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May 14, 2002
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DESERT BLOOM: Indoor Gardening

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Sometimes you don't want a garden. You just don't have the time necessary to put one in and care for it several months of the year. You live in a house, an apartment or a condo without the amount of space that you'd need. Sometimes the quantity of energy required for a garden is more than you have to spare. Or you just can't face the challenge of confronting southern Nevada's growing conditions.

Or maybe you want to grow a plant that simply cannot do well outdoors in this environment. Something that can't take the heat, or perhaps the cold. Or it requires a very rich soil; or an acidic soil. Or it wants more shade than you can reasonably provide outdoors.

Your want certain plants, whether it's for their beauty or other qualities, like their taste, or their air purifying properties. But - you don't want to have to change the ecology of your whole neighborhood in order to get them.

You do want plants. And that probably means you want potted plants.

People have been growing plants in containers for hundreds and hundreds of years. From the bonsai tended by a dedicated Japanese artisan in the 1700's, to the aspidistra in the corner of a Victorian parlor, to the bougainvillea hanging from the ceiling of a chic restaurant, potted plants provide a chance to grow something in a manageable way. In a container, something can thrive that would otherwise not even survive.

You might notice that I said "In a manageable way". Not that there is no effort involved, but it's do-able.

First, just like gardening, you decide what you want to grow. Ornamental kale in a pot? Sweet 100 tomatoes in a hanging basket on the patio? A whiskey barrel full of petunias, or a spathephyllum in a clay pot in your living room?

A potted plant is a mini-garden, whether it's an orchid or a philodendron. Every plant has its own ideal environment. You already know that, which is a big reason that you are growing it in a pot in the first place. After you have decided what plant you want, then you need to consider what to do if it's going to thrive.

There are three key components in plant care: Light, soil and water. No matter what the circumstances, you need to ask - How much light does this plant need? Will it get the right amount (not too much, not too little) in the space where you propose to grow it? Will it be too hot? I mean that if you have a south facing window and that's where everything will be grown, you probably won't have great success with african violets, since they can't take light which is so bright. The leaves can develop sunburn, which can lead to disease. On the other hand, tomatoes or peppers will do well with bright light, since they need good sun to produce fruit.

You need to make sure that the leaves are kept clean of dust. Outside, the wind tends to clean them off. Indoors, however, dust can settle on the leaves and block the amount of light that gets to them. As an aside, I do not suggest any of the leaf polishes on the market, a healthy leaf has its own level of shininess and it uses that level to obtain optimal light.

The next essential component in plant growth is soil. I'm using the term "soil" in the most general, non technical, way to include any kind of potting medium or mix and the pot that contains it. It holds moisture and is a source of nutrients. The potting mix needs to be disease free, which is why you don't usually re-use the soil, taking it from one plant to new plant (unless of course you can sterilize it). Throw the old soil outside, where the sun and microorganisms can work on it. Always thoroughly wash and rinse a pot, especially if it's been used before. The soil is also what the plant anchors itself in, where its roots grow. Unlike a plant out in the field or yard, a potted plant has a very small area to produce roots. Roots are the channels through which the plant obtains nutrients. You don't want that space to be so small that the plant doesn't have enough soil to get nutrients and water. Make sure that the pot is large enough for the plant. If you're going to move a plant from a smaller pot to a larger one, gently loosen the ball of roots so that they can grow out into the larger pot. There needs to be some way for the pot to drain so that the plant is not sitting in water. Two guides for pots and plants - the smaller the pot, the more often it needs to be watered. And unglazed clay pots get dryer much faster than plastic ones. Clay pots don't tend to last so long here in the desert, since it's so dry. But they can last a number of years.

Finally, water is critical to all life. Nothing lives without water. Don't let your plant dry out completely. Cacti and succulents can tolerate lack of moisture well, but even they must be watered occasionally. You can imagine what an orchid wants.

If the plant has been in a pot for more than, say, six months, give it a low strength fertilizer on a regular basis.

If you can mist your plants regularly, you have a good chance to keep them pest and disease free.

For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Good luck and good growing!

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Archives

NormMar 24, 2014 | Spring Garden Party
Spring is here and the garden is blooming . . . so invite some friends to enjoy the rewards of gardening!

