Looking for a plant to brighten a corner of your new apartment or home? Searching for blooms that won't overwhelm your courtyard garden? A variety of small plants can add a welcome focal point to your indoor décor or outdoor landscape.
Keep your lifestyle in mind when choosing a plant, especially if you want an indoor one. Some plants, like the ponytail palm, require very little care and can even store water. On the other hand, orchids are more sensitive to temperature and moisture changes; they need a little TLC to look their best. If you're looking for an outdoor plant, consider the amount of sunlight it will receive and the climate in your area.
Browse these proven plants and you're bound to find a touch of greenery that will add intrigue to your space and bring you closer to nature.
Outdoor gardeners with small lots love the year-round beauty of dwarf conifers, as they add structure and texture to any garden. You can find dwarf conifers in shades of green, blue, yellow and even in variegated shades. Depending on the species, a conifer can take on several different shapes -- upright, mounding or pyramidal. These miniature replicas of larger plants won't get any taller than 1 to 6 feet (0.3 to 1.8 meters) over a 10-year period.
Dwarf conifers generally require full sunlight, well-drained garden soil and minimal maintenance. They make beautiful anchors for seasonal color plantings of bulbs, perennials and annuals. Best of all, you'll be able to enjoy the color added by their evergreen foliage year round [source: Myers].
Weeping Norway Spruce
Unusual and exquisite, the weeping Norway spruce is a great focal point for small outdoor gardens, especially in a rock garden or sharing the spotlight with a water feature. Its rich evergreen needles can repel hungry deer, while its cones attract birds to the garden. This conifer grows outward instead of upward, and can be 1 to 3 feet tall (30 to 91 centimeters) and 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters) wide. Your spruce can also be staked vertically to reach at least 6 feet (1.82 meters) tall.
Weeping Norway spruce trees thrive in full sunlight, but they'll also perform well in partial shade. Very low maintenance trees, these conifers need only light watering and an occasional trim to look their best.
You can find hundreds of Japanese maple varieties in leaf colors ranging from bright red-purple to deep green. Leaf shapes vary from broad lobes to fine, fernlike foliage. Smaller species make an excellent choice for outdoor gardens with limited space, adding a dramatic focal point. You can even plant some varieties in containers and use them to anchor the corner of a patio, or to add drama to an entranceway.
When planting a Japanese maple, remember that its roots are shallow and grow out horizontally, so dig a hole that is wider than it is deep. They usually grow very gracefully without pruning, but you can do some minor pruning if necessary. Fertilize your Japanese maple each spring and make sure it gets plenty of water in the summer. Mulching also helps: It keeps the roots cool and conserves moisture.
Unusual and attractive, a braided ficus tree makes a striking addition to your indoor décor. This attractive indoor plant is part tree and part vine, and its branches must be braided at the greenhouse or by the plant's owner to attain the intertwined look. Braided ficus trees are easy to maintain indoors and will enjoy time outside during the warmer months in more temperate climates. But this tropical plant doesn't like cold temperatures, and tends to drop its leaves if placed in a cool location.
Be careful not to overwater: Let the soil dry out about an inch between watering. Choose the perfect space for your braided ficus tree carefully: This plant is a bit of a homebody, and if you move it around from place to place, it might shed its leaves.
Versatile and easy to care for, Chinese evergreen have been grown for centuries. Today, they're available in many beautiful varieties of green and white.
Chinese evergreen is a great choice for beginning gardeners because it requires low light and minimal maintenance. For the healthiest plants, allow the soil to dry thoroughly between watering and avoid temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 degrees Celsius).
These plants usually stay between 6 and 8 inches wide (15.2 to 20.3 centimeters) and between 18 inches and 3 feet tall (45.7 to 91.4 centimeters), so they are a great way to add a touch of living color to a corner.
Elegant and intriguing, orchids add a touch of sophistication to any indoor space. In Victorian times, orchids were very rare and expensive, and were reserved for royal or aristocratic families. Today, they are one of the most popular plants, with approximately 30,000 species to choose from. Orchids can be monopodial, with a single stem that grows upward, or a sympodial plant that sends out new branches from its base. Once the branch reaches a certain height, it will stop growing.
If you choose one of these exotic plants to brighten your indoor space, find out what kind of sunlight your species enjoys most and position it accordingly. Most orchids thrive at room temperature; they also love areas with high humidity. Avoid overwatering your orchid, as the roots enjoy air as well as water. Some will even thrive outdoors in warm, humid climates.
