How to Brighten Your Home in a Season of Shortening Days

Indoor greens galore.

by SHFamily | Wed, January 24, 2018

By Jenna Schmitt

Winter in Shanghai is when we long for warmer weather and a pop of cheerful color to counter those seemingly ever present gray skies. But this year, you don’t have to wait until May (or even a Chinese New Year getaway) for greener pastures — you can start your own indoor garden right now. Even during the coldest months, an indoor garden brings much-needed color and the chance to test our your green thumb in a high-rise apartment, complex, or lane house. Here are some simple, DIY indoor garden ideas that anyone can try, even if you’ve never owned so much as a fake cactus.

Beautiful benefits

Beautiful Benefits

Before you buy, keep an eye out for plants approved by NASA (yes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Why? According to NASA’s Clean Air Study,

“plants can play a major role in (the) removal of organic chemicals from indoor air.”

A little lush life can up your quality of life, from mental to physical health. Consider any of these house plants for an all-natural, 24/7 air purifier, on the wall or on your windowsill.

• Boston Fern (nephrolepis exaltata)

• Spider Plant (chlorophytumcomosum)

• Chinese Evergreen (aglaonemamodestum)

• Pothos, or Devil’s Ivy (epipremnumaureum)

• Snake Plant (sansevieria trifasciata‘laurentii’)

• Red-edged Dracaena (dracaenamarginata)

Fill in the rest of your self-contained garden with plants that mature quickly, stay small, and thrive under artificial light during these short winterdays. Typically, leafy greens, herbs, and certain flowers like hibiscus, begonia and Christmas cactus fit this description, though a simple online search can answer any remaining questions you may have.

Seeds or pre-potted small plants can be ordered online or found in one of Shanghai’s flower markets, like the Hongqiao Bird and Flower Market (but you may need to brush up on your Chinese for this non-touristy spot). It’s important to note that if you have pets at home, please research your plant choices, as some indoor plants are toxic to different animals. Make sure your garden is Fido-friendly!

What you’ll need

Because the winter months go hand in hand with short days and heavy clouds, a windowsill may not provide enough light to encourage fast growth. Consider purchasing a small, inexpensive florescent light to set up at least six inches from your garden for the best results. For flowering plants, LED grow lights work best, although they tend to cost slightly more. However, if you’re committed to winter greenery, there’s really no competition as it’s well worth the price — and may save money when you start reaping the benefits of your newly sprouted herbs and flowers. Finally, you’ll need a potting soil mixed with fertilizer, or as a separate add-in, and a variety of small containers for seeds or for transplanting pre-potted versions. It’s as simple as that, but if you fall in love with indoor gardening, there are plenty of specialty lights, soil blends, and seedling trays to take your hobby to the next level.

Herb plants

If you weren’t already interested enough in an indoor garden, relating it to food should definitely convince you to try your hands at your own chef’s garden. Carving out a little space in the kitchen is worth the pay off for your own fresh source of basil, mint, oregano, thyme, or rosemary. To shake up the traditional herb choices, it’s also possible to grow herbs commonly used in both Eastern and Western cuisine, like green onions, chives, cilantro, and cayenne pepper.

These herbs are easy to find in small, pre-potted plants, so order your favorites or visit the flower market, then transplant them with a little extra soil into empty mason jars, cute pots, old tea mugs . . . you name it! If you’re working from seeds, empty individual-serving yogurt cups are the perfect size to start the plants off until they’re large enough to move into a real pot. Indoor gardener and author Peter Burke advises keeping planted seeds in a warm, dark cupboard for four days to speed sprouting.

Keep blooming

If space is tight, grow vertical. These indoor gardens not only bring the green you crave mid-winter, but also make a decorative statement up the wall. If you love a handyman project, spray paint a flat wooden board in a solid color, or decorate it with a wooden trim for framing. Screw small metal pails in a horizontal row or vertical stack, then mount your planter to the wall. If you aren’t a dedicated DIY guru, that’s OK. Just head over to MUJI for some pre-planted cubes ready to hang. You can use one or two in a small space, or build your own personal jungle by covering the whole wall.

If you have a patio or outdoor space, you can get a jump on filling it out with your indoor greenery. Even if you choose plants that aren’t meant to live inside year-round, an LED grow light can get things started until it’s warm enough to move them outdoors. For a mobile vegetable garden, clean out a plastic storage bin, fill one third with soil, and place veggie seedlings in the soil. Fill around the plants with more potting mix, and keep a grow light at least six inches above the tops of the plants. After the last frost, just slide the bin right onto a sunny patio, or replant for a potted paradise you can be proud of.

Just keep your spirits up, your thumb out, and the winter weather won’t keep you from growing something new this year. Happy planting!

Good to know

To visit the Hongqiao Bird and Flower Market, go to:

• 718 Hongjing Lu; the nearest metro station is Shanghai Zoo on Line 10

On the Shelf

1. ABS Wall MountCubes, ¥75-¥235. Available at various MUJI locations.

2. Stoneware Plant Pot, ¥149. hm.com

3. Potted Succulents, ¥23.75. baopals.com

4. Tall Metal Plant Pot, ¥99. hm.com

5. Satsumas Plant Stand, ¥249. ikea.com

6. ZAMIOCULCAS, ¥24.90. ikea.com