By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
College-bound this fall? You don't have to leave your love of gardening behind. Granted, some dorm rooms aren't even as big as the family garden plot. But that doesn't mean you can't garden in your room at college. It just takes a little imagination....and an agreeable roommate!
The most obvious choice for greening up your space is with houseplants although you will need to be selective. The growing conditions found in most dorm rooms--low light, high temperatures, poor humidity--are not suited to all plants. Some plants that you may want to try include peperomia, sansevieria, philodendron, grape ivy, variegated pothos vine, and mother-in-law's tongue. Or how about one of the many cultivars of English ivy? This trailing plant likes low light and makes an ideal hanging plant.
If you are bringing plants from home, be sure to shade them from direct sun in the car as the light through glass can burn the foliage. Turning on the air conditioner won't do the trick. They need to be shaded.
Choose a container with a large enough opening for you to reach in to place and care for the plants. (Fish tanks make great terrariums.) Wash the container thoroughly, then line the bottom with small, pea-sized gravel or very coarse sand to provide good drainage. Cover with a layer of horticultural charcoal.
Next, add a thin layer of soil mix, using either a commercial potting soil or a mixture of one part garden loam, one part coarse sand, and one part dampened peat moss. For woodland gardens, you may want to add more peat moss.
Determine what you would like to grow, keeping in mind that it's best to group plants with similar soil, light, and moisture requirements. Tropical or sub-tropical houseplants do well under conditions of high humidity and close planting. Try creeping figs, parlor palms, ivies, and aluminum plants. Peperomias are okay, if it's not too wet.
Local woodland plants such as mosses, small ferns, partridgeberries, and lichens also make an attractive terrarium. Don't harvest these plants from forests; instead, buy them from growers. If you want to use desert plants, such as cacti and other succulents, use a sandy soil mix and keep the terrarium very, very dry.
For something a bit different, plant an underwater garden in an old five- or ten-gallon aquarium. Check your local pet store or garden center for aquatic plants--the same ones you would use if you had a tank full of fish. You may be surprised at the variety of plants available in different colors and textures.
If you have the space, a windowsill herb garden is another way to satisfy your green thumb. Many herbs, including lemon balm, mint, chives, dill, marjoram, oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary, will do quite well, providing they get a daily dose of sunshine--at least five hours of light, if not more. Choose fragrant herbs for the wonderful scents they will add to your room.
Your best bet is to buy plants at a local garden center or nursery. Or take cuttings from your home garden before you leave for school. Most herbs aren't fussy about their containers. Just about anything from flowerpots to coffee cans will work as long as you can put holes in the bottom for drainage.
Use a quality potting soil. Fertilize once or twice a month, and water only when the soil surface is dry to the touch.
If you don't think you'll have time to care for living plants, or are
concerned with their survival over long college breaks, then why not decorate
your room with dried flowers. You can buy or make dried flower wreaths
and arrangements. "Paintings" of flowers pressed under glass make nice
wall decorations. Just use your imagination! There are lots of ways to
add greenery to your living space, no matter how small.