Most home gardeners likely think of the lush, reliable Boston fern when thinking about ferns as houseplants, but there are many other truly beautiful options for gardeners looking for something unique. Ferns make good houseplants because most prefer lower light levels. Follow their care instructions, and these indoor ferns should provide lasting beauty to your home.
Here is one of the easiest ferns you can grow, and it is a little gem. Button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia) reaches 6-12 inches high and has small, button-like pinnae. Grow it in filtered light or medium sunlight and provide even moisture. Mist occasionally to keep the fronds looking their best.
Crested Japanese Birdsnest Fern
Rather than having an airy look like most ferns, Crested Japanese Birdsnest Fern (Asplenium antiquum) has dense fronds with rippled edges. The variety ‘Leslie’ is especially wavy and pretty, and the twisted fronds of ‘Hurricane’ give the plant a twirly windswept look. It will tolerate partial sunshine or light shade. Mist regularly and water two times weekly in the cool winter months. More water may be required in warmer summer months.
If you are looking for a small, specimen fern, choose the delicate eyelash fern (Actiniopteris australis). When mature the plant only reaches (6-8 inches). The fine, palm-like fronds make the rare fern especially pretty. Most garden centers won’t carry eyelash fern, but specialty several plant vendors sell them online. High humidity is required for eyelash fern, so consider growing yours in a terrarium filled with Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Soil and a layer of decorative sphagnum peat moss on top.
Dragon’s Wing Fern
Be sure to provide plenty of space for a Dragon’s Wing Fern (Microsorum punctatum ‘Dragon’s Wing’), if you choose to grow one. The large fronds have a winged look and happy plants have been known to reach as much as 4′ across in time. A substantial pot and plant stand are required, but the beauty of the fern is worth the effort if you have the space. Provide filtered sunlight, regular water, and ample humidity.
At first glance, most might not recognize heart fern (Hemionitis arifolia) as a fern at all, but the beautiful specimen plant is truly a fern. The leaves have a leathery texture and distinct heart shape. The plants reach no more than 10 inches when mature. They prefer slightly moist soil and high humidity–making heart fern another potential terrarium specimen.
Staghorn ferns (Platycerium spp.) need substantial support, but they are truly beautiful. The large ferns naturally make their home in trees found in the rainforests of Java, New Guinea, and southeastern Australia. Specimens are generally wall-mounted or hung indoors. In warmer climates, they can be grown on trees or patio mounts outdoors. They enjoy warmth, humidity, and regular water–low-mineral spring water is preferred. (Elkhorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) is a particularly pretty and easy-to-find species.)
Most ferns grow best in fertile potting mix with a slightly acid pH. Good water-holding ability and drainage are also necessary soil requirements. Both Fafard Professional Potting Mix and Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix are good choices. Most ferns prefer to be watered regularly with low-mineral water, or bottled spring water and require pots that drain well. Misting and higher-than-average humidity are also recommended to discourage leaf-tip drying. Some gardeners opt to bring a humidifier into a room with potted ferns.
February can be the longest short month for gardeners. In cold winter climates it is frequently too soon to get out in the garden and work. Elsewhere it may be gray, rainy, and dismal. Indoor gardening is a good way to beat the cold-weather doldrums, and the Japanese art of kodedama is a relatively easy, inexpensive means of enjoying a green project indoors.
What is Kokedama?
Kokedama means “moss ball” in Japanese, and the words define this container-free method of growing small to medium-sized houseplants in mossy orbs of potting medium. Instead of a pot or other vessel, the plant of your choice grows in a soil mixture enclosed in a sheet of sphagnum moss (typically) and held together by nylon or burlap garden twine. The result can be hung from the ceiling or displayed on a decorative plate or tray.
Kodedama is interesting enough for adults and a great activity for children, with adult help and supervision.