Keeping your orchid happy can be very rewarding, as many orchid collectors -- who started with a single flowering plant and now have dozens of varieties -- can attest.
The ponytail palm -- also known as the bottle palm or elephant foot tree -- is a member of the agave family. Its leathery, ribbon-like leaves can grow up to six feet (1.82 meters) in length but stay less than an inch (25.4 millimeters) wide. The ponytail palm's base makes the plant worth a second look: Its gray, swollen trunk rises above the soil like an oversized bulb. Originally a desert plant native to southeastern Mexico, this palm is able to store water in its trunk for an entire year
Ponytail palms enjoy high light levels for the best growth and can tolerate direct sun. Since the plant can store water, it's the ultimate low maintenance houseplant for a busy owner or someone who travels frequently. If the tips of the leaves turn brown, a simple trim will keep it looking healthy. And during the summer months, place this sun-loving plant on your deck or patio to soak up some rays.
Ferns have been around for millions of years, so it's no wonder this ancient species makes such a popular houseplant. Its leafy fronds range in color from a light, almost lime green to a deep evergreen color. Textures vary from lacy and fragile to thick and sturdy. Some ferns grow straight up and add height to a space, while others like to drape; you could use the latter in hanging baskets or grace cachepots standing in a dining room corner.
Ferns like indirect lighting and an indoor temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 to 23.9 degrees Celsius) during the day. Keep the soil evenly moist but not too wet -- the fronds will yellow and wilt; the roots may rot. Many ferns are tropical natives, which explains why they seem to thrive in bathrooms and enjoy homes with higher humidity. A light sprinkling of fertilizer during the April to September growing season will keep your fern looking green and healthy.
A welcome burst of bold color in the middle of winter, the amaryllis is a dramatic choice bringing cheer to a small indoor space. These plants grow from a bulb that blooms six to eight weeks after potting. The trumpet-like flowers, in red, white or pink, sit on a thick green stem that grows to be about 20 inches (51 centimeters) tall. The yellow variety provides a nice harbinger of spring.
After the amaryllis blooms, you can save the bulb in a cold dark place. Then, bring it out again in the fall, water thoroughly and keep at temperatures from 68 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25.6 degrees Celsius). If you time it just right, you can use amaryllis to decorate for the holidays, or you can look forward to its huge blooms in mid-January.
African violets, with their tiny, velvety blooms and furry deep green leaves, are the perfect decorative plant for a windowsill or kitchen counter. They love sunshine and their blooms can last for weeks. Inexpensive and widely available, you can find African violets in shades of purple, pink, blue and white.
African violets enjoy the same indoor temperatures that people do -- just keep the temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 to 23.8 degrees Celsius) during the day and drop it slightly at night. African violets should be watered with warm water when the topsoil feels dry. Be careful not to get water on the leaves or they will spot. Some African violet lovers have found the easiest way to water is to fill the saucers underneath the pot so water gets absorbed from the bottom [source: Susan Ward].
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- Ficusplant.org. "Braided Ficus Tree." (Accessed June 20, 2010) http://www.ficusplant.org/braided_ficus_tree/braided_ficus_tree.html.
- Glasener, Erica, and Reeves, Walter. "Georgia Gardener's Guide." Cool Springs Press. 1997.
- iVillage.com. "Top 10 Indoor Plants." (June 18, 2010)http://home.ivillage.com/gardening/picks/indoor/0,,,00.html
- Klingaman, Gerald. "Plant of the week: Ponytail Palm." ARhomeandgarden.org. March 29, 2002.http://www.arhomeandgarden.org/plantoftheweek/articles/Ponytail_palm.htm.
- Myers, Melinda. "Designing with Dwarf Conifers." Fine Gardening.com. (June 18, 2010)http://www.finegardening.com/design/articles/designing-with-dwarf-conifers.aspx.
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- Perry, Leonard. "Growing Ferns Successfully Indoors." The Green Mountain Gardener. (June 18, 2010)http://www.uvm.edu/pss/ppp/articles/fernsin.html.
- Stewart, Martha. "Gardening Month-by-Month." New York: Clarkson Potter. 1991.
- Ward, Susan. "African Violets." GardenGuides.com. (June 18, 2010)http://www.gardenguides.com/675-african-violets.html.