Plants are a cheap way to decorate the dorm

When I was much younger, my father used to take my sisters and I to visit his office once in a while. The office was professional and rather unwelcoming, but he kept a small avocado tree in the corner. The tree was reminiscent of the houseplants we kept at home and we always poked around in the soil and made a mess. Needless to say, we didn’t visit his office very often.

Houseplants can make any space a little more welcoming and homey, be it a cold office or a lifeless dorm room. Some plants, such as orchids, are valued for their beauty but can be notoriously delicate. Others, such as my father’s avocado tree, grow to be too large for small rooms.

Despite the difficult varieties, finding the right houseplant is relatively easy. Visiting a nearby garden center or farm stand, such as Terhune Orchards in Princeton, will provide you with a wide selection of flora.

Lucky bamboo, available at portable kiosks in almost every mall, is one of the easiest plants to grow. It requires only water and sunlight and can grow nearly anywhere. Usually, the plants are sold in small, decorative pots covered in designs. The stem is generally nestled amongst pebbles and fresh water.

The lucky bamboo will spread out with time and after three or so years, it will need a larger pot. The water should also be changed weekly. However, with care, the lucky bamboo will flourish and provide many years of Zen-like serenity.

Venus flytraps are exotic, creepy and definitely unique. Few other houseplants digest small insects before your very eyes. Despite what “The Little Shop of Horrors” would like you to believe, these plants are generally very small, fitting easily in a medium-sized plastic cup.

The flytrap, which is seasonally available in grocery stores and garden centers, should be sowed in a small plastic pot suspended over a glass of water. Continually fill the glass with water to keep the soil swamp-like. The plant, which uses its digestive abilities to extract nitrogen from prey, does not require feeding to thrive. If you swat an annoying fly, you can feed it to an open trap and watch it snap shut.

When the weather begins to cool, the plant will sprout a long stalk topped with a beautiful white flower. This flower will drain energy from the rest of the plant and should be snipped as soon as it is noticed. And while it may seem fun to continually trigger the traps, after about three false alarms, the trap will turn black and wilt. But even without touching the traps, Venus Flytraps are fascinating to have around.

Seen in the popular video game “The Sims,” African violets are simple to care for and provide beautiful blooms for caretakers. The soil around the violet must be kept moist but not dripping wet, as this could cause root rot. Keep the plant away from direct sunlight. A nice spot on a desk or shelf will bring a little nature indoors without stressful upkeep procedures. The violet is available in several types, many suitable for dorm rooms.

For the sophisticated college student who doesn’t mind a bit of work, bonsai trees are the perfect plants. Though not tremendously difficult to care for, these miniature trees do require some special maintenance. Branches need to be trimmed, old leaves must be pruned and the soil’s moisture must always be monitored.

However, the bonsai is an imaginative artwork as much as it is a living thing. The pot can be decorated as a mini-landscape limited only by the owner’s creativity. Before buying a bonsai tree, be sure to do your research and decide which variety is right for you. Some are more difficult to care for than others, and some are very expensive. However, if properly cared for, the bonsai will make a beautiful room ornament for many years.

Finally, if you have a bit more space and patience, a miniature herb garden will provide you with delicious results. Supermarkets and home-supply stores sell kits with pots, soil and various herb seeds. If you would rather cultivate different varieties, garden centers have a tremendous selection of seeds. After harvesting, you will truly savor the fruits of your labor. Fresh basil, pungent chives and spicy spearmint will kick up an ordinary salad to a gourmet treat. The herbs will also provide fantastic aromas when picked and dried.

With a little time and effort, you can grow as many potted plants inside your dorm room as you would like. All plants will yield a special beauty and you will find that they bring a definite sense of comfort to just about any room.

Do you have a green thumb when it comes to houseplants? E-mail your ideas and questions to and you might just see them in print!