Picking a Kokedama Plant
Almost any small to mid-size plant that does not spread will work. If you plan to hang your kokedama, try English ivy (Hedera helix), asparagus fern (Asparagus setaceus), or trailing heart-leaf philodendron (Philodendron hederaceum). For a flowering ball, think about African violets (Saintpaulia hybrids, click here to read more), flowering kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), or bromeliads, like terrestrial Tillandsias or Guzmannia. Dwarf fancy-leaf begonias make showy kokedama. If you have a sunny space and love succulents, smaller specimens will also grow well.
Think about where you will display your finished moss ball and choose plants that flourish in the available light. Flowering subjects generally like more light than foliage plants.
Raw Materials for Kokedama
Like any good recipe, kodedama starts with an ingredient list. Necessary kokedama supplies:
Sphagnum sheet moss or loose coarse sphagnum moss
Well-aerated potting mix or bonsai soil (available at some garden centers or online)
Have all of your materials ready before starting. The process can get messy, so work on an easy-to-clean surface or cover the work area with plastic or paper.
Assemble the chosen plant, plus all the ingredients, with a water source nearby. Your finished kodedama will probably be 5 to 8 inches wide, depending on the size of the plant.
Put on your gloves. Soak the moss in water for a few minutes to make it pliable. In a bowl, mix equal parts of the bonsai and potting mixes. Begin adding water, a little at a time, until the mixture holds together when scooped up in your palm.
Form the mixture into a ball (like making a snowball). When you have a cohesive ball, split it by cutting or twisting. Remove the plant from its container, and gently remove the excess potting mix, but be sure not to harm the plant’s root ball. Insert the plant between the two halves and then reform the soil ball around the plant, patting and turning until the mass holds together. Be careful not to bend or harm any of the plant’s stems.
Place the plant ball atop the moistened piece of sheet moss and pull the sheet moss up around the ball, tucking it at the base of the plant. Take the twine or filament and wrap it around the middle of the ball, leaving about six inches free to tie at the end of the process. Continue to wrap twine around the moss (like winding yarn into a ball), until the kokedama is held securely. If you are going to hang the finished creation, make a couple of hanging loops of the same length at the top of the ball and tie them together (see the image under Picking a Kokedama Plant). Trim and loose ends of twine or tuck them under. The kokedama is finished and ready to hang or display.
Aftercare and Keeping Kokedama Going
As you might expect, you can’t just water a kokedama with a watering can unless you want a drippy mess. The best way to water is to soak the ball in a bowl of water for about five minutes and then let it drip dry for half an hour or so in a strainer or colander. Watering frequency may vary depending on the plant type and also the level of humidity in the air. If the ball feels relatively light and/or the leaves are droopy, the kokedama needs a drink. Dry air may mean watering every few days. Feed by using soluble fertilizer diluted according to the manufacturer’s directions and added to the water in which you soak your kodedama,
Most plants, even slow-growing succulents, will eventually outgrow their kodedama packages. When that happens, you can either use the plant to make a bigger kodedama, install it in an appropriately sized container, or, in the case of a perennial plant, transfer the former kodedama subject to the garden.
Showy, funnel-shaped flowers; attractive, rounded, or lance-shaped leaves; and an overall velvety to fuzzy texture characterize members of the family Gesneriaceae, home to many popular flowering house plants including gloxinias (Sinningia speciosa), African violets (Saintpaulia spp.), and others. Collectively known as gesneriads, they have a dubious reputation for being fussy in cultivation. In fact, many are quite easy to grow, provided conditions are not too dry, wet, or cold.
In almost all cases, gesneriads prefer a well-drained, organic-rich, moderately moist growing medium (allow the surface to dry between waterings). Peat-based potting mixes with lots of perlite or grit usually work well, such as Fafard Professional Potting Mix. Moderate fertility is also best (apply a balanced gesneriad or African violet fertilizer every couple of months or so). Most favor a bright but not overly sunny exposure, such as dappled shade or an east- or west-facing window.
For some gesneriads, such as members of the genera Ramonda and Haberlea, anything above minus 15 degrees F or so is not “too cold”. These hardy gesneriads make good subjects for rock gardens and other well-drained, partly shaded garden sites into USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Most members of the family, however, are native to much milder, sub-tropical to tropical regions.
