Miniature Gardening 102: Indoor vs. Outdoor Plants

An indoor miniature garden that looks like the outdoors.
With a little compromise, you can have a happy indoor miniature garden that looks like it is a slice of the outdoors. That’s a Variegated Boxwood tree, a favorite for indoor Miniature Gardening.

Miniature Gardening 102: Indoor vs. Outdoor Plants

~ Welcome to our Miniature Garden Beginner Series! Learn the basics of gardening in miniature gardening with the world-renown expert on all things miniature gardening, me, Janit Calvo!

I’ve been building, teaching and sharing this hobby since 2001, before it became popular AND well-before the fairy garden trend hit in 2012! My first Gardening in Miniature book has become the primer for the hobby, and the second book offers even more fun, and digs deeper into the hobby, with 37 different projects for and from the miniature garden. (Available on Amazon too!)

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If you missed the first of the series, it’s here: Miniature Gardening 101: The Dirt on the Soil. 

~> Are you an experienced gardener? Scan towards the end of the blog, you may find something in here that you can add to your arsenal.

~> Note that what you learn here, can be applied to full-sized container gardens, in-ground gardening and full-sized plants too. 

So, let’s dig into the difference between indoor and outdoor plants.

“Is there a difference between indoor plants and outdoor plants?

Indoor plants are tropical plants and like to be warm (above 60°F) all year ‘round. If you live in a warm, southern climate, the indoor and outdoor plants choices will overlap. If you live in an area that gets cold or freezing in the winter, you can bring indoor plants outside in the summertime, and return the plant indoors for the winter, only because you are maintaining the climate that the indoor plant requires.

Note that indoor plants have a dormancy period too. Most plants go dormant in the winter, so if your indoor plant is not growing like you are used to, Google it. It may just be dormant and “resting,” getting ready for the next growing season.

Outdoor plants go dormant in the winter months and the weather signals that it’s time to rest. An obvious example is, in the fall months, the cooler temperatures signal the big broadleaf trees to know to shed their leaves, to get ready to go dormant for the winter season. Our miniature and dwarf conifers do the same – but they don’t shed their leaves, they just go dormant.

So, if you bring this kind of outdoor plant inside your home for the winter, it will think it’s summer all the time and grow itself to death. You simply cannot keep the roots cool enough indoors to mimic the outside temps. The heat inside your home will dry out the air, delivering zero humidity for the foliage (- and no, random misting will not work either – you can’t fool Mother Nature.)

And, with the warm inside temperatures, the poor wee outdoor plant will not get a chance to go dormant and rest. Sure, your plant will look okay for a couple/few weeks, but after it figures out where it is, you will end up with an unhappy plant that will attract pests and disease.

“Why did my plant die?”

More often than not, plants die because the gardener put the it in the wrong place and/or with the wrong temperature, light or watering schedule. This is not unusual. Every gardener, when they are learning how to grow plants, challenge Mother Nature either knowingly or unknowingly. Here is a blog I wrote last year, on the signals that plants will give you if they are not happy.

And yes, I kill plants too – and I’m supposed to have “Two Green Thumbs.” Last weekend, I got fed up with my not-so-beautiful-anymore Victoria Nest Fern (a full-sized houseplant) and threw it in the compost bin. The plant needed more light than I could give it, and it did not like the drafts in the front room which was my brightest room. Or maybe I didn’t keep it evenly moist enough. Or both… Either way, I was sad to lose it but, life is too short to worry about what doesn’t work for me. I’ll find other plants that will do well in my front room!

Most of the miniature garden plants that we carry are very hardy. Search for the right plants for your USDA zone in our online store under, “Plants By Zone.” Find your zone with Google and search for “What zone is {your zip code.]”

“Why can’t I grow this plant inside for the winter?”

Plants are like people. Every person has certain needs in order to thrive and plants work the same way.

Let us use myself as an example. ;o) I moved from Toronto because it was too cold for too long in the winters and I just could not handle 8 months of winter each and every year. So, I left to travel. I was dreaming of living on a beach…

So, after an extended stay in Costa Rica and Mexico to explore my beach dreams, this redhead Irish gal realized it was way too hot and the tropical bugs liked me WAY too much! (Just call me a walking bug buffet!) I got bit by lawd-knows what kind of bugs when standing, sitting, sleeping and eating. And, I realized I lost energy when the temperatures got over 80 degrees – all I wanted to do is not much. Yeah, nope – not gonna work for me!

