Surprising Plants for a Windowsill Garden

Don't settle for the same old ivy or fern. Choose an unusual plant for your home — or an unexpected pot to grow it in and brighten up even the darkest days of winter.

May 20, 2019

Photo By: Monrovia

Photo By: Jenny Peterson/J. Peterson Garden Design

Photo By: Monrovia

Photo By: Jenny Peterson/J. Peterson Garden Design

Photo By: DoreenWynja.com photographer for Monrovia

Photo By: DoreenWynja.com photographer for Monrovia

Photo By: Monrovia

Photo By: W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

Photo By: Jenny Peterson/J. Peterson Garden Design

Photo By: National Garden Bureau/Terra Nova

Photo By: Jenny Peterson/J. Peterson Garden Design

Photo By: National Garden Bureau

Photo By: Jenny Peterson/J. Peterson Garden Design

Photo By: W. Atlee Burpee & Co.

Flame Bush Lily

Clivias like Flame Bush Lily need shade in the garden, but these evergreen perennials grow happily in containers in your home. Give the plants, also known as Kaffir lilies, a warm, sunny window.

Thanksgiving Cactus

Sometimes the surprise in a windowsill garden isn't the plant — it's the planter. Garden designer Jenny Peterson, author of Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants, matched the pink blooms of this Thanksgiving cactus to the accent colors on a whimsical Hello Kitty container.

Madagascar Jasmine

Grow Madagascar jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda) in a sunny window spot to perfume a room with its sweet scent. Outdoors, this vining tropical will climb an arbor or trellis. As a houseplant, it needs a cool spot in your home. 

Hens and Chicks

Hens and chicks (on the right) shine in a charming silver cup on your windowsill. These succulents are alpine plants that tolerate poor soil, as long as it drains easily. Give the plants full sun; they seldom need watering and are happiest in temperatures from 65 to 75 degrees F. The plant on the left is a tillandsia.

Austral Gem Bird's Nest Fern

Some ferns can't take the low humidity found in most homes, especially when the heat is on in the winter. But Austral Gem Bird's Nest Fern is an exception. Dark green, feathery fronds make it an attractive addition to your windowsill garden, and it doesn't produce messy spores that scatter on tabletops and floors. If you move it outdoors after the last spring frost, give it full shade.

Hibiscus 'Bridal Veil'

Save your brightest window for hibiscus 'Bridal Veil'. If you're growing hibiscus in the garden, and you live where the winters are cold, you'll need to pot up these tropical shrubs and bring them in before the first frost. You may get blooms if you have sufficient light; each large, single white flower lasts 3 or 4 days. Move your hibiscus back outside when the weather is reliably warm again.

Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar'

Most houseplants are grown for their foliage, but you'll hardly notice the lack of flowers when you grow Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar'. This tropical beauty has exotic-looking pink, cream and green leaves. Give the plants an eastern or northern exposure, and avoid direct sunlight, which can burn them.

Impatiens SunPatiens 'Blush Pink'

If you can provide impatiens with enough humidity, these pretty annuals will add color to your windowsill garden for weeks. While they tolerate the average home temperature, they need at least 50 percent humidity. Group them with other plants, grow them in a bathroom or near the kitchen sink, or sit their pots in shallow trays filled with pebbles and a little water to give them the moisture they need. Another option: mist your impatiens daily.

Crown of Thorns

A Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii) adapts nicely to average home conditions, making it ideal for a bright, sunny windowsill.  These plants like normal room temperatures and don't mind low humidity, but be careful. You'll need to wear gloves when handling these prickly beauties.

Heuchera 'Mint Julep'

While you don't often see heucheras grown as houseplants, these low-light perennials can be potted up in fall and briefly enjoyed indoors. Just be sure to return them to the garden when the weather warms back up. Also known as coral bells, heucheras bloom in spring, so give them the cool, spring-like temperatures they prefer to encourage their small blooms. Heucheras need deep pots to accomodate their roots.

Spanish Moss Hanging Basket

Despite its name, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoidesand) is actually a rootless bromeliad that takes moisture and nutrients from the air; it's shown here with other air plants. Try letting it trail from a basket in a bright windowsill. If you gather your Spanish moss from trees, remove any insects by submerging the moss outdoors in a bucket of hot, soapy water. Scrub it gently between your hands, then rinse it and spread it in the sun until it's completely dry. If any pests remain, put the moss in a bag, so the pests won't get loose in your home, and boil it on the stovetop. Again, let the moss dry completely before using it indoors.

Coleus 'Sun Rose To Lime Magic'

Pot up your coleus before the first frost to overwinter them as colorful, showy houseplants. Coleus grow nicely in an eastern exposure, and if they start to look leggy and stretched, simply prune them back. Stick the cuttings into a glass of water or a small container filled with potting mix, and roots will soon form, increasing your coleus collection. These annuals can go back into the garden when all chance of frost has passed.

Tillandsias in Containers

Also known as air plants, tillandsias are easy to grow in a windowsill garden. Garden designer Jenny Peterson, author of The Cancer Survivor's Garden Companion: Cultivating Hope, Healing & Joy in the Ground Beneath Your Feet, says caring for houseplants isn't just fun; it's therapeutic. "So many times when people are going through cancer treatment or another illness, they are indoors or even bedridden...When I couldn't get outside during treatment to work in the garden, I focused on my houseplants. This not only brought the outdoors inside and beautified my space, but it kept me busy, active and focused on something other than how I was feeling...plants, whether they are indoors or outdoors, have a way of taking us outside of ourselves."

Bay Laurel

Toss the leaves of fragrant bay laurel into soups, stews and other dishes, or simply enjoy this pretty ornamental shrub on your windowsill; it adapts nicely to most home conditions. Give this perennial lots of sun and prune it as needed.

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