African Violets (Saintpaulia)
The approximately half-dozen species of Saintpaulia hail from mountainous areas of equatorial East Africa (i.e., Kenya and Tanzania). By far the most familiar member of the genus is Saintpaulia ionantha, parent of most of the hundreds of hybrids collectively known as African violets. These come in a wide range of floral colors and sizes, from miniatures (2 to 6 inches wide) to “standards” (10 to 24 inches wide) to “trailing” varieties that creep and cascade to even greater lengths. Flowering continues sporadically year-round. A number of cultivars sport variegated leaves or double or striped flowers – or all of the above.
Real enthusiasts might want to explore species other than Saintpaulia ionantha (e.g. S. brevipilosa and S. confusa), which are available from a handful of specialist growers. Also available are wild-type forms of Saintpaulia ionantha itself, which is an utterly charming, abundantly blooming thing with periwinkle-blue flowers (or white, in cultivar ‘Alba’).
All members of the genus – and just about all tropical gesneriads – are happiest with moderate temperatures (60 to 80 degrees F) and relatively high humidity. African violets in particular resent cold water, especially on their leaves, which causes spots. Saintpaulia aficionados typically use room-temperature water, applied from below by immersing the container’s base.
Gloxinias (Sinningia spp.)
So-called gloxinias (which actually belong to the genus Sinningia) have similar preferences. Most gardeners know them by the familiar large-flowered hybrids of the tuberous-rooted Sinningia speciosa. These “florist gloxinias” produce flushes of velvety, funnel-shaped flowers in shades of red, purple, white, or combinations of the same. Plants may stop blooming and even die back temporarily if things get too cool or dry, but they can usually be easily coaxed back into growth.
Lesser known – but in some cases even more satisfactory as house plants – are the 60-plus other species of Sinningia and their hundreds of hybrids, which come in numerous forms, sizes, and colors. Outstanding hybrids include ‘Tante’, a cascading plant with lax stems loaded with pale mauve trumpets, and ‘Prudence Risley’, which bears a constant succession of deep rose-red trumpet-flowers on 10-inch stems. Miniature, “teacup” Sinningia hybrids such as the salmon-orange-flowered ‘High Voltage’ are a great fit for terrariums or other small niches.
Cape Primroses (Streptocarpus spp.)
Arguably the most floriferous gesneriads are the many hybrids of Cape primrose (Streptocarpus spp.), whose narrow-throated blooms with violet-shaped lobes are borne continuously, conditions permitting. The flowers are held on wiry, 3- to 8-inch stems above rosettes of tongue-shaped leaves that superficially resemble primrose foliage. Flower color range spans most of the spectrum, in a wide variety of patterns from solid to striped to speckled to picotee-edged. Streptocarpus typically mature at around 10 to 12 inches wide, but miniatures such as ‘Little Red’ are half that size or less.
Other Popular Gesneriads
Hot water plant (Achimenes spp.)
The colorful trumpet-shaped flowers of these winter-dormant perennials are borne on leafy creeping stems that sprout from scaly rhizomes in the spring. Achimenes function well as house plants or in seasonal garden plantings.
Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus spp.)
Clusters of beak-shaped red or orange flowers protrude from contrasting clasping sepals, on cascading stems lined with paired fleshy leaves. Lipstick plants – as well as the next three plant groups – are ideal subjects for hanging baskets in bright partly shaded locations such as an east window.
Goldfish plant (Columnea spp.)
The common name refers not to the color of the flowers (typically red), but to their arching shape, with fin-like petals protruding from their undersides. Like lipstick plants, they’re mostly of trailing habit, doing and looking well in hanging baskets in bright partial shade.
Guppy plant (Nematanthus spp.)
Yellow flowers with prominent paunches peek from the axils of the narrow, glossy, leathery leaves, giving the appearance of little fish sheltering in the greenery.
Flame violet (Episcia spp.)
Rosettes of colorful fuzzy leaves – often netted with flamboyantly contrasting veins – are the main attraction of this diverse genus. That said, some Episcia hybrids are grown mostly for their red, orange, pink, or yellow flowers, which are showy in their own right.
