Best Plants to Grow Indoors in the Winter

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Photo by iStock/IPGGutenbergUKLtd
If properly cared for, certain flowers, culinary herbs and even citrus plants can be grown inside.

Growing plants indoors adds vibrance and cheer to our homes in winter, and may even offer a squeeze or sprinkle of homegrown culinary delight to winter meals. Try your hand at growing these colorful blooms and easy edibles indoors this year, and reap the benefits of tending living plants throughout winter.

Winter Bloomers

If you’re a fan of cut flowers but want your beautiful blooms to last even longer, try these plants that add color to winter interiors.

Though orchids require a slightly different care regimen than the average houseplant (they need less water and more fertilizer, for instance), their blooms can last for months, brightening any room with their tropical feel. Phalaenopsis (moth orchids) are easier to find than ever. Buy one with a few closed blooms to get the full flowering experience. Check out the American Orchid Society for reliable care instructions.

Rieger Begonia
Referred to as winter-flowering begonias, Rieger begonias produce boisterous blooms, ranging from white to fuschia, during short days. Place plants in an east- or west-facing window and fertilize monthly while in bloom. With proper care you may be able to get it to rebloom.

Christmas Cactus
Though now you can find hybrid varieties that bloom any time of year, these plants traditionally produce their vibrant blooms, ranging from salmon pink to yellow to ruby, closer to the holidays. Keep these succulents in sandy soil and only water when soil is completely dry.

Reliable winter bloomers, cyclamens’ pink to red blooms are as stunning as their variegated foliage. The plant requires excellent drainage; water when soil is dry, avoiding getting water on leaves or stems. Fertilize bimonthly with water-soluble fertilizer mixed at half-strength.

Winter Edibles

Many edibles don’t grow well indoors, but these hardy kitchen helpers can survive in pots year-round.

Culinary Herbs
In the ground outdoors, culinary herbs are pretty self-sufficient. Indoors, you’ll need to give them a bit of extra care. Light is the most important determining factor for success. Look for a window that gets six or more hours of sun per day — usually south- or southwest-facing. Choose self-watering containers designed for good drainage, and use a well-draining soil mix, such as one containing potting soil plus sand, perlite, vermiculite and/or peat moss. Use filtered water occasionally to flush out sodium buildup, and replace potting soil if it forms a white crust. Fertilize sparingly, not more than every couple of weeks, with seaweed or fish emulsion spritz. Most herbs thrive with consistent moisture, but basil, oregano and sage do better if soil is allowed to dry completely between waterings.

Good Windowsill Herbs: basil, chives, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme

Sprouts and Microgreens
Sprouts and microgreens are intensely nutritious, plus they bring the feel of the green garden indoors — and can be grown any time of year. Sprouts are typically grown in water only, and usually from the seeds of legumes such as alfalfa and mung beans. Microgreens are grown in a little bit of soil, and tend to be baby vegetable plants such as beets, cabbages, radishes and sunflowers. Sprouts reach full flavor potential within a few days, and microgreens don’t take much longer — just a week or two.

Great Sprouting Seeds: For every imaginable kind of sprouting seed, from broccoli and chia to garlic and leeks, check Sprout People.

Fresh Citrus
Lemons and limes grow surprisingly well indoors in containers throughout the winter, and they will be thrilled to be moved outdoors come spring. As with all plants intended for containers, it’s best to look for dwarf varieties. Two culinary darlings — the sweet-tart Meyer lemon and the kaffir lime, which boasts fragrant, flavorful leaves — are great choices. Check seed catalogs (and seed company websites) for other great container varieties.

Container citrus plants need to be at least a couple of years old before you can expect a harvest. They like well-drained, slightly acidic soil. Ambient indoor temperature is fine, but keep your precious trees away from extra-cold drafts or extra-hot vents and heaters. When all danger of frost has passed, citrus trees are happier outside in full sun. Add an organic fertilizer a couple of times throughout the winter, and rely on insecticidal soap spritzes (we like Safer brand) for any pests. Spray weekly until pests vacate. 

Recommended Container Varieties: Meyer lemon, kaffir lime, Australian finger lime, calamondin orange, Owari Satsuma mandarin orange, kumquat, Minneola tangelo

Indoor Garden Tips

Follow these tips from Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey, the gardening-expert authors of The Bountiful Container.

Keep plants watered according to their specific needs. Some indoor plants prefer consistently moist soil, while others — especially culinary herbs such as basil, oregano and sage — thrive if soil is allowed to dry out between waterings.

Fertilize winter bloomers with rinse water from milk or juice cartons, which offers nutrients. Pinch off spent blooms to encourage new growth.

For herbs, choose a window with as much sun as possible — ideally facing south or southwest.

Manage expectations. We won’t get luxuriant growth on all plants indoors. Instead, relish the homegrown gems that do survive inside.