilize the soil during this season. To know the amount of fertilizer needed by the soil, and the right way to add it, refer to the directions given on the package.

Cut Back the Hostas During Winter

Cutting back hostas is an important part of their maintenance routine during fall season. Sometimes, it is done during early spring. In this process, the foliage is cut near the soil using a pair of shears and then removed. These plants go dormant in the fall season and develop new foliage during spring. Cutting the foliage helps to prevent slugs and diseases from overwintering and ruining the plants.

Use Compost for Nutritious Soil

If you are growing your hosta plants on a rich and nutritious soil, you can also use compost instead of a chemical fertilizer. Spread a 2 inch thick layer of compost around the hostas during winter, after cutting their foliage.

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.