Lots of other wonderful (and easy) members of the Gesneriaceae are there for the exploring, including:
Close relatives of Nematanthus, these easy-to-grow gesneriads from uplands of eastern Brazil feature a compact, pendant habit, fleshy leaves, and small white or yellow flowers that repeat through much of the year.
Felted bugles line the relatively tall stems of this diverse tropical New World genus, which encompasses more than 20 species and scores of hybrids. Most flower in red, pink, orange, or purple, with contrasting flecking on their lips.
These Central American natives send up compact spires of red, orange, yellow, purple, pink, or white flowers from stout compact rhizomes in spring and beyond. Plants go dormant for the winter. Smithiantha and Achimenes have combined to produce numerous beautiful intergeneric hybrids (known as ×Achimenantha).
Upon seeing all of the diverse and gorgeous gesneriads there are to grow, most plant collectors get hooked fast. Try a few to brighten your indoors this winter.
Florists’ cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum hybrids) is a great imposter. Despite the Latin name persicum, they are not from Persia (modern-day Iran) but hailed from nearby countries, including Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Algeria, and Tunisia. Though the graceful flowers might make you think of orchids, cyclamens actually reside in the primrose family, Primulaceae. The leaves are also cleverly disguised, with patterning that might be mistaken for marble or damask fabric.
Subterfuge aside, florists’ cyclamens beguile holiday plant buyers with their ravishing good looks, and every winter multitudes of them find their way into homes, offices, houses of worship, and other public and private spaces.
Cyclamen with Dancing Flowers and Swirling Leaves
Rising 6 to 10 inches tall and equally wide, cyclamen plants dazzle with basal mounds of heart-shaped leaves marbled in silvery shades. They almost swirl before your eyes. Slender stems support nodding buds that resemble tightly furled umbrellas. Once open, each bloom features five backswept petals that may be pink, red, violet, lavender, white, or in combinations of two or more of these colors. The petal edges are either smooth or exuberantly ruffled. The combination of swaying stems and vibrant colors has led more than one observer to liken a pot of cyclamen in full bloom to a flock of butterflies.
Cyclamen’s Wild Ancestors
In the beginning, Cyclamen persicum was a pretty wildflower that barely hinted at the charms of its modern domestic descendants. The species made it to Europe around 1700, but breeders first took an interest in them in the early nineteenth century and have been working on them ever since. Most breeding occurs in England, continental Europe, and Japan. All of that breeding and propagating work set the stage for cyclamens to burst onto the mass-merchandising scene nearly 50 years ago.
New Cyclamens Get Bigger and Better
Consumers have always loved big flowers, so breeders have made that trait a priority. Once they bulked the flowers up, plantsmen produced larger plants with a wider range of flower colors. Double flowers and those with contrasting picotee petal edges also emerged from the selective breeding process. Each year it seems that the flowers get bigger, bolder, and more numerous.
One trait that was all but lost in the breeding process was fragrance. But that began to change around 2000, when hybridizers started crossing Cyclamen persicum with a fragrant Mediterranean species, Cyclamen purpurascens. The resulting plants were somewhat smaller than standard florists’ cyclamen, but boasted pronounced fragrance, sometimes reminiscent of roses. Now scented varieties are available in many places—to find them just follow your nose in the greenhouse section of a well-stocked nursery or garden center. One beautiful and fragrant variety to look for is the exceptional, hard-to-find, Cyclamen purpurascens ‘Green Ice’.
Holiday Cyclamen Care
Fragrant or not, all florists’ cyclamens need care once they arrive home from the store. “Care” means removing the decorative foil around the pot and positioning it in a cool place with bright, indirect light. A surplus of direct sun will caused scorched leaves.
If you want to repot it after the holidays, use a quality medium like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed, and make sure the top of the root ball is level with the top of the soil in the new container. (Click here for an overview about how to repot house plants.) High humidity is a plus, so mist regularly or place the pot atop a saucer filled with pebbles. Add water to the saucer, but make sure the base of the pot is not submerged. Cyclamen appreciate moisture but detest wet feet. Water when the top of the soil is dry and aim the spout of your watering can around the edges of the pot.
