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Unit Study: Indoor Gardening

  • Elece Hollis Home School Enrichment Magazine
  • 2006 26 Apr
Unit Study: Indoor Gardening

This unit study introduces ideas for indoor gardening projects that are suitable for students of all ages. Your local library has plenty of books on houseplants. You will need one general houseplant encyclopedia type of book, and books on particular plant families and projects such as making a terrarium and aquarium garden.

Project Ideas

Here are some ideas for interesting projects you can try, as well as some ideas for specific kinds of plants you can grow indoors. Later in this study we'll take a look at some ideas for further study.

• A terrarium is a garden under glass. To make your own, choose a large, wide-mouthed glass jar or bottle. You'll also need some charcoal (crushed), sand and potting soil. Start with the layer of crushed charcoal, and then add sand and potting soil for your base. Pepperomia, mosses, wintergreen, maidenhair fern, trailing arbutus, white-veined fittonia and other moisture-loving plants with small leaves are easy to grow and do well in terrariums. After watering, the top of the terrarium should be covered with plastic wrap or a piece of glass that can be taken off when the soil looks too damp. Place the terrarium in a sunny place, but not in direct sun. Students will enjoy seeing the condensation form and rain on their little gardens.

• Constructing a desert garden involves using potting soil and a mix of sand to grow cactuses or succulents. Wear heavy gloves to handle plants for setting. A fun addition is African Living Stones (a type of flowering plant). Also interesting is Red Crown, a small pincushion-shaped cactus that blooms beautifully. The main caution for succulents and cactus gardens is to not overwater.

• Christmas and Easter cactus are succulents, not true cactus, and have no spines. They can be made to bloom in winter. In the late fall do not water for a month, then begin watering. Try some close-up photography of the unusually beautiful blossoms.

• A centerpiece garden is also fun to plant. Use a metallic, ceramic or plastic container that is deep enough to hold the plants. A plastic container can fit inside a basket for an extra warm touch. Start with a layer of pebbles. Add potting soil and set in plants.

• A wildflower windowsill garden is a treasure and costs nothing but the effort to find the flowers. Many pretty wildflower plants can be carried inside and potted.

• "Canned Joy" makes a great gift. In canning jars place a few glass florists' stones. Then add potting soil. Add a lid covered with cloth and ribbon, matching the stones and color of flowers to be grown. Include a seed packet and instructions for planting the seeds, watering and setting in a sunny place to watch sprout!

• Herbs can be grown and used in cooking. Mint is easy to grow but spreads easily so don't plant it in a flower bed or garden where it can spread to crowd out other plants. Parsley, sage, chives and rosemary are good choices.

• Citrus trees are fun to grow in pots from seeds. Use organic fruit to obtain the seeds if possible. Orange, grapefruit, and lemon can be grown in pots from seed. A fig tree is rugged and pretty but needs a large pot. Being deciduous it will lose its leaves in the fall. Keep inside with the soil slightly moist and watch it bud again the next spring.

• Grow kitchen vegetables as house plants. Sweet potatoes, avocado, carrot, and pineapple tops can be sprouted. Place the potatoes and avocado seeds in pint jars of water in a windowsill. The potato or pit should be suspended small end down in the water by toothpicks stuck into the sides of the vegetable. Carrot and pineapples can be started by cutting them off near the stems. Leave the leaves intact and place about one half inch of the fruit cut side down in a shallow dish of soil.

• Study how plants can grow in the water of ponds, lakes and rivers by planting plants in your aquarium. Packets of water plant bulbs can be purchased in pet shops. You can grow plants whether or not you have fish in the tank. Watch for tiny, delicate blooms on stems floating at the surface.

• The maranta, or prayer plant, is a fun houseplant to grow because it folds up its leaves at night and lays them down in the morning light. Others, such as cyclamen, poinsettia, and gloxinia are all spectacular bloomers and interesting to grow. Ivy and Sansevieria, begonias, and geraniums are popular choices.

