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Inside track: With plant lights, hydroponic techniques, your indoor garden can thrive with blooms, herbs, vegetables and more

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Plants can thrive even in dark apartments with a little help from plant lights available at AHL Garden Supply. “What we’re doing is re-creating Mother Nature,” says Caleb Zahn. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Plants can thrive even in dark apartments with a little help from plant lights available at AHL Garden Supply. “What we’re doing is re-creating Mother Nature,” says Caleb Zahn. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Keith Mead has never met an orchid he didn’t like.

“Once you’re seduced by orchids, you’re hooked for life,” says Mead, president of the New Mexico Orchid Guild.

He loves the indoor bloomers so much that he’s enclosed a patio for them.

“When everything is right they stay in bloom for six months,” says Mead, who adapts his home environment for the humidity-loving plants by keeping an ultrasonic humidifier going as well as keeping company with one or two orchids on a shelf in the shower. He says the longevity of the blooms makes an orchid a bargain, when compared to a cut-flower bouquet.

It doesn’t surprise Mead and other indoor gardening enthusiasts that orchids and other indoor plants have a bouquet of benefits for their human hosts.

Indoor plants clear the air, removing pollutants from chemical toxins to mold spores, and refresh the air with added oxygen and humidity, according to a number of studies, reported in a Fall 2008 HortTechnology journal.

In the same issue, Kansas State University researchers reported on a controlled experiment with 90 surgery patients that demonstrated that those with indoor plants in their hospital rooms needed less pain medication, recovered more quickly and had more positive feelings and increased satisfaction, than those patients without plants.

Rick Hobson, owner of Jericho Nursery, says the studies make sense to him, because all kinds of gardening benefit people and the environment: “That doesn’t surprise me at all. Houseplants are warm fuzzies.”

With a little extra care, these orchids at Jericho Nursery will bloom for months. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

With a little extra care, these orchids at Jericho Nursery will bloom for months. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Although Hobson says he’s unsentimental about plants he brings indoors, he still has his favorites.

He likes orchids, too, because their blooms last for months. But when they quit blooming, he doesn’t baby them or wait for their flowers to emerge a year later: “When I can have an orchid that blooms for two or three months for $30, I don’t care if it blooms again. Someone who thinks orchids are too difficult is missing the point.”

Hobson admits to filtering and venting his dryer into the house to add humidity for his plants. His collection ranges to jasmine, hibiscus, foliage plants like ficus and a pot of the fragrant, palm-sized blooms of sacred datura in his office.

“We have to walk around the plants,” he says, adding he waters on a weekly schedule. Other plants that would do well on that schedule are Christmas cactus, African violets, poinsettias and no-fuss bulbs like Amaryllis and paperwhites, he says.

“I like to tease that I’m a no-frills kind of guy, but I have to have plants with blooms. Those will last all the way to February at least and then spring is right around the corner,” he says.

To add to the health benefit of indoor plants for people, Hobson and others suggest an indoor herb garden or even some vegetables.

Dane Elias of Plant World on El Pueblo Road says he has oregano, rosemary and basil growing in a pot inside his office.

This Christmas cactus at Jericho Nursery will thrive with moderate weekly attention. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

This Christmas cactus at Jericho Nursery will thrive with moderate weekly attention. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“Water them when they get dry. They are not real finicky.”

He says sage, bay plants and thyme would also work well near a window that gets sunlight. “You’d be surprised how much you can get out of window planter.”

Caleb Zahn of AHL Garden Supply says even dark apartments can become plant-friendly environments with lights.

Along with flowering and ornamental plants, in his store on Kathryn and San Mateo SE he grows herbs, lettuce and chile under sodium lights.

The setup can be as basic as a storage tower, about six feet tall with adjustable two-feet-by-three feet shelves. A small sodium light is suspended under the shelves and plants are seeded into soil in trays or pots about four inches deep. The two light sources cost about $90.

For gardeners who want to grow their own food, he suggests a hydroponic system, starting at about $200.

“The more you use a hydroponic system the more it pays for itself,” he says, adding the store provides support. “What we’re doing is re-creating Mother Nature.”

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