Post-Holiday Cyclamen Care
With proper care, a cyclamen with some open flowers and a few buds should bloom for three or more weeks. Once the bloom period is over, gradually cut down on watering. It is not uncommon for plants to go into a natural dormancy in summer, which corresponds to a summer dry period to which they are acclimated. This is the point when most people throw a cyclamen out, thinking that it has died. Instead of doing that, you may want to try for a second cyclamen act.
Move the pot to a cool, moderately dry location for a few weeks and then, attempt a resurrection by soaking the soil thoroughly and bringing the pot back to a spot with bright, indirect light. Wait until you see signs of sprouting before watering again, and resume a regular watering schedule. Feed with commercial houseplant fertilizer according to package directions. With a bit of luck, the cyclamen will begin its growth cycle anew.
If for some reason the cyclamen has actually died, skip the guilt and purchase another one. The death was probably not your fault. When thousands of plants are raised in a carefully controlled environment, and forced into bloom at a specific time, they may not have a second season’s worth of energy. Ironically, in the Victorian language of flowers, cyclamens, which seem so bright and cheerful during the winter, are symbolic of goodbyes.
If the dark days of December have you pining for flowers, foliage, and fragrance, might we suggest some trailing begonias? These fibrous-rooted members of the Begonia tribe include dozens of evergreen species and varieties that burst into aromatic bloom during midwinter. Bless their hearts.
Brazilian Heart Begonia
Blessed indeed are the apple-green, heart-shaped leaves and aromatic white flowers of Brazilian heart begonia (Begonia solananthera), one of the best of the group. As with all trailing begonias, the fleshy foliage and butterflied blooms are borne on lax stems that will cascade picturesquely from a hanging basket or scramble up a mini-trellis or other support. Give Begonia solananthera a warm, bright, partly shaded nook, and it will put on a floral show from December into spring, perfuming the surroundings with its spicy fragrance. An easy keeper, it thrives in porous potting mixes rich in composted bark such as Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed. Trailing begonias sulk when over-watered, so hold off until the soil surface is dry.
Begonia solananthera has also parented some wonderful hybrids. For example, it teamed with an unknown companion at the venerable Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, Connecticut, to produce the outstanding cultivar ‘Potpourri’. This 1984 introduction incorporates all the trademark solananthera features with one notable exception: luscious rose-pink flowers. It blooms a bit later than the species, typically from January into April. Also well worth seeking out is the solananthera hybrid ‘Tiny Gem’. Although its bright pink flowers lack spiciness, they amply compensate by reblooming year-round, in masses. The relatively short stems cascade to a foot or so rather than the 2 to 3 feet typical of Begonia solananthera.
Many trailing hybrids with Begonia solananthera in their lineage also carry the genes of shrimp begonia (Begonia radicans), commonly named due to the curiously-shaped buds of its salmon-pink flowers. The cultivar ‘Fragrant Beauty‘ wafts a solanatheran perfume from its pale-pink flowers but resembles its radicans parent in its lance-shaped leaves. Another excellent solananthera/radicans hybrid is ‘Splotches’, named for the silvery mottling on its tapered foliage. It covers itself with pink and white flowers in late winter and early spring, at about the same time as ‘Potpourri’ and ‘Fragrant Beauty’.
Other Trailing Begonias
Several additional trailing begonia species and cultivars make rewarding winter-blooming houseplants. Begonia convolvulacea is among the biggest and boldest of them, developing long 3-foot-plus stems set with broad glossy prominently lobed leaves that earn it the nickname “grape begonia”. White flowers appear in large branching clusters in late winter. The similar but smaller Begonia glabra climbs readily via clinging hairs, although it can also be grown as a trailer. It’s one of the parents of ‘Orococo’, another clinger noted for its copper-tinged, ivy-like leaves and white winter flowers. More diminutive is Begonia fagifolia, whose botanical name references the supposed beech-like appearance of its small fleshy oval leaves. This dainty evergreen is adorned in late winter with sprays of white flowers.
