Easy vertical gardens: All in all it's just a simple trick on the wall

Green walls (those created using plants, not just green paint) are all the rage, and with good reason.

These innovative vertical gardens create a calming, natural ambience without taking up valuable floor space in your home or office.

The downside is that they can be expensive, fiddly to set up and hard to maintain.

But there is a simple alternative.

Grouping some favourite plants together on a plant stand or bench is any easy way to create an indoor garden.

Two or three shelves, one above the other, can help replicate the green wall effect and it’s easy to move your pot plants around to achieve the look you are after.

Put tall plants on the top shelf and vines such as Devil’s Ivy (Pothos) below, letting the stems hang down, to achieve the maximum wall coverage.

Grouping plants together helps create humidity around them, which is crucial for many tropical plants, while colourful orchids look even better framed by the leaves of deep green foliage plants such as the hardy Cast Iron Plant.

Succulents and other sun-loving plants should go on the brightest side of your “mini-jungle” to get the light they need while shading delicate species such as ferns.

Succulents (Snake Plant, Jade Plant etc) don’t like humidity, but will cope in medium to bright light indoors as long as they are not overwatered. You may need to water your Peace Lily deeply once a week (depending on conditions), but giving Snake Plant (or even a Fiddle Leaf Fig) that much water will probably rot its roots.

To avoid messy leaks, make sure your pots have deep saucers or opt for sealed cover pots.

Check plant labels to determine the appropriate light and water requirements for your plants and arrange the collection accordingly.

Follow these few simple rules and you will be enjoying your indoor rainforest for years to come.

Orchids look even more spectacular surrounded by Maidenhair and other lush plants.     Picture: Gary McGregor, PlanterGarden

Orchids look even more spectacular surrounded by Maidenhair and other lush plants.     Picture: Gary McGregor, PlanterGarden

Food for thought on indoor plants

There are many ways to feed your indoor plants, ranging from homemade compost (usually a bad idea) to specially formulated plant food (a good idea).

If you learnt about photosynthesis at school, you will know plants make much of their own food using light energy from the sun, water and carbon dioxide, a handy trick if ever there was one.

But they need fertilizer as well. And while plants growing outdoors in soil can send out roots in many directions (and often long distances) in search of food, your potted plant doesn't have this luxury. The food you give it is all the food it gets, and if you don't provide the right fertilizer the plant will suffer.

Potted plants need complete fertilizer containing the macro-nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), sulphur (S) and magnesium (Mg), plus all the micro-nutrients, which include iron, zinc and boron. While some are needed only in tiny amounts, they are still essential to plant health.

The easiest way to feed your plants is with complete slow-release products (usually in pellet form) that provide small amounts of plant food each time you water. Osmocote says its "prills" release more fertilizer is warm weather, when plants are actively growing. These products are relatively expensive, but one application will feed your plants for several months.

Soluble products such as Thrive and the fish-based fertilizers are fast-acting because they feed plants through both leaves and roots, but take care not to use too much. Fast-growing food crops need plenty of fertilizer, but your house plants don't.

If you are moving your plant into a bigger pot, or if you think it may need a boost, give one of the seaweed products a go. They stimulate root growth and promote resistance to insect and disease attack, but unless they contain added macro-nutrients, seaweed-based products are considered a great plant tonic rather than a fertilizer. 

Plants need fertilizer in the warmer months when they are putting on new growth, but ease up with the food over winter. 

And please don't kill your plants with kindness. Too much fertilizer can be worse than too little, so it pays to double check application rates. 

- Gary McGregor









Indoor plants hot for a steamy bathroom

PlanterGarden horticulturalist Gary McGregor has featured in an article about bathroom plants in Melboune's Herald Sun (Saturday, January 28, 2017).

We won't reproduce the whole thing, but here are some of the main points:

* Many indoor plants originate in the tropics, so steamy bathrooms can be an ideal environment.

* Rooms that let in low-medium light are usually ideal. Beware rooms with windows facing north or west, particularly if they get very hot in summer.

