Mother Earth Living

Winter-Blooming Plants for Indoors

Boost your mood and improve your health with indoor winter-blooming plants.
By Barbara Pleasant
November/December 2013

Photo By GAP Photo
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Any day goes better when we have an optimistic frame of mind, and there is nothing like cheerful indoor plants blooming their hearts out to keep us humming a happy tune. “Plants calm us, reduce stress, increase pain tolerance and speed recovery from illnesses,” says Virginia Lohr, professor of horticulture at Washington State University. “They also improve mental functioning in children and reduce domestic violence. In short, plants make us better, more civil people,”

Studies show that indoor plants help clean and humidify air, raise oxygen levels and increase work productivity. Blooming houseplants also bring color to indoor spaces, making any room feel more vibrantly alive. At McGill University in Montreal, the faculty and students believe so strongly in the benefits of indoor plants that they have organized the Greening Indoor McGill Initiative, which distributes plants to any office or classroom that wants them. Try your hand at growing any of the following blooming beauties for a cheerier home and enhanced health.

1. Cyclamen

The shooting star flowers of cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum hybrids) bring lively color to tabletops or windowsills from midwinter to spring. Inexpensive greenhouse plants are available at garden centers and supermarkets in a range of colors from baby pink to bright red or white. New cyclamen blossoms with backswept petals replace old ones for two months or more, all the while framed by green heart-shaped leaves. Cyclamens grow best in a sunny window, but they don’t mind being used as temporary table centerpieces in dimly lit rooms.

Cyclamen Care Tips: Cyclamens are prone to fainting spells when soil becomes dry, but they quickly recover when given a drink. To keep new blossoms coming, snip off old ones with a small pair of scissors. It is best to discard cyclamens when they begin to deteriorate in spring, as old plants become pest magnets.

2. Orchids

Orchids have proven especially popular among McGill staffers, and with good reason. In particular, little skill is needed to grow gorgeous moth orchids (Phalaenopsis hybrids), which produce a parade of blossoms on a long, arching stem. If you buy a moth orchid on the brink of bloom, new flowers will open for two months or more. A period of rest follows, but with regular, light watering and a steady supply of natural light from a south- or west-facing window, moth orchids can be counted upon to rebloom at least once a year. 

Moth Orchid Care Tips: Moth orchids grow best in a bark-based orchid planting mix that drains quickly. When the tip of a bloom spike is cut back, secondary blooming branches often emerge from buds on the lower half of the stem.

3. Petite African Violets

Petite African violets (Saintpaulia hybrids) are perfect little plants to grow near east or even north-facing windows. Lacy blooms are most abundant in spring, but many African violets will bloom intermittently all year. The trick is to keep the roots moist without wetting the leaves, which is easily accomplished with a two-piece African violet pot, available at garden stores. Plant the violet in the unglazed top part, which nests inside a glazed reservoir.

African Violet Care Tips: Pinch off old African violet blossoms, as well as lower leaves that lose their color. Repot favorite plants yearly, but pitch any that develop problems with pests. Vigorous new plants make better companions than sickly old ones.

4. Holiday Cacti

When purchased holding fat buds, holiday cacti (Schlumbergera hybrids) often drop them on the floor as soon as you get them home. Don’t give up on them! When allowed to rest in a cool room with scant water for six weeks, many holiday cactus plants rebloom when days lengthen in spring. However, the biggest bloom time is early winter. Holiday cacti form buds in response to fall nights getting longer; keeping plants outdoors in a shady spot from midsummer to fall exposes them to this natural flowering trigger.

Holiday Cactus Care Tips: To avoid dropped blossoms, do not move plants when flower buds are more than 1/2-inch-long. To coax plants from their winter rest period, increase water and fertilize with a concentrated organic houseplant food.  

5. Flowering Maple

Flowering maple (Abutilon hybrids) may be a perfect choice if you want a larger blooming plant with a bushlike demeanor. A hibiscus cousin, abutilon sets buds in the fall, which open during the winter months. The best way to handle abutilon is to grow it in a shady place outdoors in summer, then move the potted plant indoors before temperatures drop to freezing in the fall. Available in orange, red or pink, abutilon plants can grow to 2 feet tall in pots, and usually benefit from staking.

Abutilon Care Tips: Flowering maples make new growth year round, and often need light pruning to direct their new growth. Fertilizing with a balanced organic plant food every two weeks through winter will support the development of new bud-bearing branches.

Making the Most of Indoor Winter-Blooming Plants

• Choose light flower colors; deep reds and purples do not show well in subdued indoor light. Lighter pink, lavender or yellow blossoms are natural mood-boosters that tend to be décor-friendly.

• Place blooming indoor plants in areas where they are easily seen. Move favorite specimens to high-visibility spots to make the most of their happy vibes.

• Winter-blooming indoor plants often benefit from fertilizer to support new growth. You can use the rinse water from milk cartons or juice bottles to fertilize houseplants. The combination of nutrients from milk and juice provides a balance of important plant nutrients.


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