Other random cultivars of note include ‘Panasoffkee’, a bodacious thing with bold angel-wing-like leaves on stems that trail to 7 or 8 feet. The white midwinter flowers contrast beautifully with the glossy dark green, burgundy-backed foliage. The similarly angel-wing-shaped leaves of the cultivar ‘Withlacoochee’ are smaller and felted with gray fuzz. An excellent subject for a large terrarium, it creeps or trails into a 2- to 3-foot-wide clump, covered in winter with white flowers that often repeat at other seasons.
Like most plants, trailing begonias aren’t perfect. Almost all of them benefit from an occasional pinching to encourage denser, branching growth. Additionally, their profuse bloom eventually results in a flurry of fallen petals, so you’ll want to site them accordingly. Give them what they need, and these cascading beauties will give your spirits a bright boost this winter.
The color pink represents warmth and hope, like the rosy pink clouds of a summer sunset. It is also the color chosen to symbolize breast cancer research, awareness, and support. Some gardeners may be planting Pink Ribbon spring bulbs or Pink Invincibelle III hydrangeas to commemorate October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But it is the time for indoor gardening, so planting or sharing pretty pink house plants is another way to recognize friends and loved ones that have survived or passed from breast cancer.
If gifting one or more of these beautiful house plants, it is also nice to make a donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the highest-rated charity dedicated to finding a cure for breast cancer.
One of the easiest plants that you can grow indoors is Pink Stripe spiderwort (Tradescantia spathacea ‘Tricolor’). It’s a popular plant to find at local greenhouses and even big-box stores and it grows well in pots or hanging baskets. The Mexican native is colorful, drought-tolerant, sun-loving, and grows beautifully indoors and out. The leaves are green striped with pink variegation. They grow best with bright indoor light and lightly moist soil with good drainage. Purplish flowers appear throughout the year, but the leaves are the real attraction.
Pink Rex Begonias
Rex begonias (Begonia rex-cultorum) are longtime house or parlor-plant favorites grown for their colorful, flashy foliage. They combine an array of interesting colors and textures, featuring long, pointed, or rounded leaves that may be ruffled or curled in a way that resembles a snail shell. The leaves are often marked with two or more colors, which can include light or dark pink, depending on the variety.
Those in Terra Nova’s high-performing T REX™ Series have pleasing splashes of rose and pink. The silvery-pink-leaved ‘Andrea’ and the pink-and-green leaved ‘Regal Minuet’ are two more exceptional commercially available varieties with pink in the color mix. Though flowers are not the main attraction of Rex begonias, the blooms may be pink as well.
Provide high humidity, a free-draining soil mix, like Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, and bright indirect light for the best results. Since begonias dislike wet feet, allow the soil to become somewhat dry between watering.
Pink Nerve Plant
Mosaic or nerve plant (Fittonia albivensis) features oval green leaves accented with a network of rose-pink veins. The miniature ‘Autumn Flame‘ is a particularly pretty form with pink and reddish venation. It reaches a few inches but spreads further. Standard forms reach 6 x 12 inches.
Though nerve plant hails from the tropics, direct sunlight will burn the leaves, so place it in a spot with bright, indirect light. Choose well-drained soil and place containers on beds of pebbles in water-filled saucers or trays to help raise humidity levels. Mist regularly in winter and feed in spring and summer with a balanced fertilizer, applied according to package directions. Another option for small Fittonia plants is to grow them in terrariums, which provide more consistent humidity.
Rose-painted Calathea (Calathea roseopicta) lives up to its name, with fabulous eye-catching foliage painted with rose. One variety, ‘Rosy‘, features large, oval leaves with rose-pink and ivory centers edged in dark green and reaches just 8-inches high with a broader spread. The leaf undersides are pure pink, which is especially evident when the plant furls its leaves together at the end of the day.
