BY MARY LOU MAYFIELD
Oh! How we miss our gardens during the frigid days of winter! Our house plants provide beautiful foliage, but how many provide flowers? Quite a few! I’ll share with you the ones that thrive regardless of my “benign neglect,” along with links to expert information.
Some house plants are grown specifically for their blooms, like the Holiday Cactus (Schlumbergera spp). https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/5714
Zonal Geraniums, usually grown from seed or purchased as cuttings, will also bloom indoors in the winter. This fall, I brought in my Ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum), and put it in a south-facing window. It still has a few buds left! I’m hoping it will do well under grow lights, and bloom outdoors again next summer. If not, I’ll try starting my own cuttings. https://store.extension.iastate.edu/product/5726
Amaryllis can be purchased before the holidays, and sometimes on clearance afterward. The bulbs in wax coatings are decorative, but probably not rebloom-able, even if you could get the wax off (difficult, I tried). Without water, they can’t store energy for future growth. The wax isn’t biodegradable, either. I enjoy the blooms in the winter, put them in a shady bed during the summer, and store them in my basement until they sprout again. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/yard-and-garden-growing-amaryllis
Some plants that we associate with early spring can also be grown as house plants. Azaleas & Primroses, sold as houseplants, will rebloom if we treat them well. https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2012/1-11/floristplants.html
Florist azaleas need to stay inside in the winter, and can spend the summer in bright shade. If you buy a pot with several different colors, the plants will compete for resources and not do as well as one plant, alone. The hardest to save are the braided ones! The fact sheet referenced as a resource says that florist azaleas need to be chilled before they will bloom, and mine do fine on a chilly windowsill. They are very sensitive to too much or too little watering, but will let you know when they are thirsty by wilting a little. And yes, being a perennial shrub, they will drop the oldest leaves. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/azalea/growing-azalea-houseplants.html
Common Primrose (Primula vulgaris) can survive our Iowa winters. I first discovered them at a New Jersey garden show in late February, and planted them to bloom again. I’ve had success in planting them here, on the Northeast corner of my house. I can usually find them at one of the local supermarkets while it’s still cold outside. They are also sold as perennials in the summer, but they are usually sold as mixed colors and have finished blooming. Unless the plant is labeled, for a specific color, you won’t know what it is until next spring. Mine bloom twice a year, starting in the winter as house plants, then again in the fall in the garden, before blooming again the next spring. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/primula-vulgaris/
Amaryllis is not the only bulb that blooms in the winter. If we plan ahead, we can purchase and chill spring bulbs so they can bloom indoors. I had a friend who blessed me with Daffodils after the ground was already freezing. A few weeks in a dark, cold garage, and they reacted like it was spring when I brought them indoors! https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/4715
The garden centers sell Paperwhite Narcissus, which bloomed outdoors at Christmas when I was growing up in Georgia. They don’t need to be chilled, but the roots still need a period of darkness before the will start growing. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/yard-and-garden-forcing-paperwhite-narcissus
Every now and then, a “foliage” plant will surprise us, as my Corn Plant Dracaena did, when my basement was filled with its fragrance! I have it year-round in a cool basement with a 12-hour light cycle. It could also spend the summer outdoors in the shade, but then it might not bloom. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/dracaena-fragrans/
I was delighted when my Pincushion cactus produced a corona of magenta flowers! It grows in the same southern window with the “windowsill garden.” https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/mammillaria/
A few plants, like the Forsythia and Pussy Willow, are still in the yard, with buds awaiting the first thaw of spring – if the buds haven’t been eaten by deer or killed by the subzero temps! The trick is to cut branches from them as soon as we get a break from freezing temperatures, and bring them inside. This year, I also plan to try Crabapple and Redbud. https://extension.unh.edu/blog/2018/02/forcing-branches-indoors
*NOTE: Some of these plants are toxic to house pets. My cats leave them alone, but if you have a pet that chews on leaves, you might want to avoid these plants or place them in a space where the pet cannot get at them: amaryllis, daffodils, narcissus, azalea, dracaena, and Primula.