Feeling like Goldilocks, I landed in the great Northwest to see if it was a good fit. Well, after I witnessed flowers blooming in January, early spring weather that started in April, and extended summer that lasted well in to the fall months – aaaahh, I felt it was juuust right! I definitely needed a cooler climate like Seattle in order to thrive, I loved the milder seasonal changes and nice warm, long summers – with minimal bugs. I was home.

See where I’m going with this? I found the “right place” to be planted!

Plants are the same way. “Right plant for the right place” is the Golden Garden Rule!

An outdoor garden has more possibilities than indoors. There are many more plants to choose from, and the weather helps to give the plants what they need. Just add water. :o)

What are good Miniature Garden Trees for Indoors?

Now, for your miniature indoor garden, there are different styles of indoor miniature gardens, but our fave is to build a garden that looks like it’s a slice of the outdoors. Here are a few indoor plants that look like the big outdoor trees so we can have that “outdoorsy” look inside for the winter. 

Certain conifers, like the Elwood’s/Lemon/Monteray Cypress, and some Lawson Cypress are perfect trees that easily mimic our full-sized landscape. Baby Boxwood trees, like the Variegated English Boxwood that can easily stand-in for the large broadleaf backyard tree, or the slower-growing Kingsville Dwarf Boxwood, a very slow-growing shrub that is perfect for our miniature gardens.

When thinking of an indoor miniature garden, and with a little compromise, you can have a happy mini garden in your home that looks like it is a slice of the outdoors. See more of our indoor plants choices here.

Our plants rotate in and out of stock throughout the year. See what plants are available now, in our online store. You can search by your zone. Our Mini Garden Gazette subscribers get first dibs.

Stay tuned next week for the next in the series: Miniature Gardening 103: The Water.

In case you missed it: Miniature Gardening 101: The Dirt on the Soil is here.

Join our mailing list for more miniature garden goodness here.

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9 thoughts on “Miniature Gardening 102: Indoor vs. Outdoor Plants

  1. Pam Auwaerter 31/08/2017 — 8:57 am

    I ordered the lemon tree for indoors. It was listed as indoor/outdoor. Ok, right? Also, again with the mini ficus tree. It turned brown and lost its leaves again and again rallied. It sits in a bay window with full to part sun. I water it about once a week. What am I doing wrong? I know you said they were very touchy, but I dont move it, except to rotate the box.


    1. Hi Pam, Sorry to miss this. Please email me for faster answers. Please refer to my email from the 31st where I mention that might be getting too much sun or too much water. Rotating the box is moving it – some Ficus are really, really picky. – J.


  2. migdalia tomalinas 15/09/2017 — 8:41 pm

    Hi Janit, I researched fairy gardens for a master gardener power point presentation. I came across your web site and found lots of info to share with the Charlotte county master gardener volunteers and our public. I am the first person to introduce this topic and hope to spread the word about this wonderful hobby. I was able to show my bird bath fairy garden which I made 2 yrs ago. I also made a surfing Santa mini garden theme in a large container. In New Jersey my daughter got inspired and made a fairy garden with her six yr. old twins under a tree. She plans on doing a Halloween and a Christmas theme on the back side of the tree. got many pictures from the internet.
    I will continue reading your newsletters for inspiration and continue to learn how to create more beautiful mini gardens from your books.
    Please help I need substitute plants to use in zone 9-10. South west Florida is very hot and rainy this time of year. I want to add a list of plants and pictures for our Fall symposium October 28.
    Dolly Tomalinas MG


    1. Hi Dolly, Thank you for spreading the joy of gardening in miniature in your area! I keep telling our fellow miniature gardeners that they too, can be the first to show it to everyone. :o) Here are a couple of blogs that I wrote when researching plants for your area: &

      The real trick is finding the right miniature-looking trees that can work for you down in your climate. Look around for young ficus trees or Mulberry. Here’s another quick-read on the “kinds” of plants that we recommend for miniature gardening: – J.


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