The holidays are over, the decorations, are down, and the starkness of winter has set in. I'm glad I've got my flowering houseplants to bloom and add beauty to my indoor landscape. Although they are beautiful, they are very easy to maintain, and most will bloom year after year with the right care.
Many flowering plants will thrive on a bit of neglect during the winter. I’ve learned that flowering plants don’t need as much water in the winter as they do the rest of the year, which makes them perfect for gardeners with busy schedules, or those who might be a bit forgetful. Although they bloom in winter, they don’t grow as much as they do in the warmer months, so I only water them when the soil is on the dry side. (I find that I tend to “kill my plants with kindness” by watering them too much, which causes the roots to rot, and eventually kills the plant.) I also cut back on fertilizer to once a month, using a 10-15-10 fertilizer instead of the every- two- weeks system I use from spring through fall.
My holiday cactus (Schlumbergia truncata), is just now coming into full bloom, with a profusion of pale and deep pink flowers, even though Christmas was two weeks ago. The plant itself is actually over 30 years old, but is still healthy and vigorous. Once I notice flower buds on the ends of the leaves, I keep it in the same spot to encourage more buds to form. With the right amount of water and fertilizer, I can get a bonus bloom in the spring, and maybe even one during the summer.
My clivia (Clivia minata), is another regular bloomer. This plant might be hard to find at a greenhouse of other outlet, but can be found in catalogs. It has long, strap-like leaves that grow from a rosette. The flowers are born on a stalk, and a single stalk my sprout as many as 12 bright-orange flowers at once. Clivia can blossom several times a year. Keep it out of direct sun for best blooming. Mine will flower even in a dim corner, or across the room from a bright window.
My butterfly orchid (Phalanopsis x.) is my pride and joy, probably because it’s almost always in bloom with deep pink-purplish blooms that grow along an arching stem. This is the first orchid I’ve ever owned, and I’ve found it to be extremely easy. Orchids grow in a bark soil, rather than the peat mix most houseplants are planted in. Their roots grow on the bark itself, and sometimes will creep onto the container.
Because they grow in a different soil, orchids require different care than foliage houseplants. I water my orchid once every week, with just enough water to wet the roots, and drain off any excess water to avoid root rot. Orchids use a high nitrogen fertilizer, such as 30-10-10, but benefit also from an occasional regular 10-15-10 fertilizer. The stems can be cut back after flowering, but can also be left alone. Flowers will continue to grow at the end of old shoots, and new stems will form along older stems. New leaves, tough and thick, are slow-growing, and form from the rosette of leaves at the base of the plant.
Cyclamen are a very popular flowering plant this time of year, as they are closely associated with Valentine’s Day. They sport heart-shaped, swept-back flowers in colors ranging from white to pink to deep red that bloom on stems that rise from a whirl of fleshy, heart-shaped leaves. They thrive in a cool, north-facing window. Water the soil directly, as water droplets on the leaves will cause rot. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Cyclamen make a beautiful addition to any indoor décor in the winter, but are usually discarded after the blooms are spent, because coaxing them into a second bloom is difficult.
(In addition to the information I got from The House Plant Expert, ( Dr. D.G. Hessayon, New, York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, c.1980), and A Book of Orchids, (Dr. Carl Withner, New York. Michael Freidman Publishing Group, c.1988, I also have a degree from Michigan State University, have experience working in many greenhouses and garden centers, and teach the Master Gardener Program. )