Adventures in Indoor Horticulture With Rich Reed
by Carolyn Hasenfratz
Rich Reed is a gardening friend that I met several years ago while trading plants on Freecycle. He also recently became a volunteer at Missouri Botanical Garden. I previously interviewed Rich for my blog in 2015 because I was impressed by what he was able to achieve at the apartment complex where he lives, using it as a living laboratory for indoor and outdoor growing.
At the time I’m writing this article we are past the average first frost date for our area without actually having frost yet. I’m enjoying the extra time to keep our plants outdoors this year but soon many of us will have to bow to the inevitable and bring some of them in. I wanted to interview Rich again because he grows a lot of tropical plants outdoors in the warm months that need to be moved with the seasons and he propagates a lot of plants indoors for transplanting outdoors later. I knew he’d have some useful tips for home gardeners because he does not indulge in a lot of special equipment and has learned a lot through trial and error on how to use his indoor growing space. Since our last interview, the manager of the apartment complex where Rich lives has given him the use of an empty apartment unit where he can store supplies and grow lots of plants. He packs this extra unit, which he calls the sun room, as well as his own living quarters with as many plants as possible! He also has an agreement with the apartment manager to supply plants for the grounds and the building’s indoor spaces such as stairwells and balconies. I asked Rich for some of his best tips.
Because this apartment unit is not used as living quarters, Rich can make maximum use of the window light for growing cuttings.
Like the rest of us Rich does struggle with getting plants that normally live outside to stay alive indoors. His situation does not allow for a lot of supplemental lighting. To get more light to the plants he recommends rotating the plants outside on warm days whenever possible. He gets light from the West through his windows – both his living quarters and sun room face in that direction. He makes some use of ordinary household lighting fixtures and bulbs. He prefers fluorescent to incandescent lights because they are not as hot. When plants are not doing well in a particular spot in the room he moves them to see if the light is more favorable somewhere else.
Overwatering is the most common way for Rich to lose plants – not surprisingly he has found that plants kept indoors need a lot less water than when they are outside, and less water still when it’s colder. He does not take any precautions to remove pests from his plants or pots before bringing then indoors. Fortunately his pest problems have been minor so far.
He has had the most consistent success indoors with “viney” plants such as Pothos, Arrowhead vines, Sweet Potato, Lamium and Vinca. Not surprisingly the types of plants that are commonly sold as house plants do well in home lighting conditions.
Rich is planning on bringing inside some of his really large and nice banana plants for the winter while leaving a few small ones outside as an experiment. His tropical Hibiscus and other tropical plants that are woody will also come inside as whole potted plants. He has many herbaceous tropical plants outside augmenting his perennials and annuals. For space reasons it’s not really possible to bring them all in intact, so he gets around that by making small cuttings of plants he wants to grow again next year. He grows more cuttings than he needs for the apartment property so that he has some available for gifts and trading stock. He does not use any special rooting hormone or treatments for cuttings – just water and soil.
Celosia adding color to the outdoor garden on the left. The right photo shows a cutting with root growth after two weeks in water.
Even with an abundance of plants in his environment Rich still likes trading. Any plant he doesn’t already have he would like to add to
his collection – but realistically he has to be mindful of how much room is available. He is on the lookout for a Chinese Evergreen and some Peppermint – he has been able to find numerous other members of the mint family for trade but is missing that one.
At left: Rich with a favorite rubber tree and some other plants that live in the apartment building’s atria all year round.