* Moth orchid, peace lily, fiddle leaf fig, Boston fern, devil's ivy (pothos) and lucky bamboo are plants worth considering for your bathroom.

* Light and how much room you have are major considerations. Windowsills, shelves, hanging baskets and the floor can all be good positions as long as your plants are not in danger of being knocked over.

* Although bathrooms often have moisture in the air, any plants in the room still need regular watering.

* Take care if you have inquisitive kids or pets who may be attracted to the plants. Devil's ivy, swiss cheese plant (monstera) and syngonium are among plants that are moderately toxic if eaten.


Help indoor plants light up your life

One of the main things to consider when buying an indoor plant is the light it requires.

Many people buy a plant they like the look of then try to find a spot for it. But sometimes it makes more sense to consider where you want to put a plant, then find the right one to go there.

Light conditions change through the seasons, so a plant growing happily in a medium-light spot in summer may need to be moved if available light falls dramatically in the depths of winter.

Here’s a list of some indoor favourites and the best light conditions for them. Some plants are included in more than one category if they can cope with a variety of light levels.

Low light

Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum Clevelandii, Wallisii etc), Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema), Devil’s Ivy/Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), Dracaena Janet Craig.

Medium light

Devil’s Ivy/Pothos (Epipremnum aureum), Dragon Tree (Dracaena marginata), Dumb Cane (Dieffenbachia), Happy Plant/Corn Plant (Dracaena massangeana), Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana), Fiddle Leaf Fig (Ficus lyrata), Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa), Monstera, Parlour Palm (Chamaedorea elegans), Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica), Ribbon/Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum), Umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla).

High light

Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa), Pony Tail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata), Succulents (Snake Plant, Jade Plant etc), Yucca elephantipes.




Water wisely and your plants will thrive

Some indoor plants need a lot of water, some need a little, and at certain times of the year some need none at all.

If that's too much information, here's a general rule that works most of the time: Water thoroughly, then don’t water again until the top few centimetres of potting mix is dry.

If you don't want to bother with a moisture meter the best way to check the "soil" is simply to stick your finger into it. If that doesn't appeal, use a stick instead. If the stick comes out clean, the potting mix is dry.

Avoiding soggy potting soil is particularly important with drought-tolerant plants such as succulents. If you continue to pour water on to plants growing in sodden potting mix there's a good chance your succulent will rot and eventually die.

The same applies to many indoor plants in winter when days are shorter and growth slows. They don't need fertiliser at this time of year and they certainly don't need to be over-watered. 

Tap water can be quite cold In the colder months, so it pays to add a little warm water before watering your plants.

Giving a plant a good watering means pouring on the H2O until it drains freely from all the holes at the bottom of the pot. This is better than dribbling on small amounts of water because it ensures adequate moisture is distributed evenly through the potting mix.

A thorough watering also helps flush away harmful chemicals, which can build up over time. 











Why artificial plants will never grow on me

Artificial plants used to look fake and quite silly, but that’s all changed.

Many of the new “plastic fantastics” are so realistic it’s hard to tell them apart from the real thing, but I still don’t like them.

They don’t need watering (although the occasional rinse helps get rid of the dust), they don’t require fertiliser and they won’t die on you like some temperamental rare orchid.

So why don’t I like them? Because they’re FAKE … not the real thing … artificial … bogus and not even slightly alive.

Worse still, I sell real plants so I can’t make a cent out of them.

But the No.1 reason you should avoid fake plants is because they are bad for you. Not only do they take the place of oxygen-producing living plants, but they almost certainly give off toxic fumes. Maybe only in small amounts, but these are gases you can do without.

Paint, furnishings, carpets, cosmetics, printers and copiers and many kinds of plastic are among the culprits that can emit these gases, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They exist in the air outdoors as well, but in far lower concentrations. (You can Google VOCs to discover more, but it’s not that interesting.)

The good news is that many indoor plants mop up these airborne nasties at the same time they produce oxygen and consume carbon dioxide.

Peace Lilies, Rubber Plants, English Ivy and Snake Plant are among the champions of air purification.

- Gary McGregor