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How to Make an Indoor Plant Conservatory in Iowa

January 24, 2011

Amyrillis. Plant the bulb at Thanksgiving and this is what you have at Christmas. Plant it outside in the spring, dig the bulb in September, cut the top off, and store it in the garage until Thanksgiving and plant it again!

It’s not that hard. Seriously.
1. Find the correct space. A room with East AND South windows is preferable, without buildings or evergreen trees blocking the low-angle sun that comes in during the winter. If the room happens to have a bathroom attached, that’s even better. The shower can be used to periodically steam the air, and plant watering becomes much easier. Make sure the windows are properly sealed to avoid winter drafts. If the windows are screened it is great for allowing in outdoor air on warmer days. An old closed in porch can work pretty well provided it is properly insulated and has a heat source. Indoor plants need higher humidity during the winter months, about 60%. A humidifier may be necessary to achieve this.
2. Find some narrow glass and steel tables of whatever length is necessary upon which to place the plants. A table called a “Parsons Table” is ideal and can be located at a number of stores on the internet which will provide custom lengths and widths. They are not terribly expensive.
3.  You will want to sit in your conservatory, I like a porch-like feel, so found wicker furniture to enhance that ambiance. A little coffee table is a necessity, as you will need to drink coffee in there when the sun is coming up and read books there in the afternoon. ESPECIALLY if you’ve added a little indoor fountain for some background water sound – available at all the garden centers and all over the internet. Small ones don’t cost much.
4. Find a space heater if needed – the type that just sits there and looks like an old-fashioned radiator. All the hardware stores have oil-filled ones with thermostats that just plug in for particularly cold nights. The heat from these goes straight up, pulling cold air down from the ceiling and keeping air moving even though it has no fan apparatus; air movement is important in the conservatory.
5. It’s okay for the room to get cool at night, preferably down around 55 or 60. The room will warm up drastically on sunny days, and the temperature variation is good for the plants, so if the room has a door to separate it from the rest of the house, leave it closed. A lot of tropical plants need a period of cold nights and warm days to stimulate blooming, particularly orchids. And don’t over-water! Your plants will slow down over the winter, and the roots will be cooler. Standing water or soaked soil will kill them. Go easy on the fertilizer as well; you can begin adding that back in around March when things heat up again and your plants get excited about growing.
6. In the summer your plants will nearly all be outside, or they should be! Move them out! They will go crazy and look spectacular when brought in by October or November. Put them out as early as possible but be aware of the sun; it will cause terrible sunburn for plants which have been inside all winter – they must be eased into it if direct sun is necessary. This is true even for cacti and desert plants, so put them in light shade and gradually ease them into the light. In the Fall I always have a “staging area” on the back step where the plants I’m bringing in are cleaned up and re-potted if necessary. I gather them there when frost and cold weather seems imminent and watch the weather reports carefully. I do not bring them in until nighttime temps are hitting 40 or just below, except for some of the bromeliads which can’t stand anything below 40.

This is my Fall “Staging Area”. I put all my indoor plants on the steps for cleaning and re-potting; the door to the conservatory is conveniently located at the top of the steps.

7. Now, arrange your furniture, and make it cozy. A room as small as 8×8 feet will feel like a jungle if done properly! And you’ll fit in it just perfectly. Be creative. The tables do NOT have to go along the wall. They can be perpendicular to the wall. You can even stack them if you want!

8. Pick plants that are easy to manage over the winter that will give you some beautiful blooms. Christmas Cactus and Amaryllis Bulbs are great for Thanksgiving and Christmas; orchids take off in January and February with spectacular blooms. Other good choices are Passion Flower vine (which will climb to the ceiling), Norfolk Island Pine, Bromeliads, all sorts of Cacti and succulents, and African Violets for color all the time, though they are a little more finicky. Personally, I like to get spectacularly blooming plants for the Conservatory, and weird plants that no one else has.

Everything described in this article is in this room.

I know … hideous, aren’t they.

Beautiful! This Thanksgiving Cactus blooms like this every Thanksgiving. I leave it out from April until mid-November, and this is how it rewards me! 

9. If you want to go crazy, get some animal carvings, African masks, butterfly prints, and so forth for the walls and floor here and there.
10. The only problem with your Conservatory will be that everyone will want to be in it all the time. Remember, it’s a special room, because you’re the gardener, and you did all the work to make it so perfect! Enjoy it!

From → The Garden

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