Satisfy the gardening itch with indoor projects

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Have you ever noticed that people who enjoy gardening are passionate about their pastime, to put it mildly? Why else would they roam around outdoors in the dark with flashlight in hand covering tomatoes with bedsheets and blankets on frosty nights? Why else do summer vacations revolve around finding someone to water the front planters? People who've caught gardening fever rarely let a little thing like winter spoil their fun.

Houseplants obviously are a great gardening pastime for the off-season. But sometimes it's fun to try something different, like the following ideas.

• Buy an English ivy houseplant and begin training it on stiff wire inserted into the pot and shaped into a circular wreath, a heart shape or a sphere. It might take several years to develop, but it's a unique project that will live for years.

• Set up a fluorescent light system for growing plants. Even a dark corner of the basement can turn into a greenhouse for growing violets, orchids, edible greens or starting seeds for bedding plant and vegetable transplants. Special grow-lights can be purchased, or assemble two fluorescent tubes in a shop light fixture, which is the setup my wife, Mary, and I use in the basement.

• Experiment with the popular trend of growing microgreens on a windowsill or under lights for adding to sandwiches, salads and soups. Kits and instructions can be found at garden centers.

• Become an amaryllis grower. Boxed kits are sold at many retailers, but some of the largest bulbs with the best flower-power are found at locally-owned garden centers. Learn the simple method of reblooming them year after year.

• Some stores still have a few tulip bulbs in stock. Force a colorful pot by planting six bulbs in a six-inch pot, water well, enclose in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 12 weeks. Move to a sunny window when sprouts appear.

• For those who feel they neglect houseplants, become a grower of cacti and succulents, which thrive on low maintenance.

• Grow herbs on a windowsill or under lights. The easiest types are those that grow from a ground-level crown such as chives and parsley. Portions can be sheared for use, and plants rebound quickly.

• Start cuttings of houseplants in a miniature greenhouse made of an ice cream bucket enclosed in a clear plastic bag and filled with moist vermiculite.

• Terrariums, so prevalent in the 1970s, have cycled back in popularity. Plants grow well in these miniature humid glass jungles.

• Take time to sit by the window and look out at the dormant landscape, which has a beauty of its own: the black soil of a rototilled garden, the papery texture of dried hydrangea blossoms rustling in the wind and birds nibbling at phlox seedheads.

• Indulge in "thought-gardening," which is my made-up term for mentally visiting botanical gardens, viewing arboretums or accumulating gardening knowledge through books or the internet. The gardening theater of the mind keeps us horticulturally active, with no weeding needed.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

He also blogs at " target="_blank">growingtogether.areavoices.com.