On average, rose-painted Calathea is a medium-tall, upright plant that grows 2 to 3 feet high with a 1-foot spread. It is perfect for a warm corner with bright, indirect sunlight. High humidity is a must, so consider a pebble tray or spritz for this plant as well. Allow its soil to become slightly dry between watering. Growth slows down in the winter, so hold off feeding until spring, when active growth restarts.
Many of the most popular succulents also feature pink-tinted or accented leaves. Among the prettiest are the rosette-forming echeverias (Echeveria spp.). Two excellent choices are ‘Perle von Nürnberg’ (‘Pearl of Nüremberg’), which has plump gray leaves accented in pink, and the comparable ‘Rainbow’, with its striped variegated leaves of pink, yellow, and green.
If you often forget to water houseplants, succulents like echeveria are a perfect fit. Plant them in Fafard® Professional Potting Mix leavened with a 1/3 amount of perlite or fine gravel so that water drains freely. Water infrequently and only when the soil is dry. In winter, water monthly.
Silver Urn Plant
The silver vase or urn plant (Aechmea fasciata) is a bromeliad with dramatic pink, petal-like leaves (bracts) that resemble flowers and surround the much smaller, electric-purple true blooms. The plants have no stems, but stand erect (up to 3 x 2 feet) because the sturdy, strap-like leaves grow upward into an urn shape with a hollow central cup. Those leaves may also be variegated with streaks of silver. Unlike other house plants, bromeliads are watered by filling the central cup whenever it is empty. Reduce the amount of water in the winter but be sure to mist plants regularly to keep leaf edges from browning.
Silver vase plants perform best in bright indirect light. Each plant blooms only once, but the pink bracts may last a month and a half or more. Once the blooms fade, the parent plant dies, but a healthy plant will produce offshoots or “pups” from the side of the parent plant, which can be transplanted when they reach 6 inches tall, ensuring another generation of silver vases filled with bright pink flowers.
The beauty of succulent house plants is that they demand little attention. The beauty of little succulents is that they demand little space. When placed in an indoor terrarium or rock garden, they create quaint little easy-care landscapes to enjoy year-round.
Mini cacti and succulents are basically comprised of those that form rosettes, clumps, or gently spread/cascade. Just be sure that you know growth habits–final heights and widths–before creating your planting. Stay with small, slow-growers to avoid fast overgrowth. Some plants may be able to withstand close quarters, but overpacking your pots will eventually smother the least aggressive plants in the group.
When designing your potted succulent garden, include little plants with varying shapes, habits, and colors. Play them against colorful pots, add pebbles, rocks, or shells for interest, and you’re set. You can also use rocks to create varying topographies within the pot to add drama and interest.
Because the design process requires that you know your plant palette, here are a few plants to consider to get your project started.
Some Miniature Succulents
Some aloes are tiny, compared to the common Aloe vera and lack medicinally useful foliage. Aloes are known for their impressive red, coral, orange, or gold spikes of tubular flowers as well as their attractive clumps of foliage. Here are two good small ones that can be found at garden centers or online.
Lace aloe (Aloe aristata) is named for its dark rosettes of foliage decorated with lacy white edges and spots. It reaches just 3 to 5 inches high and 6 inches wide. If given good sunlight indoors, or brought outdoors in summer, it will produce stems of pendulous, coral-orange flowers in midsummer.
Little Gator Aloe™ (Aloe ‘Jimmy’) is a very tiny variety that reaches just 3 to 5 inches. It has silvery foliage with white markings. If provided good, consistent sunlight, it will produce a spike of Creamsicle-orange tubular flowers in summer.
There are hundreds of very small cacti perfect for indoor potted landscapes. Types that are less prickly and/or bloom well inside are good choices.
One for all-round good looks is feather cactus (Mammillaria plumosa), which is tiny (to 4 inches), round, and covered with feathery white plumes that are finger-friendly (no spines). It is cuter than cute, reaches just 3 to 5 inches and produces yellowish-white flowers in spring. Over time, it will form a clumping mound.