• Orchids, bromeliads and bamboo are some of the new house plants that are fun to grow indoors in the winter. Bromeliads can be wrapped in moss and tied with string to the arms of a potted tree branch to make a Bromeliad tree. Orchids may need a small humidifier to keep the air moist. They do best near an east or south window.

• Grow your own tree. Plant tree seeds in plastic yogurt cups. (You must use plastic because the cups or pots will have to be watered often and they take a long time to sprout.) Dry a pinecone for a week or two and then take dark seeds from it. (The light ones will not grow.) Plant about 1/2 inch deep in potting soil. Try an acorn, a pecan or an almond in a coffee can or flower pot.

• How about a Bonsai tree project for a patient older student? An azalea bush of a small bloom variety can be made to blossom indoors for 8 months out of the year as a bonsai.

• A fun windowsill project can be made with only a large pinecone, grass seed and potting soil. Fill a shallow pot or crockery bowl with soil. Soak the pinecone in water for a few minutes, but not long enough to allow the cone to close up. If it does close, simply allow it to dry and it will reopen. After soaking the cone, stand it up in the soil with its large end down. Sprinkle grass seed on the cone's open spikes and soon it will sprout and look like a tiny fir tree.

• Forcing spring bulbs is a cheerful and fulfilling project. In order to get daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, crocus and amaryllis plants to bloom inside, they must be stored in a cold, dark place for six to twelve weeks then brought inside to pots and watered well and placed in a sunny window. If you can't prepare your own, bulbs can be purchased during the winter ready to set and water. Water sparingly until the sprouts appear, then increase watering until flowers appear.

• Starting garden plants in flats indoors is a great way to get a head start on the spring vegetable garden. Try planting an assortment of heirloom seeds in covered soil trays. Pepper and tomato plants are two of the easier types. Be sure that you plant your seeds close enough to warm weather to be able to transfer to your garden rows at the peak health of the plant. Remember to acclimatize the plants gradually before exposing them to chilly nights.

Ideas for Further Study

While you're waiting for your plants to grow, here are a few study ideas to learn more about plants.

• Propagation of plants: Try multiplying your plants through shoots, rooting, seeding, and cuttings.

• Study light and water needs: Here are some terms and questions for the student to investigate. What is photosynthesis? Phototropism and hydrotropism? What is hydroponics? Can vegetables be grown without soil? Why? Is the nutritional value of food affected by hydroponics gardening?

• See what the Bible says about plants: The Bible talks about plants from beginning to end, from the creation of plants in Genesis to the heavenly city's trees in Revelation. Find scriptures about plants to copy into your notebook and find one for an art or calligraphy piece. Find a Psalm that talks about a vine and olive shoots round about the table. Retell the parable of the sower. Can you write a parable of your own about houseplants that teaches a moral or Biblical truth?

• Indoor Gardening History: The Romans built atriums in their homes. What is an atrium? A conservatory? How are they like and unlike a greenhouse? You might have a small area, perhaps even an available shower stall that can be made into a temporary indoor garden. Sliding glass doors allow the controlling of moisture and special artificial lights may be needed.

• Read About Plants and Botanists: Reading one of the many biographies of "The plant doctor," the great Christian botanist George Washington Carver, would go well with this study.

• Field Trips: Try planning a field trip to a greenhouse or even to the home of a friend or relative who can share some plant growing tips. A trip to the woods in search of plants and moss for terrariums also makes a good outing. Plan a day to get together with friends to pot plants or start terrariums.

• Share Your Learning: Invite some guests and have a formal showing of your indoor gardening projects.

I hope this study will brighten your house this year, and give you a greater appreciation for the wonderful design in creation.


Elece Hollis is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. She and her husband Ron of 30 years have 7 children and are in their sixteenth year of homeschooling. They live east of Okmulgee, Oklahoma and south of Tulsa on a 40 acre pecan farm.

This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr '06 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, and to request a free sample copy, visit