Winter-blooming indoor plants are a welcome way to take the edge off the chill and gloom of winter. Many are ready to give as holiday gifts.
The choices go beyond traditional poinsettias and amaryllis. Colorful African violets, gloxinia, cyclamen, orchids, ornamental peppers and Christmas cactus are blooming and readily available. Dress them up with bows and cellophane, or combine a few in a basket with store-bought or garden-harvested moss and some decorations. Present them as party gifts or to a plant lover on your list.
Before you buy, consider some key care tips, including how to get them home, says Brooke Edmunds, a horticulturist with Oregon State University Extension Service. She advises taking a cardboard box with you to the store. Cover the plants after getting them into the car.
“You want to keep them protected from drafts and mimic the conditions of being in a warm situation,” Brooke says. “Use something that won’t crush the plant but protects it against cold shock. Avoid putting them in the trunk, where it gets colder.”
Once you get the plants home, check to see if they are badly rootbound and need to be repotted in a larger container. If so, use a well-draining potting soil with perlite or peat moss in the mix. If the plant comes wrapped in foil or cellophane, cut holes in the bottom so water drains through. Most plants will rot if left sitting in water.
Potted plants are well fertilized before being shipped to stores, so let the recipient know they don’t have to worry about feeding them for several weeks. When it’s time, use a houseplant fertilizer high in phosphorous—the middle number on the label. The element helps plants bloom.
“When it comes to watering, more people overwater than underwater,” Brooke says. “Check to see if the plant needs water by sticking your finger 2 inches into the soil. If it’s dry, go ahead and water.”
The foliage of some plants, such as African violets, can be damaged if water gets on the leaves. They also get root rot easily. Avoid damage by watering from below. If you water from above, let the plant drain, then empty the saucer the plant sits in. Steer clear of misting, which can promote foliar disease.
Keep plants in bright light and in temperatures of 70 F or higher during the day and 55 F or higher at night. Avoid drafts.
Don’t be concerned if gloxinia or cyclamen die down after blooming. That is normal. You can either discard the plant and buy a new one next year or let it go dormant for a few months until foliage reappears. Then grow it like you would any houseplant.
To extend bloom, look for plants—particularly orchids and Christmas cactus—that have some tight buds as well as open flowers. Orchids can be difficult to rebloom unless you have a greenhouse or can mimic warm, moist conditions.
Colorful ornamental peppers may look delicious but are often extremely hot. Keep them off your taste buds and away from kids and pets.