Small urchin cacti (various Echinopsis spp.) are also good bloomers, and the little Easter lily sea urchin cactus (E. subdenudata ‘Dominos’) is spectacular when in bloom. The plant stays between 3 and 4 inches high and looks like a green, ribbed sea urchin with sparse tufts of white spines. In spring or summer, huge, white tubular flowers are produced that are very fragrant and bloom at night. (In the wild they attract bat and moth pollinators.) The flowers can reach between 6 and 8 inches long!
A good one that’s just lightly prickly and very textural is the thimble cactus (Mammillaria gracilis var. fragilis). It creates a 2- to 4-inch high mound of many thimble-sized balls with few spines. In late winter, expect a flush of tiny, pale-yellow flowers that are as cute as the plant itself.
Lots of crassulas become quite large, like the common jade plant, but others are tiny and terrarium-worthy. Tom Thumb rosary vine (Crassula rupestris ssp. commutata ‘Tom Thumb’) is one. Its short chains of succulent leaves are bright green and edged in red. Expect it to reach between 6 to 8 inches long.
The impressive miniature spiral jade (Crassula ‘Estagnol’) is even smaller and more visually impressive. It has dense clusters of brilliant green leaves that spiral into beautiful patterns. The maximum height is just 3 to 5 inches. On occasion, it may produce small clusters of white flowers in the fall.
These popular little succulents are largely native to southern Africa, and there are lots of different varieties available. Some look like tiny aloes while others look more like little, rounded hens-n-chicks with translucent leaf markings. Sizes vary, but many stay compact.
Zebra plant (H. fasciata)is one that looks a bit like an aloe. It has dark spiky leaves with knobby white stripes and reaches just 3 to 4 inches high and 4 to 6 inches wide. The variety ‘Super White’ has extra bright stripes. Zebra plant almost never blooms indoors, but if it does, it puts forth delicate stems of white spring flowers.
Star window plant (H. cuspidata)and cathedral window plant (H. planifolia) are both squat, fat-leaved, and have variable, translucent markings at their leaf tips. Both are slow-growing with rosettes that reach 3 to 5 inches. Their flowers are comparable to those of zebra plant and equally uncommon in indoor specimens.
There are several very cute succulent senecios, but most of them are aggressive spreaders. The small and bright mini blue chalk sticks (Senecio serpens ‘Mini Blue’) does spread, but slowly. It has slender, upright, dusty blue stems that reach 3 to 5 inches. Be sure to give it some room to roam.
Purchasing Mini Succulents
Visit any purveyor of succulents to discover lots of other interesting finds, but get informed before you make a purchase. Succulents sold in tiny pots don’t necessarily stay tiny. Some can become very large specimens, so check the plant tag for size parameters, and if the tag doesn’t say, then ask a staff person or look the plant up on your phone.
Mini Succulent Garden Preparation and Care
Start with the right pot and growing mix. Large planting bowls or bonsai pots look most impressive. These may be ceramic, plastic, or fiberglass. Be sure that they have good drainage and a watertight saucer below to catch excess water and protect table surfaces.
When it comes to potting mix, it must drain very well but also have some organic matter. A good recipe for succulents contains three parts Fafard Professional Potting Mix to one part perlite. The addition of crushed granite (Gran-i-Grit) is also recommended to add extra weight and increase drainage.
It’s also smart to top the soil with fine, decorative gravel to keep the surface dry and attractive. Pebbles and gravel for terrariums, potted plants, or fairy gardens come in different sizes, textures, and colors. Those in light or neutral shades let plants stand out without overstatement. A bold shell, geode, or another natural decorative element may also lend the final piece appeal and distinction.
Grow your plantings in bright or indirect sunlight. A south-facing window or sunroom is ideal. Give them once-weekly water in summer and little water from late fall to winter. Even moderate watering in the winter months can cause cacti and succulents to rot. Taking your potted creations outdoors in summer will help with their overall growth and performance.
These little gardens take some time and investment to create but their beauty will reward you through the seasons. Give them good care and clip and divide them as needed, to keep them in bounds. Reserve any leftover pieces as welcome gifts to share with other plant-minded friends.