Handbook of Winter Flowering Plants from The Ohio State University
The options go beyond traditional poinsettias and amaryllis. Colorful African violets, gloxinia, cyclamen, orchids, ornamental peppers, and Christmas cactus bloom and are readily available. Decorate them with bows and cellophane or gather a few in a basket with store-bought or garden-harvested moss and some decorations and give them as gifts or to the plant lover on your list.
Before you buy, keep in mind some basic care tips, including how to bring it home, said Brooke Edmonds, a horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. She recommends taking a cardboard box with you to the store and then covering the plant after getting it into the car.
“You want to protect them from drafts and mimic the conditions of being in a warm situation,” she said. “Use something that doesn’t crush the plant but will protect it from cold shock. Avoid putting it in the trunk of a car where it gets colder.
Once you bring them home, check to see if they are poorly root bound and need to be transplanted to a larger container size. If so, use well-drained potting soil with perlite or peat moss in the mix. If the plant is wrapped in aluminum foil or cellophane, cut holes in the bottom for water to drain through. Most plants will rot if left in water, Edmonds said.
Potted plants are well composted before being shipped to stores, so let the recipient know they don’t have to feed them for several weeks. When the time comes, use a fertilizer for houseplants that is high in phosphorus, the middle number on the label, and the element that helps them bloom.
“When it comes to irrigation, there are more people underwater than underwater,” Edmonds said. “Check to see if the plant needs water by sticking your finger 2 inches into the soil. If it’s dry, water it.”
The leaves of some plants, such as African violets, can be damaged if water — especially cold water — gets on the leaves. They also get root rot easily. Avoid this by watering from below. Or carefully water them with room temperature water from the top, allow them to drain, and then empty the saucer they are sitting in. Also stay away from misting, which can promote leaf diseases. African violets are more likely to bloom if they are slightly root bound.
Keep plants away from drafts, in bright light and in temperatures of 70 degrees or higher during the day and 55 or higher at night.
“It’s a good idea to write the instructions on a pretty card to include with the plant,” Edmonds suggested.
Don’t worry if your gloxinia or cyclamen dies after flowering. that’s normal. You can either discard the plant and buy a new one the following year or leave it dormant for a few months until the foliage appears again. Then grow them as you would any houseplant.
Look for plants — especially orchids and Christmas cactus — that have some tight buds as well as open flowers to extend bloom. It can be difficult to re-bloom orchids unless you have a greenhouse or can simulate warm, humid conditions.
Colored ornamental peppers may look delicious, but they are often very hot, so keep them away from your pantry where children and pets cannot reach them.
Written by Kim Pokorny