3 Houseplants With Lovely Winter Flowers
Rosemary, cyclamen and holiday cactus are houseplants that brighten winter with cheery blooms.
My favorite houseplants are the ones that burst into bloom after the garden fades. Nothing cheers me more than looking at winter’s drab palette outside framed with the colorful blossoms of indoor plants. I like potted rosemary because it combines flowers with fragrant leaves and holiday cacti because they explode with color. Cyclamen is my must-have winter delight.
These eye-catching houseplants with winter flowers boast tough-as-nails personalities. Each has its idiosyncracies, though, so it pays to brush up on what makes them shine.
Also known as florist’s cyclamen, this sturdy houseplant marries delicate shooting star blossoms with thick, leathery leaves. Plants usually start showing up for sale in early fall and continue through winter. Cyclamen opens flower buds all winter long provided you keep plants bright (near an east-, south- or west-facing window) and cool (40s to low 50s at night, 60s during the day). Providing cool air is the part where most folks fail. My secret? Place cyclamen in an unheated bedroom or near sliding glass doors.
Cyclamen plants are worth every penny. Skip the miniature pots and splurge on a 5- or 6-inch pot, because it will flower all winter and come back year after year. In summer, cyclamen go dormant. Leaves yellow and die back, exposing the hard tuber that sits atop soil. Stash plants in a cool, dry place in summer, then revive them in fall by watering and moving into a bright spot.
These aren’t prickly desert natives, but rather jungle cactus that open brilliant blooms. For winter flowers, choose from Thanksgiving (shown; leaves have points along edges) or Christmas (leaves have rounded edges) types. Holiday cacti are so easy to grow that it makes sense to buy an inexpensive 4-inch pot. It’s a real bargain, considering these plants can live for years. I had my last Thanksgiving cactus for 15-plus years before it finally died from root rot.
The biggest trick with holiday cacti relates to blooming. Here’s the easiest way to encourage flower formation: Move plants outdoors for summer in a spot where they’re protected from direct sun, like on a porch or beneath a deck or tree. Allow your cactus to stay outside until just before frost threatens, and it will experience shortening days and cool nights (50-55° F), both of which trigger flower buds. Cool air is especially vital to flower formation.
Indoors, place holiday cacti near a bright window. Typical home temperatures are fine, although cooler temps (65° F or less) prolong the flower show. After flowering, let plants rest by watering only when soil is dry to the touch. Don’t let plants sit in water overnight, or you risk root rot. If your plant has packed the soil with roots so that water just runs off, use a screwdriver to make some deep holes into soil. This helps water reach roots, but definitely plan to repot in spring. Through summer, fertilize monthly with liquid plant food mixed to half strength. In fall, switch to plant food with a high middle number (0-15-10), which helps support flower buds.
Rosemary brings fragrant, flavorful leaves and dainty lavender-blue blooms to indoor winter scenes. During the holiday season, rosemary plants pruned into tree-like forms hit the retail scene. There’s a definite trick to keeping green leaves from turning brown and dropping. Rosemary hails from the Mediterranean, where sandy soil, bright sun and humid air (think splashing waves) create ideal growing conditions. Unlike most plants, rosemary likes roots on the dry side, while leaves absorb moisture from the air. Indoors, dry air and overwatering are the common reasons rosemary dries to crispy brown.
To keep rosemary healthy, remove the colorful wrapper around the pot. Set the pot on a tray of pebbles, adding and maintaining water to just below the pebbles. As this water evaporates, it raises humidity around the plant, allowing leaves to “drink.” Supplement this humidity with a weekly spritz of water from a spray bottle. Water when soil is dry. Many of these tree-shape rosemary plants are in a too-small pot that’s packed with roots. When you add water, it just runs off. I water mine by sitting it in a pan, watering from above (moistening leaves, too) and then letting it sit for an hour in the water that runs off. Provide the brightest light you can. Prune stems to retain the topiary shape, using trimmings in the kitchen. Cut out any stems with brown leaves.
In spring, move your plant outside for the summer. Repot it in a slightly larger pot (by 1 to 2 inches). Prune roots—remove 2 inches from the sides and bottom of the rootball—before replanting. I’ve had best success growing rosemary through winter in a terra-cotta pot in an unheated bedroom or sunporch. The terra-cotta encourages air flow to roots. It’s my insurance against overwatering. When rainy winter days hover in the upper 30s to low 40s, I set the plant outside to savor the high humidity.