Thinking about Spring

The scents of an outdoor garden can be evoked indoors by cultivating fragrant house plants. Although the list of such foliage is short, it contains many varieties that will freshen up your home's bouquet.

General Guidelines for House Plants

Assess your indoor atmosphere to determine what types of house plants will flourish. You may need to create artificial environments using grow lights and indoor greenhouses to help your plants achieve their maximum potential. Consider the following basic house plant needs when selecting fragrant indoor plants:

Water: Determine each plant's watering requirements and do not exceed them. Over-watering can kill your plant. Water that runs through the container and is left to sit in a catch pan will only contribute to root rot. A moisture meter takes the guesswork out of watering.

Light: Homes have only so many south-facing windows, so the use of grow lamps may be necessary to supplement natural light. Extensive grow-light systems can cost hundreds of dollars, but you can build your own modest system by using a gooseneck floor lamp, a sixty-watt grow light bulb, and a timer.

Warmth: Since the heat in your home fluctuates, it's important to know your plants' temperature requirements. Some indoor plants need more warmth and can be boosted by a heat mat.

Humidity: Some plants require increased humidity levels to survive. Achieve this by allowing your pots to sit on decorative pebbles in beds that are one-third filled with water.

Soil: The best indoor soil to use is a light potting mix. Plants cultivated outdoors and brought inside for the winter can be top-dressed with one inch of the indoor mix. To prevent soil runoff, line the bottoms of the pots with used fabric softener sheets or coffee filters.

Bulb Forcing: One of the easiest and most rewarding ways to bring plant fragrance into your home is to force bulbs. You will either be left with bulbs that can be reused indoors or flora that can eventually be transplanted outside. Here are some suggestions to try:

  • Paper-White Narcissus: These are one-time bulbs that cannot be replanted in the summer garden. They are one of the easiest bulbs to force and will bloom in as little as four to six weeks after planting. They produce clusters of lovely little flowers that emit a slightly musky scent.
  • Hyacinth: A wonderfully fragrant flower that can be transplanted to the outdoor garden. It should be trimmed when the flowers and stems die and kept gently moist before transplanting.
  • Both paper-whites and hyacinth bulbs can be planted indoors in shallow pots without drain holes. Surround the bulbs with a bed of decorative pebbles in enough water to immerse the roots. There is no other care required than to let the bulbs develop into beautiful flowers.
  • Amaryllis: Check the variety before purchasing to ensure the plant emits scent. White-flowered plants tend to be the most fragrant. These bulbs like to be placed in a deep pot to encourage root development, but one not much larger in circumference than the bulb itself. Gently water once per week and allow the stems and flowers to die before cutting back and storing.
Fragrant Flowers

There's a small selection of strongly fragrant floral house plants. Consider some of the following:

  • Dwarf citrus: Many varieties of dwarf citrus plants will freely produce intensely fragrant flowers and a small harvest of fruit. The easiest to grow is the kumquat, which bears fruit that resembles a miniature orange. Citrus plants need full winter sun, a comfortable temperature of 64°F to 68°F, moist soil and an even fertilizer (10-10-10) once or twice a month.
  • Jasmine: A plant from Southeast Asia that produces highly aromatic white flowers. It requires a cool environment and at least four hours of bright light from an east- or west-facing window. The soil should be moist but not wet, and the plant fed every two weeks with an even fertilizer during the flowering season. One of its most fragrant varieties is the Jasminium polyanthum.
  • Orchids: They have been cultivated for millennia and produce an endless selection of fragrant flowers. Admittedly, some orchid species have special care requirements, but others are relatively simple to grow. Generally, these plants survive with temperatures of 60°F at night and over 70°F during the day. They need to be watered once or twice a week during the growing season. They should be placed in filtered sunlight. Fertilize using a specially prepared orchid solution. Remember to check the specific care instructions for each individual orchid.
  • Coffee plant: It's easy to grow and likes the same temperature and light environment as the orchid. The soil should contain some peat and be moist but not soggy. The plant needs to be fed every two weeks with an even, soluble fertilizer. It will produce masses of white, highly scented flowers.
  • Other examples of fragrant flowering indoor plants include the Sansevieria trifasciata (snake plant), Dracaena fragrans (corn plant) and Calonyction aculeatum (moonflower).
Fragrant Foliage

There are many plants, especially herbs, which provide rich foliar fragrance. Consider the following:

  • Basil: All basil plants are fragrant and varieties such as lemon, cinnamon, Greek and Genovese provide specific scents. Basil is easy to cultivate and is happy under a grow light or near a sunny kitchen window. Water early in the morning or at midday - basil does not like to go to bed with wet feet.
  • Thyme: This herb should be propagated from softwood cuttings. It requires growth conditions similar to basil. Fragrant varieties include orange, lemon, caraway and nutmeg.
  • Scented Geraniums: They are best grown from cuttings and offer a variety of scents that may include peppermint, nutmeg, apple, lemon, rose and lilac. Their cultivation is much the same as other herb plants.

These examples of house plants are proof that you don't have to go outdoors to cultivate a fragrant garden.

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