Right now I'm thinking of plants that aren't twinkling, shivering under fake snow or twirling to "Jingle Bells. " Probably a temporary response, but I'm lusting for houseplants...
Right now I’m thinking of plants that aren’t twinkling, shivering under fake snow or twirling to “Jingle Bells.” Probably a temporary response, but I’m lusting for houseplants that settle down to dignified flowering and handsome leafing, plants we won’t want to toss at the end of winter.
We’re accustomed to flowering plants with a brief, bright life span — often giving us three weeks or a month of pleasure before subsiding. As soon as January strikes, I’m for color in all its brevity. But I’d also like to add some long-lived plants.
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Clivia (Clivia miniata), or Kaffir lily, can grow as large as a small armchair after decades in the house, but it generally is sold in 4- or 6-inch pots. It sprouts long, 18-inch, dark-green strap-shaped leaves, handsome when out of bloom. The blooms — in late winter — are stunning, a long stem capped with a ball of tubular orange-yellow flowers, as many as 15 or 20 in the ball. Older plants may send up several bloom shoots, worth a party to celebrate. (They form a startling outdoor ground cover in shade at the Los Angeles airport.)
Clivia needs a winter rest, with six to eight weeks of very little water and low temperatures in the 40s. I set mine on a sheltered porch in October and November. Don’t water it more than once every six weeks during winter. When buds appear — cheer! Then resume plentiful weekly watering and feeding with liquid fertilizer. They flower best when roots fill the pot — repot only when truly rootbound and threatening to break the pot. Without flower, it’s a handsome foliage plant, though it does require dusting with a damp cloth occasionally.
Hoya (Hoya carnosa), a tropical vine whose name sounds like a greeting, will thrive nicely with about three hours a day of household light and temperatures above 50. You’ll find it as a hanging plant or trained up and around windows. Flowers bloom when the plant is young, producing waxy-looking white or pink balls about the size of 50-cent pieces. They’re fragrant, and once settled in the house the hoya’s there to stay. Hoyas can’t stand cold temperatures or soggy soil. Remove spent flowers carefully, taking only the flowers and leaving the stalk they grow on, because it will flower year after year.
You’ll find lots of different plants from nursery to nursery — the indoor-plant buyer at Molbak’s in Woodinville has highlighted bromeliads, subtropical beauties with leaves forming rosettes that can hold water. They flower in startling colors, with bright pink, red, orange or purple bracts. Look for ‘Sarah,’ a pink-red, or the zippy ‘Samba,’ ‘Calypso’ and ‘Jazz.’ Bromeliads look just plain stylish and contemporary — nothing gingham about them.
Jasmine (Jasminium sambac, Arabian jasmine), fluffy white in hanging baskets, scents a room. Hanging baskets of jasmine can go out on a summer patio. Staff at Sky Nursery in Shoreline mention the heavenly fragrances of indoor citrus plants like Meyer lemon as well as vining Stephanotis in addition to the jasmine. Miniature roses, often gift plants, can settle into the garden outdoors once weather moderates, and may become perennial residents.
For all houseplants, water and fertilize less in winter. You may have the surprise of a jade plant (Crassula argentea) coming into bloom; a friend’s is covered with soft clusters of white star-shaped flowers. It’s in a light “greenhouse” room with overhead glass. Apparently they need both light and summer sunshine for their blooming.
So here’s my yearly prescription for the winter blahs: For those of us who can’t get to Bali or even Oaxaca in winter, visit your favorite independent, local nursery and browse in the brilliance, inhale the warm, damp air and come away renewed with an armful of indoor plants.
Garden expert Mary Robson, retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension, shares gardening tips every Wednesday. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.