An Indoor Fix

by Mark and Ben Cullen

We’re not quite ready to admit that the Canadian gardening season is “over”. In fact, we belong to a growing number of gardeners who are getting their plant fix indoors.

We have been maintaining plants indoors for as long as there has been indoor space to put them. A Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum) in the breakfast nook, an Elephant Ear (Colocasia) in the hallway, and a Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) in the bathroom, are stalwarts in the collection. In Ben’s apartment, visitors can barely move for propagated tropicals – cuttings which are traded and gifted to friends as the trend takes hold among his peers.

The trend of growing plants indoors is very real.

“The ‘70’s are back! We are seeing more demand for house plants than we have in years.” Jeff Olsen of BTN Nurseries recently told us.  BTN is a large wholesale plant grower based in Schomberg, Ontario. “I think it’s part of a look that’s popular right now, and young people enjoy taking care of these things.”

Predictably, the online presence of houseplants is also ever-growing.

Darryl Cheng, based in Toronto, runs an Instagram account called House Plant Journal. What began as a chronicle of his “plant parenthood” now has over 190,000 followers who seek out his daily updates and advice, from #MonsteraMonday to #FoliageFriday.

When browsing the thousands of images of houseplants online, Cheng can tell when plants are established in their environment, or when they’ve been placed as props in a photo shoot. He explained, on a recent phone call, “(After a while), a plant looks like it actually belongs there. You can see when a plant belongs somewhere because it’s more appealing”.

The beauty of indoor plants is that you don’t need a garden to grow them; they are accessible to virtually everyone. In addition to adding beauty to your home or office, houseplants have a measurable impact on your indoor air quality.

Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Start simple. A lot of people tell us that they have a “black thumb”, or that they “kill everything”. A Pothos or a Spider Plant are incredibly robust and will help even a novice indoor-gardener build confidence.
  • Try cuttings. This is a free way to multiply your riches – and most tropical plants lend themselves to this very well. Cut healthy shoots of new growth right below a leaf joint, and remove lower leaves. Put the cuttings in a jar of water or push them half way into moist soil and within a few weeks roots will start to form. Once a few good roots have developed plant into a pot filled with good quality potting mix.    
  • Try exotics. Once you have mastered the art of plant care, there are endless places you can go with your new-found passion. Ben is particularly interested in hibiscus, for their big and colourful flowers, and the endless varieties to choose from. This only works in extremely bright south or south-west facing windows. Providing auxiliary artificial plant lights can help to maintain blooming even during the low-light period around New Years.
  • Share! Like everything, the joy of gardening is greatest when shared. Propagate new plants to give to your friends and family, or reach out to any of the various growers’ societies who are active right through the depths of winter. Start some now as Christmas gifts. And of course, post those pictures on Instagram!

Mark learned many years ago that indoor plants can really help to shorten an otherwise long, cold Canadian winter. Ben and his generation are all over it! What goes around comes around…

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and holds the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.