FARGO - April showers bring May flowers. But what does apartment-living bring?
The beauty of plants is that they can literally add life to a space. They also act as decor, bringing interest to windows sills, corners and even walls. Hanging planters - suspended from the ceiling - have also become Pinterest popular.
But how does one know which plants grow best indoors?
"In general, indoor plants are the ones that are tropicals and won't survive the winter," says Jill Patrie, perennial production/outdoor manager at Bakers Garden & Gift.
Windows play an even more important role in apartment plant care. "The light is the main determining factor for apartments because you really don't have a choice of four sides like a house," says Don Kinzler, Forum gardening columnist.
Preferred sunlight for houseplants comes from the south, Kinzler says. Second best is east, giving off bright morning sunlight, followed by west and finally north, which is least favorable.
Here Kinzler and Patrie recommend several plant varieties that are perfect for apartment living:
Also known as "mother-in-law's tongue" or "snake plant," sansevieria is a low-maintenance plant that can tolerate low light. It's great for apartment dwellers who travel for their profession, requiring watering only once every four months. As a clean-air plant, it can also filter the air, removing toxins when it breathes.
Bromeliad is considered an epiphyte, which means it tends to cling to trees or other structures. The pet-friendly plant is primarily green in color but produces a red flower in the middle that blooms for 5 to 6 months. Eventually, the mother plant dies and has babies (known as pups) that you can break off and propagate a new plant.
Small trees can make a big statement indoors. Majesty and bella (parlor) palms are very common and pet-friendly for those with furry friends.
Kinzler and Patrie also recommend dracaena trees, another clean-air option. These start as shorter plants that form cane trunks and eventually turn into trees. While there are many types, the dracaena needs moderate light and water when the soil feels slightly dry.
Varieties of ficus are blowing up on Pinterest, especially the fiddleleaf ficus. Other popular varieties include the burgundy rubber plant and weeping fig. All are considered clean-air plants that are sure to add character to any apartment.
Succulents and cacti
Succulents come in many shapes, sizes and kinds. Requiring a lot of sunlight, a bright east- or south-facing window is best.
Most need watering just once a month. Patrie says keeping a watering schedule works best (i.e. the first of the month). "The reason they're called succulents is because they have that thick, succulent leaf and that's where they store all their water," she says. "That's why you don't have to water them as often."
There's an easy way to tell if the plant needs water. "If you pinch lightly and it feels squishy, they need water. If they feel firm, then it doesn't need water," Patrie says.
Growing herbs in an apartment is fairly easy; starting in a smaller pot, they can be transplanted to a larger container as they grow.
"For herbs to be grown inside, you definitely need to have some supplemental lighting," Patrie says. Herbs need to be exposed to sunlight mimicking summer - approximately 12-plus hours per day. You can buy a grow light (called a visible spectrum light bulb) and screw into a desktop lamp. Using a Christmas light timer for automatic on and off settings helps to ensure the herbs get enough light.
Known as tillandsia, air plants are also an epiphytes, meaning they don't need soil to live. Some people use glass containers to suspend them from the ceiling, decorating the container with moss, stones or sand. The plants require some sunlight and infrequent watering.
To water the soilless plant, Patrie recommends misting the plant every 2 weeks with a spray bottle. Once a month, soak air plants for 1 to 2 hours, submerging them in bowl of water.
For aspiring plant-enthusiasts, Patrie says have no fear.
"Everyone can grow something," she says. "If you're a beginner, try to start with something that's low maintenance like a succulent, dracaena or a snake plant that you know it doesn't need to be attended to every day so you can get a feel for taking care of something."
Kinzler says having a green thumb is just providing a plant with what it needs. "There are three ways to get a green thumb," he says. "Some people instinctively give plants what they need. Secondly, you can learn what plants need. And the third way is just experience with trial and error. I think everyone is capable of one of those ways. If it doesn't come naturally, you can read about plants, learn about them, study or trial and error, see what works and what doesn't."
Tips to a green thumb
Lifelong gardener Don Kinzler offers tips for keeping plants alive indoors:
• Check humidity levels. "Plants like a humidity of 45 to 50 percent," Kinzler says. "You can get a $5 humidity gauge to tell where your humidity is. If the humidity is less than 40 percent, you might consider misting plants or getting a humidifier."
• Change the soil. If plants are left in the same soil for a couple years, it eventually loses its nutrients. Rather than re-potting completely, you can scrape off a layer and add fresh soil.
• Don't use softened water. "Water that's been run through a water softener is dangerous for plants," Kinzler says. The salt that softens the water can adversely affect plants, causing burned leaf tips and yellowing leaves.
• Consider container-specified varieties. Apartment-dwellers can grow herbs, tomatoes and other vegetables in pots on their patio. For best results, "look for varieties of vegetables that specify that they work well in containers," Kinzler says.
• Give plants a summer vacation. "Houseplants can be given summer vacations on balconies," Kinzler says. "If people have a north- or east-facing balcony, they can certainly move their houseplants outside and then in the summer they get increased growth."