AngelaMar 10, 2014 | Lady Banks
If you love roses, but don't care for thorns, you may want to call on 'Lady Banks.' Here's Angela O'Callaghan with Desert Bloom.

NormFeb 26, 2014 | Signs of Spring
It may be February, but if you are paying attention, signs of Spring are visible. Dwarf peach and Mexican plum trees are in bloom. Vibrant Red Spraxis can be seen among the falling Almond blossom. Watch gardening expert Norm Schilling transplant an offshoot. Check out the slide show of photos taken from his backyard.

AngelaFeb 18, 2014 | Mulch is for Winter
Rewards for using mulch in your landscape can be had year-round. Mulch is about mulch more than just "good looks" according to Angela O' Callaghan. In any climate, and certainly in a desert, mulch is an ecologically sound way to conserve our limited soil moisture and to control weeds.

NormFeb 4, 2014 | Investing for Spring
Temperatures are scheduled to stay cool this week, but Norm Schilling finds his yard is ready for Spring. He reflects on techniques to keep older trees healthy even as the surrounding yard may change. Bigger, older trees may need more water.

AngelaJan 13, 2014 | Freezing Temps
If your garden looks like it's been zapped by Jack Frost, there's still a chance that all is not lost. Delicate desert plants can suffer chill damage even when the temperature stays above freezing. Well-established plants should survive.

NormDec 31, 2013 | Leave the Leaves
Just because most of the leaves have fallen from the trees, it doesn't mean you have to rake them all up. Norm Schilling says it's better to use the leaves as mulch to protect the plants and make rich soil. Some woody plants can be pruned now, while others should wait another month or two.

AngelaDec 13, 2013 | Winter Greens
It is the season to enjoy some winter gardening. In Southern Nevada, a cold-snap does not have to mean that your garden is done for. Angela O'Callaghan gives a few cold facts.

NormDec 3, 2013 | Winter Watering
After a recent rain followed by a cold snap this week, Norm Schilling digs in to figure out how much water is needed this time of year. Touch the leaves to get a feel and don't water much at all for the next few months.

AngelaNov 18, 2013 | Herb Gardens
Our desert environment may be hard to handle for many plants, but it is possible to grow your own herbal remedy. The healing properties of some herbs are still widely recognized. Even though we rarely have to rely on them to deal with our infirmities, Angela O'Callaghan says many herbs are pretty and simple to grow.

NormNov 5, 2013 | Fall Color
Our second Spring is in full bloom. Norm Schilling shares his favorite plants that are bringing color to the yard right now, including Chocolate Flower, Mexican Bush Sage, Autumn Sage and ornamental grasses.

AngelaOct 29, 2013 | Pumpkins
Halloween just wouldn't be the same without the jack-o-lantern. But there's more to the tradition of decorating squash than meets the eye. Angela O'Callaghan says pumpkins are more than decorations for a single day. They're food, and a very good food at that.

NormSep 30, 2013 | Fall Pruning and Mulching
Pruning for aesthetics and mulching for rich soil quality are on his to-do list before he gets started in earnest on fall planting. Find out where to find mulch and mulch more on this week's edition of Desert Bloom.

AngelaSep 17, 2013 | The Best Place to Garden
The Mojave Desert isn't the easiest place to cultivate a garden, but we do have a few advantages here. In fact, Angela O'Callaghan says Southern Nevada is the BEST place in the world to be a gardener, partly because dry air helps keep our plants healthy.

NormSep 3, 2013 | Sacred Datura
Sacred Datura is a native, but poisonous, desert plant that offers stunning blooms. Often seen at the side of the highway, it's found a home in Norm's yard.

AngelaAug 20, 2013 | Drought
Living in the desert means - learning to live with less water. The more thought you put into watering, the better off your plants will be.

NormAug 6, 2013 | Casualties of Summer
Ever the optimist, Norm finds something to learn from the casualties of summer.

AngelaJul 22, 2013 | White Prickly Poppy
Is a poppy by any other name just a weed?

NormJul 9, 2013 | Agave
Agave is well suited to our desert climate. Norm Schilling shares his collection.

AngelaJun 25, 2013 | Summer Vegetables
Growing your own food in triple-digit weather is challenging, but not impossible.

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